On leaving Sir Ralph, Madame Delmare had locked herself into her room, and a thousand tempestuous thoughts had invaded her mind. It was not the first time that a vague suspicion had cast its ominous light upon the fragile edifice of her happiness. Monsieur Delmare had previously let slip in conversation some of those indelicate jests which pass for compliments. He had complimented Raymon on his knightly triumphs in a way to give the cue to ears that knew naught of the incident. Every time that Madame Delmare had spoken to the gardener, Noun’s name had been injected, as if by an unavoidable necessity, into the most trivial details, and then Monsieur de Ramière’s had always glided in by virtue of some mysterious junction of ideas which seemed to have taken possession of the man’s brain and to beset him in spite of himself. Madame Delmare had been struck by his strange and bungling questions. He became confused in his speech on the slightest pretext; he seemed to be oppressed by a burden of remorse which he betrayed while struggling to conceal it. At other times Indiana had found in Raymon’s own confusion those indications which she did not seek, but which forced themselves upon her. One circumstance in particular would have enlightened her further, if she had not closed her mind to all distrust. They had found on Noun’s finger a very handsome ring which Madame Delmare had noticed some time before her death and which the girl claimed to have found. Since her death Madame Delmare had always worn that pledge of sorrow, and she had often noticed that Raymon changed color when he took her hand to put it to his lips. Once he had begged her never to mention Noun to him because he looked upon himself as the cause of her death; and when she sought to banish that painful thought by taking all the blame to herself, he had replied:
“No, my poor Indiana, do not accuse yourself; you have no idea how guilty I am.”
Those words, uttered in a bitter, gloomy tone, had alarmed Madame Delmare. She had not dared to insist, and, now that she was beginning to understand all these fragments of discoveries, she had not the courage to fix her thoughts upon them and put them together.
She opened her window, and, as she looked out upon the calm night, upon the moon so pale and lovely behind the silvery vapors on the horizon, as she remembered that Raymon was coming, that he was perhaps in the park even now, and thought of all the joy she had anticipated in that hour of love and mystery, she cursed Ralph who with a word had poisoned her hope and destroyed her repose forever. She even felt that she hated him, the unhappy man who had been a father to her and who had sacrificed his future for her; for his future was Indiana’s friendship; that was his only treasure, and he resigned himself to the certainty of forfeiting it in order to save her.
Indiana could not read in the depths of his heart, nor had she been able to fathom Raymon’s. She was unjust, not from ingratitude, but from ignorance. Being under the influence of a strong passion she could not but feel strongly the blow that had been dealt her. For an instant she laid the whole crime upon Ralph, preferring to accuse him rather than to suspect Raymon.
And then she had so little time to collect her thoughts, and make up her mind: Raymon was coming. Perhaps it was he whom she had seen for some minutes wandering about the little bridge. How much more intense would her aversion for Ralph have been at that moment, if she could have recognized him in that vague figure, which constantly appeared and disappeared in the mist, and which, like a spirit stationed at the gate of the Elysian Fields, sought to keep the guilty man from entering!
Suddenly there came to her mind one of those strange, half-formed ideas, which only restless and unhappy persons are capable of conceiving. She risked her whole destiny upon a strange and delicate test against which Raymon could not be on his guard. She had hardly completed her mysterious preparations when she heard Raymon’s footsteps on the secret stairway. She ran and unlocked the door, then returned to her chair, so agitated that she felt that she was on the point of falling; but, as in all the great crises of her life, she retained a remarkable clearness of perception and great strength of mind.
Raymon was still pale and breathless when he opened the door; impatient to see the light, to grasp reality once more. Indiana’s back was turned to him, she was wrapped in a fur-lined pelisse. By a strange chance it was the same that Noun wore when she went to meet him in the park at their last rendezvous. I do not know if you remember that at that time Raymon had had for an instant the untenable idea that that woman shrouded in her cloak was Madame Delmare. Now, when he saw once more the same apparition sitting inert in a chair, with her head on her breast, by the light of a pale, flickering lamp, on the same spot where so many memories awaited him, in that room which he had not entered since the darkest night in his life and which was full to overflowing of his remorse, he involuntarily recoiled and remained in the doorway, his terrified gaze fixed upon that motionless figure, and trembling like a coward, lest, when it turned, it should display the livid features of a drowned woman.
Madame Delmare had no suspicion of the effect she produced upon Raymon. She had wound about her head a handkerchief of India silk, tied carelessly in true creole style; it was Noun’s usual headdress. Raymon, fairly overcome by terror, nearly fell backward, thinking that his superstitious fancies were realized. But, recognizing the woman he had come to seduce, he forgot the one whom he had seduced and walked toward her. Her face wore a grave, meditative expression: she gazed earnestly at him, but with close attention rather than affection, and did not make a motion to draw him to her side more quickly.
Raymon, surprised by this reception, attributed it to some scruple of chastity, to some girlish impulse of delicacy or constraint. He knelt at her feet, saying:
“Are you afraid of me, my beloved?” But at that moment he noticed that Madame Delmare held something in her hands to which she seemed to direct his attention with a playful affectation of gravity. He looked more closely and saw a mass of black hair, of varying lengths, which seemed to have been cut in haste, and which Indiana was smoothing with her hand.
“Do you recognize it?” she asked, fastening upon him her limpid eyes, in which there was a peculiar, penetrating gleam.
Raymon hesitated, looked again at the handkerchief about her head, and thought that he understood.
“Naughty girl!” he said, taking the hair in his hand, “why did you cut it off? It was so beautiful, and I loved it so dearly!”
“You asked me yesterday,” she said with the shadow of a smile, “if I would sacrifice it to you.”
“O Indiana!” cried Raymon, “you know well that you will be lovelier than ever to me henceforth. Give it to me. I do not choose to regret the absence from your head of that glorious hair which I admired every day, and which now I can kiss every day without restraint. Give it to me, so that it may never leave me.”
But as he gathered up in his hand that luxuriant mass of which some locks reached to the floor, Raymon fancied that it had a dry, rough feeling which his fingers had never noticed in the silken tresses over Indiana’s forehead. He was conscious, also, of an indefinable nervous thrill, it felt so cold and dead, as if it had been cut a long time, and seemed to have lost its perfumed moisture and vital warmth. Then he looked at it again, and sought in vain the blue gleam which made Indiana’s hair resemble the blue-black wing of the crow; this was of an Ethiopian black, of an Indian texture, of a lifeless heaviness.
Indiana’s bright piercing eyes followed Raymon’s. He turned them involuntarily upon an open ebony casket from which several locks of the same hair protruded.
“This is not yours,” he said, untying the kerchief which concealed Madame Delmare’s hair.
It was untouched, and fell over her shoulders in all its splendor. But she made a gesture as if to push him away and said, still pointing to the hair:
“Don’t you recognize this? Did you never admire, never caress it? Has the damp night air robbed it of all its fragrance? Have you not a thought, a tear for her who wore this ring?”
Raymon sank upon a chair; Noun’s locks fell from his trembling hand. So much painful excitement had exhausted him. He was a man of choleric temper, whose blood flowed rapidly, whose nerves were easily and deeply irritated. He shivered from head to foot and fell in a swoon on the floor.
When he came to himself, Madame Delmare was on her knees beside him, weeping copiously and asking his forgiveness; but Raymon no longer loved her.
“You have inflicted a horrible wound on me,” he said; “a wound which it is not in your power to cure. You will never restore the confidence I had in your heart; that is evident to me. You have shown me how vindictive and cruel your heart can be. Poor Noun! poor unhappy girl! It was she whom I treated badly, not you; it was she who had the right to avenge herself, and she did not. She took her own life in order to leave me the future. She sacrificed herself to my repose. You are not the woman to have done as much, madame! Give me her hair; it is mine-it belongs to me; it is all that remains to me of the only woman who ever loved me truly. Unhappy Noun! you were worthy of a better love! And you, madame, dare to reproach me with her death; you, whom I loved so well that I forgot her-that I defied the ghastly torture of remorse; you who, on the faith of a kiss, have led me across that river-across that bridge-alone, with terror at my side, pursued by the infernal illusions of my crime! And when you discover with what a frantic passion I love you, you bury your woman’s nails in my heart, seeking there another drop of blood which may still be made to flow for you! Ah! when I spurned so devoted a love to take up with so savage a passion as yours, I was no less mad than guilty.”
Madame Delmare did not reply. Pale and motionless, with dishevelled hair and staring eyes, she moved Raymon to pity. He took her hand.
“And yet,” he said, “this love I feel for you is so blind that, in spite of myself, I can still forget the past and the present-the sin that blasted my life and the crime you have just committed. So love me, and I will forgive you.”
Madame Delmare’s despair rekindled desire and pride in her lover’s heart. When he saw how dismayed she was at the thought of losing his love-how humble before him, how resigned to accept his decrees for the future by way of atonement for the past-he remembered what his intentions had been when he eluded Ralph’s vigilance, and he realized all the advantages of his position. He pretended to be absorbed in a melancholy, sombre reverie for some moments; he hardly responded to Indiana’s tears and caresses. He waited until her heart should break and overflow in sobs, until she should realize all the horrors of desertion-until she should have exhausted all her strength in heart-rending emotion; and then, when he saw her at his feet, fainting, utterly worn out, awaiting death at a word from him, he seized her in his arms with convulsive passion and strained her to his heart. She yielded like a weak child; she abandoned her lips to him unresistingly. She was almost dead.
But suddenly, as if waking from a dream, she snatched herself away from his burning caresses, rushed to the end of the room where Sir Ralph’s portrait hung on the panel; and, as if she would place herself under the protection of that grave personage with the unruffled brow and tranquil lips, she shrank back against the portrait, wild-eyed, quivering from head to foot, in the clutches of a strange fear. It was this that made Raymon think that she had been deeply moved in his arms-that she was afraid of herself-that she was his. He ran to her; drew her by force from her retreat, and told her that he had come with the purpose of keeping his promises, but that her cruel treatment of him had absolved him from his oath.
“I am no longer either your slave or your ally,” he said. “I am simply the man who loves you madly and who has you in his arms, a wicked, capricious, cruel, mad creature, but lovely and adored. With sweet, confiding words you might have cooled my blood. Had you been as calm and generous as yesterday, you would have made me mild and submissive as usual. But you have kindled all my passions, overturned all my ideas. You have made me unhappy, cowardly, ill, frantic, desperate, one after another. You must make me happy now, or I feel that I can no longer believe in you-that I can no longer love you or bless you. Forgive me, Indiana, forgive me! If I frighten you it is your own fault; you have made me suffer so that I have lost my reason!”
Indiana trembled in every limb. She knew so little of life that she believed resistance to be impossible; she was ready to concede from fear what she would refuse from love; but, as she struggled feebly in Raymon’s arms, she said, in desperation:
“So you are capable of using force with me?”
Raymon paused, impressed with this moral resistance, which survived physical resistance. He hastily pushed her away.
“Never!” he cried: “I would rather die than possess you except by your own will!”
He threw himself on his knees, and all that the mind can supply in place of the heart, all the poesy that the imagination can impart to the ardor of the blood, he expressed in a fervent and dangerous entreaty. And when he saw that she did not surrender, he yielded to necessity and reproached her with not loving him; a commonplace expedient which he despised and which made him smile, with a feeling of something like shame at having to do with a woman so innocent as not to smile at it herself.
That reproach went to Indiana’s heart more swiftly than all the exclamations with which Raymon had embellished his discourse.
But suddenly she remembered.
“Raymon,” she said, “the other, who loved you so dearly-of whom we were speaking just now-she refused you nothing, I suppose?”
“Nothing!” exclaimed Raymon, annoyed by this inopportune reminder. “Instead of reminding me of her so continually, you would do well to make me forget how dearly she loved me!”
“Listen!” rejoined Indiana, thoughtfully and gravely; “have a little courage, for I must say something more. Perhaps you have not been as guilty towards me as I thought. It would be sweet to me to be able to forgive you for what I considered a mortal insult. Tell me then-when I surprised you here-for whom did you come? for her or for me?”
Raymon hesitated; then, as he thought that the truth would soon be known to Madame Delmare, that perhaps she knew it already, he answered:
“Well, I prefer it so,” she said sadly; “I prefer an infidelity to an insult. Be frank to the end, Raymon. How long had you been in my room when I came? Remember that Ralph knows all, and that, if I chose to question him–”
“There is no need of Sir Ralph’s testimony, madame. I had been here since the night before.”
“And you had passed the night in this room. Your silence is a sufficient answer.”
They both remained silent for some moments; then Indiana rose and was about to continue, when a sharp knock at the door checked the flow of the blood in her veins. Neither she nor Raymon dared to breathe.
A paper was slipped under the door. It was a leaf from a note-book on which these words were scrawled in pencil, almost illegibly:
“Your husband is here.
“This is a wretchedly devised falsehood,” said Raymon, as soon as the sound of Ralph’s footsteps had died away. “Sir Ralph needs a lesson, and I will administer it in such shape–”
“I forbid it,” said Indiana, in a cold, determined tone: “my husband is here: Ralph never lied. You and I are lost. There was a time when the thought would have frozen me with horror; to-day it matters little to me!”
“Very well!” said Raymon, seizing her in his arms excitedly, “since death encompasses us, be mine! Forgive everything, and let your last word in this supreme moment be a word of love, my last breath a breath of joy.”
“This moment of terror and courage might have been the sweetest moment in my life,” she said, “but you have spoiled it for me.”
There was a rumbling of wheels in the farmyard, and the bell at the gate of the château was rung by a strong and impatient hand.
“I know that ring,” said Indiana, watchful and cool. “Ralph did not lie; but you have time to escape; go!”
“I will not,” cried Raymon; “I suspect some despicable treachery and you shall not be the only victim. I will remain and my breast shall protect you–”
“There is no treachery-listen-the servants are stirring and the gate will be opened directly. Go: the trees in the garden will conceal you, and the moon is not fairly out yet. Not a word more, but go!”
Raymon was compelled to obey; but she accompanied him to the foot of the stairs and cast a searching glance about the flower-garden. All was silent and calm. She stood a long while on the last stair, listening with terror to the grinding of his footsteps on the gravel, entirely oblivious of her husband’s arrival. What cared she for his suspicions and his anger, provided that Raymon was out of danger?
As for him he crossed the stream and hurried swiftly through the park. He reached the small gate and, in his excitement, had some difficulty in opening it. He was no sooner in the road than Sir Ralph appeared in front of him and said with as much sang-froid as if he were accosting him at a party:
“Be good enough to let me have that key. If there should be a search for it, it would be less inconvenient for it to be found in my hands.”
Raymon would have preferred the most deadly insult to this satirical generosity.
“I am not the man to forget a well-meant service,” said he; “I am the man to avenge an insult and to punish treachery.”
Sir Ralph changed neither his tone nor his expression.
“I want none of your gratitude,” he rejoined, “and I await your vengeance tranquilly; but this is no time to talk. There is your path-think of Madame Delmare’s good name.”
And he disappeared.
This night of agitation had overturned Raymon’s brain so completely that he would readily have believed in witchcraft at that moment. He reached Cercy at daybreak and went to bed with a raging fever.
As for Madame Delmare, she did the honors of the breakfast table for her husband and cousin with much calmness and dignity. She had not as yet reflected upon her situation; she was absolutely under the influence of instinct, which enjoined sang-froid and presence of mind upon her. The colonel was gloomy and thoughtful, but it was his business alone that preoccupied him, and no jealous suspicion found a place in his thoughts.
Toward evening Raymon mustered courage to think about his love; but that love had diminished materially. He loved obstacles; but he hated to be bored and he foresaw that he should be bored times without number now that Indiana had the right to reproach him. However, he remembered at last that his honor demanded that he should inquire for her, and he sent his servant to prowl around Lagny and find out what was going on there. The servant brought him the following letter which Madame Delmare herself had handed him:
“I hoped last night that I should lose either my reason or my life. Unhappily for me I have retained both; but I will not complain, I have deserved the suffering that I am undergoing; I chose to live this tempestuous life; it would be cowardly to recoil to-day. I do not know whether you are guilty, I do not want to know. We will never return to that subject, will we? It causes us both too much suffering: so let this be the last time it is mentioned between us.
“You said one thing at which I felt a cruel joy. Poor Noun! from your place in heaven forgive me! you no longer suffer, you no longer love, perhaps you pity me! You told me, Raymon, that you sacrificed that unhappy girl to me, that you loved me better than her. Oh! do not take it back; you said it, and I feel so strongly the need to believe it that I do believe it. And yet your conduct last night, your entreaties, your wild outbreaks, might well have made me doubt it. I forgave you on account of the mental disturbance under which you were laboring; but now you have had time to reflect, to become yourself once more; tell me, will you renounce loving me in that way? I, who love you with my heart, have believed hitherto that I could arouse in you a love as pure as my own. And then I had not thought very much about the future; I had not looked ahead very far, and I had not taken alarm at the thought that the day might come when, conquered by your devotion, I should sacrifice to you my scruples and my repugnance. But to-day, it can no longer be the same; I can see in the future only a ghastly parallel between myself and Noun! Oh! the thought of being loved no more than she was! If I believed it! And yet she was lovelier than I, far lovelier! Why did you prefer me? You must have loved me differently and better,–That is what I wanted you to say. Will you give up being my lover in the way that you have been? In that case I can still esteem you, believe in your remorse, your sincerity, your love; if not, think of me no more, you will never see me again. I shall die of it perhaps, but I would rather die than descend so low as to be your mistress.”
Raymon was sorely embarrassed as to how he should reply. This pride offended him; he had never supposed hitherto that a woman who had thrown herself into his arms could resist him thus outspokenly and give reasons for her resistance.
“She does not love me,” he said to himself; “her heart is dry, she is naturally overbearing.”
From that moment he loved her no longer. She had ruffled his self-esteem; she had disappointed his hope of triumph, defeated his anticipations of pleasure. In his eyes she was no more than Noun had been. Poor Indiana! who longed to be so much more! Her passionate love was misunderstood, her blind confidence was spurned. Raymon had never understood her; how could he have continued to love her?
Thereupon he swore, in his irritation, that he would triumph over her; he swore it not from a feeling of pride but in a revengeful spirit. It was no longer a matter of snatching a new pleasure, but of punishing an insult; of possessing a woman, but of subduing her. He swore that he would be her master, were it for but a single day, and that then he would abandon her, to have the satisfaction of seeing her at his feet.
On the spur of the moment he wrote this letter:
“You want me to promise. Foolish girl, can you think of such a thing? I will promise whatever you choose, because I can do nothing but obey you; but, if I break my promises I shall be guilty neither to God nor to you. If you loved me, Indiana, you would not inflict these cruel torments on me, you would not expose me to the risk of perjuring myself, you would not blush at the thought of being my mistress. But you think that in my arms you would be degraded–”
He felt that his bitterness was making itself manifest, despite his efforts; he tore up this sheet, and, after taking time to reflect, began anew:
“You admit that you nearly lost your reason last night; for my part, I lost mine altogether. I was culpable-but no, I was mad! Forget those hours of suffering and excitement. I am calm now; I have reflected; I am still worthy of you. Bless you, my angel from heaven, for saving me from myself, for reminding me how I ought to love you. Now, Indiana, command me! I am your slave, as you well know. I would give my life for an hour in your arms; but I can suffer a whole lifetime to obtain a smile from you. I will be your friend, your brother, nothing more. If I suffer, you shall not know it. If my blood boils when I am near you, if my breast takes fire, if a cloud passes before my eyes when I touch your hand, if a sweet kiss from your lips, a sisterly kiss, scorches my forehead, I will order my blood to be calm, my brain to grow cool, my mouth to respect you. I will be gentle, I will be submissive, I will be unhappy,-if you will be the happier therefor and enjoy my agony,-if only I may hear you tell me again that you love me! Oh! tell me so! give me back your confidence and my joy! tell me when we shall meet again. I know not what result the events of last night may have had; how does it happen that you do not refer to the subject, that you leave me in an agony of suspense? Carle saw you all three walking together in the park. The colonel seemed ill or depressed, but not angry. In that case that Ralph did not betray us! What a strange man! But to what extent can we rely on his discretion, and how shall I dare show myself at Lagny now that our fate is in his hands? But I will dare. If it is necessary to stoop so low as to implore him, I will silence my pride, I will overcome my aversion, I will do anything rather than lose you. A word from you and I will burden my life with as much remorse as I am able to carry; for you I would abandon my mother herself; for you I would commit any crime. Ah! if you realized the depth of my love, Indiana!”
The pen fell from Raymon’s hands; he was terribly fatigued, he was falling asleep. But he read over his letter to make sure that his ideas had not suffered from the influence of drowsiness; but it was impossible for him to understand his own meaning, his brain was so affected by his physical exhaustion. He rang for his servant, bade him go to Lagny before daybreak; then slept that deep, refreshing sleep whose tranquil delights only those who are thoroughly satisfied with themselves really know. Madame Delmare had not retired; she was unconscious of fatigue and passed the night writing. When she received Raymon’s letter she answered it in haste:
“Thanks, Raymon, thanks! you restore my strength and my life. Now I can dare anything, endure anything; for you love me, and the most severe tests do not alarm you. Yes, we will meet again-we will defy everybody. Ralph may do what he will with our secret. I am no longer disturbed about anything since you love me; I am not even afraid of my husband.
“You want to know about our affairs? I forgot to mention them yesterday, and yet they have taken a turn which has an important bearing on my fortunes. We are ruined. There is some talk of selling Lagny, and even of going to live in the colonies. But of what consequence is all that? I cannot make up my mind to think about it. I know that we shall never be parted. You have sworn it, Raymon; I rely on your promise, do you rely on my courage. Nothing will frighten me, nothing will turn me back. My place is established at your side, and death alone can tear me from it.”
“Mere woman’s effervescence!” said Raymon, crumpling the letter. “Romantic projects, perilous undertakings, appeal to their feeble imaginations as bitter substances arouse a sick man’s appetite. I have succeeded; I have recovered my influence; and, as for all this imprudent folly with which she threatens me, we will see! It is all characteristic of the light-headed, false creatures, always ready to undertake the impossible and making of generosity a show virtue which must be attended with scandal! Who would think, to read this letter, that she counts her kisses and doles out her caresses like a miser!”
That same day he went to Lagny. Ralph was not there, and the colonel received him amicably and talked to him confidentially. He took him into the park, where they were less likely to be disturbed, and told him that he was utterly ruined and that the factory would be offered for sale on the following day. Raymon made generous offers of assistance, but Delmare declined them.
“No, my friend,” he said, “I have suffered too much from the thought that I owed my fate to Ralph’s kindness; I was in too much of a hurry to repay him. The sale of this property will enable me to pay all my debts at once. To be sure, I shall have nothing left, but I have courage, energy and business experience; the future is before us. I have built up my little fortune once, and I can begin it again. I must do it for my wife’s sake, for she is young, and I don’t wish to leave her in poverty. She still owns an estate of some little value at Ile Bourbon, and I propose to go into retirement there and start in business afresh. In a few years-in ten years at most–I hope that we shall meet again.”
Raymon pressed the colonel’s hand, smiling inwardly at his confidence, at his speaking of ten years as of a single day, when his bald head and enfeebled body indicated a feeble hold upon existence, a life near its close. Nevertheless he pretended to share his hopes.
“I am delighted to see,” he said, “that you do not allow yourself to be cast down by these reverses. I recognize your manly heart, your undaunted courage. But does Madame Delmare display the same courage? Do you not anticipate some resistance on her part to your project of expatriation?”
“I shall be very sorry,” the colonel replied, “but wives are made to obey, not to advise. I have not yet definitely made my purpose known to Indiana. With the exception of yourself, my friend, I do not know what there is here that she should feel any regret at leaving; and yet I anticipate tears and nervous attacks, from a spirit of contradiction, if nothing else. The devil take the women! However, my dear Raymon, I rely upon you all the same to make my wife listen to reason. She has confidence in you; use your influence to prevent her from crying. I detest tears.”
Raymon promised to come again the next day and inform Madame Delmare of her husband’s decision.
“You will do me a very great favor,” said the colonel. “I will take Ralph to the farm, so that you may have a good chance to talk with her.”
“Well, luck is on my side!” thought Ralph, as he took his leave.
Monsieur Delmare’s plans fell in perfectly with Raymon’s wishes. He foresaw that this love affair which, so far as he was concerned, was drawing near its close, would soon bring him nothing but annoyance and importunity, so that he was very glad to see events arranging themselves in such a way as to save him from the wearisome but inevitable results of a played-out intrigue. It only remained for him to take advantage of Madame Delmare’s last moments of excitement, and then to leave to his complaisant destiny the task of ridding him of her tears and reproaches.
So he returned to Lagny the next day, intending to exalt the unhappy woman’s enthusiasm to its apogee.
“Do you know, Indiana,” he said, when they met, “the part that your husband has requested me to play with respect to you? A strange commission, upon my word! I am to entreat you to go with him to Ile Bourbon; to urge you to leave me; to tear out my heart and my life. Do you think that he made a good choice of an advocate?”
Madame Delmare’s sombre gravity imposed a sort of respect on Raymon’s cunning.
“Why do you come and tell me all this?” she said. “Are you afraid that I shall allow myself to be moved? Are you afraid that I shall obey? Never fear, Raymon, my mind is made up; I have passed two nights looking at it on every side; I know to what I expose myself; I know what I must defy, what I must sacrifice, what I must disdain to notice; I am ready to pass through this stormy period of my destiny. Will not you be my support and my guide?”
Raymon was tempted to take fright at this cool determination and to take these insane threats seriously; but in a moment he recurred to his former opinion that Indiana did not really love him, and that she was applying now to her situation the exaggerated sentiments she had learned from books. He strove to be eloquent with passion, he devoted his energies to dramatic improvisation, in order to maintain himself on his romantic mistress’s level, and he succeeded in prolonging her error. But, to a calm and impartial auditor, this love scene would have seemed a contest between stage illusion and reality. The grandiloquence of Raymon’s sentiments, the poesy of his ideas would have seemed a cold and cruel parody of the real sentiments which Indiana expressed so simply: in the one case mind, in the other heart.
Raymon, who however had some little fear that she might carry out her promises if he did not shrewdly undermine the plan of resistance she had formed, persuaded her to counterfeit submission or indifference until such time as she could come forth in open rebellion. It was essential, he said, that they should have left Lagny before she declared herself, in order to avoid a scandal in presence of the servants, and Ralph’s dangerous intervention in the affair.
But Ralph did not leave his unfortunate friends. In vain did he offer his whole fortune, his Bellerive estate, his English consols, and whatever his plantations in the colonies would bring; the colonel was inflexible. His affection for Ralph had diminished; he was no longer willing to owe anything to him. Ralph might perhaps have been able to move him had he possessed Raymon’s wit and address; but when he had plainly set forth his ideas and declared his sentiments, the poor baronet believed that he had said everything, and he never attempted to secure the retraction of a refusal. So he let Bellerive and followed Monsieur and Madame Delmare to Paris, pending their departure for Ile Bourbon
Lagny was offered for sale with the factory and the appurtenances. The winter was a melancholy and depressing one to Madame Delmare. To be sure, Raymon was in Paris, he saw her every day, he was attentive and affectionate; but he remained barely an hour with her. He arrived just after dinner, and when the colonel went out on business, he also took his leave to attend some social function or other. Society, you know, was Raymon’s element, his life; he must have the noise, the bustle, the crowd, to breathe freely, to display all his intellectual power, all his ease of manner, all his superiority. In the privacy of the boudoir he could make himself attractive, in society he became brilliant; and then he was no longer the man of a small coterie, the friend of this one or that one; he was the man of intellect who belongs to all alike, and to whom society is a sort of fatherland.
And then, as we have said, Raymon had some principle. When the colonel manifested such confidence in him and esteem for him, when he saw that he regarded him as the very type of honor and sincerity and desired him to act as mediator between his wife and himself, he determined to justify that confidence, to deserve that esteem, to reconcile that husband and wife, to repel any attachment on the part of the latter which might endanger the repose of the other. He became once more a moral, virtuous, philosophical person. You will see for how long.
Indiana, who did not understand this conversion, suffered horribly to be so neglected; and yet she still had the satisfaction of feeling that her hopes were not entirely destroyed. She was easily deceived; she asked nothing better than to be deceived, her real life was so bitter and desolate! Her husband had become almost impossible to live with. In public he affected the heroic courage and indifference of a brave man; but when he returned to the privacy of his own home he was simply an irritable, severe, absurd child. Indiana was the victim of his disgust with life, and, we must confess, she was largely to blame. If she had raised her voice, if she had complained, affectionately but forcibly, Delmare, who was only rough, would have blushed at the idea of being considered unkind. Nothing was easier than to touch his heart and govern him absolutely, if one chose to descend to his level and enter into the circle of ideas that were within the scope of his mind. But Indiana was stiff and haughty in her submissiveness; she always obeyed in silence; but it was the silence and submissiveness of the slave who has made of hatred a virtue and of unhappiness a merit. Her resignation was the dignity of a king who accepts fetters and a dungeon rather than voluntarily abdicate his throne and lay aside a vain title. A woman of a commoner mould would have mastered that commonplace man; she would have said what he said and reserved the right to think differently; she would have pretended to respect his prejudices and secretly have trampled them under foot; she would have caressed him and deceived him. Indiana saw many women who acted thus; but she felt so far above them that she would have blushed to imitate them. Being virtuous and chaste, she thought that she was not called upon to flatter her master by her words so long as she respected him in his actions. She did not care for his affection because she could not respond to it. She would have considered it far more blameworthy to make a show of love for the husband whom she did not love, than to give her heart to the lover who inspired love in her. To deceive was the crime in her eyes, and twenty times a day she felt that she must declare her love for Raymon; naught detained her but the fear of ruining him. Her impassive obedience irritated the colonel much more than a cleverly managed rebellion would have done. Although his self-esteem would have suffered if he had ceased to be master in his own house, it suffered much more from the consciousness that he was master in a hateful and absurd fashion. He would have liked to convince and he simply commanded; to reign, and he governed. Sometimes he gave an order that was awkwardly expressed, or, without reflection, issued orders that were injurious to his own interests. Madame Delmare saw that they were carried out without scrutiny, without question, with the indifference of the horse that draws the plough in one direction or another. Delmare, when he saw the result of the failure to understand his ideas, of the misconstruction of his wishes, would fly into a rage; but when she had proved to him with a few tranquil, icy words that she had simply caused his orders to be obeyed, he was reduced to the necessity of turning his wrath against himself. It was a cruel pang, a bitter affront to that man of petty self-esteem and of violent passions.
Several times he would have killed his wife, if he had been at Smyrna or at Cairo. And yet he loved with all his heart that weak woman who lived in subjection to him and kept the secret of his ill-treatment with religious prudence. He loved her or pitied her–I do not know which. He would have liked to win her love, for he was proud of her education and of her superiority. He would have risen in his own eyes if she would have stooped so far as to parley with his ideas and his principles. When he went to her apartments in the morning with the purpose of picking a quarrel with her, he sometimes found her asleep and dared not wake her. He would gaze at her in silence; he would take fright at the delicacy of her constitution, the pallor of her cheeks, at the air of calm melancholy, of resignation to misfortune expressed by that motionless and silent face. He would find in her features innumerable subjects of self-reproach, remorse, anger and dread. He would blush at the thought of the influence which so frail a creature had exerted over his destiny-he, a man of iron, accustomed to command others, to see whole battalions, spirited horses and frightened men march at a word from his lips.
And a wife who was still but a child had made him unhappy! She forced him to look within himself-to scrutinize his own decisions, to modify many of them, to retract some of them-and all this without saying: “You are wrong; I beg that you will do thus or thus.” She had never implored, she had never deigned to show herself his equal and to avow herself his companion. That woman, whom he could have crushed in his hand if he had chosen, lay there, an insignificant creature, dreaming of another before his eyes, perhaps, and defying him even in her sleep. He was tempted to strangle her-to drag her out of bed by the hair, to trample on her and force her to shriek for mercy and to implore his forgiveness; but she was so pretty, so dainty and so fair, that he would suddenly take pity on her, as a child is moved to pity as he gazes at the bird he intended to kill. And he would weep like a woman, man of bronze as he was, and would steal away so that she might not enjoy the triumph of seeing him weep. In truth I know not which was the unhappier, he or she. She was cruel from virtue, as he was kind from weakness; she had too much patience, of which he had not enough; she had the failings of her good qualities and he the good qualities of his failings.
Around these two ill-assorted beings swarmed a multitude of friends who strove to bring them nearer together, some in order to have something to occupy their minds, others to give themselves importance, others as the result of ill-advised affection. Some took the wife’s part, others the husband’s. They quarrelled among themselves on the subject of Monsieur and Madame Delmare, who, on the other hand, did not quarrel at all; for, with Indiana’s systematic submission, the colonel could never succeed in picking a quarrel, whatever he might do. And then there were those who knew nothing, but wanted to make themselves necessary. They counselled submission to Madame Delmare and did not see that she was only too submissive; others advised the husband to be inflexible and not to allow his authority to pass into his wife’s hands. These last, stupid mortals who have so little feeling that they are always afraid that some one is treading on them and who mistake cause and effect for each other, belong to a species which you will find everywhere, which is constantly getting entangled in other people’s legs and makes a deal of noise in order to attract attention.
Monsieur and Madame Delmare had made a particularly large number of acquaintances at Melun and at Fontainebleau. They met these people again at Paris, and they were the keenest in the game of evil-speaking that was being played about them. The wit of small towns is, as you doubtless know, the most ill-natured in the world. Good people are always misunderstood there, superior minds are sworn foes of the public. If a battle is to be fought for a fool or a boor you will see them running from all directions. If you have a dispute with any one, they come to look on as at the theatre; they make bets; they crowd upon your heels, so eager are they to see and hear. The one who falls they will cover with mud and maledictions; the weakest is always in the wrong. If you make war on prejudices, petty foibles, vices, you insult them personally, you attack them in what they hold most dear, you are a treacherous and dangerous man. You will be summoned before the courts to make reparations by people whose names you do not know, but whom you will be convicted of having referred to in your slurring allusions. What advice shall I give you? If you meet one of those people, avoid stepping in his shadow, even at sunset, when a man’s shadow is thirty feet long; all that ground belong to the inhabitant of the small town, and you have no right to set a foot upon it. If you breathe the air that he breathes, you injure him, you destroy his health; if you drink at his fountain, you cause it to run dry; if you lend a hand to business in his province, you increase the price of the articles he purchases; if you offer him snuff, you poison it; if you think his daughter pretty, you intend to seduce her; if you extol his wife’s domestic virtues, it is insulting irony, and in your heart you despise her for her ignorance; if you are so ill-advised as to pay him a compliment in his own house, he will not understand it, and he will go about everywhere saying that you have insulted him. Take your penates and carry them into the woods or to the desolate moors. There only will the man of the small town leave you in peace.
Even behind the manifold girdle of the walls of Paris the small town pursued this ill-starred couple. Well-to-do families from Melun and Fontainebleau took up their abode in the capital for the winter and brought thither the blessing of their provincial manners. Cliques were formed around Delmare and his wife, and all that was humanly possible was attempted in order to make their position with respect to each other more uncomfortable. Their unhappiness was increased thereby and their mutual obstinacy did not diminish.
Ralph had the good sense not to meddle in their dissensions. Madame Delmare had suspected him of embittering her husband against her, or at least of seeking to put an end to Raymon’s intimacy with her; but she soon realized the injustice of her suspicions. The colonel’s perfect tranquility with respect to Monsieur de Ramière was irrefutable evidence of his cousin’s silence. Thereupon she felt that she must thank him; but he sedulously avoided any conversation on that subject; whenever she was alone with him, he eluded her hints and pretended not to understand them. It was such a delicate subject that Madame Delmare had not the courage to force Ralph to discuss it; she simply endeavored, by her loving attentions, by her delicate and affectionate deference to him, to make him understand her gratitude; but Ralph seemed to pay no heed, and Indiana’s pride was wounded by this display of supercilious generosity. She was afraid that she should seem to play the rôle of the guilty wife imploring the indulgence of a stern witness; she became cold and constrained once more with poor Ralph. It seemed to her that his conduct in this matter was the natural consequence of his selfishness; that he loved her still, although he no longer esteemed her; that he simply desired her society for his own diversion, that he disliked to abandon habits which she had formed for him in her home and to deprive himself of the attentions that she was never weary of bestowing upon him. She fancied that he was by no means anxious to invent grievances against her husband or herself.
“That is just like his contempt for women,” she thought; “in his eyes they are simply domestic animals, useful to keep a house in order, prepare meals and serve tea. He doesn’t do them the honor of entering into a discussion with them; their faults have no effect on him provided that they do not interfere with his comfort or his mode of life. Ralph has no need of my heart; as long as my hands retain the knack of preparing his pudding and of touching the strings of the harp for him, what does he care for my love for another man, my secret suffering, my deathly impatience under the yoke that is crushing me? I am his servant, he asks nothing more of me than that.”
Indiana had ceased to reproach Raymon; he defended himself so badly that she was afraid of finding him too worthy of blame. There was one thing which she dreaded much more than being deceived, and that was being abandoned. She could not live without her belief in him, without her hope of the future he had promised her; for her life with Monsieur Delmare and Ralph had become hateful to her, and if she had not expected soon to escape from the power of those two men, she would have drowned herself at once. She often thought of it; she said to herself that if Raymon treated her as he had treated Noun there would be no other way for her to avoid an unendurable future than to join Noun. That sombre thought followed her everywhere and she took pleasure in it.
Meanwhile the time fixed for their departure from France drew near. The colonel seemed to have no suspicion of the resistance which his wife was meditating; every day he made some progress in the settlement of his affairs, every day he paid off one more creditor; and Madame Delmare looked on with a tranquil eye at all these preparations, sure as she was of her own courage. She was preparing, too, for her struggle with the difficulties she anticipated. She sought to procure an ally in her aunt, Madame de Carvajal, and dilated to her upon her repugnance to the journey; and the old marchioness who-to give her no more than her due-built great hopes of attracting custom to her salon upon her niece’s beauty, declared that it was the colonel’s duty to leave his wife in France; that it would be downright barbarity to expose her to the fatigues and dangers of an ocean voyage when her health had just begun to show some slight improvement; in a word, that it was his place to go to work at rebuilding his fortune, Indiana’s to remain with her old aunt and take care of her. At first Monsieur Delmare looked upon these insinuations as the doting talk of an old woman; but he was forced to pay more attention to them when Madame de Carvajal gave him clearly to understand that her inheritance was to be had only at that price. Although Delmare loved money like a man who had worked hard all his life to amass it, he had some pride in his composition; he pronounced his ultimatum with decision, and declared that his wife should go with him at any risk. The marchioness, who could not believe that money was not the absolute sovereign of every man of good sense, did not look upon this as Monsieur Delmare’s last word; she continued to encourage her niece in her resistance, proposing to assume the responsibility for her action in the eyes of the world. It needed all the indelicacy of a mind corrupted by intrigue and ambition, all the shuffling of a heart distorted by constant devotion to mere external show, to close her eyes thus to the real causes of Indiana’s rebellion. Her passion for Monsieur de Ramière was a secret to no one but her husband; but as Indiana had as yet given scandal nothing to seize upon, the secret was mentioned only in undertones, and Madame de Carvajal had been confidentially informed of it by more than a score of persons. The foolish old woman was flattered by it; all that she desired was to have her niece à la mode in society, and an intrigue with Raymon was a fine beginning. And yet Madame de Carvajal’s moral character was not of the Regency type; the Restoration had given a virtuous impulse to minds of that stamp; and as conduct was demanded at court, the marchioness detested nothing so much as the scandal that ruins and destroys. Under Madame du Barry she would been less rigid in her principles; under the Dauphiness she became one of the high-necked. But all this was for show, for the sake of appearances; she kept her disapprobation and her scorn for notorious misconduct, and she always awaited the result of an intrigue before condemning it. Those infidelities which did not cross the threshold were venial in her eyes. She became a Spaniard once more to pass judgment on passions inside the blinds; in her eyes there was no guilt save that which was placarded on the streets for passers-by to see. So that Indiana, passionate but chaste, enamored but reserved, was a precious subject to exhibit and exploit; such a woman as she was might fascinate the strongest brains in that hypocritical society and withstand the perils of the most delicate missions. This was an excellent chance to speculate on the responsibility of so pure a mind and so passionate a heart. Poor Indiana! luckily her fatal destiny surpassed all her hopes and led her into an abyss of misery where her aunt’s pernicious protection did not seek her out.
Raymon was not disturbed as to what was to become of her. This intrigue had already reached the last stage of distaste, deathly ennui, so far as he was concerned. To cause ennui is to descend as low as possible in the regard of the person whom one loves. Luckily for the last days of her illusion, Indiana had no suspicion of it.
One morning, on returning from a ball, he found Madame Delmare in his room. She had come at midnight; for five mortal hours she had been waiting! It was in the coldest part of the year; she had no fire, but sat with her head resting on her hand, enduring cold and anxiety with the gloomy patience which the whole course of her life has taught her. She raised her head when he entered, and Raymon, speechless with amazement, could detect on her pale face no indication of anger or reproach.
“I was waiting for you,” she said gently; “as you had not come to see me for three days, and as things have happened which it is important that you should know without delay, I came here last night in order to tell you of them.”
“It is imprudent beyond belief!” said Raymon, cautiously locking the door behind him; “and my people know that you are here! They just told me so.”
“I made no attempt at concealment,” she replied coldly; “and as for the word you use, I consider it ill-chosen.”
“I said imprudent, I should have said insane.”
“And I should say courageous. But no matter; listen to me. Monsieur Delmare starts for Bordeaux in three days, and sails thence for the colony. You and I agreed that you should protect me from violence if he employed it; there is no question that he will, for I made known my determination last evening and he locked me into my room. I escaped through a window; see, my hands are bleeding. They may be looking for me at this moment, but Ralph is at Bellerive so that he will not be able to tell where I am. I have decided to remain in hiding until Monsieur Delmare has made up his mind to leave me behind. Have you thought about making ready for my flight, of preparing a hiding-place for me? It is so long since I have been able to see you alone, that I do not know what your present inclinations are; but one day, when I expressed some doubt concerning your resolution, you told me that you could not imagine love without confidence; you reminded me that you had never doubted me, you proved to me that I was unjust, and thereupon I was afraid of remaining below your level if I did not cast aside such puerile suspicions and the innumerable little exactions by which women degrade ordinary love-affairs. I have endured with resignation the brevity of your calls, the embarrassment of our interviews, the eagerness with which you seemed to avoid any free exchange of sentiment with me; I have retained my confidence in you. Heaven is my witness that when anxiety and fear were gnawing at my heart I spurned them as criminal thoughts. I have come now to seek the reward of my faith; the time has come; tell me, do you accept my sacrifices? ”
The crisis was so urgent that Raymon did not feel bold enough to pretend any longer. Desperate, frantic to find himself caught in his own trap, he lost his head and vented his temper in coarse and brutal maledictions.
“You are a mad woman!” he cried, throwing himself into a chair. “Where have you dreamed of love? in what romance written for the entertainment of lady’s -maids, have you studied society, I pray to know?”
He paused, realizing that he had been far too rough, and cudgelling his brains to find a way of saying the same things in other terms and of sending her away without insulting her.
But she was calm, like one prepared to listen to anything.
“Go on,” she said, folding her arms over her heart, whose throbbing gradually grew less violent; “I am listening; I presume that you have something more than that to say to me?”
“Still another effort of the imagination, another love scene,” thought Raymon.–“Never,” he cried, springing excitedly to his feet, “never will I accept such sacrifices! When I told you that I should have the strength to do it, Indiana, I boasted too much, or rather I slandered myself; for the man is no better than a dastard who will consent to dishonor the woman he loves. In your ignorance of life, you failed to realize the importance of such a plan, and I, in my despair at the thought of losing you, did not choose to reflect–”
“Your power of reflection has returned very suddenly!” she said, withdrawing her hand, which he tried to take.
“Indiana,” he rejoined, “do you not see that you impose the dishonorable part on me, while you reserve the heroic part for yourself, and that you condemn me because I desire to remain worthy of your love? Could you continue to love me, ignorant and simple-hearted woman as you are, if I sacrificed your life to my pleasure, your reputation to my selfish interests?”
“You say things that are very contradictory,” said Indiana; “if I made you happy by remaining with you, what do you care for the public opinion? Do you care more for it than for me?”
“Oh! I do not care for it on my account, Indiana!”
“Is it on my account then? I anticipated your scruples and to spare you anything like remorse I have taken the initiative; I did not wait for you to come and carry me away from my home, I did not even consult you with regard to crossing my husband’s threshold forever. The decisive step is taken, and your conscience cannot reproach you for it. At the moment, Raymon, I am dishonored. In your absence I counted on yonder clock the hours that consummated my disgrace; and now, although the dawn finds my brow as pure as it was yesterday, I am a lost creature in public opinion. Yesterday there was still some compassion for me in the hearts of other women; to-day there will be no feeling left but contempt. I considered all these things before acting.”
“Infernal female foresight!” thought Raymon.
And then, struggling against her as he would have done against a bailiff who has come to levy on his furniture, he said in a caressing fatherly tone:
“You exaggerate the importance of what you have done. No, my love, all is not lost because of one rash step. I will enjoin silence on my servants.”
“Will you enjoin silence on mine who, I doubt not, are anxiously looking for me at this moment. And my husband, do you think he will quietly keep the secret? do you think he will consent to receive me to-morrow, when I have passed a whole night under your roof? Will you advise me to go back and throw myself at his feet, and ask him, as a proof of his forgiveness, to be kind enough to replace on my neck the chain which has crushed my life and withered my youth? You would consent, without regret, to see the woman which you loved so dearly go back and resume another man’s yoke, when you have her fate in your hands, when you can keep her in your arms all your life, when she is in your power, offering to remain here forever! You would not feel the least repugnance, the least alarm in surrendering her at once to the implacable master, who perhaps awaits her coming only to kill her!”
A thought flashed through Raymon’s brain. The moment had come to subdue that womanly pride, or it would never come. She had offered him all the sacrifices that he did not want, and she stood before him in overweening confidence that she ran no other risks than those she had foreseen. Raymon conceived a scheme for ridding himself of her embarrassing devotion or of deriving some profit of it. He was too good a friend of Delmare, he owed too much consideration to the man’s unbounded confidence to steal his wife from him; he must content himself with seducing her.
“You are right, my Indiana,” he cried with animation, “you bring me back to myself, you rekindle my transports with the thought of your danger and the dread of injuring you has cooled. Forgive my childish solicitude and let me prove to you how much of tenderness and genuine love it denotes. Your sweet voice makes my blood quiver, your burning words pour fire into my veins; forgive, oh! forgive me for having thought of anything else than this ineffable moment when I at last possess you. Let me forget all the dangers that threaten us and thank you on my knees for the happiness you bring me; let me live entirely in this hour of bliss which I pass at your feet and for which all my blood would not pay. Let him come, that dolt of a husband who locks you up and goes to sleep upon his vulgar brutality, let him come and snatch you from my transports! let him come and snatch you from my arms, my treasure, my life! Henceforth you do not belong to him; you are my sweetheart, my companion, my mistress–”
As he pleaded thus, Raymon gradually worked himself up, as he was accustomed to do when arguing his passions. It was a powerful, a romantic situation; it offered some risks. Raymon loved danger, like a genuine descendant of a race of valiant knights. Every sound that he heard in the street seemed to denote the coming of the husband to claim his wife and his rival’s blood. To seek the joys of love in the stirring emotions of such a situation was a diversion worthy of Raymon. For a quarter of an hour he loved Madame Delmare passionately, he lavished upon her the seductions of burning eloquence. He was truly powerful in his language and sincere in his behavior-this man whose ardent brain considered love-making a polite accomplishment. He played at passion so well that he deceived himself. Shame upon this foolish woman! She abandoned herself in ecstasy to those treacherous demonstrations; she was happy, she was radiant with hope and joy; she forgave everything, she almost accorded everything.
But Raymon ruined himself by over-precipitation. If he had carried his art so far as to prolong for twenty-four hours the situation in which Indiana had risked herself, she would perhaps have been his. But the day was breaking, bright and rosy; the sun poured floods of light into the room, and the noise in the street increased with every moment. Raymon cast a glance at the clock; it was nearly seven.
“It is time to have done with it,” he thought; “Delmare may appear at any moment, and before that happens I must induce her to return home voluntarily.”
He became more urgent and less tender; the pallor of his lips betrayed the working of an impatience more imperious than delicate. There was in his kisses a sort of abruptness, almost anger. Indiana was afraid. A good angel spread his wings over that wavering and bewildered soul; she came to herself and repelled the attacks of cold and selfish vice.
“Leave me,” she said; “I do not propose to yield through weakness what I am willing to accord for love or gratitude. You cannot need proofs of my affection: my presence here is a sufficiently decisive one, and I bring the future with me. But allow me to keep all the strength of my conscience to contend against powerful obstacles that still separate us; I need stoicism and tranquility.”
“What are you talking about?” angrily demanded Raymon, who was furious at her resistance and had not listened to her.
And, losing his heart altogether in that moment of torture and wrath, he pushed her roughly away and strode up and down the room, with heaving bosom and head on fire; then he took a carafe and drank a large glass of water which suddenly calmed his excitement and cooled his love. Whereupon he looked at her ironically and said:
“Come, madame, it is time for you to retire.”
A ray of light at last enlightened Indiana and laid Raymon’s heart bare before her.
“You are right,” she said.
And she walked toward the door.
“Pray take your cloak and boa,” he said, detaining her.
“To be sure,” she retorted, “those traces of my presence might compromise you.”
“You are a child,” he said, in a coaxing tone, as he adjusted her cloak with ostentatious care; “you know very well that I love you; but really you take pleasure in torturing me, and you drive me mad. Wait until I go and call a cab. If I could, I would escort you home; but that would ruin you.”
“Pray, do you not think that I am ruined already?” she asked bitterly.
“No, my darling,” replied Raymon, who asked nothing better than to persuade her to leave him in peace. “Nobody has noticed your absence, as they have not yet come here in search of you. Although I should be the last one to be suspected, it would be natural to inquire at the houses of all of your acquaintances. And then you can go and place yourself under your aunt’s protection; indeed, that is the course I advise you to take; she will arrange everything. You will be supposed to have passed the night at her house.”
Madame Delmare was not listening; she was gazing stupidly at the sun, as it rose, huge and red, over an expanse of gleaming roofs. Raymon tried to rouse her from her preoccupation. She turned her eyes on him, but seemed not to recognize him. Her cheeks had a greenish tinge and her parched lips seemed paralyzed.
Raymon was terrified. He remembered the other’s suicide, and, in his alarm, not knowing which way to turn, dreading lest he should become twice a criminal in his own eyes, but feeling too exhausted mentally to be able to deceive her again, he pushed her gently into an easy-chair, locked the door, and went up to his mother’s room.
He found her awake; she was accustomed to rise early, the result of habits of hard-working activity which she has formed during the emigration, and which she had not abandoned when she recovered her wealth.
Seeing Raymon enter her room so late, pale and excited, and in full dress, she realized that he was struggling in one of the frequent crises of his stormy life. She had always been his refuge and salvation in these periods of agitation, of which no trace remained save a deep and sorrowful one in her mother-heart. Her life had been withered and used up by all that Raymon had acquired and reacquired. Her son’s character, impetuous yet cold, reflective yet passionate, was a consequence of her inexhaustible love and generous indulgence. He would have been a better man with a mother less kind; but she had accustomed him to make the most of all the sacrifices that she consented to make for him; she had taught him to seek and to advance his own well-being as zealously and as powerfully as she sought it. Because she deemed herself created to preserve him from all sorrows and to sacrifice all her own interests to him, he had accustomed himself to believe that the whole world was created for him and would place itself in his hand at a word from his mother. By an abundance of generosity she had succeeded only in forming a selfish heart.
She turned pale, did the poor mother, and, sitting up in bed, gazed anxiously at him. Her glance said at once: “What can I do for you? Where must I go?”
“Mother,” he said grasping the dry, transparent hand that she held out to him, “I am horribly unhappy, I need your help. Save me from the troubles by which I am surrounded. I love Madame Delmare, as you know–”
“I did not know it,” said Madame de Ramière, in a tone of affectionate reproof.
“Don’t try to deny it, dear mother,” said Raymon, who had no time to waste; “you did know it, and your admirable delicacy prevented you speaking it first. Well, that woman is driving me to despair, and my brain is going.”
“Tell me what you mean!” said Madame de Ramière, with the youthful vivacity born of ardent maternal love.
“I do not mean to conceal anything from you, especially as I am not guilty this time. For several months I have been trying to calm her romantic brain and bring her back to a sense of her duties; but all my efforts serve only to intensify this thirst for danger, this craving for adventure that ferments in the brains of all the women of her country. At this moment she is here, in my room, against my will, and I cannot induce her to go away.”
“Unhappy child!” said Madame de Ramière, dressing herself in haste. “Such a timid, gentle creature! I will go and see her, talk to her! that is what you came to ask me to do, isn’t it?”
“Yes, yes,” said Raymon, moved involuntarily by his mother’s goodness of heart; “go and make her understand the language of reason and kindness. She will love virtue from your lips, I doubt not; perhaps she will give way to your caresses; she will recover her self-control, poor creature! she suffers so keenly!”
Raymon threw himself into a chair and began to weep, the divers emotions of the morning had so shaken his nerves. His mother wept for him and could not make up her mind to go down until she had forced him to take a few drops of ether.
Indiana was not weeping and rose with a calm and dignified air when she recognized her. Madame de Ramière was so little prepared for such a dignified and noble bearing, that she felt embarrassed before the younger woman, as if she had shown lack of consideration for her by taking her by surprise in her son’s bedroom. She yielded to the deep and true emotion of her heart and opened her arms impulsively. Madame Delmare threw herself into them; her despair found vent in bitter sobs and the two women wept a long while on each other’s bosom.
But when Madame de Ramière would have spoken, Indiana checked her.
“Do not say anything to me, madame,” she said, wiping away her tears; “you could find no words to say that would not cause me pain. Your interest and your kisses are enough to prove your generous affection; my heart is as much relieved as it can be. I will go now; I do not need your urging to realize what I have to do.”
“But I did not come to send you away, but to comfort you,” said Madame de Ramière.
“I cannot be comforted,” she replied, kissing her once more; “love me, that will help me a little; but do not speak to me. Adieu, madame; you believe in God-pray for me.”
“You shall not go alone!” cried Madame de Ramière; “I will myself go with you to your husband, to justify you, defend you and protect you.”
“Generous woman!” said Indiana, embracing her warmly, “you cannot do it. You alone are ignorant of Raymon’s secret; all Paris will be talking about it tonight, and you would play an incongruous part in such a story. Let me bear the scandal of it alone; I shall not suffer long.”
“What do you mean? would you commit the crime of taking your own life? Dear child! you too believe in God, do you not?”
“And so, madame, I start for Ile Bourbon in three days.”
“Come to my arms, my darling child! come and let me bless you! God will reward your courage.”
“I trust so,” said Indiana, looking up at the sky.
Madame de Ramière insisted on sending for a carriage; but Indiana resisted. She was resolved to return alone and without causing a sensation. In vain did Raymon’s mother express her alarm at the idea of her undertaking so long a journey on foot in her exhausted, agitated condition.
“I have strength enough,” she said; “a word from Raymon sufficed to give me all I need.”
She wrapped herself in her cloak, lowered her black lace veil and left the house by a secret door to which Madame de Ramière showed her the way. As soon as she stepped into the street she felt as if her trembling legs would refuse to carry her; it seemed to her every moment that she could feel her furious husband’s brutal hand seize her, throw her down and drag her in the gutter. Soon the noise in the street, the indifference of the faces that passed her on every side and the penetrating chill of the morning air restored her strength and tranquillity, but it was a pitiable sort of strength and a tranquillity as depressing as that which sometimes prevails on the ocean and alarms the far-sighted sailor more than the howling of the tempest. She walked along the quays from the Institute to the Corps Législatif; but she forgot to cross the bridge and continued to wander by the river, absorbed in a bewildered reverie, in meditation without ideas, and walking aimlessly on and on.
She gradually drew nearer to the river, which washed pieces of ice ashore at her feet and shattered them on the stones along the shore with a dry sound that suggested cold. The greenish water exerted an attractive force on Indiana’s senses. One becomes accustomed to horrible ideas; by dint of dwelling on them one takes pleasure in them. The thought of Noun’s suicide had soothed her hours of despair for so many months, that suicide had assumed in her mind the form of a tempting pleasure. A single thought, a religious thought, had prevented her from deciding definitely upon it; but at this moment no well-defined thought controlled her exhausted brain. She hardly remembered that God existed, that Raymon ever existed, and she walked on, still drawing nearer the bank, obeying the instinct of unhappiness and the magnetic force of suffering.
When she felt the stinging cold of the water on her feet, she woke as if from a fit of somnambulism, and on looking about to discover where she was, saw Paris behind her and the Seine rushing by at her feet, bearing in its oily depths the white reflection of the houses and the grayish blue of the sky. This constant movement of the water and the immobility of the ground became confused in her bewildered mind, and it seemed to her that the water was sleeping and the ground moving. In that moment of vertigo she leaned against a wall and bent forward, fascinated, over what seemed to her a solid mass. But the bark of a dog that was capering about her distracted her thoughts and delayed for some seconds the accomplishment of her design. Meanwhile a man ran to the spot, guided by the dog’s voice, seized her around the waist, dragged her back and laid her on the ruins of an abandoned boat on the shore. She looked in his face and did not recognize him. He knelt at her foot, unfastened his cloak and wrapped it about her, took her hands in his to warm them and called her by name. But her brain was too weak to make an effort; for forty-eight hours she had forgotten to eat.
Sir Ralph saves Indiana
However, when the blood began to circulate in her benumbed limbs, she saw Ralph kneeling beside her, holding her hands and watching for the return of consciousness.
“Did you meet Noun?” she asked him. “I saw her pass along there,” she added, pointing to the river, distracted by her fixed idea. “I tried to follow her, but she walked too fast, and I am not strong enough to walk. It was like a nightmare.”
Ralph looked at her in sore distress. He too felt as if his head were bursting and his brain running wild.
“Let us go,” she continued; “but first see if you can find my feet; I lost them on the stones.”
Ralph saw that her feet were wet and paralyzed by cold. He carried her in his arms to a house near by, where the kindly care of a hospitable woman restored her to consciousness. Meanwhile Ralph sent word to Monsieur Delmare that his wife was found; but the colonel had not returned home when the news arrived. He was continuing his search in a frenzy of anxiety and wrath. Ralph, being more perspicacious, had gone to Monsieur de Ramière’s, but he had found Raymon, who had just gone to bed and who was very cool and ironical in his reception of him. Then he had thought of Noun and had followed the river in one direction, while his servant did the same in the other direction. Ophelia had speedily found her mistress’s scent and had led Ralph to the place where he found her.
When Indiana was able to recall what had taken place during that wretched night, she tried in vain to remember the occurrences of her moments of delirium. She was unable therefore to explain to her cousin what thoughts had guided her action during the last hour; but he divined them and understood the state of her heart without questioning her. He simply took her hand and said to her in a gentle but grave tone:
“Cousin, I require one promise from you; it is the last proof of friendship which I shall ever ask at your hands.”
“Tell me what it is,” she replied; “to oblige you is the only pleasure that is left to me.”
“Well then,” rejoiced Ralph, “swear to me that you will not resort to suicide without notifying me. I swear to you on my honor that I will not oppose your design in any way. I simply insist on being notified: as for life, I care about it as little as you do, and you know that I have often had the same idea.”
“Why do you talk of suicide?” said Madame Delmare. “I have never intended to take my own life. I am afraid of God; if it weren’t for that!–”
“Just now, Indiana, when I seized you in my arms, when this poor beast”-and he patted Ophelia–“caught your dress, you had forgotten God and the whole universe, poor Ralph with the rest.”
A tear stood in Indiana’s eye. She pressed Sir Ralph’s hand.
“Why did you stop me?” she said sadly; “I should be on God’s bosom now, for I was not guilty, I did not know what I was doing.”
“I saw that, and I thought that it was better to commit suicide after due reflection. We will talk about it again if you choose.”
Indiana shuddered. The cab stopped in front of the house where she was to confront her husband. She had not the strength to mount the steps and Ralph carried her to her room. Their whole retinue was reduced to a single maid servant, who had gone to discuss Madame Delmare’s flight with the neighbors, and Lelièvre, who, in despair, had gone to the morgue to inspect the bodies brought in that morning. So Ralph remained with Madame Delmare to nurse her. She was suffering intensely when a loud peal of the bell announced the colonel’s return. A shudder of terror and hatred ran through her every vein. She seized her cousin’s arm.
“Listen, Ralph,” she said; “if you have the slightest affection for me, you will spare me the sight of that man in my present condition. I do not want to arouse his pity, I prefer his anger to that. Do not open the door, or else send him away; tell him that I haven’t been found.”
Her lips quivered, her arms clung to Ralph with convulsive strength, to detain him. Torn by two conflicting feelings, the poor baronet could not make up his mind what to do. Delmare was jangling the bell as if he would break it, and his wife was almost dying in his chair.
“You think only of his anger,” said Ralph at last; “you do not think of his misery, his anxiety; you still believe that he hates you. If you had seen his grief this morning!”
Indiana dropped her arms, thoroughly exhausted, and Ralph went and opened the door.
“Is she here?” cried the colonel, rushing in. “Ten thousand devils! I have run about enough after her; I am deeply obliged to her for putting such a pleasant duty on me! Deuce take her! I don’t want to see her, for I should kill her!”
“You forget that she can hear you,” replied Ralph in an undertone. “She is in no condition to bear any painful excitement. Be calm.”
“Twenty-five thousand maledictions!” roared the colonel. “I have endured enough myself since this morning. It’s a good thing for me that my nerves are like cables. Which of us is the more injured, the more exhausted, which of us has the better right to be sick, I pray to know,-she or I? And where did you find her? what was she doing? She is responsible for my having outrageously insulted that foolish old woman, Carvajal, who gave me ambiguous answers and blamed me for this charming freak! Damnation! I am dead beat!”
As he spoke thus in his harsh, hoarse voice, Delmare had thrown himself on a chair in the ante-room; he wiped his brow from which the perspiration was streaming despite the intense cold; he described with many oaths his fatigues, his anxieties, his sufferings; he asked a thousand questions, and, luckily, did not listen to the answers, for poor Ralph could not lie, and he could think of nothing in what he had to tell that was likely to appease the colonel. So he sat on a table, as silent and unmoved as if he were absolutely without interest in the sufferings of those two, and yet he was really more unhappy in their unhappiness than they themselves were.
Madame Delmare, when she heard her husband’s imprecations, felt stronger than she expected. She preferred this fierce wrath, which reconciled her with herself, to a generous forbearance which would have aroused her remorse. She wiped away the last trace of her tears and summoned what remained of her strength, which she was well content to expend in a day, so heavy a burden had life become to her. Her husband accosted her in a harsh and imperious tone, but suddenly changed his expression and his manner and seemed sorely embarrassed, overmatched by the superiority of her character. He tried to be as cool and dignified as she was; but he could not succeed.
“Will you condescend to inform me, madame,” he said, “where you passed the morning and perhaps the night?”
That perhaps indicated to Madame Delmare that her absence had not been discovered until late. Her courage increased with that knowledge.
“No, monsieur,” she replied, “I do not propose to tell you.”
Delmare turned green with anger and amazement.
“Do you really hope to conceal the truth from me?” he said, in a trembling voice.
“I care very little about it,” she replied in an icy tone. “I refuse to tell you solely for form’s sake. I propose to convince you that you have no right to ask me that question?”
“I have no right, ten thousand devils. Who is master here, pray tell, you or I? Which of us wears a petticoat and ought to be running a distaff? Do you propose to take the beard off my chin? It would look well on you, hussy!”
“I know that I am the slave and you the master. The laws of this country make you my master. You can bind my body, tie my hands, govern my acts. You have the right of the stronger, and society confirms you in it; but you cannot command my will, monsieur; God alone can bend it and subdue it. Try to find a law, a dungeon, an instrument of torture that gives you any hold on it! you might as well try to handle the air and grasp space.”
“Hold your tongue, you foolish, impertinent creature; your high-flown novelist’s phrases weary me.”
“You can impose silence on me, but not prevent me from thinking.”
“Silly pride! pride of a poor worm! you abuse the compassion I have had for you! But you will soon see that this mighty will can be subdued without too much difficulty.”
“I don’t advise you to try it; your repose would suffer, and you would gain nothing in dignity.”
“Do you think so?” he said, crushing her hand between his thumb and forefinger.
“I do think so,” she said, without wincing.
Ralph stepped forward, grasped the colonel’s arm in his iron hand and bent it like a reed, saying in a pacific tone:
“I beg that you will not touch a hair of that woman’s head.”
Delmare longed to fly at him; but he felt that he was in the wrong and he dreaded nothing in the world so much as having to blush for himself. So he simply pushed him away, saying:
“Attend to your own business.”
Then he returned to his wife.
“So, madame,” he said, holding his arms tightly against his sides to resist the temptation to strike her, “you rebel against me, you refuse to go to Ile Bourbon with me, you desire a separation? Very well! Mordieu! I too–”
“I desire it no longer,” she replied. “I did desire it yesterday, it was my will; it is not so this morning. You resorted to violence and locked me in my room; I went out through the window to show you that there is a difference between exerting an absurd control over a woman’s actions and reigning over her will. I passed several hours away from your domination; I breathed the air of liberty in order to show you that you are not morally my master, and that I look to no one on earth but myself for orders. As I walked along I reflected that I owed it to my duty and my conscience to return and place myself under your control once more. I did it of my own free will. My cousin accompanied me here, he did not bring me back. If I had not chosen to come with him, he could not have forced me to do it, as you can imagine. So, monsieur, do not waste your time fighting against my determination; you will never control it, you lost all right to change it as soon as you undertook to assert your right by force. Make your preparations for departure; I am ready to assist you and to accompany you, not because it is your will, but because it is my pleasure. You may condemn me, but I will never obey anyone but myself.”
“I am sorry for the derangement of your mind,” said the colonel, shrugging his shoulders.
And he went to his room to put his papers in order, well satisfied in his heart with Madame Delmare’s resolution and anticipating no further obstacles; for he respected her word as much as he despised her ideas.
Raymon, yielding to fatigue, slept soundly after his curt reception of Sir Ralph, who came to his house to make inquiries. When he awoke, his heart was full of a feeling of intense relief; he believed that the worst crisis of his intrigue had finally come and gone. For a long time he had foreseen that there would come a time when he would be brought face to face with that woman’s love and would have to defend his liberty against the exacting demands of a romantic passion; and he encouraged himself in advance by arguing against such pretensions. He had at last reached and crossed that dangerous spot: he had said no, he would have no occasion to go there again, for everything had happened for the best. Indiana had not wept overmuch, had not been too insistent. She had been quite reasonable; she had understood at the first word and had made up her mind quickly and proudly.
Raymon was very well pleased with his providence; for he had one of his own, in whom he believed like a good son, and upon whom he relied to arrange everything to other people’s detriment rather than his own. That providence had treated him so well thus far that he did not choose to doubt it. To anticipate the result of his wrong-doing and to be anxious concerning it would have been in his eyes a crime against the good Lord who watched over him.
He rose, still very much fatigued by the efforts of the imagination which the circumstances of that painful scene had compelled him to make. His mother returned; she had been to Madame de Carvajal to inquire as to Madame Delmare’s health and frame of mind. The marchioness was not disturbed about her; she was, however, very much disgusted when Madame de Ramière shrewdly questioned her. But the only thing that impressed her in Madame Delmare’s disappearance was the scandal that would result from it. She complained very bitterly of her niece, whom, only the day before, she had extolled to the skies; and Madame de Ramière understood that the unfortunate Indiana had, by this performance, alienated her kinswoman and lost the only natural prop that she still possessed.
To one who could read in the depths of the marchioness’s soul, this would have seemed no great loss; but Madame de Carvajal was esteemed virtuous beyond reproach, even by Madame de Ramière. Her youth had been enveloped in the mysteries of prudence, or lost in the whirlwind of revolutions.
“But what will become of the unhappy creature?” said Madame de Ramière. “If her husband maltreats her, who will protect her?”
“That will be as God wills,” replied the marchioness; “for my part, I’ll have nothing more to do with her and I never wish to see her again.”
Madame de Ramière, kind-hearted and anxious, determined to obtain news of Madame Delmare at any price. She bade her coachman drive to the end of the street on which she lived and sent a footman to question the concierge, instructing him to try to see Sir Ralph if he were in the house. She awaited in her carriage the result of this manoeuvre, and Ralph himself soon joined her there.
The only person, perhaps, who judged Ralph accurately was Madame de Ramière; a few words sufficed to make each of them understand the other’s sincere and unselfish interest in the matter. Ralph narrated what had passed during the morning; and, as he had nothing more than suspicions concerning the events of the night, he did not seek confirmation of them. But Madame de Ramière deemed it her duty to inform him of what she knew, imparting to him her desire to break off this ill-omened and impossible liaison. Ralph, who felt more at ease with her than with anybody else, allowed the profound emotion which her information caused him to appear on his face.
“You say, madame,” he murmured, repressing a sort of nervous shudder that ran through his veins, “that she passed the night in your house?”
“A solitary and sorrowful night, no doubt. Raymon, who certainly was not guilty of complicity, did not come home until six o’clock, and at seven he came up to me to ask me to go down and soothe the poor child’s mind.”
“She meant to leave her husband! she meant to destroy her good name!” rejoined Ralph, his eyes fixed on vacancy and a strange oppression at his heart. “Then she must love this man, who is so unworthy of her, very dearly!”
Ralph forgot that he was talking to Raymon’s mother.
“I have suspected this a long while,” he continued; “why could I not have foretold the day on which she would consummate her ruin! I would have killed her first!”
Such language in Ralph’s mouth surprised Madame de Ramière beyond measure; she supposed that she was speaking to a calm, indulgent man, and she regretted that she had trusted to appearances.
“Mon Dieu! “ she said in dismay, “do you judge her without mercy? will you abandon her as her aunt has? Are you incapable of pity or forgiveness? Will she not have a single friend left after a fault which has already caused her such bitter suffering?”
“Have no fear of anything of the sort on my part, madame,” Ralph replied; “I have known all for six months and I have said nothing. I surprised their first kiss and I did not hurl Monsieur de Ramière from his horse; I often intercepted their love messages in the woods and did not tear them in pieces with my whip. I met Monsieur de Ramière on the bridge he must cross to go to join her; it was night, we were alone and I am four times as strong as he; and yet I did not throw the man into the river; and when, after allowing him to escape, I discovered that he had eluded my vigilance and had stolen into her house, instead of bursting in the doors and throwing him out of the window, I quietly warned them of the husband’s approach and saved the life of one in order to save the other’s honor. You see, madame, that I am indulgent and merciful. This morning I had that man under my hand; I was well aware that he was the cause of all our misery, and, if I had not the right to accuse him without proofs, I certainly should have been justified in quarreling with him for his arrogant and mocking manner. But I bore with his insulting contempt because I knew that his death would kill Indiana; I allowed him to turn over and fall asleep again on the other side, while Indiana, insane and almost dead, was on the shore of the Seine, preparing to join his other victim. You see, madame, that I practise patience with those whom I hate and indulgence with those I love.”
Madame de Ramière, sitting in her carriage opposite Ralph, gazed at him in surprise mingled with alarm. He was so different from what she had always seen him that she almost believed that he had suddenly become deranged. The allusion he had just made to Noun’s death confirmed her in that idea; for she knew absolutely nothing of that story and took the words that Ralph had let fall in his indignation for a fragment of thought unconnected with his subject. He was, in very truth, passing through one of those periods of intense excitement which occur at least once in the lives of the most placid men, and which border so closely on madness that one step farther would carry them across the line. His wrath was restrained and concentrated like that of all cold temperaments; but it was deep, like the wrath of all noble souls; and the novelty of this frame of mind, which was truly portentous in him, made him terrible to look upon.
Madame de Ramière took his hand and said gently:
“You must suffer terribly, my dear Monsieur Ralph, for you wound me without mercy: you forget that the man of whom you speak is my son and that his wrong-doing, if he has been guilty of any, must be infinitely more painful to me than to you.”
Ralph at once came to himself, and said, kissing Madame de Ramière’s hand with an effusive warmth of regard, which was almost as unusual a manifestation on his part as that of his wrath:
“Forgive me, madame; you are right, I do suffer terribly, and I forget those things which I should respect. Pray, forget yourself the bitterness I have allowed to appear! my heart will not fail to lock itself up again.”
Madame de Ramière, although somewhat reassured by this reply, could not rid herself of all anxiety when she saw with what profound hatred Ralph regarded her son. She tried to excuse him in his enemy’s eyes, but he checked her.
“I divine your thoughts, madame,” he said; “but have no fear, Monsieur de Ramière and I are not likely to meet again at present. As for my cousin, do not regret having enlightened me. If the whole world abandons her, I swear that she will always have at least one friend.”
When Madame de Ramière returned home, toward evening, she found Raymon luxuriously ensconced in front of the fire, warming his slippered feet and drinking tea to banish the last vestiges of the nervous excitement of the morning. He was still cast down by that artificial emotion; but pleasant thoughts of the future revivified his faculties; he felt that he had become free once more, and he abandoned himself unreservedly to blissful mediations upon that priceless condition, which he had hitherto been so unsuccessful in maintaining.
“Why am I destined,” he said to himself, “to weary so quickly of this priceless freedom of the heart which I always have to buy so dearly? When I feel that I am caught in a woman’s net, I cannot break it quickly enough, in order to recover my repose and mental tranquillity. May I be cursed if I sacrifice them in such a hurry again! The trouble these two creoles have caused me will serve as a warning, and hereafter I do not propose to meddle with any but easy-going, laughing Parisian women-genuine women of the world. Perhaps I should do well to marry and have done with it, as they say–”
He was absorbed by such comforting, commonplace thoughts as these, when his mother entered, tired and deeply moved.
“She is better,” she said; “everything has gone off as well as possible; I hope that she will grow calmer and–”
“Who?” inquired Raymon, waking with a start among his castles in Spain.
However, he concluded on the following day that he still had a duty to perform, namely, to regain that woman’s esteem, if not her love. He did not choose that she should boast of having left him; he proposed that she should be persuaded that she had yielded to the influence of his good sense and his generosity. He desired to govern her even after he had spurned her; and he wrote to her as follows:
“I do not write to ask your pardon, my dear, for a few cruel or audacious words that escaped me in the delirium of my passion. In the derangement of fever no man can form perfectly coherent ideas or express himself in a proper manner. It is not my fault that I am not a god, that I cannot control in your presence the turbulent ardor of my blood, that my brain whirls, that I go mad. Perhaps I may have a right to complain of the merciless sang-froid with which you condemned me to frightful torture and never took pity on me; but that was not your fault. You are too perfect to play the same rôle in this world that we common mortals play, subject as we are to human passions, slaves of our less-refined organization. As I have often told you, Indiana, you are not a woman, and, when I think of you tranquilly and without excitement, you are an angel. I adore you in my heart as a divinity. But alas! in your presence the old Adam has often reasserted his rights. Often, under the perfumed breath from your lips, a scorching flame has consumed mine; often when, as I leaned toward you, my hair has brushed against yours, a thrill of indescribable bliss has run through my veins, and thereupon I have forgotten that you were an emanation from Heaven, a dream of everlasting felicity, an angel sent from God’s bosom to guide my steps in this life and to describe to me the joys of another existence. Why, O chaste spirit, did you assume the alluring form of a woman? Why, O angel of light, did you clothe yourself in the seductions of hell? Often have I thought that I held happiness in my arms, and it was only virtue.
“Forgive me these reprehensible regrets, my love; I was not worthy of you, but perhaps we should both have been happier if you would have consented to stoop to my level. But my inferiority has constantly caused you pain and you have imputed your own virtues to me as crimes.
“Now that you absolve me-as I am sure that you do, for perfection implies mercy-let me still raise my voice to thank you and bless you. Thank you, do I say? Ah! no, my life, that is not the word; for my heart is more torn than yours by the courage that snatches you from my arms. But I admire you; and, through my tears, I congratulate you. Yes, my Indiana, you have mustered strength to accomplish this heroic sacrifice. It tears out my heart and my life; it renders my future desolate, it ruins my existence. But I love you well enough to endure it without a complaint; for my honor is nothing, yours is all in all. I would sacrifice my honor to you a thousand times; but yours is dearer to me than all the joys you have given me. No, no! I could not have enjoyed such a sacrifice. In vain should I have tried to blunt my conscience by delirious transports; in vain would you have opened your arms to intoxicate me with celestial joys-remorse would have found me out; it would have poisoned every hour of my life, and I should have been more humiliated than you by the contempt of men. O God! to see you degraded and brought to shame by me! to see you deprived of the veneration which encompassed you! to see you insulted in my arms and to be unable to wipe out the insult! for, though I should have shed all my blood for you, it would not have availed you. I might have avenged you, perhaps, but could never have justified you. My zeal in your defence would have been an additional accusation against you; my death an unquestionable proof of your crime. Poor Indiana! I should have ruined you! Ah! how miserably unhappy I should be!
“Go, therefore, my beloved; go and reap under another sky the fruits of virtue and religion. God will reward us for such an effort, for God is good. He will reunite us in a happier life, and perhaps-but the mere thought is a crime; and yet I cannot refrain from hoping! Adieu, Indiana, adieu! You see that our love is a sin! Alas! my heart is broken. Where could I find strength to say adieu to you!”
Raymon himself carried this letter to Madame Delmare’s; but she shut herself up in her room and refused to see him. So he left the house after handing the letter secretly to the servant and cordially embracing the husband. As he left the last step behind him, he felt much better-hearted than usual; the weather was finer, the women fairer, the shops more brilliant. It was a red-letter day in Raymon’s life.
Madame Delmare placed the letter, with the seal unbroken, in a box which she did not propose to open until she reached her destination. She wished to go to take leave of her aunt, but Sir Ralph with downright obstinacy opposed her doing so. He had seen Madame de Carvajal; he knew that she would overwhelm Indiana with reproaches and scorn; he was indignant at this hypocritical severity, and could not endure the thought of Madame Delmare exposing herself to it.
On the following day, as Delmare and his wife were about entering the diligence, Sir Ralph said to them with his accustomed sang-froid:
“I have often given you to understand, my friends, that it was my wish to accompany you; but you have refused to understand, or, at all events, to give me an answer. Will you allow me to go with you?”
“To Bordeaux?” queried Monsieur Delmare.
“To Bourbon,” replied Sir Ralph.
“You cannot think of it,” rejoined Monsieur Delmare; “you cannot shift your establishment about from place to place at the caprice of a couple whose situation is precarious and whose future is uncertain. It would be abusing your friendship shamefully to accept the sacrifice of your whole life and of your position in society. You are rich and young and free; you ought to marry again, found a family–”
“That is not the question,” said Sir Ralph, coldly. “As I have not the art of enveloping my ideas in words which change their meaning, I will tell you frankly what I think. It has seemed to me that in the last six months our friendship has fallen off perceptibly. Perhaps I have made mistakes which my dulness of perception has prevented me from detecting. If I am wrong, a word from you will suffice to set my mind at rest; allow me to go with you. If I have deserved severe treatment at your hands, it is time to tell me so; you ought not, by abandoning me thus, to leave me to suffer remorse for having failed to make reparation for my faults.”
The colonel was so touched by this artless and generous appeal that he forgot all the wounds to his self-esteem which had alienated him from his friend. He offered him his hand, swore that his friendship was more sincere than ever, and that he refused his offers only from delicacy.
Madame Delmare held her peace. Ralph made an effort to obtain a word from her.
“And you, Indiana,” he said in a stifled voice, “have you still a friendly feeling for me?”
That question reawoke all the filial affection, all the memories of childhood, of years of intimacy, which bound their hearts together. They threw themselves weeping into each other’s arms, and Ralph nearly swooned; for strong emotions were constantly fermenting in that robust body, beneath that calm and reserved exterior. He sat down to avoid falling and remained for a few moments without speaking, pale as death; then he seized the colonel’s hand in one of his and his wife’s in the other.
“At this moment, when we are about to part, perhaps forever, be frank with me. You refuse my proposal to accompany you on my account and not on your own?”
“I give you my word of honor,” said Delmare, “that in refusing you I sacrifice my happiness to yours.”
“For my part,” said Indiana, “you know that I would like never to leave you.”
“God forbid that I should doubt your sincerity at such a moment!” rejoined Ralph; “your word is enough for me; I am content with you both.”
And he disappeared.
Six weeks later the brig Coraly sailed from the port of Bordeaux. Ralph had written to his friends that he would be in that city just prior to their sailing; but, as his custom was, in such a laconic style that it was impossible to determine whether he intended to bid them adieu for the last time or to accompany them. They waited in vain for him until the last moment, and when the captain gave the signal to weigh anchor he had not appeared. Gloomy presentiments added their bitterness to the dull pain that gnawed at Indiana’s heart, when the last houses of the town vanished amid the trees on the shore. She shuddered at the thought that she was thenceforth alone in the world with the husband whom she hated! that she must live and die with him, without a friend to comfort her, without a kinsman to protect her against his brutal domination.
But, as she turned, she saw on the deck behind her Ralph’s placid and kindly face smiling into hers.
“So you have not abandoned me after all?” she said, as she threw her arms about his neck, her face bathed in tears.
“Never!” replied Ralph, straining her to his heart.
“Ile Bourbon, June 3d, 18 —
“I had determined to weary you no more with reminders of me; but, after reading on my arrival here the letter you sent me just before I left Paris, I feel that I owe you a reply because, in the agitation caused by horrible suffering, I went too far. I was mistaken with regard to you, and I owe you an apology, not as a lover but as a man.
“Forgive me, Raymon, for in the most ghastly moment of my life I took you for a monster. A single word, a single glance from you banished all confidence and all hope from my heart forever. I know that I can never be happy again; but I still hope that I may not be driven to despise you; that would be the last blow.
“Yes, I took you for a dastard, for the worst of all human creatures, an egotist. I conceived a horror of you. I regretted that Bourbon was not so far away as I longed to fly from you, and indignation gave me strength to drain the cup to the dregs.
“But since I have read your letter I feel better. I do not regret you, but I no longer hate you, and I do not wish to leave your life a prey to remorse for having ruined mine. Be happy, be free from care; forget me. I am still alive and I may live a long while.
“It is a fact that you are not to blame; I was the one who was mad. Your heart was not dry, but it was closed to me. You did not lie to me, but I deceived myself. You were neither perjured nor cold; you simply did not love me.
“Oh! mon Dieu! you did not love me! In heaven’s name how must you be loved? But I will not stoop to complaints; I am not writing to you for the purpose of poisoning with hateful memories the repose of your present life; nor do I propose to implore your compassion for sorrows which I am strong enough to bear alone. On the contrary, knowing better the rôle for which you are suited, I absolve you and forgive you.
“I will not amuse myself by refuting the charges in your letter; it would be too easy a matter; I will not reply to your observations with regard to my duties. Never fear, Raymon; I am familiar with them and I did not love you little enough to disregard them without due reflection. It is not necessary to tell me that the scorn of mankind would have been the reward of my downfall; I was well aware of it. I knew too that the stain would be deep, indelible and painful beyond words; that I should be spurned on all sides, cursed, covered with shame, and that I should not find a single friend to pity me and comfort me. The only mistake I had made was the feeling confident that you would open your arms to me, and that you would assist me to forget the scorn, the misery and the desertion of my friends. The only thing I had not anticipated was that you might refuse to accept my sacrifice after I had consummated it. I had imagined that that was impossible. I went to your house with the expectation that you would repel me at first from principle and a sense of duty, but firmly convinced that when you learned the inevitable consequences of what I had done, you would feel bound to assist me to endure them. No, upon my word I would never have believed that you would abandon me undefended to the consequences of such a dangerous resolution, and that you would leave me to gather its bitter fruits instead of taking me to your bosom and making a rampart of your love.
“In that case how gladly I would have defied the distant mutterings of a world that was powerless to injure me! how I would have defied hatred, being strong in your love! how feeble my remorse would have been, and how easily the passion you would have inspired would have stifled its voice! Engrossed by you alone, I would have forgotten myself; proud in the possession of your heart, I should have had no time to blush for my own. A word from you, a glance, a kiss would have sufficed to absolve me, and the memory of men and laws could have found no place in such a life. You see I was mad; according to your cynical expression I had acquired my knowledge of life from novels written for lady’s -maids, from those gay, childish works of fiction in which the heart is interested in the success of wild enterprises and in impossible felicities. What you said, Raymon, was horribly true! The thing that terrifies and crushes me is that you are right.
“One thing that I cannot understand so well is that the impossibility was not the same for both of us; that I, a weak woman, derived from the exaltation of my feelings sufficient strength to place myself alone in a romantic, improbable situation, and that you, a brave man, could not find in your will-power, sufficient courage to follow me. And yet you had shared my dreams of the future, you had assented to my illusions, you had nourished in me that hope impossible of realization. For a long while you had listened to my childish plans, my pygmy-like aspirations, with a smile on your lips and joy in your eyes, and your words were all love and gratitude. You too were blind, short-sighted, boastful. How did it happen that your reason did not return until the danger was in sight? Why, I thought that danger charmed the eyes, strengthened the resolution, put fear to flight; and yet you trembled like a leaf when the crisis came! Have you men no courage except the physical courage that defies death? are you not capable of the moral courage that welcomes misfortune? Do you, who explain everything so admirably, explain that to me, I beg.
“It may be that your dream was not like mine; in my case, you see, courage was love. You had fancied that you loved me, and you had awakened, surprised to find that you had made such a mistake, on the day that I went forward trusting in the shelter of my mistake. Great God! what an extraordinary delusion it was of yours, since you did not then foresee all the obstacles that struck you when the time for action came! since you did not mention them to me until it was too late!
“But why should I reproach you now? Are we responsible for the impulses of our hearts? was it in your power to say that you would always love me? No, of course not. My misfortune consists in my inability to make myself agreeable to you longer and more really. I look about for the cause of it and find none in my heart; but it apparently exists, none the less. Perhaps I loved you too well, perhaps my affection was annoying and tiresome. You were a man, you loved liberty and pleasure. I was a burden to you. Sometimes I tried to put fetters on your life. Alas! those were very paltry offences to plead in justification of such a cruel desertion!
“Enjoy, therefore, the liberty you have purchased at the expense of my whole life; I will interfere with it no more. Why did you not give me this lesson sooner? My wound would have been less deep, and yours also, perhaps.
“Be happy! that is the last wish my broken heart will ever form! Do not exhort me to think of God, leave that for the priests, who have to soften the hard hearts of the guilty. For my part, I have more faith than you; I do not serve the same God, but I serve Him more loyally and with a purer heart. Yours is the God of men, the king, the founder and the upholder of your race; mine is the God of the universe, the creator, the preserver and the hope of all creatures. Yours made everything for you alone; mine made all created things for one another. You deem yourselves the masters of the world; I deem you only its tyrants. You think that God protects you and authorizes you to possess the empire of the earth; I think that He permits that for a little time, and that the day will come when His breath will scatter you like grains of sand. No, Raymon, you do not know God; or rather let me repeat what Ralph said to you one day at Lagny: you believe in nothing. Your education and your craving for an irresistible power to oppose to the brute force of the people, have led you to adopt without scrutiny the beliefs of your fathers; but the conviction of God’s existence has never reached your heart–I doubt if you have ever prayed to Him. For my part, I have but one belief, the only one probably that you have not: I believe in Him; but the religion you have devised I will have nothing to do with; all your morality, all your principles, are simply the interests of your social order which you have raised to the dignity of laws and which you claim to trace back to God himself, just as your priests instituted the rites and ceremonies of the church to establish their power over the nations and amass wealth. But it is all falsehood and impiety. I, who invoke God and understand Him, know that there is nothing in common between Him and you, and that by clinging to Him with all my strength I separate myself from you, whose constant aim it is to overthrow His works and sully His gifts. I tell you, it ill becomes you to invoke His name to crush the resistance of a poor, weak woman, to stifle the lamentations of a broken heart. God does not choose that the creations of His hands shall be oppressed and trodden under foot. If He vouchsafed to descend so far as to intervene in our paltry quarrels, He would crush the strong and raise the weak; He would pass His mighty hand over our uneven heads and level them like the surface of the sea; He would say to the slave: ‘Cast off thy chains and fly to the mountains where I have placed water and flowers and sunshine for thee.’ He would say to the kings: ‘Throw your purple robes to the beggars to sit upon, and go to sleep in the valleys where I have spread for you carpets of moss and heather.’ To the powerful He would say: ‘Bend your knees and bear the burdens of your weaker brethren; for henceforth you will need them and I will give them strength and courage.’ Yes, those are my dreams; they are all of another life, of another world, where the laws of the brutal will not have passed over the heads of the peaceably inclined; where resistance and flight will not be crimes; where man can escape man as the gazelle escapes the panther; where the chain of the law will not be stretched about him to force him to throw himself under his enemy’s feet; and where the voice of prejudice will not be raised in his distress to insult his sufferings and to say to him: ‘You shall be deemed cowardly and base because you did not bend the knee and crawl.’
“No, do not talk to me about God, you of all men, Raymon; do not invoke His name to send me into exile and reduce me to silence. In submitting as I do I yield to the power of men. If I listened to the voice which God has placed in the depths of my heart, and to the noble instinct of a bold and strong nature, which perhaps is the genuine conscience, I should fly to the desert, I should learn to do without help, protection and love: I should go and live for myself in the heart of our beautiful mountains: I should forget the tyrants, the unjust and the ungrateful. But alas! man cannot do without his fellowman, and even Ralph cannot live alone.
“Adieu, Raymon! may you be happy without me! I forgive you for the harm you have done me. Talk of me sometimes to your mother, the best woman I have ever known. Understand that there is neither anger nor vengeance in my heart against you; my grief is worthy of the love I had for you.
The unfortunate creature was over-boastful. This profound and calm sorrow was due simply to a sense of what her own dignity demanded when she addressed Raymon; but, when she was alone, she gave way freely to its consuming violence. Sometimes, however, a vague gleam of hope shone in her troubled eyes. Perhaps she never lost the last vestige of confidence in Raymon’s love, despite the cruel lessons of experience, despite the distressing thoughts which placed before her mind every day his indifference and indolence when his interests or his pleasures were not concerned. It is my belief that, if Indiana could have persuaded herself to face the bald truth, she would not have dragged out her hopeless, ruined life so long.
Woman is naturally foolish; it is as if Heaven, to counterbalance the eminent superiority over us men which she owes to her delicacy of perception, had implanted a blind vanity, an idiotic credulity in her heart. It may be that one need only be an adept in the art of bestowing praise and flattering the self-esteem, to obtain dominion over that subtle, supple and perspicacious being. Sometimes the men who are most incapable of obtaining any sort of ascendancy over other men, obtain an unbounded ascendancy over the minds of women. Flattery is the yoke that bends those ardent but frivolous heads so low. Woe to him who undertakes to be frank and outspoken in love! he will have Ralph’s fate.
This is what I should reply if you should tell me that Indiana is an exceptional character, and that the ordinary woman displays neither her stoical coolness nor her exasperating patience in resistance to conjugal despotism. I should tell you to look at the reverse of the medal, and see the miserable weakness, the stupid blindness she displays in her relations with Raymon. I should ask you where you ever found a woman who was not as ready to deceive as to be deceived; who had not the art to confine for ten years in the depths of her heart the secret of a hope sacrificed so thoughtlessly in a day of frenzied excitement, and who would not become, in one man’s arms, as pitiably weak as she could be strong and invincible in another man’s.
Madame Delmare’s home had become more peaceable, however. With their false friends had disappeared many of the difficulties which, under the fostering hand of those officious meddlers, had been envenomed with all the warmth of their zeal. Sir Ralph, with his silence and his apparent noninterference, was more skilful than all of them in letting drop those airy trifles of intimate companionship which float about in the favoring breeze of pleasant gossip. But Indiana lived almost alone. Her house was in the mountains above the town, and Monsieur Delmare, who had a warehouse in the port, went down every morning for the whole day, to superintend his business with the Indies and with France. Sir Ralph, who had no other home than theirs, but who found ways to add to their comfort without their suspecting his gifts, devoted himself to the study of natural history or to superintending the plantation; Indiana, resuming the easy-going habits of creole life, passed the scorching hours of the day in her straw chair, and the long evenings in the solitude of the mountains.
Bourbon is in truth, simply a huge cone, the base of which is about forty leagues in circumference, while its gigantic mountain peaks rise to the height of ten thousand feet. From almost every part of that imposing mass, the eye can see in the distance, beyond the beetling rocks, beyond the narrow valleys and stately forests, the unbroken horizon surrounding the azure-hued sea like a girdle. From her window, Indiana could see between the twin peaks of a wooded mountain opposite that on which their house was built, the white sails on the Indian Ocean. During the silent hours of the day, that spectacle attracted her eyes and gave to her melancholy a fixed and uniform tinge of despair. That splendid sight made her musings bitter and gloomy, instead of casting its poetical influence upon them; and she would lower the curtain that hung at her window and shun the very daylight, in order to shed bitter, scalding tears in the secrecy of her heart.
But when the land breeze began to blow, toward evening, and to bring to her nostrils the fragrance of the flowering rice-fields, she would go forth into the wilderness, leaving Delmare and Ralph on the veranda, to enjoy the aromatic infusion of the faham and to loiter over their cigars. She would climb to the top of some accessible peak, the extinct crater of a former volcano, and gaze at the setting sun as it kindled the red vapors of the atmosphere into flame and spread a sort of dust of gold and rubies over the murmuring stalks of the sugar cane and the glistening walls of the cliff. She rarely went down into the gorges of the St. Gilles River, because the sight of the sea, although it distressed her, fascinated her with its magnetic mirage. It seemed to her that beyond those waves and that distant haze the magic apparition of another land would burst upon her gaze. Sometimes the clouds on the shore assumed strange forms in her eyes: at one time she would see a white wave rise upon the ocean and describe a gigantic line which she took for the facade of the Louvre; again two square sails would emerge suddenly from the mist and recall to her mind the towers of Notre-Dame at Paris, when the Seine sends up a dense mist which surrounds their foundations and leaves them as if suspended in the sky; at other times there were patches of pink clouds which, in their changing shapes, imitated all the caprices of architecture in a great city. That woman’s mind slumbered in the illusions of the past, and she would quiver with joy at sight of that magnificent Paris, whose realities were connected with the most unhappy period of her life. A curious sort of vertigo would take possession of her brain. Standing at a great height above the shore, and watching the gorges that separated her from the ocean recede before her eyes, it seemed as if she were flying swiftly through space toward the fascinating city of her imagination. Dreaming thus, she would cling to the rock against which she was leaning, and to one who had at such times seen her eager eyes, her bosom heaving with impatient longing and the horrifying expression of joy on her face, she would have seemed to manifest all the symptoms of madness. And yet those were her hours of pleasure, the only moments of well-being to which she looked forward hopefully during the day. If her husband had taken it into his head to forbid these solitary walks, I do not know what thought she would have lived upon; for in her everything centred in a certain faculty of inventing allusions, in an eager striving toward a point which was neither memory, nor anticipation, nor hope, nor regret, but longing in all its devouring intensity. Thus she lived for weeks and months beneath the tropical sky, recognizing, loving, caressing but one shade, cherishing but one chimera.
Ralph, for his part, was attracted to gloomy, secluded spots in his walks, where the wind from the sea could not reach him; for the sight of the ocean had become as antipathetic to him as the thought of crossing it again. France held only an accursed place in his heart’s memory. There it was that he had been unhappy to the point of losing courage, accustomed as he was to unhappiness and patient with his misery. He strove with all his might to forget it; for, although he was intensely disgusted with life, he wished to live as long as he should feel that he was necessary. He was very careful therefore never to utter a word relating to the time he had passed in that country. What would he not have given to tear that ghastly memory from Madame Delmare’s mind! But he had so little confidence of his ability, he felt that he was so awkward, so lacking in eloquence, that he avoided her instead of trying to divert her thoughts. In the excess of his delicate reserve, he continued to maintain the outward appearance of indifference and selfishness. He went off and suffered alone, and, to see him scouring woods and mountains in pursuit of birds and insects, one would have taken him for a naturalist sportsman engrossed by his innocent passion and utterly indifferent to the passions of the heart that were stirring in his neighborhood. And yet hunting and study were merely the pretext behind which he concealed his long and bitter reveries.
This conical island is split at the base on all sides and conceals in its embrasures deep gorges through which flow pure and turbulent streams. One of these gorges is called Bernica. It is a picturesque spot, a sort of deep and narrow valley, hidden between two perpendicular walls of rock, the surface of which is studded with clumps of saxatile shrubs and tufts of ferns.
A stream flows in the narrow trough formed by the meeting of the two sides. At the point where they meet it plunges down into frightful depths, and, where it falls, forms a basin surrounded by reeds and covered with a damp mist. Around its banks and along the edges of the tiny stream fed by the overflow of the basin grow bananas and oranges, whose dark and healthy green clothe the inner walls of the gorge. Thither Ralph fled to avoid the heat and companionship. All his walks led to that favorite goal; the cool, monotonous plash of the waterfall lulled his melancholy to sleep, When his heart was torn by the secret agony so long concealed, so cruelly misunderstood, it was there that he expended in unknown tears, in silent lamentations, the useless energy of his heart and the concentrated activity of his youth.
In order that you may understand Ralph’s character, it will be well to tell you that at least half of his life had been passed in the depths of that ravine. Thither he had gone, in his early childhood, to steel his courage against the injustice with which he had been treated in his family. It was there that he had put forth all the energies of his soul to endure the destiny arbitrarily imposed upon him, and that he had acquired the habit of stoicism which he had carried to such a point that it had become a second nature to him. There too, in his youth, he had carried little Indiana on his shoulders; he had laid her on the grass by the stream while he fished in the clear water or tried to scale the cliff in search of birds’ nests.
The only dwellers in that solitude were the gulls, petrels, coots and sea-swallows. Those birds were incessantly flying up and down, hovering overhead or circling about, having chosen the holes and clefts in those inaccessible walls to rear their wild broods. Toward night they would assemble in restless groups and fill the echoing gorge with their hoarse, savage cries. Ralph liked to follow their majestic flight, to listen to their melancholy voices. He taught his little pupil their names and their habits; he showed her the lovely Madagascar teal, with its orange breast and emerald back; he bade her admire the flight of the red-winged tropic-bird, which sometimes strays to those regions and flies in a few hours from Mauritius to Rodrigues, whither, after a journey of two hundred leagues, it returns to sleep under the veloutier in which its nest is hidden. The petrel, harbinger of the tempest, also spread its tapering wings over those cliffs; and the queen of the sea, the frigate-bird, with its forked tail, its slate-colored coat and its jagged beak, which lights so rarely that it would seem that the air is its country, and constant movement its nature, raised its cry of distress above all the rest. These wild inhabitants were apparently accustomed to seeing the two children playing about the dwellings, for they hardly condescended to take fright at their approach; and when Ralph reached the shelf on which they had installed their families, they would rise in black clouds and light, as if in derision, a few feet above him. Indiana would laugh at their evolutions, and would carry home, carefully, in her hat of rice-straw, the eggs Ralph had succeeded in stealing for her, and for which he had often to fight stoutly against powerful blows from the wings of the great amphibious creatures.
These memories rushed tumultuously to Ralph’s mind, but they were extremely bitter to him; for times had changed greatly, and the little girl who had always been his companion had ceased to be his friend, or at all events was no longer his friend, as formerly, in absolute simpleness of heart. Although she returned his affection, his devotion, his regard, there was one thing which prevented any confidence between them, one memory upon which all the emotions of their lives turned as upon a pivot. Ralph felt that he could not refer to it; he had ventured to do it once, on a day of danger, and his bold act had availed nothing. To recur to it now would be nothing more than cold-blooded barbarity, and Ralph had made up his mind to forgive Raymon, the man for whom he had less esteem than for any man on earth, rather than add to Indiana’s sorrow by condemning him according to his own ideas of what justice demanded.
So he held his peace and even avoided her. Although living under the same roof, he had managed so that he hardly saw her except at meals; and yet he watched over her like a mysterious providence. He left the house only when the heat confined her to her hammock; but at night, when she had gone out, he would invent an excuse for leaving Delmare on the veranda and would go and wait for her at the foot of the cliffs where he knew she was in the habit of sitting. He would remain there whole hours, sometimes gazing at her through the branches upon which the moon cast its white light, but respecting the narrow space which separated them, and never venturing to shorten her sad reverie by an instant. When she came down into the valley she always found him on the edge of a little stream along which ran the path to the house. Several broad flat stones, around which the water rippled in silver threads, served him as a seat. When Indiana’s white dress appeared on the bank, Ralph would rise silently, offer her his arm and take her back to the house without speaking to her, unless Indiana, being more discouraged and depressed than usual, herself opened the conversation. Then, when he had left her, he would go to his own room and wait until the whole house was asleep before going to bed. If he heard Delmare scolding, Ralph would grasp the first pretext that came to his mind to go to him, and would succeed in pacifying him or diverting his thoughts without ever allowing him to suspect that such was his purpose.
The construction of the house, which was transparent, so to speak, compared with the houses in our climate, and the consequent necessity of being always under the eyes of everybody else, compelled the colonel to put more restraint upon his temper. Ralph’s inevitable appearance, at the slightest sound, to stand between him and his wife, forced him to keep a check upon himself; for Delmare had sufficient self-esteem to retain control of himself before that acute but stern censor. And so he waited until the hour for retiring had delivered him from his judge before venting the ill-humor which business vexations had heaped up during the day. But it was of no avail; the secret influence kept vigil with him, and, at the first harsh word, at the first loud tone that was audible through the thin partitions, the sound of moving furniture or of somebody walking about, as if by accident, in Ralph’s room, seemed to impose silence on him and to warn him that the silent and patient solicitude of Indiana’s protector was not asleep.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59