A Love Episode, by Émile Zola

Chapter 9.

In the hall of the doctor’s house stood Pierre, in dress coat and white cravat, throwing open the door as each carriage rolled up. Puffs of dank air rushed in; the afternoon was rainy, and a yellow light illumined the narrow hall, with its curtained doorways and array of green plants. It was only two o’clock, but the evening seemed as near at hand as on a dismal winter’s day.

However, as soon as the servant opened the door of the first drawing-room, a stream of light dazzled the guests. The shutters had been closed, and the curtains carefully drawn, and no gleam from the dull sky could gain admittance. The lamps standing here and there on the furniture, and the lighted candles of the chandelier and the crystal wall-brackets, gave the apartment somewhat the appearance of a brilliantly illuminated chapel. Beyond the smaller drawing-room, whose green hangings rather softened the glare of the light, was the large black-and-gold one, decorated as magnificently as for the ball which Madame Deberle gave every year in the month of January.

The children were beginning to arrive, while Pauline gave her attention to the ranging of a number of chairs in front of the dining-room doorway, where the door had been removed from its hinges and replaced by a red curtain.

“Papa,” she cried, “just lend me a hand! We shall never be ready.”

Monsieur Letellier, who, with his arms behind his back, was gazing at the chandelier, hastened to give the required assistance. Pauline carried the chairs about herself. She had paid due deference to her sister’s request, and was robed in white; only her dress opened squarely at the neck and displayed her bosom.

“At last we are ready,” she exclaimed: “they can come when they like. But what is Juliette dreaming about? She has been ever so long dressing Lucien!”

Just at that moment Madame Deberle entered, leading the little marquis, and everybody present began raising admiring remarks. “Oh! what a love! What a darling he is!” His coat was of white satin embroidered with flowers, his long waistcoat was embroidered with gold, and his knee-breeches were of cherry-colored silk. Lace clustered round his chin, and delicate wrists. A sword, a mere toy with a great rose-red knot, rattled against his hip.

“Now you must do the honors,” his mother said to him, as she led him into the outer room.

For eight days past he had been repeating his lesson, and struck a cavalier attitude with his little legs, his powdered head thrown slightly back, and his cocked hat tucked under his left arm. As each of his lady-guests was ushered into the room, he bowed low, offered his arm, exchanged courteous greetings, and returned to the threshold. Those near him laughed over his intense seriousness in which there was a dash of effrontery. This was the style in which he received Marguerite Tissot, a little lady five years old, dressed in a charming milkmaid costume, with a milk-can hanging at her side; so too did he greet the Berthier children, Blanche and Sophie, the one masquerading as Folly, the other dressed in soubrette style; and he had even the hardihood to tackle Valentine de Chermette, a tall young lady of some fourteen years, whom her mother always dressed in Spanish costume, and at her side his figure appeared so slight that she seemed to be carrying him along. However, he was profoundly embarrassed in the presence of the Levasseur family, which numbered five girls, who made their appearance in a row of increasing height, the youngest being scarcely two years old, while the eldest was ten. All five were arrayed in Red Riding-Hood costumes, their head-dresses and gowns being in poppy-colored satin with black velvet bands, with which their lace aprons strikingly contrasted. At last Lucien, making up his mind, bravely flung away his three-cornered hat, and led the two elder girls, one hanging on each arm, into the drawing-room, closely followed by the three others. There was a good deal of laughter at it, but the little man never lost his self-possession for a moment.

In the meantime Madame Deberle was taking her sister to task in a corner.

“Good gracious! is it possible! what a fearfully low-necked dress you are wearing!”

“Dear, dear! what have I done now? Papa hasn’t said a word,” answered Pauline coolly. “If you’re anxious, I’ll put some flowers at my breast.”

She plucked a handful of blossoms from a flower-stand where they were growing and allowed them to nestle in her bosom; while Madame Deberle was surrounded by several mammas in stylish visiting-dresses, who were already profuse in their compliments about her ball. As Lucien was passing them, his mother arranged a loose curl of his powdered hair, while he stood on tip-toe to whisper in her ear:

“Where’s Jeanne?”

“She will be here immediately, my darling. Take good care not to fall. Run away, there comes little Mademoiselle Guiraud. Ah! she is wearing an Alsatian costume.”

The drawing-room was now filling rapidly; the rows of chairs fronting the red curtain were almost all occupied, and a hubbub of children’s voices was rising. The boys were flocking into the room in groups. There were already three Harlequins, four Punches, a Figaro, some Tyrolese peasants, and a few Highlanders. Young Master Berthier was dressed as a page. Little Guiraud, a mere bantling of two-and-a-half summers, wore his clown’s costume in so comical a style that every one as he passed lifted him up and kissed him.

“Here comes Jeanne,” exclaimed Madame Deberle, all at once. “Oh, she is lovely!”

A murmur ran round the room; heads were bent forward, and every one gave vent to exclamations of admiration. Jeanne was standing on the threshold of the outer room, awaiting her mother, who was taking off her cloak in the hall. The child was robed in a Japanese dress of unusual splendor. The gown, embroidered with flowers and strange-looking birds, swept to her feet, which were hidden from view; while beneath her broad waist-ribbon the flaps, drawn aside, gave a glimpse of a green petticoat, watered with yellow. Nothing could be more strangely bewitching than her delicate features seen under the shadow of her hair, coiled above her head with long pins thrust through it, while her chin and oblique eyes, small and sparkling, pictured to the life a young lady of Yeddo, strolling amidst the perfume of tea and benzoin. And she lingered there hesitatingly, with all the sickly languor of a tropical flower pining for the land of its birth.

Behind her, however, appeared Helene. Both, in thus suddenly passing from the dull daylight of the street into the brilliant glare of the wax candles, blinked their eyes as though blinded, while their faces were irradiated with smiles. The rush of warm air and the perfumes, the scent of violets rising above all else, almost stifled them, and brought a flush of red to their cheeks. Each guest, on passing the doorway, wore a similar air of surprise and hesitancy.

“Why, Lucien! where are you?” exclaimed Madame Deberle.

The boy had not caught sight of Jeanne. But now he rushed forward and seized her arm, forgetting to make his bow. And they were so dainty, so loving, the little marquis in his flowered coat, and the Japanese maiden in her purple embroidered gown, that they might have been taken for two statuettes of Dresden china, daintily gilded and painted, into which life had been suddenly infused.

“You know, I was waiting for you,” whispered Lucien. “Oh, it is so nasty to give everybody my arm! Of course, we’ll keep beside each other, eh?”

And he sat himself down with her in the first row of chairs, wholly oblivious of his duties as host.

“Oh, I was so uneasy!” purred Juliette into Helene’s ear. “I was beginning to fear that Jeanne had been taken ill.”

Helene proffered apology; dressing children, said she, meant endless labor. She was still standing in a corner of the drawing-room, one of a cluster of ladies, when her heart told her that the doctor was approaching behind her. He was making his way from behind the red curtain, beneath which he had dived to give some final instructions. But suddenly he came to a standstill. He, too, had divined her presence, though she had not yet turned her head. Attired in a dress of black grenadine, she had never appeared more queenly in her beauty; and a thrill passed through him as he breathed the cool air which she had brought with her from outside, and wafted from her shoulders and arms, gleaming white under their transparent covering.

“Henri has no eyes for anybody,” exclaimed Pauline, with a laugh. “Ah, good-day, Henri!”

Thereupon he advanced towards the group of ladies, with a courteous greeting. Mademoiselle Aurelie, who was amongst them, engaged his attention for the moment to point out to him a nephew whom she had brought with her. He was all complaisance. Helene, without speaking, gave him her hand, encased in its black glove, but he dared not clasp it with marked force.

“Oh! here you are!” said Madame Deberle, as she appeared beside them. “I have been looking for you everywhere. It is nearly three o’clock; they had better begin.”

“Certainly; at once,” was his reply.

The drawing-room was now crowded. All round it, in the brilliant glare thrown from the chandelier, sat the fathers and mothers, their walking costumes serving to fringe the circle with less vivid colors. Some ladies, drawing their chairs together, formed groups; men standing motionless along the walls filled up the gaps; while in the doorway leading to the next room a cluster of frock-coated guests could be seen crowding together and peering over each other’s shoulders. The light fell wholly on the little folks, noisy in their glee, as they rustled about in their seats in the centre of the large room. There were almost a hundred children packed together; in an endless variety of gay costumes, bright with blue and red. It was like a sea of fair heads, varying from pale yellow to ruddy gold, with here and there bows and flowers gleaming vividly — or like a field of ripe grain, spangled with poppies and cornflowers, and waving to and fro as though stirred by a breeze. At times, amidst this confusion of ribbons and lace, of silk and velvet, a face was turned round — a pink nose, a pair of blue eyes, a smiling or pouting little mouth. There were some, no higher than one’s boots, who were buried out of sight between big lads of ten years of age, and whom their mothers sought from a distance, but in vain. A few of the boys looked bored and foolish by the side of girls who were busy spreading out their skirts. Some, however, were already very venturesome, jogging the elbows of their fair neighbors with whom they were unacquainted, and laughing in their faces. But the royalty of the gathering remained with the girls, some of whom, clustering in groups, stirred about in such a way as to threaten destruction to their chairs, and chattered so loudly that the grown-up folks could no longer hear one another speaking. And all eyes were intently gazing at the red curtain.

Slowly was it drawn aside, and in the recess of the doorway appeared a puppet-show. There was a hushed silence. Then all at once Punch sprang in, with so ferocious a yell that baby Guiraud could not restrain a responsive cry of terror and delight. It was one of those bloodthirsty dramas in which Punch, having administered a sound beating to the magistrate, murders the policeman, and tramples with ferocious glee on every law, human and divine. At every cudgelling bestowed on the wooden heads the pitiless audience went into shrieks of laughter; and the sharp thrusts delivered by the puppets at each other’s breasts, the duels in which they beat a tattoo on one another’s skulls as though they were empty pumpkins, the awful havoc of legs and arms, reducing the characters to a jelly, served to increase the roars of laughter which rang out from all sides. But the climax of enjoyment was reached when Punch sawed off the policeman’s head on the edge of the stage; an operation provocative of such hysterical mirth that the rows of juveniles were plunged into confusion, swaying to and fro with glee till they all but fell on one another. One tiny girl, but four years old, all pink and white, considered the spectacle so entrancing that she pressed her little hands devoutly to her heart. Others burst into applause, while the boys laughed, with mouths agape, their deeper voices mingling with the shrill peals from the girls.

“How amused they are!” whispered the doctor. He had returned to his place near Helene. She was in high spirits like the children. Behind her, he sat inhaling the intoxicating perfume which came from her hair. And as one puppet on the stage dealt another an exceptionally hard knock she turned to him and exclaimed: “Do you know, it is awfully funny!”

The youngsters, crazy with excitement, were now interfering with the action of the drama. They were giving answers to the various characters. One young lady, who must have been well up in the plot, was busy explaining what would next happen.

“He’ll beat his wife to death in a minute! Now they are going to hang him!”

The youngest of the Levasseur girls, who was two years old, shrieked out all at once:

“Mamma, mamma, will they put him on bread and water?”

All sorts of exclamations and reflections followed. Meanwhile Helene, gazing into the crowd of children, remarked: “I cannot see Jeanne. Is she enjoying herself?”

Then the doctor bent forward, with head perilously near her own, and whispered: “There she is, between that harlequin and the Norman peasant maiden! You can see the pins gleaming in her hair. She is laughing very heartily.”

He still leaned towards her, her cool breath playing on his cheek. Till now no confession had escaped them; preserving silence, their intimacy had only been marred for a few days past by a vague sensation of discomfort. But amidst these bursts of happy laughter, gazing upon the little folks before her, Helene became once more, in sooth, a very child, surrendering herself to her feelings, while Henri’s breath beat warm upon her neck. The whacks from the cudgel, now louder than ever, filled her with a quiver which inflated her bosom, and she turned towards him with sparkling eyes.

“Good heavens! what nonsense it all is!” she said each time. “See how they hit one another!”

“Oh! their heads are hard enough!” he replied, trembling.

This was all his heart could find to say. Their minds were fast lapsing into childhood once more. Punch’s unedifying life was fostering languor within their breasts. When the drama drew to its close with the appearance of the devil, and the final fight and general massacre ensued, Helene in leaning back pressed against Henri’s hand, which was resting on the back of her arm-chair; while the juvenile audience, shouting and clapping their hands, made the very chairs creak with their enthusiasm.

The red curtain dropped again, and the uproar was at its height when Malignon’s presence was announced by Pauline, in her customary style: “Ah! here’s the handsome Malignon!”

He made his way into the room, shoving the chairs aside, quite out of breath.

“Dear me! what a funny idea to close the shutters!” he exclaimed, surprised and hesitating. “People might imagine that somebody in the house was dead.” Then, turning towards Madame Deberle, who was approaching him, he continued: “Well, you can boast of having made me run about! Ever since the morning I have been hunting for Perdiguet; you know whom I mean, my singer fellow. But I haven’t been able to lay my hands on him, and I have brought you the great Morizot instead.”

The great Morizot was an amateur who entertained drawing-rooms by conjuring with juggler-balls. A gipsy table was assigned to him, and on this he accomplished his most wonderful tricks; but it all passed off without the spectators evincing the slightest interest. The poor little darlings were pulling serious faces; some of the tinier mites fell fast asleep, sucking their thumbs. The older children turned their heads and smiled towards their parents, who were themselves yawning behind their hands. There was thus a general feeling of relief when the great Morizot decided to take his table away.

“Oh! he’s awfully clever,” whispered Malignon into Madame Deberle’s neck.

But the red curtain was drawn aside once again, and an entrancing spectacle brought all the little folks to their feet.

Along the whole extent of the dining-room stretched the table, laid and bedecked as for a grand dinner, and illumined by the bright radiance of the central lamp and a pair of large candelabra. There were fifty covers laid; in the middle and at either end were shallow baskets, full of flowers; between these towered tall epergnes, filled to overflowing with crackers in gilded and colored paper. Then there were mountains of decorated cakes, pyramids of iced fruits, piles of sandwiches, and, less prominent, a whole host of symmetrically disposed plates, bearing sweetmeats and pastry: buns, cream puffs, and brioches alternating with dry biscuits, cracknals, and fancy almond cakes. Jellies were quivering in their glass dishes. Whipped creams waited in porcelain bowls. And round the table sparkled the silver helmets of champagne bottles, no higher than one’s hand, made specially to suit the little guests. It all looked like one of those gigantic feasts which children conjure up in dreamland — a feast served with the solemnity that attends a repast of grown-up folks — a fairy transformation of the table to which their own parents sat down, and on which the horns of plenty of innumerable pastry-cooks and toy dealers had been emptied.

“Come, come, give the ladies your arms!” said Madame Deberle, her face covered with smiles as she watched the delight of the children.

But the filing off in couples proved a lure. Lucien, who had triumphantly taken Jeanne’s arm, went first. But the others following behind fell somewhat into confusion, and the mothers were forced to come and assign them places, remaining close at hand, especially behind the babies, whom they watched lest any mischance should befall them. Truth to tell, the guests at first seemed rather uncomfortable; they looked at one another, felt afraid to lay hands on the good things, and were vaguely disquieted by this new social organization in which everything appeared to be topsy-turvy, the children seated at table while their parents remained standing. At length the older ones gained confidence and commenced the attack. And when the mothers entered into the fray, and cut up the large cakes, helping those in their vicinity, the feast speedily became very animated and noisy. The exquisite symmetry of the table was destroyed as though by a tempest. The two Berthier girls, Blanche and Sophie, laughed at the sight of their plates, which had been filled with something of everything — jam, custard, cake, and fruit. The five young ladies of the Levasseur family took sole possession of a corner laden with dainties, while Valentine, proud of her fourteen years, acted the lady’s part, and looked after the comfort of her little neighbors. Lucien, however, impatient to display his politeness, uncorked a bottle of champagne, but in so clumsy a way that the whole contents spurted over his cherry silk breeches. There was quite a to-do about it.

“Kindly leave the bottles alone! I am to uncork the champagne,” shouted Pauline.

She bustled about in an extraordinary fashion, purely for her own amusement. On the entry of a servant with the chocolate pot, she seized it and filled the cups with the greatest glee, as active in the performance as any restaurant waiter. Next she took round some ices and glasses of syrup and water, set them down for a moment to stuff a little baby-girl who had been overlooked, and then went off again, asking every one questions.

“What is it you wish, my pet? Eh? A cake? Yes, my darling, wait a moment; I am going to pass you the oranges. Now eat away, you little stupids, you shall play afterwards.”

Madame Deberle, calm and dignified, declared that they ought to be left alone, and would acquit themselves very well.

At one end of the room sat Helene and some other ladies laughing at the scene which the table presented; all the rosy mouths were eating with the full strength of their beautiful white teeth. And nothing could eclipse in drollery the occasional lapses from the polished behavior of well-bred children to the outrageous freaks of young savages. With both hands gripping their glasses, they drank to the very dregs, smeared their faces, and stained their dresses. The clamor grew worse. The last of the dishes were plundered. Jeanne herself began dancing on her chair as she heard the strains of a quadrille coming from the drawing-room; and on her mother approaching to upbraid her with having eaten too much, she replied: “Oh! mamma, I feel so happy to-day!”

But now the other children were rising as they heard the music. Slowly the table thinned, until there only remained a fat, chubby infant right in the middle. He seemingly cared little for the attractions of the piano; with a napkin round his neck, and his chin resting on the tablecloth — for he was a mere chit — he opened his big eyes, and protruded his lips each time that his mamma offered him a spoonful of chocolate. The contents of the cup vanished, and he licked his lips as the last mouthful went down his throat, with eyes more agape than ever.

“By Jove! my lad, you eat heartily!” exclaimed Malignon, who was watching him with a thoughtful air.

Now came the division of the “surprise” packets. Each child, on leaving the table, bore away one of the large gilt paper twists, the coverings of which were hastily torn off and from them poured forth a host of toys, grotesque hats made of tissue paper, birds and butterflies. But the joy of joys was the possession of a cracker. Every “surprise” packet had its cracker; and these the lads pulled at gallantly, delighted with the noise, while the girls shut their eyes, making many tries before the explosion took place. For a time the sharp crackling of all this musketry alone could be heard; and the uproar was still lasting when the children returned to the drawing-room, where lively quadrille music resounded from the piano.

“I could enjoy a cake,” murmured Mademoiselle Aurelie, as she sat down.

At the table, which was now deserted, but covered with all the litter of the huge feast, a few ladies — some dozen or so, who had preferred to wait till the children had retired — now sat down. As no servant could be found, Malignon bustled hither and thither in attendance. He poured out all that remained in the chocolate pot, shook up the dregs of the bottles, and was even successful in discovering some ices. But amidst all these gallant doings of his, he could not quit one idea, and that was — why had they decided on closing the shutters?

“You know,” he asserted, “the place looks like a cellar.”

Helene had remained standing, engaged in conversation with Madame Deberle. As the latter directed her steps towards the drawing-room, her companion prepared to follow, when she felt a gentle touch. Behind her was the doctor, smiling; he was ever near her.

“Are you not going to take anything?” he asked. And the trivial question cloaked so earnest an entreaty that her heart was filled with profound emotion. She knew well enough that each of his words was eloquent of another thing. The excitement springing from the gaiety which pulsed around her was slowly gaining on her. Some of the fever of all these little folks, now dancing and shouting, coursed in her own veins. With flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, she at first declined.

“No, thank you, nothing at all.”

But he pressed her, and in the end, ill at ease and anxious to get rid of him, she yielded. “Well, then, a cup of tea.”

He hurried off and returned with the cup, his hands trembling as he handed it to her. While she was sipping the tea he drew nearer to her, his lips quivering nervously with the confession springing from his heart. She in her turn drew back from him, and, returning him the empty cup, made her escape while he was placing it on a sideboard, thus leaving him alone in the dining-room with Mademoiselle Aurelie, who was slowly masticating, and subjecting each dish in succession to a close scrutiny.

Within the drawing-room the piano was sending forth its loudest strains, and from end to end of the floor swept the ball with its charming drolleries. A circle of onlookers had gathered round the quadrille party with which Lucien and Jeanne were dancing. The little marquis became rather mixed over the figures; he only got on well when he had occasion to take hold of Jeanne; and then he gripped her by the waist and whirled around. Jeanne preserved her equilibrium, somewhat vexed by his rumpling her dress; but the delights of the dance taking full possession of her, she caught hold of him in her turn and lifted him off his feet. The white satin coat embroidered with nosegays mingled with the folds of the gown woven with flowers and strange birds, and the two little figures of old Dresden ware assumed all the grace and novelty of some whatnot ornaments. The quadrille over, Helene summoned Jeanne to her side, in order to rearrange her dress.

“It is his fault, mamma,” was the little one’s excuse. “He rubs against me — he’s a dreadful nuisance.”

Around the drawing-room the faces of the parents were wreathed with smiles. As soon as the music began again all the little ones were once more in motion. Seeing, however, that they were observed they felt distrustful, remained grave, and checked their leaps in order to keep up appearances. Some of them knew how to dance; but the majority were ignorant of the steps, and their limbs were evidently a source of embarrassment to them. But Pauline interposed: “I must see to them! Oh, you little stupids!”

She threw herself into the midst of the quadrille, caught hold of two of them, one grasping her right hand the other her left, and managed to infuse such life into the dance that the wooden flooring creaked beneath them. The only sounds now audible rose from the hurrying hither and thither of tiny feet beating wholly out of time, the piano alone keeping to the dance measure. Some more of the older people joined in the fun. Helene and Madame Deberle, noticing some little maids who were too bashful to venture forth, dragged them into the thickest of the throng. It was they who led the figures, pushed the lads forward, and arranged the dancing in rings; and the mothers passed them the youngest of the babies, so that they might make them skip about for a moment, holding them the while by both hands. The ball was now at its height. The dancers enjoyed themselves to their hearts’ content, laughing and pushing each other about like some boarding school mad with glee over the absence of the teacher. Nothing, truly, could surpass in unalloyed gaiety this carnival of youngsters, this assemblage of miniature men and women — akin to a veritable microcosm, wherein the fashions of every people mingled with the fantastic creations of romance and drama. The ruddy lips and blue eyes, the faces breathing love, invested the dresses with the fresh purity of childhood. The scene realized to the mind the merrymaking of a fairy-tale to which trooped Cupids in disguise to honor the betrothal of some Prince Charming.

“I’m stifling!” exclaimed Malignon. “I’m off to inhale some fresh air.”

As he left the drawing-room he threw the door wide open. The daylight from the street then entered in a lurid stream, bedimming the glare of lamps and candles. In this fashion every quarter of an hour Malignon opened the door to let in some fresh air.

Still there was no cessation of the piano-playing. Little Guiraud, in her Alsatian costume, with a butterfly of black ribbon in her golden hair, swung round in the dance with a harlequin twice her height. A Highlander whirled Marguerite Tissot round so madly that she lost her milk-pail. The two Berthier girls, Blanche and Sophie, who were inseparables, were dancing together; the soubrette in the arms of Folly, whose bells were jingling merrily. A glance could not be thrown over the assemblage without one of the Levasseur girls coming into view; the Red Riding-Hoods seemed to increase in number; caps and gowns of gleaming red satin slashed with black velvet everywhere leaped into sight. Meanwhile some of the older boys and girls had found refuge in the adjacent saloon, where they could dance more at their ease. Valentine de Chermette, cloaked in the mantilla of a Spanish senorita, was executing some marvellous steps in front of a young gentleman who had donned evening dress. Suddenly there was a burst of laughter which drew every one to the sight; behind a door in a corner, baby Guiraud, the two-year-old clown, and a mite of a girl of his own age, in peasant costume, were holding one another in a tight embrace for fear of tumbling, and gyrating round and round like a pair of slyboots, with cheek pressed to cheek.

“I’m quite done up,” remarked Helene, as she leaned against the dining-room door.

She fanned her face, flushed with her exertions in the dance. Her bosom rose and fell beneath the transparent grenadine of her bodice. And she was still conscious of Henri’s breath beating on her shoulders; he was still close to her — ever behind her. Now it flashed on her that he would speak, yet she had no strength to flee from his avowal. He came nearer and whispered, breathing on her hair: “I love you! oh, how I love you!”

She tingled from head to foot, as though a gust of flame had beaten on her. O God! he had spoken; she could no longer feign the pleasurable quietude of ignorance. She hid behind her fan, her face purple with blushes. The children, whirling madly in the last of the quadrilles, were making the floor ring with the beating of their feet. There were silvery peals of laughter, and bird-like voices gave vent to exclamations of pleasure. A freshness arose from all that band of innocents galloping round and round like little demons.

“I love you! oh, how I love you!”

She shuddered again; she would listen no further. With dizzy brain she fled into the dining-room, but it was deserted, save that Monsieur Letellier sat on a chair, peacefully sleeping. Henri had followed her, and had the hardihood to seize her wrists even at the risk of a scandal, his face convulsed with such passion that she trembled before him. And he still repeated the words:

“I love you! I love you!”

“Leave me,” she murmured faintly. “You are mad —”

And, close by, the dancing still went on, with the trampling of tiny feet. Blanche Berthier’s bells could be heard ringing in unison with the softer notes of the piano; Madame Deberle and Pauline were clapping their hands, by way of beating time. It was a polka, and Helene caught a glimpse of Jeanne and Lucien, as they passed by smiling, with arms clasped round each other.

But with a sudden jerk she freed herself and fled to an adjacent room — a pantry into which streamed the daylight. That sudden brightness blinded her. She was terror-stricken — she dared not return to the drawing-room with the tale of passion written so legibly on her face. So, hastily crossing the garden, she climbed to her own home, the noises of the ball-room still ringing in her ears.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02