Immortals Crowned by the French Academy:Serge Panine, complete
by Georges Ohnet
CHAPTER I. THE
CHAPTER II. THE
CHAPTER IV. THE
CHAPTER V. A
CHAPTER VI. A
CHAPTER VIII. A
CHAPTER IX. THE
CHAPTER XII. THE
THE FIRST BREAK
CHAPTER XIV. A
CHAPTER XVI. THE
CAYROL IS BLIND
CHAPTER XIX. SIN
CHAPTER XX. THE
CROWNED BY THE FRENCH ACADEMY
By GEORGES OHNET
With a General Introduction to the Series by GASTON BOISSIER, Secretaire
Perpetuel de l'academie Francaise.
BY ROBERT ARNOT
The editor-in-chief of the Maison Mazarin—a man of letters who
cherishes an enthusiastic yet discriminating love for the literary and
artistic glories of France—formed within the last two years the great
project of collecting and presenting to the vast numbers of
intelligent readers of whom New World boasts a series of those great
and undying romances which, since 1784, have received the crown of
merit awarded by the French Academy—that coveted assurance of
immortality in letters and in art.
In the presentation of this serious enterprise for the criticism
and official sanction of The Academy, 'en seance', was included a
request that, if possible, the task of writing a preface to the series
should be undertaken by me. Official sanction having been bestowed
upon the plan, I, as the accredited officer of the French Academy,
convey to you its hearty appreciation, endorsement, and sympathy with
a project so nobly artistic. It is also my duty, privilege, and
pleasure to point out, at the request of my brethren, the peculiar
importance and lasting value of this series to all who would know the
inner life of a people whose greatness no turns of fortune have been
able to diminish.
In the last hundred years France has experienced the most terrible
vicissitudes, but, vanquished or victorious, triumphant or abased,
never has she lost her peculiar gift of attracting the curiosity of
the world. She interests every living being, and even those who do not
love her desire to know her. To this peculiar attraction which
radiates from her, artists and men of letters can well bear witness,
since it is to literature and to the arts, before all, that France
owes such living and lasting power. In every quarter of the civilized
world there are distinguished writers, painters, and eminent
musicians, but in France they exist in greater numbers than elsewhere.
Moreover, it is universally conceded that French writers and artists
have this particular and praiseworthy quality: they are most
accessible to people of other countries. Without losing their
national characteristics, they possess the happy gift of universality.
To speak of letters alone: the books that Frenchmen write are read,
translated, dramatized, and imitated everywhere; so it is not strange
that these books give to foreigners a desire for a nearer and more
intimate acquaintance with France.
Men preserve an almost innate habit of resorting to Paris from
almost every quarter of the globe. For many years American visitors
have been more numerous than others, although the journey from the
United States is long and costly. But I am sure that when for the
first time they see Paris—its palaces, its churches, its museums—and
visit Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Chantilly, they do not regret the
travail they have undergone. Meanwhile, however, I ask myself whether
such sightseeing is all that, in coming hither, they wish to
accomplish. Intelligent travellers—and, as a rule, it is the
intelligent class that feels the need of the educative influence of
travel—look at our beautiful monuments, wander through the streets
and squares among the crowds that fill them, and, observing them, I
ask myself again: Do not such people desire to study at closer range
these persons who elbow them as they pass; do they not wish to enter
the houses of which they see but the facades; do they not wish to know
how Parisians live and speak and act by their firesides? But time,
alas! is lacking for the formation of those intimate friendships which
would bring this knowledge within their grasp. French homes are rarely
open to birds of passage, and visitors leave us with regret that they
have not been able to see more than the surface of our civilization or
to recognize by experience the note of our inner home life.
How, then, shall this void be filled? Speaking in the first
person, the simplest means appears to be to study those whose
profession it is to describe the society of the time, and primarily,
therefore, the works of dramatic writers, who are supposed to draw a
faithful picture of it. So we go to the theatre, and usually derive
keen pleasure therefrom. But is pleasure all that we expect to find?
What we should look for above everything in a comedy or a drama is a
representation, exact as possible, of the manners and characters of
the dramatis persona of the play; and perhaps the conditions under
which the play was written do not allow such representation. The
exact and studied portrayal of a character demands from the author
long preparation, and cannot be accomplished in a few hours. From,
the first scene to the last, each tale must be posed in the author's
mind exactly as it will be proved to be at the end. It is the
author's aim and mission to place completely before his audience the
souls of the "agonists" laying bare the complications of motive, and
throwing into relief the delicate shades of motive that sway them.
Often, too, the play is produced before a numerous audience—an
audience often distrait, always pressed for time, and impatient of the
least delay. Again, the public in general require that they shall be
able to understand without difficulty, and at first thought, the
characters the author seeks to present, making it necessary that these
characters be depicted from their most salient sides—which are too
often vulgar and unattractive.
In our comedies and dramas it is not the individual that is drawn,
but the type. Where the individual alone is real, the type is a myth
of the imagination—a pure invention. And invention is the mainspring
of the theatre, which rests purely upon illusion, and does not please
us unless it begins by deceiving us.
I believe, then, that if one seeks to know the world exactly as it
is, the theatre does not furnish the means whereby one can pursue the
study. A far better opportunity for knowing the private life of a
people is available through the medium of its great novels. The
novelist deals with each person as an individual. He speaks to his
reader at an hour when the mind is disengaged from worldly affairs,
and he can add without restraint every detail that seems needful to
him to complete the rounding of his story. He can return at will,
should he choose, to the source of the plot he is unfolding, in order
that his reader may better understand him; he can emphasize and dwell
upon those details which an audience in a theatre will not allow.
The reader, being at leisure, feels no impatience, for he knows
that he can at any time lay down or take up the book. It is the
consciousness of this privilege that gives him patience, should he
encounter a dull page here or there. He may hasten or delay his
reading, according to the interest he takes in his romance-nay, more,
he can return to the earlier pages, should he need to do so, for a
better comprehension of some obscure point. In proportion as he is
attracted and interested by the romance, and also in the degree of
concentration with which he reads it, does he grasp better the
subtleties of the narrative. No shade of character drawing escapes
him. He realizes, with keener appreciation, the most delicate of
human moods, and the novelist is not compelled to introduce the
characters to him, one by one, distinguishing them only by the most
general characteristics, but can describe each of those little
individual idiosyncrasies that contribute to the sum total of a living
When I add that the dramatic author is always to a certain extent a
slave to the public, and must ever seek to please the passing taste of
his time, it will be recognized that he is often, alas! compelled to
sacrifice his artistic leanings to popular caprice-that is, if he has
the natural desire that his generation should applaud him.
As a rule, with the theatre-going masses, one person follows the
fads or fancies of others, and individual judgments are too apt to be
irresistibly swayed by current opinion. But the novelist, entirely
independent of his reader, is not compelled to conform himself to the
opinion of any person, or to submit to his caprices. He is absolutely
free to picture society as he sees it, and we therefore can have more
confidence in his descriptions of the customs and characters of the
It is precisely this view of the case that the editor of the series
has taken, and herein is the raison d'etre of this collection of great
French romances. The choice was not easy to make. That form of
literature called the romance abounds with us. France has always
loved it, for French writers exhibit a curiosity—and I may say an
indiscretion—that is almost charming in the study of customs and
morals at large; a quality that induces them to talk freely of
themselves and of their neighbors, and to set forth fearlessly both
the good and the bad in human nature. In this fascinating phase of
literature, France never has produced greater examples than of late
In the collection here presented to American readers will be found
those works especially which reveal the intimate side of French social
life- works in which are discussed the moral problems that affect most
potently the life of the world at large. If inquiring spirits seek to
learn the customs and manners of the France of any age, they must look
for it among her crowned romances. They need go back no farther than
Ludovic Halevy, who may be said to open the modern epoch. In the
romantic school, on its historic side, Alfred de Vigny must be looked
upon as supreme. De Musset and Anatole France may be taken as
revealing authoritatively the moral philosophy of nineteenth-century
thought. I must not omit to mention the Jacqueline of Th. Bentzon,
and the "Attic " Philosopher of Emile Souvestre, nor the, great names
of Loti, Claretie, Coppe, Bazin, Bourget, Malot, Droz, De Massa, and
last, but not least, our French Dickens, Alphonse Daudet. I need not
add more; the very names of these "Immortals" suffice to commend the
series to readers in all countries.
One word in conclusion: America may rest assured that her students
of international literature will find in this series of 'ouvrages
couronnes' all that they may wish to know of France at her own
fireside—a knowledge that too often escapes them, knowledge that
embraces not only a faithful picture of contemporary life in the
French provinces, but a living and exact description of French society
in modern times. They may feel certain that when they have read these
romances, they will have sounded the depths and penetrated into the
hidden intimacies of France, not only as she is, but as she would be
SECRETAIRE PERPETUEL DE L'ACADEMIE FRANCAISE
The only French novelist whose books have a circulation approaching
the works of Daudet and of Zola is Georges Ohnet, a writer whose
popularity is as interesting as his stories, because it explains,
though it does not excuse, the contempt the Goncourts had for the
favor of the great French public, and also because it shows how the
highest form of Romanticism still ferments beneath the varnish of
Naturalism in what is called genius among the great masses of readers.
Georges Ohnet was born in Paris, April 3, 1848, the son of an
architect. He was destined for the Bar, but was early attracted by
journalism and literature. Being a lawyer it was not difficult for
him to join the editorial staff of Le Pays, and later Le
Constitutionnel. This was soon after the Franco-German War. His
romances, since collected under the title 'Batailles de la Vie',
appeared first in 'Le Figaro, L'Illustration, and Revue des Deux
Mondes', and have been exceedingly well received by the public. This
relates also to his dramas, some of his works meeting with a popular
success rarely extended to any author. For some time Georges Ohnet did
not find the same favor with the critics, who often attacked him with
a passionate violence and unusual severity. True, a high philosophical
flow of thoughts cannot be detected in his writings, but nevertheless
it is certain that the characters and the subjects of which he treats
are brilliantly sketched and clearly developed. They are likewise of
perfect morality and honesty.
There was expected of him, however, an idea which was not quite
realized. Appearing upon the literary stage at a period when
Naturalism was triumphant, it was for a moment believed that he would
restore Idealism in the manner of George Sand.
In any case the hostile critics have lost. For years public
opinion has exalted him, and the reaction is the more significant when
compared with the tremendous criticism launched against his early
romances and novels.
A list of his works follows:
Serge Panine (1881), crowned by the French Academy, has since gone
through one hundred and fifty French editions; Le Maitre des Forges
(1882), a prodigious success, two hundred and fifty editions being
printed (1900); La Comtesse Sarah (1882); Lise Fleuyon (1884); La
Grande Maynieye (1886); Les Dames de Croix-Mort (1886); Volonte
(1888); Le Docteur Rameau (1889); Deynier Amour (1889); Le Cure de
Favieyes (1890); Dette de Haine (1891); Nemsod et Cie. (1892); Le
Lendemain des Amours (1893); Le Droit de l'Enfant (1894.); Les
Vielles Rancunes (1894); La Dame en Gris (1895); La Fille du Depute
(1896); Le Roi de Paris (1898); Au Fond du Gouffre (1899); Gens de
la Noce (1900); La Tenibreuse (1900); Le Cyasseur d'Affaires (1901);
Le Crepuscule (1901); Le Marche a l'Amour (1902).
Ohnet's novels are collected under the titles, 'Noir et Rose (1887)
and L'Ame de Pierre (1890).
The dramatic writings of Georges Ohnet, mostly taken from his
novels, have greatly contributed to his reputation. Le Maitre des
Forges was played for a full year (Gymnase, 1883); it was followed by
Serge Panine (1884); La Comtesse Sarah (1887). La Grande Mayniere
(1888), met also with a decided and prolonged success; Dernier Amour
(Gymnase, 1890); Colonel Roquebrune (Porte St. Martin, 1897). Before
that he had already written the plays Regina Sarpi (1875) and Marthe
(1877), which yet hold a prominent place upon the French stage.
I have shown in this rapid sketch that a man of the stamp of
Georges Ohnet must have immortal qualities in himself, even though
flayed and roasted alive by the critics. He is most assuredly an
artist in form, is endowed with a brilliant style, and has been named
"L'Historiographe de la bourgeoise contemporaine." Indeed, antagonism
to plutocracy and hatred of aristocracy are the fundamental theses in
almost every one of his books.
His exposition, I repeat, is startlingly neat, the development of
his plots absolutely logical, and the world has acclaimed his
ingenuity in dramatic construction. He is truly, and in all senses,
of the Ages.
de l'Academie Francaise
CHAPTER I. THE HOUSE OF DESVARENNES
The firm of Desvarennes has been in an ancient mansion in the Rue
Saint Dominique since 1875; it is one of the best known and most
important in French industry. The counting-houses are in the wings of
the building looking upon the courtyard, which were occupied by the
servants when the family whose coat-of-arms has been effaced from
above the gate-way were still owners of the estate.
Madame Desvarennes inhabits the mansion which she has had
magnificently renovated. A formidable rival of the Darblays, the
great millers of France, the firm of Desvarennes is a commercial and
political power. Inquire in Paris about its solvency, and you will be
told that you may safely advance twenty millions of francs on the
signature of the head of the firm. And this head is a woman.
This woman is remarkable. Gifted with keen understanding and a
firm will, she had in former times vowed to make a large fortune, and
she has kept her word.
She was the daughter of a humble packer of the Rue Neuve-Coquenard.
Toward 1848 she married Michel Desvarennes, who was then a journeyman
baker in a large shop in the Chaussee d'Antin. With the thousand
francs which the packer managed to give his daughter by way of dowry,
the young couple boldly took a shop and started a little bakery
business. The husband kneaded and baked the bread, and the young
wife, seated at the counter, kept watch over the till. Neither on
Sundays nor on holidays was the shop shut.
Through the window, between two pyramids of pink and blue packets
of biscuits, one could always catch sight of the serious-looking
Madame Desvarennes, knitting woollen stockings for her husband while
waiting for customers. With her prominent forehead, and her eyes
always bent on her work, this woman appeared the living image of
At the end of five years of incessant work, and possessing twenty
thousand francs, saved sou by sou, the Desvarennes left the slopes of
Montmartre, and moved to the centre of Paris. They were ambitious and
full of confidence. They set up in the Rue Vivienne, in a shop
resplendent with gilding and ornamented with looking-glasses. The
ceiling was painted in panels with bright hued pictures that caught
the eyes of the passers-by. The window-shelves were of white marble,
and the counter, where Madame Desvarennes was still enthroned, was of
a width worthy of the receipts that were taken every day. Business
increased daily; the Desvarennes continued to be hard and systematic
workers. The class of customers alone had changed; they were more
numerous and richer. The house had a specialty for making small rolls
for the restaurants. Michel had learned from the Viennese bakers how
to make those golden balls which tempt the most rebellious appetite,
and which, when in an artistically folded damask napkin, set off a
About this time Madame Desvarennes, while calculating how much the
millers must gain on the flour they sell to the bakers, resolved, in
order to lessen expenses, to do without middlemen and grind her own
corn. Michel, naturally timid, was frightened when his wife disclosed
to him the simple project which she had formed. Accustomed to submit
to the will of her whom he respectfully called "the mistress," and of
whom he was but the head clerk, he dared not oppose her. But, a
red-tapist by nature, and hating innovations, owing to weakness of
mind, he trembled inwardly and cried in agony:
"Wife, you'll ruin us."
The mistress calmed the poor man's alarm; she tried to impart to
him some of her confidence, to animate him with her hope, but without
success, so she went on without him. A mill was for sale at Jouy, on
the banks of the Oise; she paid ready money for it, and a few weeks
later the bakery in the Rue Vivienne was independent of every one.
She ground her own flour, and from that time business increased
considerably. Feeling capable of carrying out large undertakings, and,
moreover, desirous of giving up the meannesses of retail trade, Madame
Desvarennes, one fine day, sent in a tender for supplying bread to the
military hospitals. It was accepted, and from that time the house
ranked among the most important. On seeing the Desvarennes take their
daring flight, the leading men in the trade had said:
"They have system and activity, and if they do not upset on the
way, they will attain a high position."
But the mistress seemed to have the gift of divination. She worked
surely—if she struck out one way you might be certain that success
was there. In all her enterprises, "good luck" stood close by her;
she scented failures from afar, and the firm never made a bad debt.
Still Michel continued to tremble. The first mill had been followed
by many more; then the old system appeared insufficient to Madame
Desvarennes. As she wished to keep up with the increase of business
she had steam- mills built,—which are now grinding three hundred
million francs' worth of corn every year.
Fortune had favored the house immensely, but Michel continued to
tremble. From time to time when the mistress launched out a new
business, he timidly ventured on his usual saying:
"Wife, you're going to ruin us."
But one felt it was only for form's sake, and that he himself no
longer meant what he said. Madame Desvarennes received this plaintive
remonstrance with a calm smile, and answered, maternally, as to a
"There, there, don't be frightened."
Then she would set to work again, and direct with irresistible
vigor the army of clerks who peopled her counting-houses.
In fifteen years' time, by prodigious efforts of will and energy,
Madame Desvarennes had made her way from the lonely and muddy Rue
Neuve- Coquenard to the mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique. Of the
bakery there was no longer question. It was some time since the
business in the Rue Vivienne had been transferred to the foreman of
the shop. The flour trade alone occupied Madame Desvarennes's
attention. She ruled the prices in the market; and great bankers came
to her office and did business with her on a footing of equality. She
did not become any prouder for it, she knew too well the strength and
weakness of life to have pride; her former plain dealing had not
stiffened into self- sufficiency. Such as one had known her when
beginning business, such one found her in the zenith of her fortune.
Instead of a woollen gown she wore a silk one, but the color was
still black; her language had not become refined; she retained the
same blunt familiar accent, and at the end of five minutes'
conversation with any one of importance she could not resist calling
him "my dear," to come morally near him. Her commands had more
fulness. In giving her orders, she had the manner of a
commander-in-chief, and it was useless to haggle when she had spoken.
The best thing to do was to obey, as well and as promptly as possible.
Placed in a political sphere, this marvellously gifted woman would
have been a Madame Roland; born to the throne, she would have been a
Catherine II.; there was genius in her. Sprung from the lower ranks,
her superiority had given her wealth; had she come from the higher,
the great mind might have governed the world.
Still she was not happy; she had been married fifteen years, and
her fireside was devoid of a cradle. During the first years she had
rejoiced at not having a child. Where could she have found time to
occupy herself with a baby? Business engrossed her attention; she had
no leisure to amuse herself with trifles. Maternity seemed to her a
luxury for rich women; she had her fortune to make. In the struggle
against the difficulties attending the enterprise she had begun, she
had not had time to look around her and perceive that her home was
lonely. She worked from morning till night. Her whole life was
absorbed in this work, and when night came, overcome with fatigue, she
fell asleep, her head filled with cares which stifled all tricks of
Michel grieved, but in silence; his feeble and dependent nature
missed a child. He, whose mind lacked occupation, thought of the
future. He said to himself that the day when the dreamt-of fortune
came would be more welcome if there were an heir to whom to leave it.
What was the good of being rich, if the money went to collateral
relatives? There was his nephew Savinien, a disagreeable urchin whom
he looked on with indifference; and he was biased regarding his
brother, who had all but failed several times in business, and to
whose aid he had come to save the honor of the name. The mistress had
not hesitated to help him, and had prevented the signature of
"Desvarennes" being protested. She had not taunted him, having as
large a heart as she had a mind. But Michel had felt humiliated to
see his own folk make a gap in the financial edifice erected so
laboriously by his wife. Out of this had gradually sprung a sense of
dissatisfaction with the Desvarennes of the other branch, which
manifested itself by a marked coolness, when, by chance, his brother
came to the house, accompanied by his son Savinien.
And then the paternity of his brother made him secretly jealous.
Why should that incapable fellow, who succeeded in nothing, have a
son? It was only those ne'er-do-well sort of people who were thus
favored. He, Michel, already called the rich Desvarennes, he had not a
son. Was it just? But where is there justice in this world?
The first time that she saw him with a downcast face the mistress
had questioned him, and he had frankly expressed his regrets. But he
had been so repelled by his wife, in whose heart a great trouble,
steadily repressed, however, had been produced, that he never dared to
recur to the subject.
He suffered in silence. But he no longer suffered alone. Like an
overflowing river that finds an outlet in the valley, which it
inundates, the longings for maternity, hitherto repressed by the
preoccupations of business, had suddenly seized Madame Desvarennes.
Strong and unyielding, she struggled and would not own herself
conquered. Still she became sad. Her voice sounded less sonorously in
the offices where she gave an order; her energetic nature seemed
subdued. Now she looked around her. She beheld prosperity made
stable by incessant work, respect gained by spotless honesty; she had
attained the goal which she had marked out in her ambitious dreams, as
being paradise itself. Paradise was there; but it lacked the angel.
They had no child.
From that day a change came over this woman, slowly but surely;
scarcely perceptible to strangers, but easy to be seen by those around
her. She became benevolent, and gave away considerable sums of money,
especially to children's "Homes." But when the good people who
governed these establishments, lured on by her generosity, came to ask
her to be on their committee of management, she became angry, asking
them if they were joking with her? What interest could those brats
have for her? She had other fish to fry. She gave them what they
needed, and what more could they want? The fact was she felt weak and
troubled before children. But within her a powerful and unknown voice
had arisen, and the hour was not far distant when the bitter wave of
her regrets was to overflow and be made manifest.
She did not like Savinien, her nephew, and kept all her sweetness
for the son of one of their old neighbors in the Rue Neuve-Coquenard,
a small haberdasher, who had not been able to get on, but continued
humbly to sell thread and needles to the thrifty folks of the
neighborhood. The haberdasher, Mother Delarue, as she was called, had
remained a widow after one year of married life. Pierre, her boy, had
grown up under the shadow of the bakery, the cradle of the
On Sundays the mistress would give him a gingerbread or a cracknel,
and amuse herself with his baby prattle. She did not lose sight of
him when she removed to the Rue Vivienne. Pierre had entered the
elementary school of the neighborhood, and by his precocious
intelligence and exceptional application, had not been long in getting
to the top of his class. The boy had left school after gaining an
exhibition admitting him to the Chaptal College. This hard worker,
who was in a fair way of making his own position without costing his
relatives anything, greatly interested Madame Desvarennes. She found
in this plucky nature a striking analogy to herself. She formed
projects for Pierre's future; in fancy she saw him enter the
Polytechnic school, and leave it with honors. The young man had the
choice of becoming a mining or civil engineer, and of entering the
He was hesitating what to do when the mistress came and offered him
a situation in her firm as junior partner; it was a golden bridge that
she placed before him. With his exceptional capacities he was not
long in giving to the house a new impulse. He perfected the
machinery, and triumphantly defied all competition. All this was a
happy dream in which Pierre was to her a real son; her home became
his, and she monopolized him completely. But suddenly a shadow came
o'er the spirit of her dreams. Pierre's mother, the little
haberdasher, proud of her son, would she consent to give him up to a
stranger? Oh! if Pierre had only been an orphan! But one could not
rob a mother of her son! And Madame Desvarennes stopped the flight of
her imagination. She followed Pierre with anxious looks; but she
forbade herself to dispose of the youth: he did not belong to her.
This woman, at the age of thirty-five, still young in heart, was
disturbed by feelings which she strove, but vainly, to rule. She hid
them especially from her husband, whose repining chattering she
feared. If she had once shown him her weakness he would have
overwhelmed her daily with the burden of his regrets. But an
unforeseen circumstance placed her at Michel's mercy.
Winter had come, bringing December and its snow. The weather this
year was exceptionally inclement, and traffic in the streets was so
difficult, business was almost suspended. The mistress left her
deserted offices and retired early to her private apartments. The
husband and wife spent their evenings alone. They sat there, facing
each other, at the fireside. A shade concentrated the light of the
lamp upon the table covered with expensive knick-knacks. The ceiling
was sometimes vaguely lighted up by a glimmer from the stove which
glittered on the gilt cornices. Ensconced in deep comfortable
armchairs, the pair respectively caressed their favorite dream without
speaking of it.
Madame Desvarennes saw beside her a little pink-and-white baby
girl, toddling on the carpet. She heard her words, understood her
language, untranslatable to all others than a mother. Then bedtime
came. The child, with heavy eyelids, let her little fair-haired head
fall on her shoulders. Madame Desvarennes took her in her arms and
undressed her quietly, kissing her bare and dimpled arms. It was
exquisite enjoyment which stirred her heart deliciously. She saw the
cradle, and devoured the child with her eyes. She knew that the
picture was a myth. But what did it matter to her? She was happy.
Michel's voice broke on her reverie.
"Wife," said he, "this is Christmas Eve; and as there are only us
two, suppose you put your slipper on the hearth."
Madame Desvarennes rose. Her eyes vaguely turned toward the hearth
on which the fire was dying, and beside the upright of the large
sculptured mantelpiece she beheld for a moment a tiny shoe, belonging
to the child which she loved to see in her dreams. Then the vision
vanished, and there was nothing left but the lonely hearth. A sharp
pain tore her swollen heart; a sob rose to her lips, and, slowly, two
tears rolled down her cheeks. Michel, quite pale, looked at her in
silence; he held out his hand to her, and said, in a trembling voice:
"You were thinking about it, eh?"
Madame Desvarennes bowed her head, twice, silently, and without
adding another word, the pair fell into each other's arms and wept.
From that day they hid nothing from each other, and shared their
troubles and regrets in common. The mistress unburdened her heart by
making a full confession, and Michel, for the first time in his life,
learned the depth of soul of his companion to its inmost recesses.
This woman, so energetic, so obstinate, was, as it were, broken down.
The springs of her will seemed worn out. She felt despondencies and
wearinesses until then unknown. Work tired her. She did not venture
down to the offices; she talked of giving up business, which was a bad
sign. She longed for country air. Were they not rich enough? With
their simple tastes so much money was unnecessary. In fact, they had
no wants. They would go to some pretty estate in the suburbs of
Paris, live there and plant cabbages. Why work? they had no
Michel agreed to these schemes. For a long time he had wished for
repose. Often he had feared that his wife's ambition would lead them
too far. But now, since she stopped of her own accord, it was all for
At this juncture their solicitor informed them that, near to their
works, the Cernay estate was to be put up for sale. Very often, when
going from Jouy to the mills, Madame Desvarennes had noticed the
chateau, the slate roofs of the turrets of which rose gracefully from
a mass of deep verdure. The Count de Cernay, the last representative
of a noble race, had just died of consumption, brought on by reckless
living, leaving nothing behind him but debts and a little girl two
years old. Her mother, an Italian singer and his mistress, had left
him one morning without troubling herself about the child. Everything
was to be sold, by order of the Court.
Some most lamentable incidents had saddened the Count's last hours.
The bailiffs had entered the house with the doctor when he came to
pay his last call, and the notices of the sale were all but posted up
before the funeral was over. Jeanne, the orphan, scared amid the
troubles of this wretched end, seeing unknown men walking into the
reception-rooms with their hats on, hearing strangers speaking loudly
and with arrogance, had taken refuge in the laundry. It was there
that Madame Desvarennes found her, playing, plainly dressed in a
little alpaca frock, her pretty hair loose and falling on her
shoulders. She looked astonished at what she had seen; silent, not
daring to run or sing as formerly in the great desolate house whence
the master had just been taken away forever.
With the vague instinct of abandoned children who seek to attach
themselves to some one or some thing, Jeanne clung to Madame
Desvarennes, who, ready to protect, and longing for maternity, took
the child in her arms. The gardener's wife acted as guide during her
visit over the property. Madame Desvarennes questioned her. She knew
nothing of the child except what she had heard from the servants when
they gossiped in the evenings about their late master. They said
Jeanne was a bastard. Of her relatives they knew nothing. The Count
had an aunt in England who was married to a rich lord; but he had not
corresponded with her lately. The little one then was reduced to
beggary as the estate was to be sold.
The gardener's wife was a good woman and was willing to keep the
child until the new proprietor came; but when once affairs were
settled, she would certainly go and make a declaration to the mayor,
and take her to the workhouse. Madame Desvarennes listened in
silence. One word only had struck her while the woman was speaking.
The child was without support, without ties, and abandoned like a
poor lost dog. The little one was pretty too; and when she fixed her
large deep eyes on that improvised mother, who pressed her so tenderly
to her heart, she seemed to implore her not to put her down, and to
carry her away from the mourning that troubled her mind and the
isolation that froze her heart.
Madame Desvarennes, very superstitious, like a woman of the people,
began to think that, perhaps, Providence had brought her to Cernay
that day and had placed the child in her path. It was perhaps a
reparation which heaven granted her, in giving her the little girl she
so longed for. Acting unhesitatingly, as she did in everything, she
left her name with the woman, carried Jeanne to her carriage, and took
her to Paris, promising herself to make inquiries to find her
A month later, the property of Cernay pleasing her, and the
researches for Jeanne's friends not proving successful, Madame
Desvarennes took possession of the estate and the child into the
Michel welcomed the child without enthusiasm. The little stranger
was indifferent to him; he would have preferred adopting a boy. The
mistress was delighted. Her maternal instincts, so long stifled,
developed fully. She made plans for the future. Her energy returned;
she spoke loudly and firmly. But in her appearance there was revealed
an inward contentment never remarked before, which made her sweeter
and more benevolent. She no longer spoke of retiring from business.
The discouragement which had seized her left her as if by magic. The
house which had been so dull for some months became noisy and gay.
The child, like a sunbeam, had scattered the clouds.
It was then that the most unlooked-for phenomenon, which was so
considerably to influence Madame Desvarennes's life, occurred. At the
moment when the mistress seemed provided by chance with the heiress so
much longed for, she learned with surprise that she was about to
become a mother! After sixteen years of married life, this discovery
was almost a discomfiture. What would have been delight formerly was
now a cause for fear. She, almost an old woman!
There was an incredible commotion in the business world when the
news became known. The younger branch of Desvarennes had witnessed
Jeanne's arrival with little satisfaction, and were still more gloomy
when they learned that the chances of their succeeding to great wealth
were over. Still they did not lose all hopes. At thirty-five years of
age one cannot always tell how these little affairs will come off. An
accident was possible. But none occurred; all passed off well.
Madame Desvarennes was as strong physically as she was morally, and
proved victorious by bringing into the world a little girl, who was
named Michelins in honor of her father. The mistress's heart was
large enough to hold two children; she kept the orphan she had
adopted, and brought her up as if she had been her very own. Still
there was soon an enormous difference in her manner of loving Jeanne
and Michelins. This mother had for the long-wished-for child an
ardent, mad, passionate love like that of a tigress for her cubs. She
had never loved her husband. All the tenderness which had accumulated
in her heart blossomed, and it was like spring.
This autocrat, who had never allowed contradiction, and before whom
all her dependents bowed either with or against the grain, was now led
in her turn; the bronze of her character became like wax in the little
pink hands of her daughter. The commanding woman bent before the
little fair head. There was nothing good enough for Micheline. Had
the mother owned the world she would have placed it at the little
one's feet. One tear from the child upset her. If on one of the most
important subjects Madame Desvarennes had said "No," and Micheline
came and said "Yes," the hitherto resolute will became subordinate to
the caprice of a child. They knew it in the house and acted upon it.
This manoeuvre succeeded each time, although Madame Desvarennes had
seen through it from the first. It appeared as if the mother felt a
secret joy in proving under all circumstances the unbounded adoration
which she felt for her daughter. She often said:
"Pretty as she is, and rich as I shall make her, what husband will
be worthy of Micheline? But if she believes me when it is time to
choose one, she will prefer a man remarkable for his intelligence, and
will give him her fortune as a stepping-stone to raise him as high as
she chooses him to go."
Inwardly she was thinking of Pierre Delarue, who had just taken
honors at the Polytechnic school, and who seemed to have a brilliant
career before him. This woman, humbly born, was proud of her origin,
and sought a plebeian for her son-in-law, to put into his hand a
golden tool powerful enough to move the world.
Micheline was ten years old when her father died. Alas, Michel was
not a great loss. They wore mourning for him; but they hardly noticed
that he was absent. His whole life had been a void. Madame
Desvarennes, it is sad to say, felt herself more mistress of her child
when she was a widow. She was jealous of Micheline's affections, and
each kiss the child gave her father seemed to the mother to be robbed
from her. With this fierce tenderness, she preferred solitude around
this beloved being.
At this time Madame Desvarennes was really in the zenith of womanly
splendor. She seemed taller, her figure had straightened, vigorous
and powerful. Her gray hair gave her face a majestic appearance.
Always surrounded by a court of clients and friends, she seemed like
a sovereign. The fortune of the firm was not to be computed. It was
said Madame Desvarennes did not know how rich she was.
Jeanne and Micheline grew up amid this colossal prosperity. The
one, tall, brown-haired, with blue eyes changing like the sea; the
other, fragile, fair, with dark dreamy eyes. Jeanne, proud,
capricious, and inconstant; Micheline, simple, sweet, and tenacious.
The brunette inherited from her reckless father and her fanciful
mother a violent and passionate nature; the blonde was tractable and
good like Michel, but resolute and firm like Madame Desvarennes.
These two opposite natures were congenial, Micheline sincerely loving
Jeanne, and Jeanne feeling the necessity of living amicably with
Micheline, her mother's idol, but inwardly enduring with difficulty
the inequalities which began to exhibit themselves in the manner with
which the intimates of the house treated the one and the other. She
found these flatteries wounding, and thought Madame Desvarennes's
preferences for Micheline unjust.
All these accumulated grievances made Jeanne conceive the wish one
morning of leaving the house where she had been brought up, and where
she now felt humiliated. Pretending to long to go to England to see
that rich relative of her father, who, knowing her to be in a
brilliant society, had taken notice of her, she asked Madame
Desvarennes to allow her to spend a few weeks from home. She wished
to try the ground in England, and see what she might expect in the
future from her family. Madame Desvarennes lent herself to this whim,
not guessing the young girl's real motive; and Jeanne, well attended,
went to her aunt's home in England.
Madame Desvarennes, besides, had attained the summit of her hopes,
and an event had just taken place which preoccupied her. Micheline,
deferring to her mother's wishes, had decided to allow herself to be
betrothed to Pierre Delarue, who had just lost his mother, and whose
business improved daily. The young girl, accustomed to treat Pierre
like a brother, had easily consented to accept him as her future
Jeanne, who had been away for six months, had returned sobered and
disillusioned about her family. She had found them kind and affable,
had received many compliments on her beauty, which was really
remarkable, but had not met with any encouragement in her desires for
independence. She came home resolved not to leave until she married.
She arrived in the Rue Saint-Dominique at the moment when Pierre
Delarue, thirsting with ambition, was leaving his betrothed, his
relatives, and gay Paris to undertake engineering work on the coasts
of Algeria and Tunis that would raise him above his rivals. In
leaving, the young man did not for a moment think that Jeanne was
returning from England at the same hour with trouble for him in the
person of a very handsome cavalier, Prince Serge Panine, who had been
introduced to her at a ball during the London season. Mademoiselle de
Cernay, availing herself of English liberty, was returning escorted
only by a maid in company with the Prince. The journey had been
delightful. The tete-a-tete travelling had pleased the young people,
and on leaving the train they had promised to see each other again.
Official balls facilitated their meeting; Serge was introduced to
Madame Desvarennes as being an English friend, and soon became the
most assiduous partner of Jeanne and Micheline. It was thus, under
the most trivial pretext, that the man gained admittance to the house
where he was to play such an important part.
CHAPTER II. THE GALLEY-SLAVE OF
One morning in the month of May, 1879, a young man, elegantly
attired, alighted from a well-appointed carriage before the door of
Madame Desvarennes's house. The young man passed quickly before the
porter in uniform, decorated with a military medal, stationed near the
door. The visitor found himself in an anteroom which communicated
with several corridors. A messenger was seated in the depth of a
large armchair, reading the newspaper, and not even lending an
inattentive ear to the whispered conversation of a dozen canvassers,
who were patiently awaiting their turn for gaining a hearing. On
seeing the young man enter by the private door, the messenger rose,
dropped his newspaper on the armchair, hastily raised his velvet
skullcap, tried to smile, and made two steps forward.
"Good-morning, old Felix,"said the young man, in a friendly tone to
the messenger. "Is my aunt within?"
"Yes, Monsieur Savinien, Madame Desvarennes is in her office; but
she has been engaged for more than an hour with the Financial
Secretary of the War Department."
In uttering these words old Felix put on a mysterious and important
air, which denoted how serious the discussions going on in the
adjoining room seemed to his mind.
"You see," continued he, showing Madame Desvarennes's nephew the
anteroom full of people, "madame has kept all these waiting since this
morning, and perhaps she won't see them."
"I must see her though," murmured the young man.
He reflected a moment, then added:
"Is Monsieur Marechal in?"
"Yes, sir, certainly. If you will allow me I will announce you."
"It is unnecessary."
And, stepping forward, he entered the office adjoining that of
Seated at a large table of black wood, covered with bundles of
papers and notes, a young man was working. He was thirty years of
age, but appeared much older. His prematurely bald forehead, and
wrinkled brow, betokened a life of severe struggles and privations, or
a life of excesses and pleasures. Still those clear and pure eyes
were not those of a libertine, and the straight nose solidly joined to
the face was that of a searcher. Whatever the cause, the man was old
before his time.
On hearing the door of his office open, he raised his eyes, put
down his pen, and was making a movement toward his visitor, when the
latter interrupted him quickly with these words:
"Don't stir, Marechal, or I shall be off! I only came in until
Aunt Desvarennes is at liberty; but if I disturb you I will go and
take a turn, smoke a cigar, and come back in three quarters of an
"You do not disturb me, Monsieur Savinien; at least not often
enough, for be it said, without reproaching you, it is more than three
months since we have seen anything of you. There, the post is
finished. I was writing the last addresses."
And taking a heavy bundle of papers off the desk, Marechal showed
them to Savinien.
"Gracious! It seems that business is going on well here."
"Better and better."
"You are making mountains of flour."
"Yes; high as Mont Blanc; and then, we now have a fleet."
"What! a fleet?" cried Savinien, whose face expressed doubt and
surprise at the same time.
"Yes, a steam fleet. Last year Madame Desvarennes was not
satisfied with the state in which her corn came from the East. The
corn was damaged owing to defective stowage; the firm claimed
compensation from the steamship company. The claim was only
moderately satisfied, Madame Desvarennes got vexed, and now we import
our own. We have branches at Smyrna and Odessa."
"It is fabulous! If it goes on, my aunt will have an
administration as important as that of a European state. Oh! you are
happy here, you people; you are busy. I amuse myself! And if you
knew how it wearies me! I am withering, consuming myself, I am
longing for business."
And saying these words, young Monsieur Desvarennes allowed a
sorrowful moan to escape him.
"It seems to me," said Mar6chal, "that it only depends upon
yourself to do as much and more business than any one?"
"You know well enough that it is not so," sighed Savinien; "my aunt
is opposed to it."
"What a mistake!" cried Marechal, quickly. "I have heard Madame
Desvarennes say more than twenty times how she regretted your being
unemployed. Come into the firm, you will have a good berth in the
"In the counting-house!" cried Savinien, bitterly; "there's the
sore point. Now look here; my friend, do you think that an
organization like mine is made to bend to the trivialities of a
copying clerk's work? To follow the humdrum of every-day routine? To
blacken paper? To become a servant?—me! with what I have in my
And, rising abruptly, Savinien began to walk hurriedly up and down
the room, disdainfully shaking his little head with its low forehead
on which were plastered a few fair curls (made with curling-irons),
with the indignant air of an Atlas carrying the world on his
"Oh, I know very well what is at the bottom of the business—my
aunt is jealous of me because I am a man of ideas. She wishes to be
the only one of the family who possesses any. She thinks of binding
me down to a besotting work," continued he, "but I won't have it. I
know what I want! It is independence of thought, bent on the solution
of great problems— that is, a wide field to apply my discoveries.
But a fixed rule, common law, I could not submit to it."
"It is like the examinations," observed Marechal, looking slyly at
young Desvarennes, who was drawing himself up to his full height;
"examinations never suited you."
"Never," said Savinien, energetically. "They wished to get me into
the Polytechnic School; impossible! Then the Central School; no
better. I astonished the examiners by the novelty of my ideas. They
"Well, you know," retorted Marechal, "if you began by overthrowing
"That's it!" cried Savinien, triumphantly. "My mind is stronger
than I; I must let my imagination have free run, and no one will ever
know what that particular turn of mind has cost me. Even my family do
not think me serious. Aunt Desvarennes has forbidden any kind of
enterprise, under pretence that I bear her name, and that I might
compromise it because I have twice failed. My aunt paid, it is true.
Do you think it is generous of her to take advantage of my situation,
and prohibit my trying to succeed? Are inventors judged by three or
four failures? If my aunt had allowed me I should have astonished the
"She feared, above all," said Marechal, simply, "to see you
astonishing the Tribunal of Commerce."
"Oh! you, too," moaned Savinien, "are in league with my enemies;
you make no account of me."
And young Desvarennes sank as if crushed into an armchair and began
to lament. He was very unhappy at being misunderstood. His aunt
allowed him three thousand francs a month on condition that he would
not make use of his ten fingers. Was it moral? Then he with such
exuberant vigor had to waste it on pleasure and seeing life to the
utmost. He passed his time in theatres, at clubs, restaurants, in
boudoirs. He lost his time, his money, his hair, his illusions. He
bemoaned his lot, but continued, only to have something to do. With
grim sarcasm he called himself the galley-slave of pleasure. And
notwithstanding all these consuming excesses, he asserted that he
could not render his imagination barren. Amid the greatest follies at
suppers, during the clinking of glasses; in the excitement of the
dance-inspirations came to him in flashes, he made prodigious
And as Marechal ventured a timid "Oh!" tinged with incredulity,
Savinien flew into a passion. Yes; he had invented something
astonishing; he saw fortune within reach, and he thought the bargain
made with his aunt very unjust. Therefore he had come to break it,
and to regain his liberty.
Marechal looked at the young man while he was explaining with
animation his ambitious projects. He scrutinized that flat forehead
within which the dandy asserted so many good ideas were hidden. He
measured that slim form bent by wild living, and asked himself how
that degenerate being could struggle against the difficulties of
business. A smile played on his lips. He knew Savinien too well not
to be aware that he was a prey to one of those attacks of melancholy
which seized on him when his funds were low.
On these occasions, which occurred frequently, the young man had
longings for business, which Madame Desvarennes stopped by asking:
"How much?" Savinien allowed himself to be with difficulty induced to
consent to renounce the certain profits promised, as he said, by his
projected enterprise. At last he would capitulate, and with his
pocket well lined, nimble and joyful, he returned to his boudoirs,
race-courses, fashionable restaurants, and became more than ever the
galley-slave of pleasure.
"And Pierre?" asked young Desvarennes, suddenly and quickly
changing the subject. "Have you any news of him?"
Marechal became serious. A cloud seemed to have come across his
brow; he gravely answered Savinien's question.
Pierre was still in the East. He was travelling toward Tunis, the
coast of which he was exploring. It was a question of the formation
of an island sea by taking the water through the desert. It would be
a colossal undertaking, the results of which would be considerable as
regarded Algeria. The climate would be completely changed, and the
value of the colony would be increased tenfold, because it would
become the most fertile country in the world. Pierre had been
occupied in this undertaking for more than a year with unequalled
ardor; he was far from his home, his betrothed, seeing only the goal
to be attained; turning a deaf ear to all that would distract his
attention from the great work, to the success of which he hoped to
"And don't people say," resumed Savinien with an evil smile, "that
during his absence a dashing young fellow is busy luring his betrothed
away from him?"
At these words Marechal made a quick movement.
"It is false," he interrupted; "and I do not understand how you,
Monsieur Desvarennes, should be the bearer of such a tale. To admit
that Mademoiselle Micheline could break her word or her engagements is
to slander her, and if any one other than you—"
"There, there, my dear friend," said Savinien, laughing, "don't get
into a rage. What I say to you I would not repeat to the first comer;
besides, I am only the echo of a rumor that has been going the round
during the last three weeks. They even give the name of him who has
been chosen for the honor and pleasure of such a brilliant conquest.
I mean Prince Serge Panine."
"As you have mentioned Prince Panine," replied Marechal, "allow me
to tell you that he has not put his foot inside Madame Desvarennes's
door for three weeks. This is not the way of a man about to marry the
daughter of the house."
"My dear fellow, I only repeat what I have heard. As for me, I
don't know any more. I have kept out of the way for more than three
months. And besides, it matters little to me whether Micheline be a
commoner or a princess, the wife of Delarue or of Panine. I shall be
none the richer or the poorer, shall I? Therefore I need not care.
The dear child will certainly have millions enough to marry easily.
And her adopted sister, the stately Mademoiselle Jeanne, what has
become of her?"
"Ah! as to Mademoiselle de Cernay, that is another affair," cried
And as if wishing to divert the conversation in an opposite
direction to which Savinien had led it a moment before, he spoke
readily of Madame Desvarennes's adopted daughter. She had made a
lively impression on one of the intimate friends of the house—the
banker Cayrol, who had offered his name and his fortune to the fair
This was a cause of deep amazement to Savinien. What! Cayrol !
The shrewd close—fisted Auvergnat! A girl without a fortune!
Cayrol Silex as he was called in the commercial world on account of
his hardness. This living money-bag had a heart then! It was
necessary to believe it since both money-bag and heart had been placed
at Mademoiselle de Cernay's feet. This strange girl was certainly
destined to millions. She had just missed being Madame Desvarennes's
heiress, and now Cayrol had taken it into his head to marry her.
But that was not all. And when Marechal told Savinien that the
fair Jeanne flatly refused to become the wife of Cayrol, there was an
outburst of joyful exclamations. She refused! By Jove, she was mad!
An unlooked-for marriage—for she had not a penny, and had most
extravagant notions. She had been brought up as if she were to live
always in velvet and silks—to loll in carriages and think only of her
pleasure. What reason did she give for refusing him! None.
Haughtily and disdainfully she had declared that she did not love
"that man," and that she would not marry him.
When Savinien heard these details his rapture increased. One thing
especially charmed him: Jeanne's saying "that man," when speaking of
Cayrol. A little girl who was called "De Cernay" just as he might
call himself "Des Batignolles" if he pleased: the natural and
unacknowledged daughter of a Count and of a shady public singer! And
she refused Cayrol, calling him "that man." It was really funny. And
what did worthy Cayrol say about it?
When Marechal declared that the banker had not been damped by this
discouraging reception, Savinien said it was human nature. The fair
Jeanne scorned Cayrol and Cayrol adored her. He had often seen those
things happen. He knew the baggages so well! Nobody knew more of
women than he did. He had known some more difficult to manage than
proud Mademoiselle Jeanne.
An old leaven of hatred had festered in Savinien's heart against
Jeanne since the time when the younger branch of the Desvarennes had
reason to fear that the superb heritage was going to the adopted
daughter. Savinien had lost the fear, but had kept up the animosity.
And everything that could happen to Jeanne of a vexing or painful
nature would be witnessed by him with pleasure.
He was about to encourage Marechal to continue his revelations, and
had risen and was leaning on the desk. With his face excited and
eager, he was preparing his question, when, through the door which led
to Madame Desvarennes's office, a confused murmur of voices was heard.
At the same time the door was half opened, held by a woman's hand,
square, with short fingers, a firm-willed and energetic hand. At the
same time, the last words exchanged between Madame Desvarennes and the
Financial Secretary of the War Office were distinctly audible. Madame
Desvarennes was speaking, and her voice sounded clear and plain; a
little raised and vibrating. There seemed a shade of anger in its
"My dear sir, you will tell the Minister that does not suit me. It
is not the custom of the house. For thirty-five years I have
conducted business thus, and I have always found it answer. I wish
you good- morning."
The door of the office facing that which Madame Desvarennes held
closed, and a light step glided along the corridor. It was the
Financial Secretary's. The mistress appeared.
Marechal rose hastily. As to Savinien, all his resolution seemed
to have vanished at the sound of his aunt's voice, for he had rapidly
gained a corner of the room, and seated himself on a leather-covered
sofa, hidden behind an armchair, where he remained perfectly quiet.
"Do you understand that, Marechal?" said dame Desvarennes; "they
want to place a resident agent at the mill on pretext of checking
things. They say that all military contractors are obliged to submit
to it. My word, do they take us for thieves, the rascals? It is the
first time that people have seemed to doubt me. And it has enraged
me. I have been arguing for a whole hour with the man they sent me.
I said to him, 'My dear sir, you may either take it or leave it. Let
us start from this point: I can do without you and you cannot do
without me. If you don't buy my flour, somebody else will. I am not
at all troubled about it. But as to having any one here who would be
as much master as myself, or perhaps more, never! I am too old to
change my customs.' Thereupon the Financial Secretary left. There!
And, besides, they change their Ministry every fortnight. One would
never know with whom one had to deal. Thank you, no."
While talking thus with Marechal, Madame Desvarennes was walking
about the office. She was still the same woman with the broad
prominent forehead. Her hair, which she wore in smooth plaits, had
become gray, but the sparkle of her dark eyes only seemed the brighter
from this. She had preserved her splendid teeth, and her smile had
remained young and charming. She spoke with animation, as usual, and
with the gestures of a man. She placed herself before her secretary,
seeming to appeal to him as a witness of her being in the right.
During the hour with the official personage she had been obliged to
contain herself. She unburdened herself to Marechal, saying just what
But all at once she perceived Savinien, who was waiting to show
himself now that she had finished. The mistress turned sharply to the
young man, and frowned slightly:
"Hallo! you are there, eh? How is it that you could leave your
"But, aunt, I came to pay you my respects."
"No nonsense now; I've no time," interrupted the mistress. "What
do you want?"
Savinien, disconcerted by this rude reception, blinked his eyes, as
if seeking some form to give his request; then, making up his mind, he
"I came to see you on business."
"You on business?" replied Madame Desvarennes, with a shade of
astonishment and irony.
"Yes, aunt, on business," declared Savinien, looking down as if he
expected a rebuff.
"Oh, oh, oh!" said Madame Desvarennes, "you know our agreement; I
give you an allowance—"
"I renounce my income," interrupted Savinien, quickly, "I wish to
take back my independence. The transfer I made has already cost me
too dear. It's a fool's bargain. The enterprise which I am going to
launch is superb, and must realize immense profits. I shall certainly
not abandon it."
While speaking, Savinien had become animated and had regained his
self- possession. He believed in his scheme, and was ready to pledge
his future. He argued that his aunt could not blame him for giving
proof of his energy and daring, and he discoursed in bombastic style.
"That's enough!" cried Madame Desvarennes, interrupting her
nephew's oration. "I am very fond of mills, but not word-mills. You
are talking too much about it to be sincere. So many words can only
serve to disguise the nullity of your projects. You want to embark in
speculation? With what money?"
"I contribute the scheme and some capitalists will advance the
money to start with; we shall then issue shares!"
"Never in this life! I oppose it. You! With a responsibility.
You! Directing an undertaking. You would only commit absurdities.
In fact, you want to sell an idea, eh? Well, I will buy it."
"It is not only the money I want," said Savinien, with an indignant
air, "it is confidence in my ideas, it is enthusiasm on the part of my
shareholders, it is success. You don't believe in my ideas, aunt!"
"What does it matter to you, if I buy them from you? It seems to
me a pretty good proof of confidence. Is that settled?"
"Ah, aunt, you are implacable!" groaned Savinien. "When you have
laid your hand upon any one, it is all over. Adieu, independence; one
must obey you. Nevertheless, it was a vast and beautiful conception."
"Very well. Marechal, see that my nephew has ten thousand francs.
And you, Savinien, remember that I see no more of you."
"Until the money is spent!" murmured Marechal, in the ear of
Madame Desvarennes's nephew.
And taking him by the arm he was leading him toward the safe when
the mistress turned to Savinien and said:
"By the way, what is your invention?"
"Aunt, it is a threshing machine," answered the young man, gravely.
"Rather a machine for coining money," said the incorrigible
Marechal, in an undertone.
"Well; bring me your plans," resumed Madame Desvarennes, after
having reflected a moment. "Perchance you may have hit upon
The mistress had been generous, and now the woman of business
reasserted herself and she thought of reaping the benefit.
Savinien seemed very confused at this demand, and as his aunt gave
him an interrogative look, he confessed:
"There are no drawings made as yet."
"No drawings as yet?" cried the mistress. "Where then is your
"It is here," replied Savinien, and with an inspired gesture he
struck his narrow forehead.
Madame Desvarennes and Marechal could not resist breaking out into
"And you were already talking of issuing shares?" said the
mistress. "Do you think people would have paid their money with your
brain as sole guarantee? You! Get along; I am the only one to make
bargains like that, and you are the only one with whom I make them.
Go, Marechal, give him his money; I won't gainsay it. But you are a
trickster, as usual!"
CHAPTER III. PIERRE RETURNS
By a wave of her hand she dismissed Savinien, who, abashed, went
out with Marechal. Left alone, she seated herself at her secretary's
desk, and taking the pile of letters she signed them. The pen flew in
her fingers, and on the paper was displayed her name, written in large
letters in a man's handwriting.
She had been occupied thus for about a quarter of an hour when
Marechal reappeared. Behind him came a stout thickset man of heavy
build, and gorgeously dressed. His face, surrounded by a bristly dark
brown beard, and his eyes overhung by bushy eyebrows, gave him, at the
first glance, a harsh appearance. But his mouth promptly banished
this impression. His thick and sensual lips betrayed voluptuous
tastes. A disciple of Lavater or Gall would have found the bump of
amativeness largely developed.
Marechal stepped aside to allow him to pass.
"Good-morning, mistress," said he familiarly, approaching Madame
The mistress raised her head quickly, and said:
"Ah! it's you, Cayrol! That's capital! I was just going to send
Jean Cayrol, a native of Cantal, had been brought up amid the wild
mountains of Auvergne. His father was a small farmer in the
neighborhood of Saint-Flour, scraping a miserable pittance from the
ground for the maintenance of his family. From the age of eight years
Cayrol had been a shepherd-boy. Alone in the quiet and remote
country, the child had given way to ambitious dreams. He was very
intelligent, and felt that he was born to another sphere than that of
Thus, at the first opportunity which had occurred to take him into
a town, he was found ready. He went as servant to a banker at
Brioude. There, in the service of this comparatively luxurious house,
he got smoothed down a little, and lost some of his clumsy
loutishness. Strong as an ox, he did the work of two men, and at
night, when in his garret, fell asleep learning to read. He was
seized by the ambition to get on. No pains were to be spared to gain
His master having been elected a member of the Chamber of Deputies,
Cayrol accompanied him to Paris. Life in the capital finished the
turmoil of Cayrol's brain. Seeing the prodigious activity of the
great city on whose pavements fortunes sprang up in a day like
mushrooms, the Auvergnat felt his moral strength equal to the
occasion, and leaving his master, he became clerk to a merchant in the
Rue du Sentier.
There, for four years, he studied commerce, and gained much
experience. He soon learned that it was only in financial transactions
that large fortunes were to be rapidly made. He left the Rue du
Sentier, and found a place at a stock-broker's. His keen scent for
speculation served him admirably. After the lapse of a few years he
had charge of the business. His position was getting better; he was
making fifteen thousand francs per annum, but that was nothing
compared to his dreams. He was then twenty-eight years of age. He
felt ready to do anything to succeed, except something unhandsome, for
this lover of money would have died rather than enrich himself by
It was at this time that his lucky star threw him in Madame
Desvarennes's way. The mistress, understanding men, guessed Cayrol's
worth quickly. She was seeking a banker who would devote himself to
her interests. She watched the young man narrowly for some time;
then, sure she was not mistaken as to his capacity, she bluntly
proposed to give him money to start a business. Cayrol, who had
already saved eighty thousand francs, received twelve hundred thousand
from Madame Desvarennes, and settled in the Rue Taitbout, two steps
from the house of Rothschild.
Madame Desvarennes had made a lucky hit in choosing Cayrol as her
confidential agent. This short, thickset Auvergnat was a master of
finance, and in a few years had raised the house to an unexpected
degree of prosperity. Madame Desvarennes had drawn considerable sums
as interest on the money lent, and the banker's fortune was already
estimated at several millions. Was it the happy influence of Madame
Desvarennes that changed everything she touched into gold, or were
Cayrol's capacities really extraordinary? The results were there and
that was sufficient. They did not trouble themselves over and above
The banker had naturally become one of the intimates of Madame
Desvarennes's house. For a long time he saw Jeanne without
particularly noticing her. This young girl had not struck his fancy.
It was one night at a ball, on seeing her dancing with Prince Panine,
that he perceived that she was marvellously engaging. His eyes were
attracted by an invincible power and followed her graceful figure
whirling through the waltz. He secretly envied the brilliant cavalier
who was holding this adorable creature in his arms, who was bending
over her bare shoulders, and whose breath lightly touched her hair.
He longed madly for Jeanne, and from that moment thought only of her.
The Prince was then very friendly with Mademoiselle de Cernay; he
overwhelmed her with kind attentions. Cayrol watched him to see if he
spoke to her of love, but Panine was a past master in these
drawing-room skirmishes, and the banker got nothing for his pains.
That Cayrol was tenacious has been proved. He became intimate with
the Prince. He tendered him such little services as create intimacy,
and when he was sure of not being repulsed with haughtiness, he
questioned Serge. Did he love Mademoiselle de Cernay? This question,
asked in a trembling voice and with a constrained smile, found the
Prince quite calm. He answered lightly that Mademoiselle de Cernay
was a very agreeable partner, but that he had never dreamed of
offering her his homage. He had other projects in his head. Cayrol
pressed the Prince's hand violently, made a thousand protestations of
devotedness, and finally obtained his complete confidence.
Serge loved Mademoiselle Desvarennes, and it was to become intimate
with her that he had so eagerly sought her friend's company. Cayrol,
in learning the Prince's secret, resumed his usual reserved manner.
He knew that Micheline was engaged to Pierre Delarue, but still,
women were so whimsical! Who could tell? Perhaps Mademoiselle
Desvarennes had looked favorably upon the handsome Serge.
He was really admirable to view, this Panine, with his blue eyes,
pure as a maiden's, and his long fair mustache falling on each side of
his rosy mouth. He had a truly royal bearing, and was descended from
an ancient aristocratic race; he had a charming hand and an arched
foot, enough to make a woman envious. Soft and insinuating with his
tender voice and sweet Sclavonic accent, he was no ordinary man, but
one usually creating a great impression wherever he went.
His story was well known in Paris. He was born in the province of
Posen, so violently seized on by Prussia, that octopus of Europe.
Serge's father had been killed during the insurrection of 1848, and
he, when a year old, was brought by his uncle, Thaddeus Panine, to
France, and was educated at the College Rollin, where he had not
acquired over much learning.
In 1866, at the moment when war broke out between Prussia and
Austria, Serge was eighteen years old. By his uncle's orders he had
left Paris, and had entered himself for the campaign in an Austrian
cavalry regiment. All who bore the name of Panine, and had strength to
hold a sword or carry a gun, had risen to fight the oppressor of
Poland. Serge, during this short and bloody struggle, showed
prodigies of valor. On the night of Sadowa, out of seven bearing the
name of Panine, who had served against Prussia, five were dead, one
was wounded; Serge alone was untouched, though red with the blood of
his uncle Thaddeus, who was killed by the bursting of a shell. All
these Panines, living or dead, had gained honors. When they were
spoken of before Austrians or Poles, they were called heroes.
Such a man was a dangerous companion for a young, simple, and
artless girl like Micheline. His adventures were bound to please her
imagination, and his beauty sure to charm her eyes. Cayrol was a
prudent man; he watched, and it was not long before he perceived that
Micheline treated the Prince with marked favor. The quiet young girl
became animated when Serge was there. Was there love in this
transformation? Cayrol did not hesitate. He guessed at once that the
future would be Panine's, and that the maintenance of his own
influence in the house of Desvarennes depended on the attitude which
he was about to take. He passed over to the side of the newcomer with
arms and baggage, and placed himself entirely at his disposal.
It was he who three weeks before, in the name of Panine, had made
overtures to Madame Desvarennes. The errand had been difficult, and
the banker had turned his tongue several times in his mouth before
speaking. Still, Cayrol could overcome all difficulties. He was able
to explain the object of his mission without Madame flying into a
passion. But, the explanation over, there was a terrible scene. He
witnessed one of the most awful bursts of rage that it was possible to
expect from a violent woman. The mistress treated the friend of the
family as one would not have dared to treat a petty commercial
traveller who came to a private house to offer his wares. She showed
him the door, and desired him not to darken the threshold again.
But if Cayrol was resolute he was equally patient. He listened
without saying a word to the reproaches of Madame Desvarennes, who was
exasperated that a candidate should be set up in opposition to the
son- in-law of her choosing. He did not go, and when Madame
Desvarennes was a little calmed by the letting out of her indignation,
he argued with her. The mistress was too hasty about the business; it
was no use deciding without reflecting. Certainly, nobody esteemed
Pierre Delarue more than he did; but it was necessary to know whether
Micheline loved him. A childish affection was not love, and Prince
Panine thought he might hope that Mademoiselle Desvarennes——
The mistress did not allow Cayrol to finish his sentence; she rang
the bell and asked for her daughter. This time, Cayrol prudently took
the opportunity of disappearing. He had opened fire; it was for
Micheline to decide the result of the battle. The banker awaited the
issue of the interview between mother and daughter in the next room.
Through the door he heard the irritated tones of Madame Desvarennes,
to which Micheline answered softly and slowly. The mother threatened
and stormed. Coldly and quietly the daughter received the attack.
The tussle lasted about an hour, when the door reopened and Madame
Desvarennes appeared, pale and still trembling, but calmed.
Micheline, wiping her beautiful eyes, still wet with tears, regained
"Well," said Cayrol timidly, seeing the mistress standing silent
and absorbed before him; "I see with pleasure that you are less
agitated. Did Mademoiselle Micheline give you good reasons?"
"Good reasons!" cried Madame Desvarennes with a violent gesture,
last flash of the late storm. "She cried, that's all. And you know
when she cries I no longer know what I do or say! She breaks my heart
with her tears. And she knows it. Ah! it is a great misfortune to
love children too much!"
This energetic woman was conquered, and yet understood that she was
wrong to allow herself to be conquered. She fell into a deep reverie,
and forgot that Cayrol was present. She thought of the future which
she had planned for Micheline, and which the latter carelessly
destroyed in an instant.
Pierre, now an orphan, would have been a real son to the mistress.
He would have lived in her house, and have surrounded her old age with
care and affection. And then, he was so full of ability that he could
not help attaining a brilliant position. She would have helped him,
and would have rejoiced in his success. And all this scaffolding was
overturned because this Panine had crossed Micheline's path. A
foreign adventurer, prince perhaps, but who could tell? Lies are
easily told when the proofs of the lie have to be sought beyond the
frontiers. And it was her daughter who was going to fall in love with
an insipid fop who only coveted her millions. That she should see
such a man enter her family, steal Micheline's love from her, and
rummage her strongbox! In a moment she vowed mortal hatred against
Panine, and resolved to do all she could to prevent the longed-for
marriage with her daughter.
She was disturbed in her meditation by Cayrol's voice. He wished
to take an answer to the Prince. What must he say to him?
"You will let him know," said Madame Desvarennes, "that he must
refrain from seeking opportunities of meeting my daughter. If he be a
gentleman, he will understand that his presence, even in Paris, is
disagreeable to me. I ask him to go away for three weeks. After that
time he may come back, and I agree to give him an answer."
"You promise me that you will not be vexed with me for having
undertaken this errand?"
"I promise on one condition. It is, that not a word which has
passed here this morning shall be repeated to any one. Nobody must
suspect the proposal that you have just made to me."
Cayrol swore to hold his tongue, and he kept his word. Prince
Panine left that same night for England.
Madame Desvarennes was a woman of quick resolution. She took a
sheet of paper, a pen, and in her large handwriting wrote the
following lines addressed to Pierre:
"If you do not wish to find Micheline married on your return, come
back without a moment's delay."
She sent this ominous letter to the young man, who was then in
Tripoli. That done, she returned to her business ,as if nothing had
happened. Her placid face did not once betray the anguish of her
heart during those three weeks.
The term fixed by Madame Desvarennes with the Prince had expired
that morning. And the severity with which the mistress had received
the Minister of War's Financial Secretary was a symptom of the
agitation in which the necessity of coming to a decision placed
Micheline's mother. Every morning for the last week she had expected
Pierre to arrive. What with having to give an answer to the Prince as
she had promised, and the longing to see him whom she loved as a son,
she felt sick at heart and utterly cast down. She thought of asking
the Prince for a respite. It was for that reason she was glad to see
The latter, therefore, had arrived opportunely. He looked as if he
brought startling news. By a glance he drew Madame Desvarennes's
attention to Marechal and seemed to say:
"I must be alone with you; send him away."
The mistress understood, and with a decided gesture said:
"You can speak before Marechal; he knows all my affairs as well as
I do myself."
"Even the matter that brings me here?" replied Cayrol, with
"Even that. It was necessary for me to have some one to whom I
could speak, or else my heart would have burst! Come, do your errand.
"A lot it has to do with the Prince," exclaimed Cayrol, in a huff.
"Pierre has arrived!"
Madame Desvarennes rose abruptly. A rush of blood rose to her
face, her eyes brightened, and her lips opened with a smile.
"At last!" she cried. "But where is he? How did you hear of his
"Ah! faith, it was just by chance. I was shooting yesterday at
Fontainebleau, and I returned this morning by the express. On
arriving at Paris, I alighted on the platform, and there I found
myself face to face with a tall young man with a long beard, who,
seeing me pass, called out, 'Ah, Cayrol!' It was Pierre. I only
recognized him by his voice. He is much changed; with his beard, and
his complexion bronzed like an African."
"What did he say to you?"
"Nothing. He pressed my hand. He looked at me for a moment with
glistening eyes. There was something on his lips which he longed to
ask, yet did not; but I guessed it. I was afraid of giving way to
tenderness, that might have ended in my saying something foolish, so I
"How long ago is that?"
"About an hour ago. I only just ran home before coming on here.
There I found Panine waiting for me. He insisted upon accompanying
me. I hope you won't blame him?"
Madame Desvarennes frowned.
"I will not see him just now," she said, looking at Cayrol with a
resolute air. "Where did you leave him?"
"In the garden, where I found the young ladies."
As if to verify the banker's words, a merry peal of laughter was
heard through the half-open window. It was Micheline, who, with
returning gayety, was making up for the three weeks' sadness she had
experienced during Panine's absence.
Madame Desvarennes went to the window, and looked into the garden.
Seated on the lawn, in large bamboo chairs, the young girls were
listening to a story the Prince was telling. The morning was bright
and mild; the sun shining through Micheline's silk sunshade lit up her
fair head. Before her, Serge, bending his tall figure, was speaking
with animation. Micheline's eyes were softly fixed on him. Reclining
in her armchair, she allowed herself to be carried away with his
conversation, and thoroughly enjoyed his society, of which she had
been deprived for the last three weeks. Beside her, Jeanne, silently
watching the Prince, was mechanically nibbling, with her white teeth,
a bunch of carnations which she held in her hands. A painful thought
contracted Mademoiselle de Cernay's brow, and her pale lips on the red
flowers seemed to be drinking blood.
The mistress slowly turned away from this scene. A shadow had
crossed her brow, which had, for a moment, become serene again at the
announcement of Pierre's arrival. She remained silent for a little
while, as if considering; then coming to a resolution, and turning to
Cayrol, she said:
"Where is Pierre staying?"
"At the Hotel du Louvre," replied the banker.
"Well, I'm going there."
Madame Desvarennes rang the bell violently.
"My bonnet, my cloak, and the carriage," she said, and with a
friendly nod to the two men, she went out quickly.
Micheline was still laughing in the garden. Marechal and Cayrol
looked at each other. Cayrol was the first to speak.
"The mistress told you all about the matter then? How is it you
never spoke to me about it?"
"Should I have been worthy of Madame Desvarennes's confidence had I
spoken of what she wished to keep secret?"
"Especially to you. The attitude which you have taken forbade my
speaking. You favor Prince Panine?"
"And you; you are on Pierre Delarue's side?"
"I take no side. I am only a subordinate, you know; I do not
"Do not attempt to deceive me. Your influence over the mistress is
great. The confidence she has in you is a conclusive proof.
Important events are about to take place here. Pierre has certainly
returned to claim his right as betrothed, and Mademoiselle Micheline
loves Prince Serge. Out of this a serious conflict will take place in
the house. There will be a battle. And as the parties in question are
about equal in strength, I am seeking adherents for my candidate. I
own, in all humility, I am on love's side. The Prince is beloved by
Mademoiselle Desvarennes, and I serve him. Micheline will be
grateful, and will do me a turn with Mademoiselle de Cernay. As to
you, let me give you a little advice. If Madame Desvarennes consults
you, speak well of Panine. When the Prince is master here, your
position will be all the better for it."
Marechal had listened to Cayrol without anything betraying the
impression his words created. He looked at the banker in a peculiar
manner, which caused him to feel uncomfortable, and made him lower his
"Perhaps you do not know, Monsieur Cayrol," said the secretary,
after a moment's pause, "how I entered this firm. It is as well in
that case to inform you. Four years ago, I was most wretched. After
having sought fortune ten times without success, I felt myself giving
way morally and physically. There are some beings gifted with energy,
who can surmount all the difficulties of life. You are one of those.
As for me, the struggle exhausted my strength, and I came to grief.
It would take too long to enumerate all the ways of earning my living
I tried. Few even fed me; and I was thinking of putting an end to my
miserable existence when I met Pierre. We had been at college
together. I went toward him; he was on the quay. I dared to stop
him. At first he did not recognize me, I was so haggard, so
wretched-looking! But when I spoke, he cried, 'Marechal!' and,
without blushing at my tatters, put his arms round my neck. We were
opposite the Belle Jardiniere, the clothiers; he wanted to rig me out.
I remember as if it were but yesterday I said, 'No, nothing, only
find me work!'—'Work, my poor fellow,' he answered, 'but just look at
yourself; who would have confidence to give you any? You look like a
tramp, and when you accosted me a little while ago, I asked myself if
you were not about to steal my watch!' And he laughed gayly, happy at
having found me again, and thinking that he might be of use to me.
Seeing that I would not go into the shop, he took off his overcoat,
and put it on my back to cover my tattered clothes, and there and then
he took me to Madame Desvarennes. Two days later I entered the
office. You see the position I hold, and I owe it to Pierre. He has
been more than a friend to me—a brother. Come! after that, tell me
what you would think of me if I did what you have just asked me?"
Cayrol was confused; he twisted his bristly beard with his fingers.
"Faith, I do not say that your scruples are not right; but, between
ourselves, every step that is taken against the Prince will count for
naught. He will marry Mademoiselle Desvarennes."
"It is possible. In that case, I shall be here to console Pierre
and sympathize with him."
"And in the mean time you are going to do all you can in his
"I have already had the honor of telling you that I cannot do
"Well, well. One knows what talking means, and you will not change
my idea of your importance. You take the weaker side then; that's
"It is but strictly honest," said Marechal. "It is true that that
quality has become very rare!"
Cayrol wheeled round on his heels. He took a few steps toward the
door, then, returning to Marechal, held out his hand:
"Without a grudge, eh?"
The secretary allowed his hand to be shaken without answering, and
the banker went out, saying to himself:
"He is without a sou and has prejudices! There's a lad without a
CHAPTER IV. THE RIVALS
On reaching Paris, Pierre Delarue experienced a strange feeling.
In his feverish haste he longed for the swiftness of electricity to
bring him near Micheline. As soon as he arrived in Paris, he
regretted having travelled so fast. He longed to meet his betrothed,
yet feared to know his fate.
He had a sort of presentiment that his reception would destroy his
hopes. And the more he tried to banish these thoughts, the more
forcibly they returned. The thought that Micheline had forgotten her
promise made the blood rush to his face.
Madame Desvarennes's short letter suggested it. That his betrothed
was lost to him he understood, but he would not admit it. How was it
possible that Micheline should forget him? All his childhood passed
before his mind. He remembered the sweet and artless evidences of
affection which the young girl had given him. And yet she no longer
loved him! It was her own mother who said so. After that could he
A prey to this deep trouble, Pierre entered Paris. On finding
himself face to face with Cayrol, the young man's first idea was, as
Cayrol had guessed, to cry out, " What's going on? Is all lost to
me?" A sort of anxious modesty kept back the words on his lips. He
would not admit that he doubted. And, then, Cayrol would only have
needed to answer that all was over, and that he could put on mourning
for his love. He turned around, and went out.
The tumult of Paris surprised and stunned him. After spending a
year in the peaceful solitudes of Africa, to find himself amid the
cries of street-sellers, the rolling of carriages, and the incessant
movement of the great city, was too great a contrast to him. Pierre
was overcome by languor; his head seemed too heavy for his body to
carry; he mechanically entered a cab which conveyed him to the Hotel
du Louvre. Through the window, against the glass of which he tried to
cool his heated forehead, he saw pass in procession before his eyes,
the Column of July, the church of St. Paul, the Hotel de Ville in
ruins, and the colonnade of the Louvre.
An absurd idea took possession of him. He remembered that during
the Commune he was nearly killed in the Rue Saint-Antoine by the
explosion of a shell, thrown by the insurgents from the heights of
Pere-Lachaise. He thought that had he died then, Micheline would have
wept for him. Then, as in a nightmare, it seemed to him that this
hypothesis was realized. He saw the church hung with black, he heard
the funeral chants. A catafalque contained his coffin, and slowly his
betrothed came, with a trembling hand, to throw holy water on the
cloth which covered the bier. And a voice said within him:
"You are dead, since Micheline is about to marry another."
He made an effort to banish this importunate idea. He could not
succeed. Thoughts flew through his brain with fearful rapidity. He
thought he was beginning to be seized with brain fever. And this
dismal ceremony kept coming before him with the same chants, the same
words repeated, and the same faces appearing. The houses seemed to
fly before his vacant eyes. To stop this nightmare he tried to count
the gas-lamps: one, two, three, four, five—but the same thought
interrupted his calculation:
"You are dead, since your betrothed is about to marry another."
He was afraid he was going mad. A sharp pain shot across his
forehead just above the right eyebrow. In the old days he had felt
the same pain when he had overworked himself in preparing for his
examinations at the Polytechnic School. With a bitter smile he asked
himself if one of the aching vessels in his brain was about to burst?
The sudden stoppage of the cab freed him from this torture. The
hotel porter opened the door. Pierre stepped out mechanically.
Without speaking a word he followed a waiter, who showed him to a
room on the second floor. Left alone, he sat down. This room, with
its commonplace furniture, chilled him. He saw in it a type of his
future life: lonely and desolate. Formerly, when he used to come to
Paris, he stayed with Madame Desvarennes, where he had the comforts of
home, and every one looked on him affectionately.
Here, at the hotel, orders were obeyed with politeness at so much a
day. Would it always be thus in future?
This painful impression dissipated his weakness as by enchantment.
He so bitterly regretted the sweets of the past, that he resolved to
struggle to secure them for the future. He dressed himself quickly,
and removed all the traces of his journey; then, his mind made up, he
jumped into a cab, and drove to Madame Desvarennes's. All indecision
had left him. His fears now seemed contemptible. He must defend
himself. It was a question of his happiness.
At the Place de la Concorde a carriage passed his cab. He
recognized the livery of Madame Desvarennes's coachman and leant
forward. The mistress did not see him. He was about to stop the cab
and tell his driver to follow her carriage when a sudden thought
decided him to go on. It was Micheline he wanted to see. His future
destiny depended on her. Madame Desvarennes had made him clearly
understand that by calling for his help in her fatal letter. He went
on his way, and in a few minutes arrived at the mansion in the Rue
Micheline and Jeanne were still in the garden, seated in the same
place on the lawn. Cayrol had joined Serge. Both, profiting by the
lovely morning, were enjoying the society of their beloved ones. A
quick step on the gravel walk attracted their attention. In the
sunlight a young man, whom neither Jeanne nor Micheline recognized,
was advancing. When about two yards distant from the group he slowly
raised his hat.
Seeing the constrained and astonished manner of the young girls, a
sad smile played on his lips, then he said, softly:
"Am I then so changed that I must tell you my name?"
At these words Micheline jumped up, she became as white as her
collar, and trembling, with sobs rising to her lips, stood silent and
petrified before Pierre. She could not speak, but her eyes were
eagerly fixed on the young man. It was he, the companion of her
youth, so changed that she had not recognized him; worn by hard work,
perhaps by anxieties, bronzed—and with his face hidden by a black
beard which gave him a manly and energetic appearance. It was
certainly he, with a thin red ribbon at his button-hole, which he had
not when he went away, and which showed the importance of the works he
had executed and of great perils he had faced. Pierre, trembling and
motionless, was silent; the sound of his voice choked with emotion had
frightened him. He had expected a cold reception, but this scared
look, which resembled terror, was beyond all he had pictured. Serge
wondered and watched.
Jeanne broke the icy silence. She went up to Pierre, and presented
"Well," she said, "don't you kiss your friends?"
She smiled affectionately on him. Two grateful tears sparkled in
the young man's eyes, and fell on Mademoiselle de Cernay's hair.
Micheline, led away by the example and without quite knowing what she
was doing, found herself in Pierre's arms. The situation was becoming
singularly perplexing to Serge. Cayrol, who had not lost his presence
of mind, understood it, and turning toward the Prince, said:
"Monsieur Pierre Delarue: an old friend and companion of
Mademoiselle Desvarennes's; almost a brother to her," thus explaining
in one word all that could appear unusual in such a scene of
Then, addressing Pierre, he simply added—"Prince Panine."
The two men looked at each other. Serge, with haughty curiosity;
Pierre, with inexpressible rage. In a moment, he guessed that the
tall, handsome man beside his betrothed was his rival. If looks could
kill, the Prince would have fallen down dead. Panine did not deign to
notice the hatred which glistened in the eyes of the newcomer. He
turned toward Micheline with exquisite grace and said:
"Your mother receives her friends this evening, I think,
Mademoiselle; I shall have the honor of paying my respects to her."
And taking leave of Jeanne with a smile, and of Pierre with a
courteous bow, he left, accompanied by Cayrol.
Serge's departure was a relief to Micheline. Between these two men
to whom she belonged, to the one by a promise, to the other by an
avowal, she felt ashamed. Left alone with Pierre she recovered her
self- possession, and felt full of pity for the poor fellow threatened
with such cruel deception. She went tenderly to him, with her loving
eyes of old, and pressed his hand:
"I am very glad to see you again, my dear Pierre; and my mother
will be delighted. We were very anxious about you. You have not
written to us for some months."
Pierre tried to joke: "The post does not leave very often in the
desert. I wrote whenever I had an opportunity."
"Is it so very pleasant in Africa that you could not tear yourself
away a whole year?"
"I had to take another journey on the coast of Tripoli to finish my
labors. I was interested in my work, and anxious not to lose the
result of so much effort, and I think I have succeeded—at least
in—the opinion of my employers," said the young man, with a ghastly
"My dear Pierre, you come in time from the land of the sphinx,"
interrupted Jeanne gravely, and glancing intently at Micheline.
"There is here, I assure you, a difficult enigma to solve."
"What is it?"
"That which is written in this heart," she replied, lightly
touching her companion's breast.
"From childhood I have always read it as easily as a book," said
Pierre, with tremulous voice, turning toward the amazed Micheline.
Mademoiselle de Cernay tossed her head.
"Who knows? Perhaps her disposition has changed during your
absence;" and nodding pleasantly, she went toward the house.
Pierre followed her for a moment with his eyes, then, turning
toward his betrothed, said:
"Micheline, shall I tell you your secret? You no longer love me."
The young girl started. The attack was direct. She must at once
give an explanation. She had often thought of what she would say when
Pierre came back to her. The day had arrived unexpectedly. And the
answers she had prepared had fled. The truth appeared harsh and cold.
She understood that the change in her was treachery, of which Pierre
was the innocent victim; and feeling herself to blame, she waited
tremblingly the explosion of this loyal heart so cruelly wounded. She
stammered, in tremulous accents:
"Pierre, my friend, my brother."
"Your brother!" cried the young man, bitterly. "Was that the name
you were to give me on my return?"
At these words, which so completely summed up the situation,
Micheline remained silent. Still she felt that at all hazards she
must defend herself. Her mother might come in at any moment. Between
Madame Desvarennes and her betrothed, what would become of her? The
hour was decisive. Her strong love for Serge gave her fresh energy.
"Why did you go away?" she asked, with sadness.
Pierre raised with pride his head which had been bent with anguish.
"To be worthy of you," he merely said.
"You did not need to be worthy of me; you, who were already above
every one else. We were betrothed; you only had to guard me."
"Could not your heart guard itself?"
"Without help, without the support of your presence and affection?"
"Without other help or support than I had myself: Hope and
Micheline turned pale. Each word spoken by Pierre made her feel
the unworthiness of her conduct more completely. She endeavored to
find a new excuse:
"Pierre, you know I was only a child."
"No," said the young man, with choked voice, "I see that you were
already a woman; a being weak, inconstant, and cruel; who cares not
for the love she inspires, and sacrifices all to the love she feels."
So long as Pierre had only complained, Micheline felt overwhelmed
and without strength; but the young man began to accuse. In a moment
the young girl regained her presence of mind and revolted.
"Those are hard words!" she exclaimed.
"Are they not deserved?" cried Pierre, no longer restraining
himself. "You saw me arrive trembling, with eyes full of tears, and
not only had you not an affectionate word to greet me with, but you
almost accuse me of indifference. You reproach me with having gone
away. Did you not know my motive for going? I was betrothed to you;
you were rich and I was poor. To remove this inequality I resolved to
make a name. I sought one of those perilous scientific missions which
bring celebrity or death to those who undertake them. Ah! think not
that I went away from you without heart-breaking! For a year I was
almost alone, crushed with fatigue, always in danger; the thought that
I was suffering for you supported me.
"When lost in the vast desert, I was sad and discouraged; I invoked
you, and your sweet face gave me fresh hope and energy. I said to
myself, 'She is waiting for me. A day will come when I shall win the
prize of all my trouble.' Well, Micheline, the day has come; here I
am, returned, and I ask for my reward. Is it what I had a right to
expect? While I was running after glory, another, more practical and
better advised, stole your heart. My happiness is destroyed. You did
well to forget me. The fool who goes so far away from his betrothed
does not deserve her faithfulness. He is cold, indifferent, he does
not know how to love!"
These vehement utterances troubled Micheline deeply. For the first
time she understood her betrothed, felt how much he loved her, and
regretted not having known it before. If Pierre had spoken like that
before going away, who knows? Micheline's feelings might have been
quickened. No doubt she would have loved him. It would have come
naturally. But Pierre had kept the secret of his passion for the young
girl to himself. It was only despair, and the thought of losing her,
that made him give vent to his feelings now.
"I see that I have been cruel and unjust to you," said Micheline.
"I deserve your reproaches, but I am not the only one to blame. You,
too, are at fault. What I have just heard has upset me. I am truly
sorry to cause you so much pain; but it is too late. I no longer
belong to myself."
"And did you belong to yourself?"
"No! It is true, you had my word, but be generous. Do not abuse
the authority which being my betrothed gives you. That promise I
would now ask back from you."
"And if I refuse to release you from your promise? If I tried to,
regain your love?" cried Pierre, forcibly. "Have I not the right to
defend myself? And what would you think of my love if I relinquished
you so readily?"
There was a moment's silence. The interview was at its highest
pitch of excitement. Micheline knew that she must put an end to it.
She replied with firmness:
"A girl such as I am will not break her word; mine belongs to you,
but my heart is another's. Say you insist, and I am ready to keep my
promise to become your wife. It is for you to decide."
Pierre gave the young girl a look which plunged into the depths of
her heart. He read there her resolve that she would act loyally, but
that at the same time she would never forget him who had so
irresistibly gained her heart. He made a last effort.
"Listen," he said, with ardent voice, "it is impossible that you
can have forgotten me so soon: I love you so much! Remember our
affection in the old days, Micheline. Remember!"
He no longer argued; he pleaded. Micheline felt victorious. She
was moved with pity.
"Alas! my poor Pierre, my affection was only friendship, and my
heart has not changed toward you. The love which I now feel is quite
different. If it had not come to me, I might have been your wife.
And I esteemed you so much, that I should have been happy. But now I
understand the difference. You, whom I had accepted, would never have
been more to me than a tender companion; he whom I have chosen will be
Pierre uttered a cry at this cruel and frank avowal.
"Ah! how you hurt me!"
And bitter tears rolled down his face to the relief of his
overburdened heart. He sank on to a seat, and for a moment gave way
to violent grief. Micheline, more touched by his despair than she had
been by his reproaches, went to him and wiped his face with her lace
handkerchief. Her white hand was close to the young man's mouth, —and
he kissed it eagerly. Then, as if roused by the action, he rose with
a changed look in his eyes, and seized the young girl in his arms.
Micheline did not utter a word. She looked coldly and resolutely at
Pierre, and threw back her head to avoid the contact of his eager
lips. That look was enough. The arms which held her were unloosed,
and Pierre moved away, murmuring:
"I beg your pardon. You see I am not in my right mind."
Then passing his hand across his forehead as if to chase away a
wicked thought, he added:
"So it is irrevocable? You love him?"
"Enough to give you so much pain; enough to be nobody's unless I
belong to him."
Pierre reflected a moment, then, coming to a decision:
"Go, you are free," said he; "I give you back your promise."
Micheline uttered a cry of triumph, which made him who had been her
betrothed turn pale. She regretted not having hidden her joy better.
She approached Pierre and said:
"Tell me that you forgive me!"
"I forgive you."
"You still weep?"
"Yes; I am weeping over my lost happiness. I thought the best
means of being loved were to deserve it. I was mistaken. I will
courageously atone for my error. Excuse my weakness, and believe that
you will never have a more faithful and devoted friend than I."
Micheline gave him her hand, and, smiling, bowed her forehead to
his lips. He slowly impressed a brotherly kiss, which effaced the
burning trace of the one which he had stolen a moment before.
At the same time a deep voice was heard in the distance, calling
Pierre. Micheline trembled.
"'Tis my mother," she said. "She is seeking you. I will leave
you. Adieu, and a thousand thanks from my very heart."
And nimbly springing behind a clump of lilac-trees in flower,
Pierre mechanically went toward the house. He ascended the marble
steps and entered the drawing-room. As he shut the door, Madame
CHAPTER V. A CRITICAL INTERVIEW
Madame Desvarennes had been driven to the Hotel du Louvre without
losing a minute. She most wanted to know in what state of mind her
daughter's betrothed had arrived in Paris. Had the letter, which
brutally told him the truth, roused him and tightened the springs of
his will? Was he ready for the struggle?
If she found him confident and bold, she had only to settle with
him as to the common plan of action which must bring about the
eviction of the audacious candidate who wished to marry Micheline. If
she found him discouraged and doubtful of himself, she had decided to
animate him with her ardor against Serge Panine.
She prepared these arguments on the way, and, boiling with
impatience, outstripped in thought the fleet horse which was drawing
her past the long railings of the Tuileries toward the Hotel du
Louvre. Wrapped in her meditations she did not see Pierre. She was
saying to herself:
"This fair-haired Polish dandy does not know with whom he has to
deal. He will see what sort of a woman I am. He has not risen early
enough in the morning to hoodwink me. If Pierre is only of the same
opinion as I, we shall soon spoil this fortune-hunter's work."
The carriage stopped.
"Monsieur Pierre Delarue?" inquired the mistress.
"Madame, he went out a quarter of an hour ago."
"To go where?"
"He did not say."
"Do you know whether he will be absent long?"
"I don't know."
Madame Desvarennes, quite discomfited by this mischance, reflected.
Where could Pierre have gone? Probably to her house. Without losing
a minute, she reentered the carriage, and gave orders to return to the
Rue Saint-Dominique. If he had gone at once to her house, it was
plain that he was ready to do anything to keep Micheline. The
coachman who had received the order drove furiously. She said to
"Pierre is in a cab. Allowing that he is driving moderately quick
he will only have half-an-hour's start of me. He will pass through
the office, will see Marechal, and however eager he be, will lose a
quarter of an hour in chatting to him. It would be most vexing if he
did anything foolish in the remaining fifteen minutes! The fault is
mine: I ought to have sent him a letter at Marseilles, to tell him
what line of conduct to adopt on his arrival. So long as he does not
meet Micheline on entering the house!"
At that idea Madame Desvarennes felt the blood rushing to her face.
She put her head out of the carriage window, and called to the
He drove more furiously still, and in a few minutes reached the Rue
She tore into the house like a hurricane, questioned the
hall-porter, and learned that Delarue had arrived. She hastened to
Marechal, and asked him in such a strange manner, "Have you seen
Pierre?" that he thought some accident had happened.
On seeing her secretary's scared look, she understood that what she
most dreaded had come to pass. She hurried to the drawing-room,
calling Pierre in a loud voice. The French window opened, and she
found herself face to face with the young man. A glance at her
adopted son's face increased her fears. She opened her arms and
clasped Pierre to her heart.
After the first emotions were over, she longed to know what had
happened during her absence, and inquired of Pierre:
"By whom were you received on arriving here?"
"That is what I feared! What did she tell you?"
In three sentences these two strong beings had summed up all that
had taken place. Madame Desvarennes remained silent for a moment,
then, with sudden tenderness, and as if to make up for her daughter's
"Come, let me kiss you again, my poor boy. You suffer, eh? and I
too! I am quite overcome. For ten years I have cherished the idea of
your marrying Micheline. You are a man of merit, and you have no
relatives. You would not take my daughter away from me; on the
contrary I think you like me, and would willingly live with me. In
arranging this marriage I realized the dream of my life. I was not
taking a son-in-law-I was gaining a new child."
"Believe me," said Pierre, sadly, "it is not my fault that your
wish is not carried out."
"That, my boy, is another question!" cried Madame Desvarennes,
whose voice was at once raised two tones. "And that is where we do
not agree. You are responsible for what has occurred. I know what you
are going, to tell me. You wished to bring laurels to Micheline as a
dower. That is all nonsense! When one leaves the Polytechnic School
with honors, and with a future open to you like yours, it is not
necessary to scour the deserts to dazzle a young girl. One begins by
marrying her, and celebrity comes afterward, at the same time as the
children. And then there was no need to risk all at such a cost.
What, are we then so grand? Ex-bakers! Millionaires, certainly,
which does not alter the fact that poor Desvarennes carried out the
bread, and that I gave change across the counter when folks came to
buy sou-cakes! But you wanted to be a knight-errant, and, during that
time, a handsome fellow. Did Micheline tell you the gentleman's
"I met him when I came here; he was with her in the garden. We
were introduced to each other."
"That was good taste," said Madame Desvarennes with irony. "Oh, he
is a youth who is not easily disturbed, and in his most passionate
transports will not disarrange a fold of his cravat. You know he is a
Prince? That is most flattering to the Desvarennes! We shall use his
coat-of- arms as our trade-mark. The fortune hunter, ugh! No doubt
he said to himself, 'The baker has money—and her daughter is
agreeable.' And he is making a business of it."
"He is only following the example of many of his equals. Marriage
is to-day the sole pursuit of the nobility."
"The nobility! That of our country might be tolerated, but foreign
noblemen are mere adventurers."
"It is well known that the Panines come from Posen—the papers have
mentioned them more than twenty times."
"Why is he not in his own country?"
"He is exiled."
"He has done something wrong, then!"
"He has, like all his family, fought for independence."
"Then he is a revolutionist!"
"You are very kind to tell me all that."
"I may hate Prince Panine," said Pierre, simply, "but that is no
reason why I should not be just to him."
"So be it; he is an exceptional being, a great citizen, a hero, if
you like. But that does not prove that he will make my daughter
happy. And if you take my advice, we shall send him about his
business in a very short time."
Madame Desvarennes was excited and paced hurriedly up and down the
room. The idea of resuming the offensive after she had been forced to
act on the defensive for months past pleased her. She thought Pierre
argued too much. A woman of action, she did not understand why Pierre
had not yet come to a resolution. She felt that she must gain his
"You are master of the situation," she said. "The Prince does not
"Micheline loves him," interrupted Pierre.
"She fancies so," replied Madame Desvarennes. "She has got it into
her head, but it will wear off. You thoroughly understand that I did
not bid you to come from Africa to be present at my daughter's
wedding. If you are a man, we shall see some fun. Micheline is your
betrothed. You have our word, and the word of a Desvarennes is as
good as the signature. —It has never been dishonored. Well, refuse
to give us back our promise. Gain time, make love, and take my
daughter away from that dandy."
Pierre remained silent for a few minutes. In a moment he measured
the extent of the mischief done, by seeing Micheline before consulting
Madame Desvarennes. With the help of this energetic woman he might
have struggled, whereas left to his own strength, he had at the outset
been vanquished and forced to lay down his arms. Not only had he
yielded, but he had drawn his ally into his defeat.
"Your encouragements come too late," said he. "Micheline asked me
to give her back her promise, and I gave it to her."
"You were so weak as that!" cried Madame Desvarennes. "And she
had so much boldness? Does she dote on him so? I suspected her
plans, and I hastened to warn you. But all is not lost. You have
given Micheline back her promise. So be it. But I have not given you
back yours. You are pledged to me. I will not countenance the
marriage which my daughter has arranged without my consent! Help me
to break it off. And, faith, you could easily find another woman
worth Micheline, but where shall I find a son-in-law worth you? Come,
the happiness of us all is in peril; save it!"
"Why continue the struggle? I am beaten beforehand."
"But if you forsake me, what can I do single-handed with
"Do what she wishes, as usual. You are surprised at my giving you
this advice? It is no merit on my part. Until now you have refused
your daughter's request; but if she comes again beseeching and crying,
you who are so strong and can say so well 'I will,' will be weak and
will not be able to refuse her her Prince. Believe me; consent
willingly. Who knows? Your son'-in-law may be grateful to you for it
Madame Desvarennes had listened to Pierre with amazement.
"Really, you are incredible," she said; "you discuss all this so
calmly. Have you no grief?"
"Yes," replied Pierre, solemnly, "it is almost killing me."
"Nonsense! You are boasting!" cried Madame Desvarennes,
vehemently. "Ah, scholar! figures have dried up your heart!"
"No," replied the young man, with melancholy, "but work has
destroyed in me the seductions of youth. It has made me thoughtful,
and a little sad. I frightened Micheline, instead of attracting her.
The worst is that we live in such a state of high pressure, it is
quite impossible to grasp all that is offered to us in this life-work
and pleasure. It is necessary to make a choice, to economize one's
time and strength, and to work with either the heart or the brain
alone. The result is that the neglected organ wastes away, and that
men of pleasure remain all their lives mediocre workers, while hard
workers are pitiful lovers. The former sacrifice the dignity of
existence, the latter that which is the charm of existence. So that,
in decisive moments, when the man of pleasure appeals to his
intelligence, he finds he is unfit for duty, and when the man of toil
appeals to his heart, he finds that he is unqualified for happiness."
"Well, my boy, so much the worse for the women who cannot
appreciate men of work, and who allow themselves to be wheedled by men
of pleasure. I never was one of those; and serious as you are, thirty
years ago I would have jumped at you. But as you know your ailment so
well, why don't you cure yourself? The remedy is at hand."
"What is it?"
"Strong will. Marry Micheline. I'll answer for everything."
"She does not love me."
"A woman always ends by loving her husband."
"I love Micheline too much to accept her hand without her heart."
Madame Desvarennes saw that she would gain nothing, and that the
game was irrevocably lost. A great sorrow stole over her. She
foresaw a dark future, and had a presentiment that trouble had entered
the house with Serge Panine. What could she do? Combat the
infatuation of her daughter! She knew that life would be odious for
her if Micheline ceased to laugh and to sing. Her daughter's tears
would conquer her will. Pierre had told her truly. Where was the use
of fighting when defeat was certain? She, too, felt that she was
powerless, and with heartfelt sorrow came to a decision.
"Come, I see that I must make up my mind to be grandmother to
little princes. It pleases me but little on the father's account. My
daughter will have a sad lot with a fellow of that kind. Well, he had
better keep in the right path; for I shall be there to call him to
order. Micheline must be happy. When my husband was alive, I was
already more of a mother than a wife; now my whole life is wrapped up
in my daughter."
Then raising her vigorous arms with grim energy, she added:
"Do you know, if my daughter were made miserable through her
husband, I should be capable of killing him."
These were the last words of the interview which decided the
destiny of Micheline, of the Prince, of Madame Desvarennes, and of
Pierre. The mistress stretched out her hand and rang the bell. A
servant appeared, to whom she gave instructions to tell Marechal to
come down. She thought it would be pleasant for Pierre to pour out
his griefs into the heart of his friend. A man weeps with difficulty
before a woman, and she guessed that the young man's heart was swollen
with tears. Marechal was not far off. He arrived in a moment, and
springing toward Pierre put his arms round his neck. When Madame
Desvarennes saw the two friends fully engrossed with each other, she
said to Marechal:
"I give you leave until this evening. Then bring Pierre back with
you; I wish to see him after dinner."
And with a firm step she went toward Micheline's room, where the
latter was waiting in fear to know the result of the interview.
CHAPTER VI. A SIGNIFICANT MEETING
The mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique is certainly one of the
finest to be seen. Sovereigns alone have more sumptuous palaces. The
wide staircase, of carved oak, is bordered by a bronze balustrade,
made by Ghirlandajo, and brought from Florence by Sommervieux, the
great dealer in curiosities. Baron Rothschild would consent to give
only a hundred thousand francs for it. Madame Desvarennes bought it.
The large panels of the staircase are hung with splendid tapestry,
from designs by Boucher, representing the different metamorphoses of
Jupiter. At each landing-place stands a massive Japanese vase of
'claisonne' enamel, supported by a tripod of Chinese bronze,
representing chimeras. On the first floor, tall columns of red
granite, crowned by gilt capitals, divide the staircase from a
gallery, serving as a conservatory. Plaited blinds of crimson silk
hang before the Gothic windows, filled with marvellous stained glass.
In the vestibule-the hangings of which are of Cordova-leather, with
gold ground-seemingly awaiting the good pleasure of some grand lady,
is a sedan-chair, decorated with paintings by Fragonard. Farther on,
there is one of those superb carved mother-of-pearl coffers, in which
Oriental women lay by their finery and jewellery. A splendid Venetian
mirror, its frame embellished with tiny figure subjects, and measuring
two metres in width and three in height, fills a whole panel of the
vestibule. Portieres of Chinese satin, ornamented with striking
embroidery, such as figures on a priest's chasuble, fall in sumptuous
folds at the drawing- room and dining-room doors.
The drawing-room contains a splendid set of Louis Quatorze
furniture, of gilt wood, upholstered in fine tapestry, in an
extraordinary state of preservation. Three crystal lustres, hanging
at intervals along the room, sparkle like diamonds. The hangings, of
woven silk and gold, are those which were sent as a present by Louis
Quatorze to Monsieur de Pimentel, the Spanish Ambassador, to reward
him for the part he had taken in the conclusion of the Treaty of the
Pyrenees. These hangings are unique, and were brought back from Spain
in 1814, in the baggage-train of Soult's army, and sold to an
inhabitant of Toulouse for ten thousand francs. It was there that
Madame Desvarennes discovered them in a garret in 1864, neglected by
the grandchildren of the buyer, who were ignorant of the immense value
of such unrivalled work. Cleverly mended, they are to-day the pride
of the great trader's drawing-room. On the mantelpiece there is a
large clock in Chinese lacquer, ornamented with gilt bronze, made on a
model sent out from Paris in the reign of Louis Quatorze, and
representing the Flight of the Hours pursued by Time.
Adjoining the great drawing-room is a boudoir upholstered in light
gray silk damask, with bouquets of flowers. This is Madame
Desvarennes's favorite room. A splendid Erard piano occupies one side
of the apartment. Facing it is a sideboard in sculptured ebony,
enriched with bronze, by Gouthieres. There are only two pictures on
the walls: "The Departure of the Newly Married Couple," exquisitely
painted by Lancret; and "The Prediction," an adorable work by Watteau,
bought at an incredible price at the Pourtales sale. Over the
chimney-piece is a miniature by Pommayrac, representing Micheline as a
little child—a treasure which Madame Desvarennes cannot behold
without tears coming to her eyes. A door, hidden by curtains, opens
on to a staircase leading directly to the courtyard.
The dining-room is in the purest Renaissance style austere
woodwork; immense chests of caned pearwood, on which stand precious
ewers in Urbino ware, and dishes by Bernard Palissy. The high stone
fireplace is surmounted by a portrait of Diana of Poitiers, with a
crescent on her brow, and is furnished with firedogs of elaborately
worked iron. The centre panel bears the arms of Admiral Bonnivet.
Stained-glass windows admit a softly-tinted light. From the
magnificently painted ceiling, a chandelier of brass repousse work
hangs from the claws of a hovering eagle.
The billiard-room is in the Indian style. Magnificent panoplies
unite Rajpoot shields, Mahratta scimitars, helmets with curtains of
steel, rings belonging to Afghan chiefs, and long lances ornamented
with white mares' tails, wielded by the horsemen of Cabul. The walls
are painted from designs brought from Lahore. The panels of the doors
were decorated by Gerome. The great artist has painted Nautch girls
twisting their floating scarves, and jugglers throwing poignards into
the air. Around the room are low divans, covered with soft and
brilliant Oriental cloth. The chandelier is quite original in form,
being the exact representation of the god Vishnu. From the centre of
the body hangs a lotus leaf of emeralds, and from each of the four
arms is suspended a lamp shaped like a Hindu pagoda, which throws out
a mellow light.
Madame Desvarennes was entertaining her visitors in these
celebrated apartments that evening. Marechal and Pierre had just come
in, and were talking together near the fireplace. A few steps from
them was a group, consisting of Cayrol, Madame Desvarennes, and a
third person, who had never until then put his foot in the house, in
spite of intercessions in his favor made by the banker to Madame
Desvarennes. He was a tall, pale, thin man, whose skin seemed
stretched on his bones, with a strongly developed under-jaw, like that
of a ravenous animal, and eyes of indefinable color, always changing,
and veiled behind golden-rimmed spectacles. His hands were soft and
smooth, with moist palms and closely cut nails—vicious hands, made to
take cunningly what they coveted. He had scanty hair, of a pale
yellow, parted just above the ear, so as to enable him to brush it
over the top of his head. This personage, clad in a double-breasted
surtout, over a white waistcoat, and wearing a many- colored rosette,
was called Hermann Herzog.
A daring financier, he had come from Luxembourg, preceded by a
great reputation; and, in a few months, he had launched in Paris such
a series of important affairs that the big-wigs on the Exchange felt
bound to treat with him. There were many rumors current about him.
Some said he was the most intelligent, most active, and most
scrupulous of men that it was possible to meet. Others said that no
greater scoundrel had ever dared the vengeance of the law, after
plundering honest people. Of German nationality, those who cried him
down said he was born at Mayence. Those who treated the rumors as
legends said he was born at Frankfort, the most Gallic town beyond the
He had just completed an important line of railway from Morocco to
the centre of our colony in Algeria, and now he was promoting a
company for exporting grain and flour from America. Several times
Cayrol had tried to bring Herzog and Madame Desvarennes together. The
banker had an interest in the grain and flour speculation, but he
asserted that it would not succeed unless the mistress had a hand in
it. Cayrol had a blind faith in the mistress's luck.
Madame Desvarennes, suspicious of everything foreign, and perfectly
acquainted with the rumors circulated respecting Herzog, had always
refused to receive him. But Cayrol had been so importunate that,
being quite tired of refusing, and, besides, being willing to favor
Cayrol for having so discreetly managed the negotiations of
Micheline's marriage, she had consented.
Herzog had just arrived. He was expressing to Madame Desvarennes
his delight at being admitted to her house. He had so often heard her
highly spoken of that he had formed a high idea of her, but one which
was, however, far below the reality; he understood now that it was an
honor to be acquainted with her. He wheedled her with German grace,
and with a German-Jewish accent, which reminds one of the itinerant
merchants, who offer you with persistence "a goot pargain."
The mistress had been rather cold at first, but Herzog's amiability
had thawed her. This man, with his slow speech and queer eyes,
produced a fascinating effect on one like a serpent. He was
repugnant, and yet, in spite of one's self one was led on. He, had at
once introduced the grain question, but in this he found himself face
to face with the real Madame Desvarennes; and no politeness held good
on her part when it was a question of business. From his first words,
she had found a weak point in the plan, and had attacked him with such
plainness that the financier, seeing his enterprise collapse at the
sound of the mistress's voice-like the walls of Jericho at the sound
of the Jewish trumpets—had beaten a retreat, and had changed the
He was about to float a credit and discount company superior to any
in the world. He would come back and talk with Madame Desvarennes
about it, because she ought to participate in the large profits which
the matter promised. There was no risk. The novelty of the
undertaking consisted in the concurrence of the largest banking-houses
of France and abroad, which would hinder all competition, and prevent
hostility on the part of the great money-handlers. It was very
curious, and Madame Desvarennes would feel great satisfaction in
knowing the mechanism of this company, destined to become, from the
first, the most important in the world, and yet most easy to
Madame Desvarennes neither said "Yes" nor "No." Moved by the soft
and insinuating talkativeness of Herzog, she felt herself treading on
dangerous ground. It seemed to her that her foot was sinking, as in
those dangerous peat-mosses of which the surface is covered with green
grass, tempting one to run on it. Cayrol was under the charm. He
drank in the German's words. This clever man, who had never till then
been duped, had found his master in Herzog.
Pierre and Marechal had come nearer, and Madame Desvarennes,
profiting by this mingling of groups, introduced the men to each
other. On hearing the name of Pierre Delarue, Herzog looked
thoughtful, and asked if the young man was the renowned engineer whose
works on the coast of Africa had caused so much talk in Europe? On
Madame Desvarennes replying in the affirmative, he showered
well-chosen compliments on Pierre. He had had the pleasure of meeting
Delarue in Algeria, when he had gone over to finish the railroad in
But Pierre had stepped back on learning that the constructor of
that important line was before him.
"Ah! is it you, sir, who carried out that job?" said he. "Faith!
you treated those poor Moors rather hardly!"
He remembered the misery of the poor natives employed by Europeans
who superintended the work. Old men, women, and children were placed
at the disposal of the contractors by the native authorities, to dig
up and remove the soil; and these poor wretches, crushed with hard
work, and driven with the lash by drunken overseers—who commanded
them with a pistol in hand—under a burning sun, inhaled the noxious
vapors arising from the upturned soil, and died like flies. It was a
terrible sight, and one that Pierre could not forget.
But Herzog, with his cajoling sweetness, protested against this
exaggerated picture. Delarue had arrived during the dog-days—a bad
time. And then, it was necessary for the work to be carried on
without delay. Besides, a few Moors, more or less—what did it
matter? Negroes, all but monkeys!
Marechal, who had listened silently until then, interrupted the
conversation, to defend the monkeys in the name of Littre. He had
framed a theory, founded on Darwin, and tending to prove that men who
despised monkeys despised themselves. Herzog, a little taken aback by
this unexpected reply, had looked at Marechal slyly, asking himself if
it was a joke. But, seeing Madame Desvarennes laugh, he recovered his
self- possession. Business could not be carried on in the East as in
Europe. And then, had it not always been thus? Had not all the great
discoverers worked the countries which they discovered? Christopher
Columbus, Cortez—had they not taken riches from the Indians, in
exchange for the civilization which they brought them? He (Herzog)
had, in making a railway in Morocco, given the natives the means of
civilizing themselves. It was only fair that it should cost them
Herzog uttered his tirade with all the charm of which he was
capable; he looked to the right and to the left to notice the effect.
He saw nothing but constrained faces. It seemed as if they were
expecting some one or something. Time was passing; ten o'clock had
just struck. From the little boudoir sounds of music were occasionally
heard, when Micheline's nervous hand struck a louder chord on her
piano. She was there, anxiously awaiting some one or something.
Jeanne de Cernay, stretched in an easy-chair, her head leaning on her
hand, was dreaming.
During the past three weeks the young girl had changed. Her bright
wit no longer enlivened Micheline's indolent calmness; her brilliant
eyes were surrounded by blue rings, which denoted nights passed
without sleep. The change coincided strangely with Prince Panine's
departure for England, and the sending of the letter which recalled
Pierre to Paris. Had the inhabitants of the mansion been less occupied
with their own troubles, they would no doubt have noticed this sudden
change, and have sought to know the reason. But the attention of all
was concentrated on the events which had already troubled them, and
which would no doubt be yet more serious to the house, until lately so
The visitors' bell sounded, and caused Micheline to rise. The
blood rushed to her cheeks. She whispered, "It is he!" and,
hesitating, she remained a moment leaning on the piano, listening
vaguely to the sounds in the drawing-room. The footman's voice
announcing the visitor reached the young girls:
Jeanne also rose then, and if Micheline had turned round she would
have been frightened at the pallor of her companion. But Mademoiselle
Desvarennes was not thinking of Mademoiselle de Cernay; she had just
raised the heavy door curtain, and calling to Jeanne, "Are you
coming?" passed into the drawing-room:
It was indeed Prince Serge, who was expected by Cayrol with
impatience, by Madame Desvarennes with silent irritation, by Pierre
with deep anguish. The handsome prince, calm and smiling, with white
cravat and elegantly fitting dress-coat which showed off his fine
figure, advanced toward Madame Desvarennes before whom he bowed. He
seemed only to have seen Micheline's mother. Not a look for the two
young girls or the men who were around him. The rest of the universe
did not seem to count. He bent as if before a queen, with a dash of
respectful adoration. He seemed to be saying:
"Here I am at your feet; my life depends on you; make a sign and I
shall be the happiest of men or the most miserable."
Micheline followed him with eyes full of pride; she admired his
haughty grace and his caressing humility. It was by these contrasts
that Serge had attracted the young girl's notice. She felt herself
face to face with a strange nature, different from men around her, and
had become interested in him. Then he had spoken to her, and his
sweet penetrating voice had touched her heart.
What he had achieved with Micheline he longed to achieve with her
mother. After placing himself at the feet of the mother of her whom he
loved, he sought the road to her heart. He took his place beside the
mistress and spoke. He hoped that Madame Desvarennes would excuse the
haste of his visit. The obedience which he had shown in going away
must be a proof to her of his submission to her wishes. He was her
most devoted and respectful servant. He resigned himself to anything
she might exact of him.
Madame Desvarennes listened to that sweet voice; she had never
heard it so full of charm. She understood what influence this
sweetness had exercised over Micheline; she repented not having
watched over her more carefully, and cursed the hour that had brought
all this evil upon them. She was obliged, however, to answer him. The
mistress went straight to the point. She was not one to beat about
the bush when once her mind was made up.
"You come, no doubt, sir, to receive an answer to the request you
addressed to me before your departure for England!"
The Prince turned slightly pale. The words which Madame
Desvarennes was about to pronounce were of such importance to him that
he could not help feeling moved. He answered, in a suppressed tone:
"I would not have dared to speak to you on the subject, Madame,
especially in public; but since you anticipate my desire, I admit I am
waiting with deep anxiety for one word from you which will decide my
He continued bent before Madame Desvarennes like a culprit before
his judge. The mistress was silent for a moment, as if hesitating
before answering, and then said, gravely:
"That word I hesitated to pronounce, but some one in whom I have
great confidence has advised me to receive you favorably."
"He, Madame, whoever he may be, has gained my everlasting
"Show it to him," said Madame Desvarennes; "he is the companion of
Micheline's young days, almost a son to me."
And turning toward Pierre, she pointed him out to Panine.
Serge took three rapid strides toward Pierre, but quick as he had
been Micheline was before him. Each of the lovers seized a hand of
Pierre, and pressed it with tender effusion. Panine, with his Polish
impetuosity, was making the most ardent protestations to Pierre—he
would be indebted to him for life.
Micheline's late betrothed, with despair in his heart, allowed his
hands to be pressed and wrung in silence. The voice of her whom he
loved brought tears to his eyes.
"How generous and good you are!" said the young girl, "how nobly
you have sacrificed yourself!"
"Don't thank me," replied Pierre; "I have no merit in accomplishing
what you admire. I am weak, you see, and I could not bear to see you
There was a great commotion in the drawing-room. Cayrol was
explaining to Herzog, who was listening with great attention, what was
taking place. Serge Panine was to be Madame Desvarennes's son-in-law.
It was a great event.
"Certainly," said the German; "Madame Desvarennes's son-in-law will
become a financial power. And a Prince, too. What a fine name for a
board of directors!"
The two financiers looked at each other for a moment; the same
thought had struck them.
"Yes, but," replied Cayrol, "Madame Desvarennes will never allow
Panine to take part in business."
"Who knows?" said Herzog. "We shall see how the marriage
settlements are drawn up."
"But," cried Cayrol, "I would not have it said that I was leading
Madame Desvarennes's son-in-law into speculations."
"Who is speaking of that?" replied Herzog, coldly. "Am I seeking
shareholders? I have more money than I want; I refuse millions every
"Oh, I know capitalists run after you," said Cayrol, laughingly;
"and to welcome them you affect the scruples of a pretty woman. But
let us go and congratulate the Prince."
While Cayrol and Herzog were exchanging those few words which had
such a considerable influence on the future of Serge Panine—a scene,
terrible in its simplicity, was going on without being noticed.
Micheline had thrown herself with a burst of tenderness into her
mother's arms. Serge was deeply affected by the young girl's affection
for him, when a trembling hand touched his arm. He turned round.
Jeanne de Cernay was before him, pale and wan; her eyes sunken into
her head like two black nails, and her lips tightened by a violent
contraction. The Prince stood thunderstruck at the sight of her. He
looked around him. Nobody was observing him. Pierre was beside
Marechal, who was whispering those words which only true friends can
find in the sad hours of life. Madame Desvarennes was holding
Micheline in her arms. Serge approached Mademoiselle de Cernay.
Jeanne still fixed on him the same menacing look. He was afraid.
"Take care!" he said.
"Of what?" asked the young girl, with a troubled voice. "What
have I to fear now?"
"What do you wish?" resumed Panine, with old firmness, and with a
gesture of impatience.
"I wish to speak with you immediately."
"You see that is impossible."
Cayrol and Herzog approached. Serge smiled at Jeanne with a sign
of the head which meant "Yes." The young girl turned away in silence,
awaiting the fulfilment of the promise made.
Cayrol took her by the hand with tender familiarity.
"What were you saying to the happy man who has gained the object of
his dreams, Mademoiselle? It is not to him you must speak, but to me,
to give me hope. The moment is propitious; it is the day for
betrothals. You know how much I love you; do me the favor of no longer
repulsing me as you have done hitherto! If you would be kind, how
charming it would be to celebrate the two weddings on the same day.
One church, one ceremony, one splendid feast would unite two happy
couples. Is there nothing in this picture to entice you?"
"I am not easily enticed, as you know," said Jeanne, in a firm
voice, trying to smile.
Micheline and Madame Desvarennes had drawn near.
"Come, Cayrol," said Serge, in a tone of command; "I am happy
to-day; perhaps I may succeed in your behalf as I have done in my own.
Let me plead your cause with Mademoiselle de Cernay?"
"With all my heart. I need an eloquent pleader," sighed the
banker, shaking his head sadly.
"And you, Mademoiselle, will you submit to the trial?" asked the
Prince, turning toward Jeanne. "We have always been good friends, and
I shall be almost a brother to you. This gives me some right over
your mind and heart, it seems to me. Do you authorize me to exercise
"As you like, sir," answered Jeanne, coldly. "The attempt is
novel. Who knows? Perhaps it will succeed!"
"May Heaven grant it," said Cayrol. Then, approaching Panine:
"Ah! dear Prince, what gratitude I shall owe you! You know,"
added he in a whisper, "if you need a few thousand louis for wedding
"Go, go, corrupter!" replied Serge, with the same forced gayety;
"you are flashing your money in front of us. You see it is not
invincible, as you are obliged to have recourse to my feeble talents.
But know that I am working for glory."
And turning toward Madame Desvarennes he added: "I only ask a
quarter of an hour."
"Don't defend yourself too much," said Micheline in her companion's
ear, and giving her a tender kiss which the latter did not return.
"Come with me," said Micheline to Pierre, offering him her arm; "I
want to belong to you alone while Serge is pleading with Jeanne. I
will be your sister as formerly. If you only knew how I love you!"
The large French window which led to the garden had just been
opened by Marechal, and the mild odors of a lovely spring night
perfumed the drawing-room. They all went out on the lawn. Thousands
of stars were twinkling in the sky, and the eyes of Micheline and
Pierre were lifted toward the dark blue heavens seeking vaguely for
the star which presided over their destiny. She, to know whether her
life would be the long poem of love of which she dreamed; he, to ask
whether glory, that exacting mistress for whom he had made so many
sacrifices, would at least comfort him for his lost love.
CHAPTER VII. JEANNE'S SECRET
In the drawing-room Jeanne and Serge remained standing, facing each
other. The mask had fallen from their faces; the forced smile had
disappeared. They looked at each other attentively, like two
duellists seeking to read each other's game, so that they may ward off
the fatal stroke and prepare the decisive parry.
"Why did you leave for England three weeks ago, without seeing me
and without speaking to me?"
"What could I have said to you?" replied the Prince, with an air
of fatigue and dejection.
Jeanne flashed a glance brilliant as lightning:
"You could have told me that you had just asked for Micheline's
"That would have been brutal!"
"It would have been honest! But it would have necessitated an
explanation, and you don't like explaining. You have preferred
leaving me to guess this news from the acts of those around me, and
the talk of strangers."
All these words had been spoken by Jeanne with feverish vivacity.
The sentences were as cutting as strokes from a whip. The young
girl's agitation was violent; her cheeks were red, and her breathing
was hard and stifled with emotion. She stopped for a moment; then,
turning toward the Prince, and looking him full in the face, she said:
"And so, this marriage is decided?"
It was fainter than a whisper. As if she could not believe it,
"You are going to marry Micheline?"
And as Panine in a firmer voice answered again, "Yes!" the young
girl took two rapid steps and brought her flushed face close to him.
"And I, then?" she cried with a violence she could no longer
Serge made a sign. The drawing-room window was still open, and
from outside they could be heard.
"Jeanne, in mercy calm yourself," replied he. "You are in a state
"Which makes you uncomfortable?" interrupted the young girl
"Yes, but for your sake only," said he, coldly.
"Certainly. I fear your committing an imprudence which might harm
"Yes; but you with me! And it is that only which makes you
The Prince looked at Mademoiselle de Cernay, smilingly. Changing
his tone, he took her hand in his.
"How naughty you are to-night! And what temper you are showing
toward poor Serge! What an opinion he will have of himself after your
displaying such a flattering scene of jealousy!"
Jeanne drew away her hand.
"Ah, don't try to joke. This is not the moment, I assure you. You
don't exactly realize your situation. Don't you understand that I am
prepared to tell Madame Desvarennes everything—"
"Everything!" said the Prince. "In truth, it would not amount to
much. You would tell her that I met you in England; that I courted
you, and that you found my attentions agreeable. And then? It
pleases you to think too seriously of that midsummer night's dream
under the great trees of Churchill Castle, and you reproach me for my
errors! But what are they? Seriously, I do not see them! We lived
in a noisy world; where we enjoyed the liberty which English manners
allow to young people. Your aunt found no fault with the charming
chatter which the English call flirtation. I told you I loved you;
you allowed me to think that I was not displeasing to you. We, thanks
to that delightful agreement, spent a most agreeable summer, and now
you do not wish to put an end to that pleasant little excursion made
beyond the limits drawn by our Parisian world, so severe, whatever
people say about it. It is not reasonable, and it is imprudent. If
you carry out your menacing propositions, and if you take my future
mother-in-law as judge of the rights which you claim, don't you
understand that you would be condemned beforehand? Her interests are
directly opposed to yours. Could she hesitate between her daughter
"Oh! your calculations are clever and your measures were well
taken," replied Jeanne. "Still, if Madame Desvarennes were not the
woman you think her—" Then, hesitating:
"If she took my part, and thinking that he who was an unloyal lover
would be an unfaithful husband—she would augur of the future of her
daughter by my experience; and what would happen?"
"Simply this," returned Serge. "Weary of the precarious and
hazardous life which I lead, I would leave for Austria, and rejoin the
service. A uniform is the only garb which can hide poverty honorably."
Jeanne looked at him with anguish; and making an effort said:
"Then, in any case, for me it is abandonment?" And falling upon a
seat, she hid her face in her hands. Panine remained silent for a
moment. The young girl's, grief, which he knew to be sincere,
troubled him more than he wished to show. He had loved Mademoiselle
de Cernay, and he loved her still. But he felt that a sign of
weakness on his part would place him at Jeanne's mercy, and that an
avowal from his lips at this grave moment meant a breaking-off of his
marriage with Micheline. He hardened himself against his impressions,
and replied, with insinuating sweetness:
"Why do you speak of desertion, when a good man who loves you
fondly, and who possesses a handsome fortune, wishes to marry you?"
Mademoiselle de Cernay raised her head, hastily.
"So, it is you who advise me to marry Monsieur Cayrol? Is there
nothing revolting to you in the idea that I should follow your advice?
But then, you deceived me from the first moment you spoke to me. You
have never loved me even for a day! Not an hour!"
Serge smiled, and resuming his light, caressing tone, replied:
"My dear Jeanne, if I had a hundred thousand francs a year, I give
you my word of honor that I would not marry another woman but you, for
you would make an adorable Princess."
Mademoiselle de Cernay made a gesture of perfect indifference.
"Ah! what does the title matter to me?" she exclaimed, with
passion. "What I want is you! Nothing but you!"
"You do not know what you ask. I love you far too much to
associate you with my destiny. If you knew that gilded misery, that
white kid-gloved poverty, which is my lot, you would be frightened,
and you would understand that in my resolution to give you up there is
much of tenderness and generosity. Do you think it is such an easy
matter to give up a woman so adorable as you are? I resign myself to
"What could I do with my beautiful Jeanne in the three rooms in the
Rue de Madame where I live? Could I, with the ten or twelve thousand
francs which I receive through the liberality of the Russian Panines,
provide a home? I can hardly make it do for myself. I live at the
club, where I dine cheaply. I ride my friends' horses! I never touch
a card, although I love play. I go much in society; I shine there,
and walk home to save the cost of a carriage. My door-keeper cleans
my rooms and keeps my linen in order. My private life is sad, dull,
and humiliating. It is the black chrysalis of the bright butterfly
which you know. That is what Prince Panine is, my dear Jeanne. A
gentleman of good appearance, who lives as carefully as an old maid.
The world sees him elegant and happy, and its envies his luxury; but
this luxury is as deluding as watch-chains made of pinchbeck. You
understand now that I cannot seriously ask you to share such an
But if, with this sketch of his life, correctly described, Panine
thought to turn the young girl against him, he was mistaken. He had
counted without considering Jeanne's sanguine temperament, which would
lead her to make any sacrifices to keep the man she adored.
"If you were rich, Serge," she said, "I would not have made an
effort to bring you back to me. But you are poor and I have a right
to tell you that I love you. Life with you would be all devotedness
and self-denial. Each pain endured would be a proof of love, and that
is why I wish to suffer. Your life with mine would be neither sad nor
humiliated; I would make it sweet by my tenderness, and bright by my
happiness. And we should be so happy that you would say, 'How could I
ever have dreamed of anything else?'"
"Alas! Jeanne," replied the Prince; "it is a charming and poetic
idyl which you present to me. We should flee far from the world, eh?
We should go to an unknown spot and try to regain paradise lost. How
long would that happiness last? A season during the springtime of our
youth. Then autumn would come, sad and harsh. Our illusions would
vanish like the swallows in romances, and we should find, with alarm,
that we had taken the dream of a day for eternal happiness! Forgive
my speaking plain words of disenchantment," added Serge, seeing Jeanne
rising abruptly, "but our life is being settled at this moment.
Reason alone should guide us."
"And I beseech you to be guided only by your heart," cried
Mademoiselle de Cernay, seizing the hands of the Prince, and pressing
them with her trembling fingers. "Remember that you loved me. Say
that you love me still!"
Jeanne had drawn near to Serge. Her burning face almost touched
his. Her eyes, bright with excitement, pleaded passionately for a
tender look. She was most fascinating, and Panine, usually master of
himself, lost his presence of mind for a moment. His arms encircled
the shoulders of the adorable pleader, and his lips were buried in the
masses of her dark hair.
"Serge!" cried Mademoiselle de Cernay, clinging to him whom she
loved so fondly.
But the Prince was as quickly calmed as he had been carried away.
He gently put Jeanne aside.
"You see," he said with a smile, "how unreasonable we are and how
easily we might commit an irreparable folly. And yet our means will
not allow us."
"In mercy do not leave me!" pleaded Jeanne, in a tone of despair.
"You love me! I feel it; everything tells me so! And you would
desert me because you are poor and I am not rich. Is a man ever poor
when he has two arms? Work."
The word was uttered by Jeanne with admirable energy. She
possessed the courage to overcome every difficulty.
Serge trembled. For the second time he felt touched to the very
soul by this strange girl. He understood that he must not leave her
with the slightest hope of encouragement, but throw ice on the fire
which was devouring her.
"My dear Jeanne," he said, with affectionate sweetness, "you are
talking nonsense. Remember this, that for Prince Panine there are
only three social'conditions possible: to be rich, a soldier, or a
priest. I have the choice. It is for you to decide."
This put an end to Mademoiselle de Cernay's resistance. She felt
how useless was further argument, and falling on a sofa, crushed with
"Ah! this time it is finished; I am lost!"
Panine, then, approaching her, insinuating and supple, like the
serpent with the first woman, murmured in her ear, as if afraid lest
his words, in being spoken aloud, would lose their subtle venom:
"No, you are not lost. On the contrary, you are saved, if you will
only listen to and understand me. What are we, you and I? You, a
child adopted by a generous woman; I, a ruined nobleman. You live in
luxury, thanks to Madame Desvarennes's liberality. I can scarcely
manage to keep myself with the help of my family. Our present is
precarious, our future hazardous. And, suddenly, fortune is within
our grasp. We have only to stretch out our hands, and with one stroke
we gain the uncontested power which money brings!
Riches, that aim of humanity! Do you understand? We, the weak and
disdained, become strong and powerful. And what is necessary to gain
them? A flash of sense; a minute of wisdom; forget a dream and accept
Jeanne waited till he had finished. A bitter smile played on her
lips. Henceforth she would believe in no one. After listening to what
Serge had just said, she could listen to anything.
"So," said she, "the dream is love; the reality is interest. And
is it you who speak thus to me? You, for whom I was prepared to
endure any sacrifice! You, whom I would have served on my knees! And
what reason do you give to justify your conduct? Money!
Indispensable and stupid money! Nothing but money! But it is
odious, infamous, low!"
Serge received this terrible broadside of abuse w1thout flinching.
He had armed himself against contempt, and was deaf to all insults.
Jeanne went on with increasing rage:
"Micheline has everything: family, fortune, and friends, and she is
taking away my one possession—your love. Tell me that you love her!
It will be more cruel but less vile! But no, it is not possible! You
gave way to temptation at seeing her so rich; you had a feeling of
covetousness, but you will become yourself again and will act like an
honest man. Think, that in my eyes you are dishonoring yourself!
Serge, answer me!"
She clung to him again, and tried to regain him by her ardor, to
warm him with her passion. He remained unmoved, silent, and cold.
Her conscience rebelled.
"Well, then," said she, "marry her."
She remained silent and sullen, seeming to forget he was there.
She was thinking deeply. Then she walked wildly up and down the
"So, it is that implacable self-interest with which I have just
come in contact, which is the law of the world, the watchword of
society! So, in refusing to share the common folly, I risk remaining
in isolation, and I must be strong to make others stand in awe of me.
Very well, then, I shall henceforth act in such a manner as to be
neither dupe nor victim. In future, everything will be: self, and woe
to him who hinders me. That is the morality of the age, is it not?"
And she laughed nervously.
"Was I not stupid? Come, Prince, you have made me clever. Many
thanks for the lesson; it was difficult, but I shall profit by it."
The Prince, astonished at the sudden change, listened to Jeanne
with stupor. He did not yet quite understand.
"What do you intend to do?" asked he.
Jeanne looked at him with a fiendish expression. Her eyes sparkled
like stars; her white teeth shone between her lips.
"I intend," replied she, "to lay the foundation of my power, and to
follow your advice, by marrying a millionaire!"
She ran to the window, and, looking out toward the shady garden,
Serge, full of surprise, and seized by a sudden fit of jealousy,
went toward her as if to recall her.
"Jeanne," said he, vaguely holding out his arms.
"Well! what is it?" she asked, with crushing haughtiness. "Are
you frightened at having gained your cause so quickly?"
And as Serge did not speak:
"Come," added she, "you will have a handsome fee; Micheline's dower
will be worth the trouble you have had."
They heard Cayrol's hurried steps ascending the stairs.
"You have done me the honor to call me, Mademoiselle," said he,
remaining on the threshold of the drawing-room. "Am I fortunate
enough at length to have found favor in your eyes?"
"Here is my hand," said Mademoiselle de Cernay, simply tendering
him her white taper fingers, which he covered with kisses.
Madame Desvarennes had come in behind the banker. She uttered a
"Cayrol, you shall not marry Jeanne for her beauty alone. I will
give her a dower."
Micheline fell on her companion's neck. It was a concert of
congratulations. But Jeanne, with a serious air, led Cayrol aside:
"I wish to act honestly toward you, sir; I yield to the pleading of
which I am the object. But you must know that my sentiments do not
change so quickly. It is my hand only which I give you today."
"I have not the conceitedness to think that you love me,
Mademoiselle," said Cayrol, humbly. "You give me your hand; it will
be for me to gain your heart, and with time and sincere affection I do
not despair of winning it. I am truly happy, believe me, for the
favor you do me, and all my life long shall be spent in proving my
gratitude to you."
Jeanne was moved; she glanced at Cayrol, and did not think him so
common- looking as usual. She resolved to do all in her power to like
this good man.
Serge, in taking leave of Madame Desvarennes, said:
"In exchange for all the happiness which you give me, I have only
my life to offer; accept it, Madame, it is yours."
The mistress looked at the Prince deeply; then, in a singular tone,
"I accept it; from to-day you belong to me."
Marechal took Pierre by the arm and led him outside.
"The Prince has just uttered words which remind me of Antonio
saying to the Jew in 'The Merchant of Venice': 'Thy ducats in exchange
for a pound of my flesh.' Madame Desvarennes loves her daughter with
a more formidable love than Shylock had for his gold. The Prince will
do well to be exact in his payments of the happiness which he has
CHAPTER VIII. A PLEASANT
The day following this memorable evening, Pierre left for Algeria,
notwithstanding the prayers of Madame Desvarennes who wished to keep
him near her. He was going to finish his labors. He promised to
return in time for the wedding. The mistress, wishing to give him
some compensation, offered him the management of the mills at Jouy,
"So that if you are not my son, you will be at least my partner.
And if I do not leave you all my money at my death, I can enrich you
during my life."
Pierre would not accept. He would not have it said that in wishing
to marry Micheline he had tried to make a speculation. He wished to
leave that house where he had hoped to spend his life, empty-handed,
so that no one could doubt that it was the woman he loved in Micheline
and not the heiress. He had been offered a splendid appointment in
Savoy as manager of some mines; he would find there at the same time
profit and happiness, because there were interesting scientific
studies to be made in order to enable him to carry on the work
creditably. He resolved to throw himself heart and soul into the work
and seek forgetfulness in study.
In the mansion of the Rue Saint-Dominique the marriage preparations
were carried on with great despatch. On the one side the Prince, and
on the other Cayrol, were eager for the day: the one because he saw
the realization of his ambitious dreams, the other because he loved so
madly. Serge, gracious and attentive, allowed himself to be adored by
Micheline, who was never weary of listening to and looking at him whom
she loved. It was a sort of delirium that had taken possession of the
young girl. Madame Desvarennes looked on the metamorphosis in her
child with amazement. The old Micheline, naturally indolent and cold,
just living with the indolence of an odalisque stretched on silk
cushions, had changed into a lively, loving sweetheart, with sparkling
eyes and cheerful lips. Like those lowers which the sun causes to
bloom and be fragrant, so Micheline under a look from Serge became
animated and grown handsomer.
The mother looked on with bitterness; she spoke of this
transformation in her child with ironical disdain, She was sure
Micheline was not in earnest; only a doll was capable of falling in
love so foolishly with a man for his personal beauty. For to her mind
the Prince was as regards mental power painfully deficient. No sense,
dumb as soon as the conversation took a serious turn, only able to
talk dress like a woman, or about horses like a jockey. And it was
such a person upon whom Micheline literally doted! The mistress felt
humiliated; she dared not say anything to her daughter, but she
relieved herself in company of Marechal, whose discretion she could
trust, and whom she willingly called the tomb of her secrets.
Marechal listened patiently to the confidences of Madame
Desvarennes, and he tried to fight against the growing animosity of
the mistress toward her future son-in-law. Not that he liked the
Prince—he was too much on Pierre's side to be well disposed toward
Panine; but with his good sense he saw that Madame Desvarennes would
find it advantageous to overcome her feeling of dislike. And when the
mistress, so formidable toward everybody except her daughter, cried
"That Micheline! I have just seen her again in the garden, hanging
on the arm of that great lanky fellow, her eyes fixed on his like a
lark fascinated by a looking-glass. What on earth has happened to her
that she should be in such a state?"
Marechal interrupted her gently.
"All fair people are like that," he affirmed with ironical gayety.
"You cannot understand it, Madame; you are dark."
Then Madame Desvarennes became angry.
"Be quiet," she said, "you are stupid! She ought to have a
shower-bath! She is mad!"
As for Cayrol he lived in ecstasy, like an Italian kneeling before
a madonna. He had never been so happy; he was overwhelmed with joy.
Until then, he had only thought of business matters. To be rich was
the aim of his life; and now he was going to work for happiness. It
was all pleasure for him. He was not blase; he amused himself like a
child, adorning the rooms which were to be occupied by Jeanne. To his
mind nothing was too expensive for the temple of his goddess, as he
said, with a loud laugh which lighted up his whole face. And when he
spoke of his love's future nest, he exclaimed, with a voluptuous
"It is charming; a veritable little paradise!" Then the financier
shone through all, and he added:
"And I know what it costs!"
But he did not grudge his money. He knew he would get the interest
of it back. On one subject he was anxious—Mademoiselle de Cernay's
health. Since the day of their engagement, Jeanne had become more
serious and dull. She had grown thin and her eyes were sunken as if
she wept in secret. When he spoke of his fears to Madame Desvarennes,
the latter said:
"These young girls are so senseless. The notion of marriage puts
them in such an incomprehensible state! Look at my daughter. She
chatters like a magpie and skips about like a kid. She has two
glow-worms under her eyelids! As to Jeanne, that's another affair;
she has the matrimonial melancholy, and has the air of a young victim.
Leave them alone; it will all come right. But you must admit that
the gayety of the one is at least as irritating as the languor of the
Cayrol, somewhat reassured by this explanation, and thinking, like
her, that it was the uncertainties of marriage which were troubling
Jeanne, no longer attached any importance to her sad appearance.
Micheline and Serge isolated themselves completely. They fled to the
garden as soon as any one ventured into the drawing room, to interrupt
their tete-a-tete. If visitors came to the garden they took refuge in
This manoeuvre pleased Serge, because he always felt uncomfortable
in Jeanne's presence. Mademoiselle de Cernay had a peculiar wrinkle
on her brow whenever she saw Micheline passing before her hanging on
the arm of the Prince, which tormented him. They were obliged to meet
at table in the evening, for Serge and Cayrol dined at the Rue
Saint-Dominique. The Prince talked in whispers to Micheline, but every
now and then he was obliged to speak to Jeanne. These were painful
moments to Serge. He was always in dread of some outburst, knowing
her ardent and passionate nature. Thus, before Jeanne, he made
Micheline behave in a less demonstrative manner. Mademoiselle
Desvarennes was proud of this reserve, and thought it was tact and
good breeding on the part of the Prince, without doubting that what
she thought reserve in the man of the world was the prudence of an
Jeanne endured the tortures of Hades. Too proud to say anything
after the explanation she had had with Serge, too much smitten to bear
calmly the sight of her rival's happiness, she saw draw near with deep
horror the moment when she would belong to the man whom she had
determined to marry although she did not love him. She once thought
of breaking off the engagement; as she could not belong to the man
whom she adored, at least she could belong to herself. But the
thought of the struggle she would have to sustain with those who
surrounded her, stopped her. What would she do at Madame
Desvarennes's? She would have to witness the happiness of Micheline
and Serge. She would rather leave the house.
With Cayrol at least she could go away; she would be free, and
perhaps the esteem which she would surely have for her husband would
do instead of love. Sisterly or filial love, in fact the least
affection, would satisfy the poor man, who was willing to accept
anything from Jeanne. And she would not have that group of Serge and
Micheline before her eyes, always walking round the lawn and
disappearing arm in arm down the narrow walks. She would not have the
continual murmur of their love-making in her ears, a murmur broken by
the sound of kisses when they reached shady corners.
One evening, when Serge appeared in the little drawing-room of the
Rue Saint-Dominique, he found Madame Desvarennes alone. She looked
serious, as if same important business were pending. She stood before
the fireplace; her hands crossed behind her back like a man.
Apparently, she had sought to be alone. Cayrol, Jeanne, and
Micheline were in the garden. Serge felt uneasy. He had a
presentiment of trouble. But determined to make the best of it,
whatever it might be, he looked pleasant and bowed to Madame
Desvarennes, without his face betraying his uneasiness.
"Good-day, Prince; you are early this evening, though not so early
as Cayrol; but then he does not quite know what he is doing now. Sit
down, I want to talk to you. You know that a young lady like
Mademoiselle Desvarennes cannot get married without her engagement
being much talked about. Tongues have been very busy, and pens too.
I have heard a lot of scandal and have received heaps of anonymous
letters about you."
Serge gave a start of indignation.
"Don't be uneasy," continued the mistress. "I did not heed the
tales, and I burned the letters. Some said you were a dissolute man,
capable of anything to gain your object. Others insinuated that you
were not a Prince, that you were not a Pole, but the son of a Russian
coachman and a little dressmaker of Les Ternes; that you had lived at
the expense of Mademoiselle Anna Monplaisir, the star of the Varietes
Theatre, and that you were bent on marrying to pay your debts with my
Panine, pale as death, rose up and said, in a stifled voice:
"Sit down, my dear child," interrupted the mistress. "If I tell
you these things, it is because I have the proofs that they are
untrue. Otherwise, I would not have given myself the trouble to talk
to you about them. I would have shown you the door and there would
have been an end of it. Certainly, you are not an angel; but the
peccadillos which you have been guilty of are those which one forgives
in a son, and which in a son-in-law makes some mothers smile. You are
a Prince, you are handsome, and you have been loved. You were then a
bachelor; and it was your own affair. But now, you are going to be,
in about ten days, the husband of my daughter, and it is necessary for
us to make certain arrangements. Therefore, I waited to see you, to
speak of your wife, of yourself, and of me."
What Madame Desvarennes had just said relieved Serge of a great
weight. He felt so happy that he resolved to do everything in his
power to please the mother of his betrothed.
"Speak, Madame," he exclaimed. "I am listening to you with
attention and confidence. I am sure that from you I can only expect
goodness and sense."
The mistress smiled.
"Oh, I know you have a gilt tongue, my handsome friend, but I don't
pay myself with words, and I, am not easy to be wheedled."
"Faith," said Serge, "I won't deceive you. I will try to please
you with all my heart."
Madame Desvarennes's face brightened as suddenly at these words as
a landscape, wrapped in a fog, which is suddenly lighted up by the
"Then we shall understand each other," she said. "For the last
fortnight we have been busy with marriage preparations, and have not
been able to think or reason. Everybody is rambling about here.
Still, we are commencing a new life, and I think it is as well to lay
the foundation. I seem to be drawing up a contract, eh? What can I
do? It is an old business habit. I like to know how I stand."
"I think it is quite right. I think, too, that you have acted with
great delicacy in not imposing your conditions upon me before giving
"Has that made you feel better disposed toward me? So much the
better!" said the mistress. "Because you know that I depend on my
daughter, who will henceforth depend on you, and it is to my interest
that I should be in your good graces."
In pronouncing these words with forced cheerfulness, Madame
Desvarennes's voice trembled slightly. She knew what an important
game she was playing, and wished to win it at any price.
"You see," continued she, "I am not an easy woman to deal with. I
am a little despotic, I know. I have been in the habit of commanding
during the last thirty-five years. Business was heavy, and required a
strong will. I had it, and the habit is formed. But this strong
will, which has served me so well in business will, I am afraid, with
you, play me some trick. Those who have lived with me a long time
know that if I am hot-headed I have a good heart. They submit to my
tyranny; but you who are a newcomer, how will you like it?"
"I shall do as the others do," said Serge, simply. "I shall be
led, and with pleasure. Think that I have lived for years without
kindred, without ties—at random; and, believe me, any chain will be
light and sweet which holds me to any one or anything. And then,"
frankly added he, changing his tone and looking at Madame Desvarennes
with tenderness, "if I did not do everything to please you I should be
"Oh!" cried Madame Desvarennes, "unfortunately that is not a
"Would you have a better one?" said the young man, in his most
charming accent. "If I had not married your daughter for her own
sake, I believe that I should have married her for yours." Madame
Desvarennes was quite pleased, and shaking her finger threateningly at
"Ah, you Pole, you boaster of the North!"
"Seriously," continued Serge, "before I knew I was to be your
son-in-law, I thought you a matchless woman. Add to the admiration I
had for your great qualities the affection which your goodness has
inspired, and you will understand that I am both proud and happy to
have such a mother as you."
Madame Desvarennes looked at Panine attentively; she saw he was
sincere. Then, taking courage, she touched the topic of greatest
interest to her. "If that is the case, you will have no objections to
live with me?" She stopped; then emphasized the words, "With me."
"But was not that understood?" asked Serge, gayly' "I thought so.
You must have seen that I have not been seeking a dwelling for my
wife and myself. If you had not made the offer to me, I should have
asked you to let me stay with you."
Madame Desvarennes broke into such an outburst of joy that she
astonished Panine. It was then only that in that pallor, in that
sudden trembling, in that changed voice, he understood, the immensity
of the mother's love for her daughter.
"I have everything to gain by that arrangement," continued he. "My
wife will be happy at not leaving you, and you will be pleased at my
not having taken away your daughter. You will both like me better,
and that is all I wish."
"How good you are in deciding thus, and how I thank you for it,"
resumed Madame Desvarennes. "I feared you would have ideas of
"I should have been happy to sacrifice them to you, but I have not
even that merit."
All that Serge had said had been so open and plain, and expressed
with such sweetness that, little by little, Madame Desvarennes's
prejudices disappeared. He took possession of her as he had done of
Micheline, and as he did of every one whom he wished to conquer. His
charm was irresistible. He seized on one by the eyes and the ears.
Naturally fascinating, moving, captivating, bold, he always preserved
his artless and tender ways, which made him resemble a young girl.
"I am going to tell you how we shall manage," said the mistress.
"Foreseeing my daughter's marriage, I have had my house divided into
two distinct establishments. They say that life in common with a
mother-in- law is objectionable to a son-in-law, therefore I wish you
to have a home of your own. I know that an old face like mine
frightens young lovers. I will come to you when you invite me. But
even when I am shut up in my own apartments I shall be with my
daughter; I shall breathe the same air; I shall hear her going and
coming, singing, laughing, and I shall say to myself, 'It is all
right, she is happy.' That is all I ask. A little corner, whence I
can share her life."
Serge took her hand with effusion.
"Don't be afraid; your daughter will not leave you."
Madame Desvarennes, unable to contain her feelings, opened her
arms, and Serge fell on her breast, like a true son.
"Do you know, I am going to adore you!" cried Madame Desvarennes,
showing Panine a face beaming with happiness.
"I hope so," said the young man, gayly.
Madame Desvarennes became thoughtful.
"What a strange thing life is!" resumed she. "I did not want you
for a son-in-law, and now you are behaving so well toward me that I am
full of remorse. Oh, I see now what a dangerous man you are, if you
captivate other women's hearts as you have caught mine."
She looked at the Prince fixedly, and added, in her clear
commanding voice, with a shade of gayety:
"Now, I hope you will reserve all your powers of charming for my
daughter. No more flirting, eh? She loves you; she would be jealous,
and you would get into hot water with me! Let Micheline's life be
happy, without a cloud-blue, always blue sky!"
"That will be easy," said Serge. "To be unhappy I should have to
seek misfortune; and I certainly shall not do that."
He began to laugh.
"Besides, your good friends who criticised so when you gave me
Micheline's hand would be only too pleased. I will not give them the
pleasure of posing as prophets and saying, 'We knew it would be so!'"
"You must forgive them," replied Madame Desvarennes. "You have
made enemies. Without speaking of projects which I had formed, I may
say that my daughter has had offers from the best folks in Paris; from
first-rate firms! Our circle was rather indignant.
People said: 'Oh, Madame Desvarennes wanted her daughter to be a
Princess. We shall see how it will turn out. Her son-in-law will
spend her money and spurn her.' The gossip of disappointed people.
Give them the lie; manage that we shall all live together, and we
shall be right against the world."
"Do you hope it will be so?"
"I am sure of it," answered the mistress, affectionately pressing
the hand of her future son-in-law.
Micheline entered, anxious at the long interview between Serge and
her mother. She saw them hand in hand. She uttered a joyful cry, and
threw her arms caressingly round her mother's neck.
"Well! you are agreed?" she said, making a gracious sign to Serge.
"He has been charming," replied Madame Desvarennes, whispering in
her daughter's ear. " He agrees to live in this house, and that quite
gracefully. There, child, this is the happiest moment I've had since
your engagement. I admit that I regret nothing."
Then, resuming aloud:
"We will leave to-morrow for Cernay, where the marriage shall take
place. I shall have to order the workmen in here to get ready for your
reception. Besides the wedding will be more brilliant in the country.
We shall have all the work-people there. We will throw the park open
to the countryside; it will be a grand fete. For we are lords of the
manor there," added she, with pride.
"You are right, mamma; it will be far better," exclaimed Micheline.
And taking Serge by the hand:
"Come, let us go," said she, and led him into the garden.
And amid the sweet-smelling shrubs they resumed their walk, always
the same yet ever new, their arms twined round each other, the young
girl clinging to him whom she loved, and he looking fondly at her, and
with caressing voice telling her the oft-told tale of love which she
was never tired of hearing, and which always filled her with thrills
CHAPTER IX. THE DOUBLE MARRIAGE
The Chateau of Cernay is a vast and beautiful structure of the time
of Louis XIII. A walled park of a hundred acres surrounds it, with
trees centuries old. A white painted gate separates the avenue from
the road leading to Pontoise by way of Conflans. A carpet of grass,
on which carriages roll as if on velvet, leads up to the park gates.
Before reaching, it there is a stone bridge which spans the moat of
running water. A lodge of stone, faced with brick, with large
windows, rises at each corner of this space.
The chateau, surrounded by cleverly arranged trees, stands in the
centre, on a solid foundation of red granite from the Jura. A
splendid double staircase leads to the ground floor as high as an
'entresol'. A spacious hall, rising to the roof of the building,
lighted by a window filled with old stained glass, first offers itself
to the visitor. A large organ, by Cavallie-Col, rears its long
brilliant pipes at one end of the hall to a level with the gallery of
sculptured wood running round and forming a balcony on the first
floor. At each corner is a knight in armor, helmet on head, and lance
in hand, mounted on a charger, and covered with the heavy trappings of
war. Cases full of objects of art of great value, bookshelves
containing all the new books, are placed along the walls. A
billiard-table and all sorts of games are lodged under the vast
staircase. The broad bays which give admission to the reception-rooms
and grand staircase are closed by tapestry of the fifteenth century,
representing hunting scenes. Long cords of silk and gold loop back
these marvellous hangings in the Italian style. Thick carpets, into
which the feet sink, deaden the sound of footsteps. Spacious divans,
covered with Oriental materials, are placed round the room.
Over the chimney-piece, which is splendidly carved in woodwork, is
a looking-glass in the Renaissance style, with a bronze and silver
frame, representing grinning fawns and dishevelled nymphs. Benches
are placed round the hearth, which is large enough to hold six people.
Above the divans, on the walls, are large oilpaintings by old
masters. An "Assumption," by Jordaens, which is a masterpiece; "The
Gamesters," by Valentin; "A Spanish Family on Horseback," painted by
Velasquez; and the marvel of the collection—a "Holy Family," by
Francia, bought in Russia. Then, lower down, "A Young Girl with a
Canary," by Metzu; a "Kermesse," by Braurver, a perfect treasure,
glitter, like the gems they are, in the midst of panoplies, between
the high branches of palm-trees planted in enormous delft vases. A
mysterious light filters into that fresh and picturesque apartment
through the stained-glass windows.
From the hall the left wing is reached, where the reception-rooms
are, and one's eyes are dazzled by the brightness which reigns there.
It is like coming out from a cathedral into broad daylight. The
furniture, of gilt wood and Genoese velvet, looks very bright. The
walls are white and gold; and flowers are everywhere. At the end is
Madame Desvarennes's bedroom, because she does not like mounting
stairs, and lives on the ground floor. Adjoining it is a
conservatory, furnished as a drawing- room, and serving as a boudoir
for the mistress of the house.
The dining-room, the gun-room, and the smoking-room are in the
right wing. The gun-room deserves a particular description. Four
glass cases contain guns of every description and size of the best
English and French manufacture. All the furniture is made of stags'
horns, covered with fox-skins and wolf-skins. A large rug, formed by
four bears' skins, with menacing snouts, showing their white teeth at
the four corners, is in the centre of the room. On the walls are four
paintings by Princeteau, admirably executed, and representing hunting
scenes. Low couches, wide as beds, covered with gray cloth, invite
the sportsmen to rest. Large dressing-rooms, fitted up with hot and
cold water, invite them to refresh themselves with a bath. Everything
has been done to suit the most fastidious taste. The kitchens are
On the first story are the principal rooms. Twelve bedrooms, with
dressing-rooms, upholstered in chintz of charming design. From these,
a splendid view of the park and country beyond may be obtained. In
the foreground is a piece of water, bathing, with its rapid current,
the grassy banks which border the wood, while the low-lying branches
of the trees dip into the flood, on which swans, dazzlingly white,
swim in stately fashion. Beneath an old willow, whose drooping boughs
form quite a vault of pale verdure, a squadron of multicolored boats
remain fastened to the balustrade of a landing stage. Through an
opening in the trees you see in the distance fields of yellow corn,
and in the near background, behind a row of poplars, ever moving like
a flash of silver lightning, the Oise flows on between its low banks.
This sumptuous dwelling, on the evening of the 14th of July, was in
its greatest splendor. The trees of the park were lit up by brilliant
Venetian lanterns; little boats glided on the water of the lake
carrying musicians whose notes echoed through the air. Under a
marquee, placed midway in the large avenue, the country lads and
lasses were dancing with spirit, while the old people, more calm, were
seated under the large trees enjoying the ample fare provided. A
tremendous uproar of gayety reechoed through the night, and the sound
of the cornet attracted the people to the ball.
It was nine o'clock. Carriages were fast arriving with guests for
the mansion. In the centre of the handsome hall, illuminated with
electric light, stood Madame Desvarennes in full dress, having put off
black for one day, doing honor to the arrivals. Behind her stood
Marechal and Savinien, like two aides-de-camp, ready, at a sign, to
offer their arms to the ladies, to conduct them to the drawing-rooms.
The gathering was numerous. Merchant-princes came for Madame
Desvarennes's sake; bankers for Cayrol's; and the aristocrats and
foreign nobility for the Prince's. An assemblage as opposed in ideas
as in manners: some valuing only money, others high birth; all proud
and elbowing each other with haughty assurance, speaking ill of each
other and secretly jealous.
There were heirs of dethroned kings; princes without portions, who
were called Highness, and who had not the income of their fathers'
former chamberlains; millionaires sprung from nothing, who made a
great show and who would have given half of their possessions for a
single quartering of the arms of these great lords whom they affected
Serge and Cayrol went from group to group; the one with his
graceful and delicate elegance; the other with his good-humor, radiant
and elated by the consciousness of his triumphs. Herzog had just
arrived, accompanied by his daughter, a charming girl of sixteen, to
whim Marechal had offered his arm. A whispering was heard when Herzog
passed. He was accustomed to the effect which he produced in public,
and quite calmly congratulated Cayrol.
Serge had just introduced Micheline to Count Soutzko, a gray-haired
old gentleman of military appearance, whose right sleeve was empty.
He was a veteran of the Polish wars, and an old friend of Prince
Panine's, at whose side he had received the wounds which had so
frightfully mutilated him. Micheline, smiling, was listening to
flattering tales which the old soldier was relating about Serge.
Cayrol, who had got rid of Herzog, was looking for Jeanne, who had
just disappeared in the direction of the terrace.
The rooms were uncomfortably warm, and many of the visitors had
found their way to the terraces. Along the marble veranda,
overlooking the lake, chairs had been placed. The ladies, wrapped in
their lace scarfs, had formed into groups and were enjoying the
delights of the beautiful evening. Bursts of subdued laughter came
from behind fans, while the gentlemen talked in whispers. Above all
this whispering was heard the distant sound of the cornet at the
Leaning over the balustrade, in a shady corner, far from the noise
which troubled him and far from the fete which hurt him, Pierre was
dreaming. His eyes were fixed on the illuminations in the park, but he
did not see them. He thought of his vanished hopes. Another was
beloved by Micheline, and in a few hours he would take her away,
triumphant and happy. A great sadness stole over the young man's
spirit; he was disgusted with life and hated humanity. What was to
become of him now? His life was shattered; a heart like his could not
love twice, and Micheline's image was too deeply engraven on it for it
ever to be effaced. Of what use was all the trouble he had taken to
raise himself above others? A worthless fellow had passed that way
and Micheline had yielded to him. Now it was all over!
And Pierre asked himself if he had not taken a wrong view of
things, and if it was not the idle and good-for-nothing fellows who
were more prudent than he. To waste his life in superhuman works, to
tire his mind in seeking to solve great problems, and to attain old
age without other satisfaction than unproductive honors and mercenary
rewards. Those who only sought happiness and joy—epicureans who
drive away all care, all pain, and only seek to soften their
existence, and brighten their horizon—were they not true sages?
Death comes so quickly! And it is with astonishment that one
perceives when the hour is at hand, that one has not lived! Then the
voice of pride spoke to him: what is a man who remains useless, and
does not leave one trace of his passage through the world by works or
discoveries? And, in a state of fever, Pierre said to himself:
"I will throw myself heart and soul into science; I will make my
name famous, and I will make that ungrateful child regret me. She
will see the difference between me and him whom she has chosen. She
will understand that he is nobody, except by her money, whereas she
would have been all by me."
A hand was placed on his shoulder; and Marechal's affectionate
voice said to him:
"Well! what are you doing here, gesticulating like that?"
Pierre turned round.
Lost in his thoughts he had not heard his friend approaching.
"All our guests have arrived," continued Marechal. "I have only
just been able to leave them and to come to you. I have been seeking
you for more than a quarter of an hour. You are wrong to hide
yourself; people will make remarks. Come toward the house; it is as
well to show yourself a little; people might imagine things which they
must not imagine."
"Eh! let them think what they like; what does it matter to me?"
said Pierre, sadly. "My life is a blank."
"Your life may be a blank; but it is your duty not to let any one
perceive it. Imitate the young Spartan, who smiled although the fox,
hidden under his cloak, was gnawing his vitals. Let us avoid
ridicule, my friend. In society there is nothing that provokes
laughter more than a disappointed lover, who rolls his eyes about and
looks woe-begone. And, then, you-see, suffering is a human law; the
world is an arena, life is a conflict. Material obstacles, moral
griefs, all hinder and overwhelm us. We must go on, though, all the
same, and fight. Those who give in are trodden down! Come, pull
"And for whom should I fight now? A moment ago I was making
projects, but I was a fool! All hope and ambition are dead in me."
"Ambition will return, you may be sure! At present you are
suffering from weariness of mind; but your strength will return. As
to hope, one must never despair."
"What can I expect in the future?"
"What? Why, everything! In this world all sorts of things
happen!" said Marechal, gayly. "Who is to prove that the Princess
will not be a widow soon?"
Pierre could not help laughing and said,
"Come, don't talk such nonsense!"
"My dear fellow," concluded Marechal, "in life it is only nonsense
that is common-sense. Come and smoke a cigar."
They traversed several groups of people and bent their steps in the
direction of the chateau. The Prince was advancing toward the
terrace, with an elegantly dressed and beautiful woman on his arm.
Savinien, in the midst of a circle of dandies, was picking the
passers-by to pieces in his easy-going way. Pierre and Marechal came
behind these young men without being noticed.
"Who is that hanging on the arm of our dear Prince?" asked a little
fat man, girt in a white satin waistcoat, and a spray of white lilac
in his buttonhole.
"Eh! Why, Le Brede, my boy, you don't know anything!" cried
Savinien in a bantering, jocose tone.
"Because I don't know that lovely fair woman?" said Le Brede, in a
piqued voice. "I don't profess to know the names of all the pretty
women in Paris!"
"In Paris? That woman from Paris? You have not looked at her.
Come, open your eyes. Pure English style, my friend."
The dandies roared with laughter. They had at once recognized the
pure English style. They were not men to be deceived. One of them, a
tall, dark fellow, named Du Tremblays, affected an aggrieved air, and
"Le Brede, my dear fellow, you make us blush for you!"
The Prince passed, smiling and speaking in a low voice to the
beautiful Englishwoman, who was resting the tips of her white gloved
fingers on her cavalier's arm.
"Who is she?" inquired Le Brede, impatiently.
"Eh, my dear fellow, it is Lady Harton, a cousin of the Prince.
She is extremely rich, and owns a district in London."
"They say that a year ago she was very kind to Serge Panine," added
Du Tremblays, confidentially.
"Why did he not marry her, then, since she is so rich? He has been
quite a year in the market, the dear Prince."
"She is married."
"Oh, that is a good reason. But where is her husband?"
"Shut up in a castle in Scotland. Nobody ever sees him. He is out
of his mind; and is surrounded by every attention."
"And a strait-waistcoat! Then why does not this pretty woman get a
"The money belongs to the husband."
Pierre and Marechal had listened, in silence, to this cool and yet
terrible conversation. The group of young men dispersed. The two
friends looked at each other. Thus, then, Serge Panine was judged by
his companions in pleasure, by the frequenters of the clubs in which
he had spent a part of his existence. The Prince being "in the
market" was obliged to marry a rich woman. He could not marry Lady
Harton, so he had sought Micheline. And the sweet child was the wife
of such a man! And what could be done? She loved him!
Madame Desvarennes and Micheline appeared on the terrace. Lady
Harton pointed to the bride with her fan. The Prince, leaving his
companion, advanced toward Micheline.
"One of my English relatives, a Polish lady, married to Lord
Harton, wishes to be introduced to you," said Serge. "Are you
With all my heart," replied the young wife, looking lovingly at her
husband. "All who belong to you are dear to me, you know."
The beautiful Englishwoman approached slowly.
"The Princess Panine!" said Serge, gravely, introducing Micheline,
who bowed gracefully. Then, with a shade of familiarity: "Lady
Harton!" continued he, introducing his relative.
"I am very fond of your husband, Madame," said the Englishwoman.
"I hope you will allow me to love you also; and I beg you to grant me
the favor of accepting this small remembrance."
While speaking, she unfastened from her wrist a splendid bracelet
with the inscription, Semper.
Serge frowned and looked stern. Micheline, lowering her eyes, and
awed by the Englishwoman's grandeur, timidly said:
"I accept it, Madame, as a token of friendship."
"I think I recognize this bracelet, Madame," observed Serge.
"Yes; you gave it to me," replied Lady Harton, quietly. "Semper—I
beg your pardon, Madame, we Poles all speak Latin—Semper means
'Always!' It is a great word. On your wife's arm this bracelet will
be well placed. Au revoir, dear Prince. I wish you every happiness."
And bowing to Micheline with a regal bow, Lady Harton took the arm
of a tall young man whom she had beckoned, and walked away.
Micheline, amazed, looked at the bracelet sparkling on her white
wrist. Without uttering a word Serge unfastened it, took it off his
wife's arm, and advancing on the terrace, with a rapid movement flung
it in the water. The bracelet gleamed in the night-air and made a
brilliant splash; then the water resumed its tranquillity. Micheline,
astonished, looked at Serge, who came toward her, and very humbly
"I beg your pardon."
The young wife did not answer, but her eyes filled with tears; a
smile brightened her lips, and hurriedly taking his arm, she led him
into the drawing-room.
Dancing was going on there. The young ladies of Pontoise, and the
cream of Creil, had come to the fete, bent on not losing such an
opportunity of enjoying themselves. Under the watchful eyes of their
mothers, who, decked out in grand array, were seated along the walls,
they were gamboling, in spite of the stifling heat, with all the
impetuosity of young provincials habitually deprived of the pleasures
of the ballroom. Crossing the room, Micheline and Serge reached Madame
It was delightfully cool in there. Cayrol had taken refuge there
with Jeanne, and Mademoiselle Susanne Herzog. This young girl felt
uncomfortable at being a third party with the newly-married couple,
and welcomed the arrival of the Prince and Micheline with pleasure.
Her father had left her for a moment in Cayrol's care; but she had
not seen him for more than an hour.
"Mademoiselle," said the Prince, gayly, "a little while ago, when I
was passing through the rooms, I heard these words: 'Loan, discount,
liquidation.' Your father must have been there. Shall I go and seek
"I should be very grateful," said the young girl.
"I will go."
And turning lightly on his heels, happy to escape Jeanne's looks,
Serge reentered the furnace. At once he saw Herzog seated in the
corner of a bay-window with one of the principal stock-brokers of
Paris. He was speaking. The Prince went straight up to him.
"Sorry to draw you away from the sweets of conversation," said he,
smiling; "but your daughter is waiting for you, and is anxious at your
"Faith! My daughter, yes. I will come and see you tomorrow," said
he to his companion. "We will talk over this association: there is
much to be gained by it."
The other, a man with a bloated face, and fair Dundreary whiskers,
was eager to do business with him. Certainly the affair was good.
"Oh, my dear Prince, I am happy to be alone with you for a moment!"
said Herzog, with that familiarity which was one of his means of
becoming intimate with people. "I was going to compliment you! What
a splendid position you have reached."
"Yes; I have married a charming woman," replied the Prince, coldly.
"And what a fortune!" insisted the financier. "Ah, it is worthy
of the lot of a great lord such as you are! Oh, you are like those
masterpieces of art which need a splendidly carved frame! Well, you
have your frame, and well gilt too!"
He laughed and seemed pleased at Serge's happiness. He had taken
one of his hands and was patting it softly between his own.
"Not a very 'convenient' mother-in-law, for instance," he went on,
good- naturedly; "but you are so charming! Only you could have,
coaxed Madame Desvarennes, and you have succeeded. Oh! she likes
you, my dear Prince; she told me so only a little while ago. You have
won her heart. I don't know how you manage it, but you are
irresistible! By the way, I was not there when the marriage contract
was read, and I, forgot to ask Cayrol. Under what conditions art you
The Prince looked at Herzog with a look that was hardly friendly.
But the financier appeared so indifferent, that Serge could not help
"My wife's fortune is settled on herself."
"Ah! ah! that is usual in Normandy!" replied Herzog with a grave
look. "I was told Madame Desvarennes was a clever woman and she has
proved it. And you signed the contract with your eyes shut, my dear
Prince. It is perfect, just as a gentleman should do!"
He said this with a good-natured air. Then, suddenly lifting his
eyes, and with an ironical smile playing on his lips, he added:
"You are bowled out, my dear fellow, don't you know?"
"Sir!" protested Serge with haughtiness.
"Don't cry out; it is too late, and would be useless," replied the
financier. "Let me explain your position to you. Your hands are
tied. You cannot dispose of a sou belonging to your wife without her
consent. It is true, you have influence over her, happily for you.
Still you must foresee that she will be guided by her mother. A
strong woman, too, the mother! Ah, Prince, you have allowed yourself
to be done completely. I would not have thought it of you."
Serge, nonplussed for a moment, regained his self-possession, and
looked Herzog in the face:
"I don't know what idea you have formed of me, sir, and I don't
know what object you have in speaking thus to me."
"My interest in you," interrupted the financier. "You are a
charming fellow: you please me much. With your tastes, it is possible
that in a brief time you may be short of money. Come and see me: I
will put you into the way of business. Au revoir, Prince."
And without giving Serge time to answer him, Herzog reached the
boudoir where his daughter was waiting with impatience. Behind him
came the Prince looking rather troubled. The financier's words had
awakened importunate ideas in his mind. Was it true that he had been
duped by Madame Desvarennes, and that the latter, while affecting airs
of greatness and generosity, had tied him like a noodle to her
daughter's apron-string? He made an effort to regain his serenity.
"Micheline loves me and all will be well," said he to himself.
Madame Desvarennes joined the young married people. The rooms were
clearing by degrees. Serge took Cayrol apart.
"What are you going to do to-night, my dear fellow?
You know an apartment has been prepared for you here?"
"Yes, I have already thanked Madame Desvarennes, but I mean to go
back to Paris. Our little paradise is prepared for us, and I wish to
enter it to-night. I have my carriage and horses here. I am taking
away my wife post-haste."
"That is an elopement," said Serge; gayly, "quite in the style of
"Yes, my dear Prince, that's how we bankers do it," said Cayrol,
Then changing his tone:
"See, I vibrate, I am palpitating. I am hot and cold by turns.
Just fancy, I have never loved before; my heart is whole, and I love
Serge instinctively glanced at Jeanne. She was seated, looking sad
Madame Desvarennes, between Jeanne and Micheline, had her arms
twined round the two young girls. Regret filled her eyes. The mother
felt that the last moments of her absolute reign were near, and she
was contemplating with supreme adoration these two children who had
grown up around her like two fragile and precious flowers. She was
saying to them,
"Well, the great day is over. You are both married. You don't
belong to me any longer. How I shall miss you! This morning I had
two children, and now—"
"You have four," interrupted Micheline. "Why do you complain?"
"I don't complain," retorted Madame Desvarennes, quickly.
"That's right!" said Micheline, gayly.
Then going toward Jeanne:
"But you are not speaking, you are so quiet; are you ill?"
Jeanne shuddered, and made an effort to soften the hard lines on
"It is nothing. A little fatigue."
"And emotion," added Micheline. "This morning when we entered the
church, at the sound of the organ, in the midst of flowers, surrounded
by all our friends, I felt that I was whiter than my veil. And the
crossing to my place seemed so long, I thought I should never get
there. I did so, though. And now everybody calls me 'Madame' and
some call me 'Princess.' It amuses me!"
Serge had approached.
"But you are a Princess," said he, smiling, "and everybody must
call you so."
"Oh, not mamma, nor Jeanne, nor you," said the young wife, quickly;
"always call me Micheline. It will be less respectful, but it will be
Madame Desvarennes could not resist drawing her daughter once more
to her heart.
"Dear child," she said with emotion, "you need affection, as
flowers need the sun! But I love you, there."
She stopped and added:
"We love you."
And she held out her hand to her son-in-law. Then changing the
"But I am thinking, Cayrol, as you are returning to Paris, you
might take some orders for me which I will write out."
"What? Business? Even on my wedding-day?" exclaimed Micheline.
"Eh! my daughter, we must have flour," replied the mistress,
laughing. "While we are enjoying ourselves Paris eats, and it has a
Micheline, leaving her mother, went to her husband.
"Serge, it is not yet late. Suppose we put in an appearance at the
work- people's ball? I promised them, and the good folks will be so
"As you please. I am awaiting your orders. Let us make ourselves
Madame Desvarennes had gone to her room. Carol took the
opportunity of telling his coachman to drive round by the park to the
door of the little conservatory and wait there. Thus, his wife and he
would avoid meeting any one, and would escape the leave-taking of
friends and the curiosity of lockers-on.
Micheline went up to Jeanne, and said:
"As you are going away quietly, dear, I shall not see you again
this evening. Adieu!"
And with a happy smile, she kissed her. Then taking her husband's
arm she led him toward the park.
CHAPTER X. CAYROL'S DISAPPOINTMENT
Jeanne left alone, watched them as they disappeared with the light
and easy movements of lovers.
Serge, bending toward Micheline, was speaking tenderly. A rush of
bitter feeling caused Jeanne's heart to swell. She was alone, she,
while he whom she loved-her whole being revolted. Unhappy one! Why
did she think of this man? Had she the right to do so now? She no
longer belonged to herself. Another, who was as kind to her as Serge
was ungrateful, was her husband. She thought thus in sincerity of
heart. She wished to love Cayrol. Alas, poor Jeanne! She would load
him with attentions and caresses! And Serge would be jealous, for he
could never have forgotten her so soon.
Her thoughts again turned to him whom she wished to forget. She
made an effort, but in vain. Serge was uppermost; he possessed her.
She was afraid. Would she never be able to break off the
remembrance? Would his name be ever on her lips, his face ever before
Thank heaven! she was about to leave. Travelling, and the sight
of strange places other than those where she had lived near Serge,
would draw her attention from the persecution she suffered. Her
husband was about to take her away, to defend her. It was his duty,
and she would help him with energy. With all the strength of her will
she summoned Cayrol. She clung violently to him as a drowning person
catches at a straw, with the vigor of despair.
There was between Jeanne and Cayrol a sympathetic communication.
Mentally called by his wife, the husband appeared.
"Ah! at last!" said she.
Cayrol, surprised at this welcome, smiled. Jeanne, without
"Well, Monsieur; are we leaving soon?"
The banker's surprise increased. But as this surprise was
decidedly an agreeable one he did not protest.
"In a moment, Jeanne, dear," he said.
"Why this delay?" asked the young wife, nervously.
"You will understand. There are more than twenty carriages before
the front door. Our coachman is driving round, and we will go out by
the conservatory door without being seen."
"Very well; we will wait."
This delay displeased Jeanne. In the ardor of her resolution, in
the first warmth of her struggle, she wished at once to put space
between her and Serge. Unfortunately, Cayrol had thwarted this effort
of proud revolt. She was vexed with him. He, without knowing the
motives which actuated his wife, guessed that something had displeased
her. He wished to change the current of her thoughts.
"You were marvellously beautiful to-night," he said, approaching
her gallantly. "You were much admired, and I was proud of you. If
you had heard my friends! It was a concert of congratulations: What a
fortunate fellow that Cayrol is! He is rich; he has a charming wife!
You see, Jeanne, thanks to you, in the eyes of all, my happiness is
Jeanne frowned, and without answering, shook her head haughtily.
Cayrol continued, without noticing this forecast of a storm:
"They envy me; and I can understand it! I would not change places
with anybody. There, our friend Prince Panine is very happy; he has
married a woman whom he loves and who adores him. Well, he is not
happier than I am!"
Jeanne rose abruptly, and gave her husband a terrible look.
"Monsieur!" she cried with rage.
"I beg your pardon," said Cayrol, humbly; "I appear ridiculous to
you, but my happiness is stronger than I am, and I cannot hide my joy.
You will see that I can be grateful. I will spend my life in trying
to please you. I have a surprise for you to begin with."
"What kind of surprise?" asked Jeanne, with indifference.
Cayrol rubbed his hands with a mysterious air. He was enjoying
beforehand the pleasant surprise he had in store for his wife.
"You think we are going to Paris to spend our honeymoon like
Jeanne started. Cayrol seemed unfortunate in his choice of words.
"Well, not at all," continued the banker. "Tomorrow I leave my
offices. My customers may say what they like; I will leave my
business, and we are off."
Jeanne showed signs of pleasure. A flash of joy lit up her face.
To go away, that was rest for her!
"And where shall we go?"
"That is the surprise! You know that the Prince and his wife
"Yes; but they refused to say where they were going;" interrupted
Jeanne, with a troubled expression.
"Not to me. They are going to Switzerland. Well, we shall join
Jeanne arose like a startled deer when it hears the sound of a gun.
"Join them there!" she exclaimed.
"Yes; to continue the journey together. A party of four; two
newly- married couples. It will be charming. I spoke to Serge on the
subject. He objected at first, but the Princess came to my assistance.
And when he saw that his wife and I were agreed, he commenced to
laugh, and said: 'You wish it? I consent. Don't say anything more!'
It is all very well to talk of love's solitude; in about a fortnight,
passed tete-a-tete, Serge will be glad to have us. We will go to
Italy to see the lakes; and there, in a boat, all four, of us will
have such pleasant times."
Cayrol might have gone on talking for an hour, but Jeanne was not
listening. She was thinking. Thus all the efforts which she had
decided to make to escape from him whom she loved would be useless.
An invincible fatality ever brought her toward him whom she was
seeking to avoid. And it was her husband who was aiding this
inevitable and execrable meeting. A bitter smile played on her lips.
There was something mournfully comic in this stubbornness of
Cayrol's, in throwing her in the way of Serge.
Cayrol, embarrassed by Jeanne's silence, waited a moment.
"What is the matter?" he asked. "You are just like the Prince
when I spoke to him on the subject."
Jeanne turned away abruptly. Cayrol's comparison was too direct.
His blunders were becoming wearisome.
The banker, quite discomfited on seeing the effect of his words,
"You object to this journey? If so, I am willing to give it up."
The young wife was touched by this humble servility.
"Well, yes," she said, softly, "I should be grateful to you."
"I had hoped to please you," said Cayrol. "It is for me to beg
pardon for having succeeded so badly. Let us remain in Paris. It
does not matter to me what place we are in! Being near to you is all
He approached her, and, with beaming eyes, added:
"You are so beautiful, Jeanne; and I have loved you so long a
She moved away, full of a vague dread. Cayrol, very excitedly, put
her cloak round her shoulders, and looking toward the door, added:
"The carriage is there, we can go now."
Jeanne, much troubled, did not rise.
"Wait another minute," said she.
Cayrol smiled constrainedly:
"A little while ago you were hurrying me off."
It was true. But a sudden change had come over Jeanne. Her energy
had given way. She felt very weary. The idea of going away with
Cayrol, and of being alone with him in the carriage frightened her.
She looked vaguely at her husband, and saw, in a sort of mist, this
great fat man, with a protruding shirt-front, rolls of red flesh on
his neck above his collar, long fat ears which only needed gold
ear-rings, and his great hairy hands, on the finger of one of which
shone the new wedding-ring. Then, in a rapid vision, she beheld the
refined profile, the beautiful blue eyes, and the long, fair mustache
of Serge. A profound sadness came over the young woman, and tears
rushed to her eyes.
"What is the matter with you? You are crying!" exclaimed Cayrol,
"It is nothing; my nerves are shaken. I am thinking of this
chateau which bears my name. Here I spent my youth, and here my
father died. A thousand ties bind me to this dwelling, and I cannot
leave it without being overcome."
"Another home awaits you, luxuriantly adorned," murmured Cayrol,
"and worthy of receiving you. It is there you will live henceforth
with me, happy through me, and belonging to me."
Then, ardently supplicating her, he added:
"Let us go, Jeanne!"
He tried to take her in his arms, but the young wife disengaged
"Leave me alone!" she said, moving away.
Cayrol looked at her in amazement.
"What is it? You are trembling and frightened!"
He tried to jest:
"Am I so very terrible, then? Or is it the idea of leaving here
that troubles you so much? If so, why did you not tell me sooner? I
can understand things. Let us remain here for a few days, or as long
as you like. I have arranged my affairs so as to be at liberty. Our
little paradise can wait for us."
He spoke pleasantly, but with an undercurrent of anxiety.
Jeanne came slowly to him, and calmly taking his hand, said:
"You are very good."
"I am not making any efforts to be so," retorted Cayrol, smiling.
"What do I ask? That you may be happy and satisfied."
"Well, do you wish to please me?" asked the young wife.
"Yes!" exclaimed Cayrol, warmly, "tell me how."
"Madame Desvarennes will be very lonely tomorrow when her daughter
will be gone. She will need consoling—"
"Ah, ah," said Cayrol, thinking that he understood, "and you would
"I would like to remain some time with her. You could come every
day and see us. I would be very grateful to you, and would love you
"But—but—but—! exclaimed Cayrol, much confounded, "you cannot
mean what you say, Jeanne! What, my dear? You wish me to return
alone to Paris to-night? What would my servants say? You would
expose me to ridicule!"
Poor Cayrol made a piteous face. Jeanne looked at him as she had
never looked before. It made his blood boil.
"Would you be so very ridiculous for having been delicate and
"I don't see what tenderness has to do with it," cried Cayrol; "on
the contrary! But I love you. You don't seem to think it!"
"Prove it," replied Jeanne, more provokingly.
This time Cayrol lost all patience.
"Is it in leaving you that I shall prove it? Really, Jeanne, I am
disposed to be kind and to humor your whims, but on condition that
they are reasonable. You seem to be making fun of me! If I give way
on such important points on the day of our marriage, whither will you
lead me? No; no! You are my wife. The wife must follow her husband;
the law says so!"
"Is it by law only that you wish to keep me? Have you forgotten
what I told you when you made me an offer of marriage? It is my hand
only which I give you."
"And I answered you, that it would be my aim to gain your heart.
Well, but give me the means. Come, dear," said the banker in a
resolute tone, "you take me for a child. I am not so simple as that!
I know what this resistance means; charming modesty so long as it is
Jeanne turned away without answering. Her face had changed its
expression; it was hard and determined.
"Really," continued Cayrol, "you would make a saint lose patience.
Come, answer me, what does this attitude mean?"
The young wife remained silent. She felt she could not argue any
longer, and seeing no way out of her trouble, felt quite discouraged.
Still she would not yield. She shuddered at the very idea of
belonging to this man; she had never thought of the issue of this
brutal and vulgar adventure. Now that she realized it, she felt
Cayrol anxiously watched the increasing anguish depicted on his
wife's face. He had a presentiment that she was hiding something from
him, and the thought nearly choked him. And, with this suspicion, his
ingenuity came to his aid. He approached Jeanne, and said,
"Come, dear child, we are misleading one another; I in speaking too
harshly, you in refusing to understand me. Forget that I am your
husband; see in me only a friend and open your heart; your resistance
hides a mystery. You have had some grief or have been deceived."
Jeanne, softened, said, in a low tone:
"Don't speak to me like that; leave me."
"No," resumed Cayrol, quietly, "we are beginning life; there must
be no misunderstanding. Be frank, and you will find me indulgent.
Come, young girls are often romantic. They picture an ideal; they
fall in love with some one who does not return their love, which is
sometimes even unknown to him who is their hero. Then, suddenly, they
have to return to a reality. They find themselves face to face with a
husband who is not the expected Romeo, but who is a good man, devoted,
loving, and ready to heal the wounds he has not made. They are afraid
of this husband; they mistrust him, and will not follow him. It is
wrong, because it is near him, in honorable and right existence, that
they find peace and forgetfulness."
Cayrol's heart was torn by anxiety, and with trembling voice he
tried to read the effect of his words on Jeanne's features. She had
turned. away. Cayrol bent toward her and said:
"You don't answer me."
And as she still remained silent, he took her hand and forced her
to look at him. He saw that her face was covered with tears. He
shuddered, and then flew into a terrible passion.
"You are crying! It is true then? You have loved?"
Jeanne rose with a bound; she saw her imprudence. She understood
the trap he had laid; her cheeks burned. Drying her tears, she turned
toward Cayrol, and cried:
"Who has said so?"
"You cannot deceive me," replied the banker, violently. "I saw it
in your looks. Now, I want to know the man's name!"
Jeanne looked him straight in the face.
"Never!" she said.
"Ah, that is an avowal!" exclaimed Cayrol.
"You have deceived me unworthily by your pretended kindness,"
interrupted Jeanne, proudly, "I will not say anything more."
Cayrol flew at her—the churl reappeared. He muttered a fearful
oath, and seizing her by the arm, shouted:
"Take care! Don't play with me. Speak, I insist, or—" and he
shook her brutally.
Jeanne, indignant, screamed and tore herself away from him.
"Leave me," she said, "you fill me with horror!"
The husband, beside himself, pale as death and trembling
convulsively, could not utter a word, and was about to rush upon her
when the door opened, and Madame Desvarennes appeared, holding in her
hand the letters which she had written for Cayrol to take back to
Paris. Jeanne uttered a cry of joy, and with a bound threw herself
into the arms of her who had been a mother to her.
CHAPTER XI. CONFESSION
Madame Desvarennes understood the situation at a glance. She
beheld Cayrol livid, tottering, and excited. She felt Jeanne
trembling on her breast; she saw something serious had occurred. She
calmed herself and put on a cold manner to enable her the better to
suppress any resistance that they might offer.
"What is the matter?" she asked, looking severely at Cayrol.
"Something quite unexpected," replied the banker, laughing
nervously. "Madame refuses to follow me."
"And for what reason?" she asked.
"She dare not speak!" Cayrol resumed, whose excitement increased
as he spoke. "It appears she has in her heart an unhappy love! And
as I do not resemble the dreamed-of type, Madame has repugnances. But
you understand the affair is not going to end there. It is not usual
to come and say to a husband, twelve hours after marriage, 'Sir, I am
very sorry, but I love somebody else!' It would be too convenient. I
shall not lend myself to these whims."
"Cayrol, oblige me by speaking in a, lower tone," said Madame
Desvarennes, quietly. "There is some misunderstanding between you and
The husband shrugged his broad shoulders.
"A misunderstanding? Faith! I think so! You have a delicacy of
language which pleases me! A misunderstanding! Say rather a shameful
deception! But I want to know the gentleman's name. She will have to
speak. I am not a scented, educated gentleman. I am a peasant, and
if I have to—"
"Enough," said Madame Desvarennes, sharply tapping with the tips of
her fingers Cayrol's great fist which he held menacingly like a
butcher about to strike. Then, taking him quietly aside toward the
window, she added:
"You are a fool to go on like this! Go to my room for a moment.
To you, now, she will not say anything; to me she will confide all
and we shall know what to do."
Cayrol's face brightened.
"You are right," he said. "Yes, as ever, you are right. You must
excuse rile, I do not know how to talk to women. Rebuke her and put a
little sense in her head. But don't leave her; she is fit to commit
Madame Desvarennes smiled.
"Be easy," she answered.
And making a sign to Cayrol, who was leaving the room, she returned
"Come, my child, compose yourself. We are alone and you will tell
me what happened. Among women we understand each other. Come, you
were frightened, eh?"
Jeanne was one petrified, immovable, and dumb, she fixed her eyes
on a flower which was hanging from a vase. This red flower fascinated
her. She could not take her eyes off it. Within her a persistent
thought recurred: that of her irremediable misfortune. Madame
Desvarennes looked at her for a moment; then, gently touching her
"Won't you answer me? Have you not confidence in me? Have I not
brought you up? And if you are not born of me, have not the
tenderness and care I have lavished upon you made me your real
Jeanne did not answer, but her eyes filled with tears;
"You know that I love you," continued the mistress. "Come, come to
my arms as you used to do when you were little and were suffering.
Place your head thereon my heart and let your tears flow. I see they
are choking you."
Jeanne could no longer resist, and falling on her knees beside
Madame Desvarennes, she buried her face in the silky and scented folds
of her dress like a frightened bird that flies to the nest and hides
itself under the wings of its mother.
This great and hopeless grief was to the mistress a certain proof
that Cayrol was right. Jeanne had loved and still loved another man
than her husband. But why had she not said anything, and why had she
allowed herself to be married to the banker? She had resisted, she
remembered now. She had struggled, and the refusals they had put down
to pride they must now attribute to passion.
She did not wish to be separated from him whom she loved. Hence
the struggle that had ended in her abandoning her hand to Cayrol,
perhaps in a moment of despair and discouragement. But why had he
whom she loved not married her? What obstacle had arisen between him
and the young girl? Jeanne, so beautiful, and dowered by Madame
Desvarennes, who then could have hesitated to ask her hand?
Perhaps he whom Jeanne loved was unworthy of her? No! She would
not have chosen him. Perhaps he was not free to marry? Yes, it must
be that. Some married man, perhaps! A scoundrel who did not mind
breaking a young girl's heart! Where had she met him? In society at
her house in the Rue Saint-Dominique, perhaps! Who could tell? He
very likely still continued to come there. At the thought Madame
Desvarennes grew angry. She wished to know the name of the man so that
she might have an explanation with him, and tell him what she thought
of his base conduct. The gentleman should have respectable,
well-educated girls to trifle with, should he? And he risked nothing!
He should be shown to the door with all honors due to his shameful
Jeanne was still weeping silently at Madame Desvarennes's knee.
The latter raised her head gently and wiped away the tears with her
"Come, my child! all this deluge means nothing. You must make up
your mind. I can understand your hiding anything from your husband,
but not from me! What is your lover's name?"
This question so simply put, threw a faint light on Jeanne's
troubled brain. She saw the danger she was running. To speak before
Madame Desvarennes! To tell the name of him who had been false to
her! To her! Was it possible? In a moment she understood that she
was about to destroy Micheline and Serge. Her conscience revolted and
she would not. She raised herself and looking at Madame Desvarennes
with still frightened eyes,
"For pity's sake, forget my tears! Don't believe what my husband
has told you. Never seek to know. Remain ignorant as you are on the
"Then he whom you love is related to me, as: you wish to hide his
name even from me," said Madame Desvarennes with instinctive anguish.
She was silent. Her eyes became fixed. They looked without
seeing. She was thinking.
"I beseech you," cried Jeanne, madly placing her hands before
Madame Desvarennes's face as if to check her scrutiny.
"If I had a, son," continued the mistress, "I would believe—"
Suddenly she ceased speaking; she became pale, and bending toward
Jeanne, she looked into her very soul.
"Is it—"she began.
"No! no!" interrupted Jeanne, terrified at seeing that the
mistress had found out the truth.
"You deny it before I have pronounced the name?" said Madame
Desvarennes in a loud voice. "You read it then on my lips? Unhappy
girl! The man whom you love is the husband of my daughter!"
My daughter! The accent with which Madame Desvarennes pronounced
the word "my" was full of tragical power. It revealed the mother
capable of doing anything to defend the happiness of the child whom
she adored. Serge had calculated well. Between Jeanne and Micheline,
Madame Desvarennes would not hesitate. She would have allowed the
world to crumble away to make of its ruins a shelter where her
daughter would be joyous and happy.
Jeanne had fallen back overwhelmed. The mistress raised her
roughly. She had no more consideration for her. It was necessary that
she should speak. Jeanne was the sole witness, and if the truth had
to be got by main force she should be made to speak it.
"Ah, forgive me!" moaned the young girl.
"It is not a question of that! In one word, answer me: Does he
"Do I know?"
"Did he tell you he did?"
"And he has married Micheline!"exclaimed Madame Desvarennes, with a
fearful gesture. "I distrusted him. Why did I not obey my instinct?"
And she began walking about like a lioness in a cage. Then,
suddenly stopping and placing herself before Jeanne, she continued:
"You must help me to save Micheline!"
She thought only of her own flesh and blood. Without hesitation,
unconsciously, she abandoned the other—the child of adoption. She
claimed the safety of her daughter as a debt.
"What has she to fear?" asked Jeanne, bitterly. "She triumphs, as
she is his wife."
"If he were to abandon her," said the mother with anguish. Then,
reflecting: "Still, he has sworn to me that he loved her."
"He lied!" cried Jeanne, with rage. "He wanted Micheline for her
"But why that?" inquired Madame Desvarennes, menacingly. "Is she
not pretty enough to have pleased him? Do you think that you are the
only one to be loved?"
"If I had been rich he would have married me!", replied Jeanne,
She had risen in revolt. They were treading too heavily on her.
With a ferocious cry of triumph; she added:
"The night he used his influence with me to get me to marry Cayrol,
he assured me so on his word of honor!"
"Honor!" ironically repeated Madame Desvarennes, overwhelmed.
"How he has deceived us all! But what can I do? What course can I
take? A separation? Micheline would not consent. She loves him."
And, in an outburst of fury, she cried:
"Is it possible that that stupid girl loves that worthless dandy?
And she has my blood in her veins! If she knew the truth she would
"Am I dead?" asked Jeanne, gloomily.
"You have an energetic nature," retorted the mistress,
compassionately; "but she is so weak, so gentle! Ah! Jeanne, think
what I have been to you; raise some insurmountable barrier between
yourself and Serge!
Go back to your husband. You would not go with him a little while
ago. It was folly. If you separate from Cayrol, you will not be able
to keep away Serge, and you will take my daughter's husband from her!"
"Ah! you think only of her! Her, always! She above all!" cried
Jeanne, with rage. "But me, I exist, I count, I have the right to be
protected, of being happy! And you wish me to sacrifice myself, to
give myself up to this man, whom I do not love, and who terrifies me?"
This time the question was plainly put. Madame Desvarennes became
herself. She straightened her figure, and in her commanding voice
whose authority no one resisted, said:
"What then? You wish to be separated from him? To regain your
liberty at the price of scandal? And what liberty? You will be
repulsed, disdained. Believe me, impose silence on your heart and
listen to your reason. Your husband is a good, loyal man. If you
cannot love him, he will command your respect. In marrying him, you
have entered into engagements toward him. Fulfil them; it is your
Jeanne felt overpowered and vanquished. "But what will my life
be?" she groaned.
"That of an honest woman," replied Madame Desvarennes, with true
grandeur. "Be a wife; God will make you a mother, and you will be
Jeanne bowed herself at these words. She no longer felt in them
the selfishness of the mother. What the mistress now said was sincere
and true. It was no longer her agitated and alarmed heart that
inspired her; it was her conscience, calm and sincere.
"Very well; I will obey you," said the young wife, simply. "Kiss
me then, mother."
She bent her brow, and Madame Desvarennes let tears of gratitude
and admiration fall on it. Then Jeanne went of her own accord to the
"Come, Monsieur," called she to Cayrol.
The husband, grown cooler while waiting, and troubled at the length
of the interview, showed his anxious face on the threshold. He saw
Madame Desvarennes grave, and Jeanne collected. He dared not speak.
"Cayrol, everything is explained," said the mistress. "You have
nothing to fear from him whom you suspected. He is separated from
Jeanne forever, And; besides, nothing has passed between him and her
who is your wife that could arouse your jealousy. I will not tell you
the name of this man now. But if perchance he by some impossibility
reappeared and threatened your happiness, I would myself—you
understand, me?—point him out to you!"
Cayrol remained thinking for, a moment; then addressing Madame
"It is well. I have confidence in you."
Then turning toward Jeanne, he added:
"Forgive me and let everything be forgotten."
The mistress's face beamed with joy, as she followed their
departing figures with her eyes, and murmured:
Then, changing her expression:
"Now for the other one!" exclaimed she.
And she went out on to the terrace.
CHAPTER XII. THE FETE
The air was mild, the night clear and bright. Cayrol's carriage
rolled rapidly along the broad avenue of the park shadowed by tall
trees, the lanterns throwing, as they passed, their quivering light on
the thickets. The rumbling carriages took the last guests to the
railway station. It was past midnight. A nightingale began singing
his song of love to the stars.
Madame Desvarennes mechanically stopped to listen. A sense of
sorrow came over this mother who was a prey to the most cruel mental
anguish. She thought that she could have been very happy on that
splendid night, if her heart had been full of quietude and serenity.
Her two daughters were married; her last task was accomplished. She
ought to have nothing to do but enjoy life after her own fashioning,
and be calm and satisfied. Instead of that, here were fear and
dissimulation taking possession of her mind; and an ardent, pitiless
struggle beginning against the man who had deceived her daughter and
lied to her. The bark which carried her fortune, on reaching port,
had caught fire, and it was necessary to begin laboring again amid
cares and pains.
A dull rage filled her heart. To have so surely built up the
edifice of her happiness, to have embellished it every hour, and then
to see an intruder audaciously taking possession of it, and making his
despotic and hateful authority prevail! And what could she do against
this new master? Nothing. He was marvellously protected by
Micheline's mad love for him. To strike Serge would be to wound
Micheline, surely and mortally. So this scoundrel could laugh at her
and dare her with impunity!
What must she do? Take him aside and tell him that she knew of his
disloyal conduct, and tell him of her contempt and hatred for him?
And after that? What would be the consequence of this outburst of
violence? The Prince, using his power over Micheline, would separate
the daughter from the mother. And Madame Desvarennes would be alone
in her corner, abandoned like a poor dog, and would die of despair and
anger. What other course then? She must dissemble, mask her face
with indifference, if possible with tenderness, and undertake the
difficult task of separating Micheline from the man whom she adored.
It was quite a feat of strategy to plan. To bring out the husband's
faults and to make his errors known, and give her the opportunity of
proving his worthlessness. In a word, to make the young wife
understand that she had married an elegant manikin, unworthy of her
It would be an easy matter to lay snares for Serge. He was a
gambler. She could let him have ready money to satisfy his passion.
Once in the clutches of the demon of play, he would neglect his wife,
and the mother might regain a portion of the ground she had lost.
Micheline's fortune once broken into, she would interpose between her
daughter and son-in- law. She would make him pull up, and holding him
tightly by her purse strings, would lead him whither she liked.
Already in fancy she saw her authority regained, and her daughter,
her treasure, her life, true mistress of the situation, grateful to
her for having saved her. And then, she thought, a baby will come,
and if Micheline is really my daughter, she will adore the little
thing, and the blind love which she has given to her husband will be
diminished by so much.
Serge did not know what an adversary he had against him in his
mother-in- law. It was a bad thing to cross the mistress when
business matters were concerned, but now that her daughter's happiness
was at stake! A smile came to her lips. A firm resolution from that
hour must guide her, and the struggle between her son-in-law and
herself could only end by the crushing of one of them.
In the distance the music from the work-people's ball was heard.
Madame Desvarennes mechanically bent her steps toward the tent under
which the heavy bounds of the dancers reechoed. Every now and then
large shadows appeared on the canvas. A joyful clamor issued from the
ballroom. Loud laughter resounded, mingled with piercing cries of
The voice of the master of the ceremonies could be heard jocose and
solemn: "La poule! Advance! Set to partners!" Then the stamping of
heavy shoes on the badly planed floor, and, above all, the melancholy
sounds of the clarionet and the shrill notes of the cornet were
At the entrance of the ballroom, surrounded by tables and stools,
two barrels of wine on stands presented their wooden taps, ready for
those who wanted to quench their thirst. A large red mark under each
barrel showed that the hands of the drinkers wire no longer steady. A
cake- seller had taken up his place at the other side, and was
kneading a last batch of paste, while his apprentice was ringing a
bell which hung over the iron cooking-stove to attract customers.
There was an odor of rancid butter, spilled wine, and paraffin oil.
Adjoining the ballroom, a merry-go-round; which had been the
delight of the village urchins all day, appealed for custom by the aid
of a barrel- organ on which a woman in a white bodice was playing the
waltz from 'Les Cloches de Corneville'.
The animation of this fete, in the midst of which Madame
Desvarennes suddenly appeared, was a -happy diversion from the serious
thoughts which beset her. She remembered that Serge and Micheline
must be there. She came from under the shadow of the avenue into the
full light. On recognizing her, all the workpeople, who were seated,
rose. She was really mistress and lady of the place. And then she
had fed these people since morning. With a sign she bade them be
seated, and walking quickly toward the dancing-room, lifted the red
and white cotton curtain which hung over the entrance.
There, in a space of a hundred square yards or so, about a hundred
and fifty people were sitting or standing. At the end, on a stage,
were the musicians, each with a bottle of wine at his feet, from which
they refreshed themselves during the intervals. An impalpable dust,
raised by the feet of the dancers, filled the air charged with acrid
odors. The women in light dresses and bareheaded, and the men arrayed
in their Sunday clothes, gave themselves up with frantic ardor to
their favorite pleasure.
Ranged in double rows, vis-a-vis, they were waiting with impatience
for the music to strike up for the last figure. Near the orchestra,
Serge was dancing with the Mayor's daughter opposite Micheline, whose
partner was the mayor himself. An air of joyful gravity lit up the
municipal officer's face. He was enjoying the honor which the
Princess had done him. His pretty young daughter, dressed, in her
confirmation dress, which had been lengthened with a muslin flounce, a
rose in her hair, and her hands encased in straw-colored one-button
kid gloves, hardly dared raise her eyes to the Prince, and with
burning cheeks, answered in monosyllables the few remarks Serge felt
forced to address to her.
The orchestra bellowed, the floor shook; the two lines of dancers
had advanced in a body. Madame Desvarennes, leaning against the
door-post, followed with her eyes her daughter, whose light footsteps
contrasted strangely with the heavy tread of the women around her.
The mayor, eager and respectful, followed her, making efforts to keep
up with her without treading on her long train. It was,
"Excuse me, Madame la Princesse. If Madame la Princesse will do me
the honor to give me her hand, it is our turn to cross."
They had just crossed. Serge suddenly found himself facing his
mother- in-law. His face lit up, and he uttered a joyful exclamation.
Micheline raised her eyes, and following her husband's look,
perceived her mother. Then it was a double joy. With a mischievous
wink, Serge called Madame Desvarennes's attention to the mayor's
solemn appearance as he was galloping with Micheline, also the comical
positions of the rustics.
Micheline was smiling. She was enjoying herself. All this homely
gayety, of which she was the cause, made her feel happy. She enjoyed
the pleasure of those around her. With her compassionate eyes she
thanked her mother in the distance for having prepared this fete in
honor of her marriage. The clarionet, violin, and cornet sounded a
last modulation, then the final cadence put an end to the bounds of
the dances. Each took his lady to her place—the mayor with pompous
gait, Serge with as much grace as if he had been at an ambassador's
ball and was leading a young lady of highest rank.
Madame Desvarennes was suddenly surrounded; cheers resounded, the
band struck up the Marseillaise.
"Let us escape," said Serge, "because these good people will think
nothing of carrying us in triumph."
And leading away his mother-in-law and his wife, he left the
ballroom followed by cheers.
Outside they all three walked in silence. The night air was
delightful after coming out of that furnace. The cheering had ceased,
and the orchestra was playing a polka. Micheline had taken her
They went along slowly, and close together. Not a word was
exchanged; they all three seemed to be listening within themselves.
When they reached the house, they went up the steps leading into the
greenhouse, which served also as a boudoir to Madame Desvarennes.
The atmosphere was still warm and scented, the lamps still burning.
The guests had left; Micheline looked round. The remembrance of this
happy evening, which had been the crowning of her happiness, filled
her heart with emotion. Turning toward her mother with a radiant
face, she cried:
"Ah! mamma! I am so happy," and threw her arms around her.
Serge started at this cry. Two tears came to his eyes, and looking
a little pale, he stretched out to Madame Desvarennes his hands, which
she felt trembling in hers, and said:
Madame Desvarennes gazed at him for a moment. She did not see the
shadow of a wicked thought on his brow. He was sincerely affected,
truly grateful. The idea occurred to her that Jeanne had deceived
her, or had deceived herself, and that Serge had not loved her. A
feeling of relief took possession of her. But distrust had
unfortunately entered her mind. She put away that flattering hope.
And giving her son-in-law such a look, which, had he been less moved,
he would have understood, she murmured,
"We shall see."
CHAPTER XIII. THE FIRST BREAK
The first two months of this union were truly enchanting. Serge
and Micheline never left each other. After an absence of eight days
they had returned to Paris with Madame Desvarennes, and the hitherto
dull mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique was filled with joyful bustle.
The splendid stables, formerly too large for the mistress's three
horses, were now insufficient for the service of the Prince. There
were eight splendid carriage-horses, a pair of charming ponies—bought
especially for Micheline's use, but which the young wife had not been
able to make up her mind to drive herself—four saddle-horses, upon
which every morning about eight o'clock, when the freshness of night
had perfumed the Bois de Boulogne, the young people took their ride
round the lake.
A bright sun made the sheet of water sparkle between its borders of
dark fir-trees; the flesh air played in Micheline's veil, and the
tawny leather of the saddles creaked. Those were happy days for
Micheline, who was delighted at having Serge near her, attentive to
her every want, and controlling his thoroughbred English horse to her
gentle pace. Every now and then his mount would wheel about and rear
in revolt, she following him with fond looks, proud of the elegant
cavalier who could subdue without apparent effort, by the mere
pressure of his thighs, that impetuous steed.
Then she would give her horse a touch with the whip, and off she
would go at a gallop, feeling happy with the wind blowing in her face,
and he whom she loved by her side to smile on and encourage her. Then
they would scamper along; the dog with his thin body almost touching
the ground, racing and frightening the rabbits, which shot across the
road swift as bullets. Out of breath by the violent ride, Micheline
would stop, and pat the neck of her lovely chestnut horse. Slowly the
young people would return to the Rue Saint-Dominique, and, on arriving
in the courtyard, there was such a pawing of feet as brought the
clerks to the windows, hiding behind the curtains. Tired with healthy
exercise, Micheline would go smiling to the office where her mother
was hard at work, and say:
"Here we are, mamma!"
The mistress would rise and kiss her daughter beaming with
freshness. Then they would go up to breakfast.
Madame Desvarennes's doubts were lulled to rest. She saw her
daughter happy. Her son-in-law was in every respect cordial and
charming toward her. Cayrol and his wife had scarcely been in Paris
since their marriage. The banker had joined Herzog in his great
scheme of the "Credit," and was travelling all over Europe
establishing offices and securing openings. Jeanne accompanied him.
They were then in Greece. The young wife's letters to her adopted
mother breathed calmness and satisfaction. She highly praised her
husband's kindness to her, and said it was unequalled.
No allusion was made to that evening of their marriage, when,
escaping from Cayrol's wrath, she had thrown herself in Madame
Desvarennes's arms, and had allowed her secret to be found out. The
mistress might well think then that the thought which at times still
troubled her mind was a remembrance of a bad dream.
What contributed especially to make her feel secure was Jeanne's
absence. If the young woman had been near Serge, Madame Desvarennes
might have trembled. But Micheline's beautiful rival was far away,
and Serge seemed very much in love with his wife.
Everything was for the best. The formidable projects which Madame
Desvarennes had formed in the heat of her passion had not been earned
out. Serge had as yet not given Madame Desvarennes cause for real
displeasure. Certainly he was spending money foolishly, but then his
wife was so rich!
He had put his household on an extraordinary footing. Everything
that most refined luxury had invented he had introduced as a matter of
course, and for everyday use. He entertained magnificently several
times a week. And Madame Desvarennes, from her apartments, for she
would never appear at these grand receptions, heard the noise of these
doings. This woman, modest and simple in her ideas, whose luxury had
always been artistic, wondered that they could spend so much on
frivolous entertainments. But Micheline was queen of these sumptuous
ceremonies. She came in full dress to be admired by her mother,
before going down to receive her guests, and the mistress had not
courage to offer any remonstrances as to expense when she saw her
daughter so brilliant and contented.
They played cards very much. The great colony of foreigners who
came every week to Panine's receptions brought with them their
immoderate passion for cards, and he was only too willing to give way
to it. These gentlemen, among them all, almost without taking off
their white kid gloves, would win or lose between forty and fifty
thousand francs at bouillotte, just to give them an appetite before
going to the club to finish the night at baccarat.
Meanwhile the ladies, with their graceful toilettes displayed on
the low soft chairs, talked of dress behind their fans, or listened to
the songs of a professional singer, while young men whispered soft
nothings in their ears.
It was rumored that the Prince lost heavily. It was not to be
wondered at; he was so happy in love! Madame Desvarennes, who used
every means of gaining information on the subject, even to the gossip
of the servants, heard that the sums were enormous. No doubt they
were exaggerated, but the fact remained the same. The Prince was
Madame Desvarennes could not resist the inclination of finding out
whether Micheline knew what was going on, and one morning when the
young wife came down to see her mother, dressed in a lovely pink gown,
the mistress, while teasing her daughter, said, carelessly:
"It seems your husband lost heavily last night."
Micheline looked astonished at Madame Desvarennes, and in a quiet
"A good host may not win from his guests; it would look as if he
invited them to rob them. Losses at cards are included in the costs
of a reception."
Madame Desvarennes thought that her daughter had become a very
grand lady, and had soon acquired expanded ideas. But she dared not
say anything more. She dreaded a quarrel with her daughter, and would
have sacrificed everything to retain her cajoling ways.
She threw herself into her work with renewed vigor.
"If the Prince spends large sums," she said to herself, "I will
earn larger ones. There can be no hole dug deep enough by him that I
shall not be able, to fill up."
And she made the money come in at the door so that her son-in-law
might throw it out of the window.
One fine day these great people who visited at the mansion in the
Rue Saint-Dominique hastened away to the country. September had
arrived, bringing with it the shooting season. The Prince and
Micheline settled themselves at Cernay, not as in the first days of
their marriage as lovers who sought quietude, but as people sure of
their happiness, who wished to make a great show. They took all the
carriages with them, and there was nothing but bustle and movement.
The four keepers, dressed in the Prince's livery, came daily for
orders as to shooting arrangements. And every week shoals of visitors
arrived, brought from the station in large breaks drawn by four
The princely dwelling was in its full splendor. There was a
continual going and coming of fashionable worldlings. From top to
bottom of the castle was a constant rustling of silk dresses; groups
of pretty women, coming downstairs with peals of merry laughter and
singing snatches from the last opera. In the spacious hall they
played billiards and other games, while one of the gentlemen performed
on the large organ. There was a strange mixture of freedom and
strictness. The smoke of Russian cigarettes mingled with the scent of
opoponax. An elegant confusion which ended about six o'clock in a
general flight, when the sportsmen came home, and the guests went to
their rooms. An hour afterward all these people met in the large
drawing-room; the ladies in low-bodied evening dresses; the gentlemen
in dress-coats and white satin waistcoats, with a sprig of mignonette
and a white rose in their buttonholes. After dinner, they danced in
the drawing-rooms, where a mad waltz would even restore energy to the
gentlemen tired out by six hours spent in the field.
Madame Desvarennes did not join in that wild existence. She had
remained in Paris, attentive to business. On Saturdays she came down
by the five o'clock train and regularly returned on the Monday
morning. Her presence checked their wild gayety a little. Her black
dress was like a blot among the brocades and satins. Her severe
gravity, that of a woman who pays and sees the money going too fast,
was like a reproach, silent but explicit, to that gay and thoughtless
throng of idlers, solely taken up by their pleasure.
The servants made fun of her. One day the Prince's valet, who
thought himself a clever fellow, said before all the other servants
that Mother Damper had arrived. Of course they all roared with
laughter and exclaimed:
"Bother the old woman! Why does she come and worry us? She had
far better stop in the office and earn money; that's all she's good
The disdain which the servants learned from their master grew
rapidly. So much so that one Monday morning, toward nine o'clock,
Madame Desvarennes came down to the courtyard, expecting to find the
carriage which generally took her to the station. It was the second
coachman's duty to drive her, and she did not see him. Thinking that
he was a little late, she walked to the stable-yard. There, instead
of the victoria which usually took her, she saw a large mail-coach to
which two grooms were harnessing the Prince's four bays. The head
coachman, an Englishman, dressed like a gentleman, with a stand-up
collar, and a rose in his buttonhole, stood watching the operations
with an air of importance.
Madame Desvarennes went straight to him. He had seen her coming,
out of the, corner of his eye, without disturbing himself.
"How is it that the carriage is not ready to take me to the
station?" asked the mistress.
"I don't know, Madame," answered this personage, condescendingly,
without taking his hat off.
"But where is the coachman who generally drives me?"
"I don't know. If Madame would like to see in the stables—"
And with a careless gesture, the Englishman pointed out to Madame
Desvarennes the magnificent buildings at the end of the courtyard.
The blood rose to the mistress's cheeks; she gave the coachman such
a look that he moved away a little. Then glancing at her watch, she
"I have only a quarter of an hour before the train leaves, but here
are horses that ought to go well. Jump on the box, my man, you shall
The Englishman shook his head.
"Those horses are not for service; they are only for pleasure," he
answered. "I drive the Prince. I don't mind driving the Princess,
but I am not here to drive you, Madame."
And with an insolent gesture, setting his hat firmly on his head,
he turned his back upon the mistress. At the same moment, a sharp
stroke from a light cane made his hat roll on the pavement. And as
the Englishman turned round, red with rage, he found himself face to
face with the Prince, whose approach neither Madame Desvarennes nor he
Serge, in an elegant morning suit, was going round his stables when
he had been attracted by this discussion. The Englishman, uneasy,
sought to frame an excuse.
"Hold your tongue!" exclaimed the Prince, sharply, "and go and
wait my orders."
And turning toward the mistress:
"Since this man refuses to drive you, I shall have the pleasure of
taking you to the station myself," he said, with a charming smile.
And as Madame Desvarennes remonstrated,
"Oh! I can drive four-in-hand," he added. "For once in my life
that talent will have been of some use to me. Pray jump in."
And opening the door of the mail-coach he handed her into the vast
carriage. Then, climbing with one bound to the box, he gathered the
reins and, cigar in mouth, with all the coolness of an old coachman,
he started the horses in the presence of all the grooms, and made a
perfect semicircle on the gravel of the courtyard.
The incident was repeated favorably for Serge. It was agreed that
he had behaved like a true nobleman. Micheline was proud of it, and
saw in this act of deference to her mother a proof of his love for
her. As to the mistress, she understood the advantage this clever
manoeuvre gave to the Prince. At the same time she felt the great
distance which henceforth separated her from the world in which her
The insolence of that servant was a revelation to her. They
despised her. The Prince's coachman would not condescend to drive a
plebeian like her. She paid the wages of these servants to no
purpose. Her plebeian origin and business habits were a vice. They
submitted to her; they did not respect her.
Although her son-in-law and daughter were perfect toward her in
their behavior, she became gloomy and dull, and but seldom went now to
Cernay. She felt in the way, and uncomfortable. The smiling and
superficial politeness of the visitors irritated her nerves. These
people were too well bred to be rude toward Panine's mother-in-law,
but she felt that their politeness was forced. Under their affected
nicety she detected irony. She began to hate them all.
Serge, sovereign lord of Cernay, was really happy. Every moment he
experienced new pleasure in gratifying his taste for luxury. His love
for horses grew more and more. He gave orders to have a model
stud-house erected in the park amid the splendid meadows watered by
the Oise; and bought stallions and breeding mares from celebrated
English breeders. He contemplated starting a racing stable.
One day when Madame Desvarennes arrived at Cernay, she was
surprised to see the greensward bordering the woods marked out with
white stakes. She asked inquiringly what these stakes meant?
Micheline answered in an easy tone:
"Ah! you saw them? That is the track for training. We made
Mademoiselle de Cernay gallop there to-day. She's a level-going filly
with which Serge hopes to win the next Poule des Produits."
The mistress was amazed. A child who had been brought up so
simply, in spite of her large fortune, a little commoner, speaking of
level-going fillies and the Poule des Produits! What a change had
come over her and what incredible influence this frivolous, vain
Panine had over that young and right-minded girl! And that in a few
months! What would it be later? He would succeed in imparting to her
his tastes and would mould her to his whims, and the young modest girl
whom he had received from the mother would become a horsey and fast
Was it possible that Micheline could be happy in that hollow and
empty life? The love of her husband satisfied her. His love was all
she asked for, all else was indifferent to her. Thus of her mother,
the impassioned toiler, was born the passionate lover! All the
fervency which the mother had given to business, Micheline had given
Moreover, Serge behaved irreproachably. One must do him that
justice. Not even an appearance accused him. He was faithful,
unlikely as that may seem in a man of his kind; he never left his
wife. He had hardly ever gone out without her; they were a couple of
turtle-doves. They were laughed at.
"The Princess has tied a string round Serge's foot," was said by
some of Serge's former woman friends!
It was something to be sure of her daughter's happiness. That
happiness was dearly, bought; but as the proverb says:
"Money troubles are not mortal!"
And, besides, it was evident that the Prince did not keep account
of his money; his hand was always open. And never did a great lord do
more honor to his fortune. Panine, in marrying Micheline, had found
the mistress's cash-box at his disposal.
This prodigious cash-box had seemed to him inexhaustible, and he
had drawn on it like a Prince in the Arabian Nights on the treasure of
Perhaps it would suffice to let him see that he was spending the
capital as well as the income to make him alter his line of conduct.
At all events, the moment was not yet opportune, and, besides, the
amount was not yet large enough. Cry out about some hundred thousand
francs! Madame Desvarennes would be thought a miser and would be
covered with shame. She must wait.
And, shut up in her office in the Rue Saint-Dominique with
Marechal, who acted as her confidant, she worked with heart and soul
full of passion and anger, making money. It was fine to witness the
duel between these two beings: the one useful, the other useless; one
sacrificing everything to work, the other everything to pleasure.
Toward the end of October, the weather at Cernay became unsettled,
and Micheline complained of the cold. Country life so pleased Serge
that he turned a deaf ear to her complaints. But lost in that large
house, the autumn winds rustling through the trees, whose leaves were
tinted with yellow, Micheline became sad, and the Prince understood
that it was time to go back to Paris.
The town seemed deserted to Serge. Still, returning to his
splendid apartments was a great satisfaction and pleasure to him.
Everything appeared new. He reviewed the hangings, the expensive
furniture, the paintings and rare objects. He was charmed. It was
really of wonderful beauty, and the cage seemed worthy of the bird.
For several evenings he remained quietly at home with Micheline, in
the little silver-gray drawing-room that was his favorite room. He
looked through albums, too, while his wife played at her piano quietly
They retired early and came down late. Then he had become a
gourmand. He spent hours in arranging menus and inventing unknown
dishes about which he consulted his chef, a cook of note.
He rode in the Bois in the course of the day, but did not meet any
one there; for of every two carriages one was a hackney coach with a
worn-out sleepy horse, his head hanging between his knees, going the
round of the lake. He ceased going to the Bois, and went out on foot
in the Champs- Elysees. He crossed the Pont de la Concorde, and
walked up and down the avenues near the Cirque.
He was wearied. Life had never appeared so monotonous to him.
Formerly he had at least the preoccupations of the future. He asked
himself how he could alter the sad condition in which he vegetated!
Shut up in this happy existence, without a care or a cross, he grew
weary like a prisoner in his cell. He longed for the unforeseen; his
wife irritated him, she was of too equable a temperament. She always
met him with the same smile on her lips. And then happiness agreed
with her too well; she was growing stout.
One day, on the Boulevard des Italiens, Serge met an old friend,
the Baron de Prefont, a hardened 'roue'. He had not seen him since
his marriage. It was a pleasure to him. They had a thousand things
to say to each other. And walking along, they came to the Rue Royale.
"Come to the club," said Prefont, taking Serge by the arm.
The Prince, having nothing else to do, allowed himself to be led
away, and went. He felt a strange pleasure in those large rooms of
the club, the Grand Cercle, with their glaring furniture. The common
easy-chairs, covered with dark leather, seemed delightful. He did not
notice the well-worn carpets burned here and there by the hot
cigar-ash; the strong smell of tobacco, impregnated in the curtains,
did not make him feel qualmish. He was away from home, and was
satisfied with anything for a change. He had been domesticated long
One morning, taking up the newspaper, a name caught Madame
Desvarennes's eye-that of the Prince. She read:
"The golden book of the Grand Cercle has just had another
illustrious name inscribed in it. The Prince Panine was admitted
yesterday, proposed by the Baron de Prefont and the Duc de Bligny."
These few lines made Madame Desvarennes's blood boil. Her ears
tingled as if all the bells of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont had been rung
together. In a rapid vision, she saw misfortune coming. Her
son-in-law, that born gambler, at the Grand Cercle! No more smiles
for Micheline; henceforth she had a terrible rival—the devouring love
Then Madame Desvarennes reflected. The husband's deserting his
fireside would be salvation for herself. The door by which he went
out, would serve as an entrance for her. The plan which she had
conceived at Cernay that terrible night of the marriage when Jeanne
had confided in her, remained for her to execute. By opening her
purse widely to the Prince, she would help him in his vice. And she
would infallibly succeed in separating Serge and Micheline.
But the mistress checked herself. Lend her hands to the
destruction of her son-in-law in a fit of fierce maternal egoism? Was
it not unworthy of her? How many tears would the Prince's errors cost
her whom she wished to regain at all price? And then would she always
be there to compensate by her devoted affection the bitterly regretted
estrangement from the husband? She would, in dying, leave the
She was horrified at what she had for an instant dreamed of doing.
And instead of helping the Prince on to destruction, she determined
to do all in her power to keep him in the path of honor. That
resolution formed, Madame Desvarennes was satisfied. She felt
superior to Serge, and to a mind like hers the thought was
The admission to the Grand Cercle gave Serge a powerful element of
interest in life: He had to manoeuvre to obtain his liberty. His
first evenings spent from home troubled Micheline deeply. The young
wife was jealous when she saw her husband going out. She feared a
rival, and trembled for her love. Serge's mysterious conduct caused
her intolerable torture. She dared not say anything to her mother,
and remained perfectly quiet on the subject before her husband. She
sought discreetly, listened to the least word that might throw any
light on the matter.
One day she found an ivory counter, bearing the stamp of the Grand
Cercle, in her husband's dressing-room. It was in the Rue Royale then
that her husband spent his evenings. This discovery was a great
relief to her. It was not very wrong to go there, and if the Prince
did go and smoke a few cigars and have a game at bouillotte, it was
not a very great crime. The return of his usual friends to Paris and
the resumption of their receptions would bring him home again.
Serge now left Micheline about ten o'clock in the evening regularly
and arrived at the club about eleven. High play did not commence
until after midnight. Then he seated himself at the gaming-table with
all the ardor of a professional gambler. His face changed its
expression. When winning, it was animated with an expression of awful
joy; when losing, he looked as hard as a stone, his features
contracted, and his eyes were full of gloomy fire. He bit his
mustache convulsively. Moreover, always silent, winning or losing
with superb indifference.
He lost. His bad luck had followed him. At the club his losses
were no longer limited. There was always some one willing to take a
hand, and until dawn he played, wasting his life and energies to
satisfy his insane love of gambling.
One morning, Marechal entered Madame Desvarennes's private office,
holding a little square piece of paper. Without speaking a word, he
placed it on the desk. The mistress took it, read what was written
upon it in shaky handwriting, and suddenly becoming purple, rose. The
paper bore these simple words:
"Received from Monsieur Salignon the sum of one hundred thousand
francs. Serge Panine."
"Who brought this paper?" asked Madame Desvarennes, crushing it
between her fingers.
"The waiter who attends the card-room at the club."
"The waiter?" cried Madame Desvarennes, astonished.
"Oh, he is a sort of banker," said Marechal. "These gentlemen
apply to him when they run short of money. The Prince must have found
himself in that predicament. Still he has just received the rents for
the property in the Rue de Rivoli."
"The rents!" grumbled Madame Desvarennes, with an energetic
movement. "The rents! A drop of water in a river! You don't know
that he is a man to lose the hundred thousand francs which they claim,
in one night."
The mistress paced up and down the room. She suddenly came to a
standstill. "If I don't stop him, the rogue will sell the feather-bed
from under my daughter! But he shall have a little of my mind! He
has provoked me long enough. Pay it! I'll take my money's worth out
And in a second, Madame Desvarennes was in the Prince's room.
Serge, after a delicate breakfast, was smoking and dozing on the
smoking- room sofa. The night had been a heavy one for him. He had
won two hundred and fifty thousand francs from Ibrahim Bey, then he
had lost all, besides five thousand louis advanced by the obliging
Salignon. He had told the waiter to come to the Rue Saint-Dominique,
and by mistake the man had gone to the office.
The sudden opening of the smoking-room door roused Serge. He
unclosed his eyes and looked very much astonished at seeing Madame
Desvarennes appear. Pale, frowning, and holding the accusing paper in
her hand, she angrily inquired:
"Do you recognize that?" and placed the receipt which he had
signed, before him, as he slowly rose.
Serge seized it quickly, and then looking coldly at his
"How did this paper come into your hands?"
"It has just been brought to my cashier. A hundred thousand
francs! Faith! You are going ahead! Do you know how many bushels of
corn must be ground to earn that?"
"I beg your pardon, Madame," said the Prince, interrupting Madame
Desvarennes. "I don't suppose you came here to give me a lesson in
commercial statistics. This paper was presented to your cashier by
mistake. I was expecting it, and here is the money ready to pay it.
As you have been good enough to do so, pray refund yourself."
And taking a bundle of bank-notes from a cabinet, the Prince handed
them to the astonished mistress.
"But," she sought to say, very much put out by this unexpected
answer, "where did you get this money from? You must have
"I beg your pardon," said the Prince, quietly, "that only concerns
myself. Be good enough to see whether the amount is there," added he
with a smile. "I reckon so badly that it is possible I may have made
a mistake to your disadvantage."
Madame Desvarennes pushed away the hand which presented the
bank-notes, and shook her head gravely:
"Keep this money," she said; "unfortunately you will need it. You
have entered on a very dangerous path, which grieves me very much. I
would willingly give ten times the amount, at once, to be sure that
you would never touch another card."
"Madame!" said the Prince with impatience.
"Oh! I know what I am risking by speaking thus. It weighs so
heavily on my heart. I must give vent to it or I shall choke. You
are spending money like a man who does not know what it is to earn it.
And if you continue—"
Madame Desvarennes raised her eyes and looked at the Prince. She
saw him so pale with suppressed rage that she dared not say another
word. She read deadly hatred in the young man's look. Frightened at
what she had just been saying, she stepped back, and went quickly
toward the door.
"Take this money, Madame," said Serge, in a trembling voice. "Take
it, or all is over between us forever."
And, seizing the notes, he put them by force in Madame
Desvarennes's hands. Then tearing up with rage the paper that had
been the cause of this painful scene, he threw the pieces in the
Deeply affected, Madame Desvarennes descended the stairs which she
had a few minutes before gone up with so much resolution. She had a
presentiment that an irreparable rupture had just taken place between
herself and her son-in-law. She had ruffled Panine's pride. She felt
that he would never forgive her. She went to her room sad and
thoughtful. Life was becoming gloomy for this poor woman. Her
confidence in herself had disappeared. She hesitated now, and was
irresolute when she had to take a decision. She no longer went
straight to the point by the shortest road. Her sonorous voice was
softened. She was no longer the same willing energetic woman who
feared no obstacles. She had known defeat.
The attitude of her daughter had changed toward her. It seemed as
if Micheline wished to absolve herself of all complicity with Madame
Desvarennes. She kept away to prove to her husband that if her mother
had displeased him in any way, she had nothing to do with it. This
behavior grieved her mother, who felt that Serge was working secretly
to turn Micheline against her. And the mad passion of the young wife
for him whom she recognized as her master did not allow the mother to
doubt which side she would take if ever she had to choose between
husband and mother.
One day Micheline came down to see her mother. It was more than a
month since she had visited her. In a moment Madame Desvarennes saw
that she had something of an embarrassing nature to speak of. To
begin with she was more affectionate than usual, seeming to wish with
the honey of her kisses to sweeten the bitter cross which the mistress
was doomed to bear. Then she hesitated. She fidgeted about the room
humming. At last she said that the doctor had come at the request of
Serge, who was most anxious about his wife's health. And that
excellent Doctor Rigaud, who had known her from a child, had found her
suffering from great weakness. He had ordered change of air.
At these words Madame Desvarennes raised her head and gave her
daughter a terrible look:
"Come, no nonsense! Speak the truth! He is taking you away!"
"But, mamma," said Micheline, disconcerted at this interruption, "I
assure you, you are mistaken. Anxiety for my health alone guides my
"Your husband!" broke forth Madame Desvarennes. "Your husband!
Ah, there; go away! Because if you stop here, I shall not be able to
control myself, and shall say things about him that you will not
forgive in a hurry! As you are ill, you are right to have change of
air. I shall remain here, without you, fastened to my chain, earning
money for you while you are far, away. Go along!"
And seizing her daughter by the arm with convulsive strength, she
pushed her roughly; for ,the first time in her life, repeating, in a
"Go away! Leave me alone!"
Micheline suffered herself to be put outside the room, and went to
her own apartments astonished and frightened. The young wife had
hardly left the room when Madame Desvarennes suffered the reaction of
the emotion she had just felt. Her nerves were unstrung, and falling
on a chair she remained immovable and humbled. Was it possible that
her daughter, her adored child, would abandon her to obey the grudges
of her husband? No, Micheline, when back in her room, would remember
that she was carrying away all the joy of the house, and that it was
cruel to deprive her mother of her only happiness in life.
Slightly reassured, she went down to the office. As she reached
the landing, she saw the Prince's servants carrying up trunks
belonging to their master to be packed. She felt sick at heart. She
understood that this project had been discussed and settled
beforehand. It seemed to her that all was over; that her daughter was
going away forever, and that she would never see her again. She
thought of going to beseech Serge and ask him what sum he would take
in exchange for Micheline's liberty; but the haughty and sarcastic
face of the Prince forcibly putting the bank-notes in her hands,
passed before her, and she guessed that she would not obtain anything.
Cast down and despairing, she entered her office and set to work.
The next day, by the evening express, the Prince and Princess left
for Nice with all their household, and the mansion in the Rue
Saint-Dominique remained silent and deserted.
CHAPTER XIV. A SUDDEN JOURNEY
At the end of the Promenade des Anglais, on the pleasant road
bordered with tamarind-trees, stands, amid a grove of cork-oaks and
eucalypti, a charming white villa with pink shutters. A Russian lady,
the Countess Woreseff, had it built five years ago, and occupied it
one winter. Then, tired of the monotonous noise of the waves beating
on the terrace and the brightness of the calm blue sky, she longed for
the mists of her native country, and suddenly started for St.
Petersburg, leaving that charming residence to be let.
It was there, amid rhododendrons and strawberry-trees in full
bloom, that Micheline and Serge had taken up their abode. Until that
day the Princess had scarcely travelled. Her mother, always occupied
in commercial pursuits, had never left Paris. Micheline had remained
with her. During this long journey, accomplished in most luxurious
style, she had behaved like a child astonished at everything, and
pleased at the least thing. With her face close to the window she saw
through the transparent darkness of a lovely winter's night, villages
and forests gliding past like phantoms. Afar off, in the depths of
the country, she caught sight of a light glimmering, and she loved to
picture a family gathered by the fire, the children asleep and the
mother working in the silence.
Children! She often thought of them, and never without a sigh of
regret rising to her lips. She had been married for some months, and
her dreams of becoming a mother had not been realized. How happy she
would have been to have a baby, with fair hair, to fondle and kiss!
Then the idea of a child reminded her of her own mother. She thought
of the deep love one must feel for a child. And the image of the
mistress, sad and alone, in the large house of the Rue
Saint-Dominique, came to her mind. A vague remorse seized her heart.
She felt she had behaved badly. She said to herself: "If, to punish
me, Heaven will not grant me a child!" She wept, and soon her grief
and trouble vanished with her tears. Sleep overpowered her, and when
she awoke it was broad daylight and they were in Provence.
From that moment everything was dazzling. The arrival at
Marseilles; the journey along the coast, the approach to Nice, were
all matters of ecstacy to Micheline. But it was when the carriage,
which was waiting for them at the railway station, stopped at the
gates of the villa, that she broke into raptures. She could not feast
her eyes enough on the scene which was before her. The blue sea, the
sky without a cloud, the white houses rising on the hill amid the dark
foliage, and in the distance the mountaintops covered with snow, and
tinged with pink under the brilliant rays of the sun. All this
vigorous and slightly wild nature surprised the Parisienne. It was a
new experience. Dazzled by the light and intoxicated with the
perfumes, a sort of languor came over her. She soon recovered and
became quite strong—something altogether new for her, and she felt
The life of the Prince and the Princess became at Nice what it had
been in Paris during the early days of their marriage. Visitors
flocked to their house. All that the colony could reckon of
well-known Parisians and foreigners of high repute presented
themselves at the villa. The fetes recommenced. They gave receptions
three times a week; the other evenings Serge went to the Cercle.
This absorbing life had gone on for two months. It was the
beginning of February, and already nature was assuming a new
appearance under the influence of spring. One evening, three
people—two gentlemen and a lady—stepped out of a carriage at the
villa gates, and found themselves face to face with a traveller who
had come on foot. Two exclamations broke out simultaneously.
"Marechal!" "Monsieur Savinien!"
"You! at Nice? And by what miracle?"
"A miracle which makes you travel fifteen leagues an hour in
exchange for a hundred and thirty-three francs first-class, and is
called the Marseilles express!"
"I beg your pardon, my dear friend. I have not introduced you to
Monsieur and Mademoiselle Herzog."
"I have already had the honor of meeting Mademoiselle Herzog at
Madame Desvarennes's," said Marechal, bowing to the young girl,
without appearing to notice the father.
"You were going to the villa?" asked Savinien. "We, too, were
going. But how is my aunt? When did you leave her?"
"I have not left her."
"What's that you say?"
"I say that she is here."
Savinien let his arms drop in profound consternation to show how
difficult it was for him to believe what was going on. Then, in a
faint treble voice, he said:
"My aunt! At Nice! Promenade des Anglais! That's something more
wonderful than the telephone and phonograph! If you had told me that
the Pantheon had landed one fine night on the banks of the Paillon, I
should not be more astonished. I thought Madame Desvarennes was as
deeply rooted in Paris as the Colonne Vendome! But tell me, what is
the object of this journey?"
"Which manifested itself—"
"Yesterday morning at breakfast. Pierre Delarue, who is going to
finish his business in Algeria, and then settle in France, came to say
'Good-by' to Madame Desvarennes. A letter arrived from the Princess.
She commenced reading it, then all at once she exclaimed 'Cayrol and
his wife arrived at Nice two days ago!' Pierre and I were astonished
at the tone in which she uttered these words. She was lost in thought
for a few moments, then she said to Pierre: 'You are leaving tonight
for Marseilles? Well, I shall go with you. You will accompany me to
Nice.' And turning toward me, she added: 'Marechal, pack up your
portmanteau. I shall take you with me."'
While speaking, they had walked across the garden, and reached the
steps leading to the villa.
"Nothing is easier than to explain this sudden journey," remarked
Mademoiselle Herzog. "On learning that Monsieur and Madame Cayrol
were at Nice with the Princess, Madame Desvarennes must have felt how
very lonely she was in Paris. She had a longing to be near them, and
Herzog listened attentively, and seemed to be seeking the
connection which should exist between the arrival of the Cayrols and
the departure of Madame Desvarennes.
"The funniest thing to me is Marechal taking a holiday," observed
Savinien. "They are still at dinner," he added, entering the drawing-
room, through the great doors of which sounds of voices and rattling
of plates were heard.
"Well, let us wait for them; we are in agreeable company," said
Herzog, turning toward Marechal, who only answered by a cold bow.
"What are you going to do here, Marechal?" inquired Savinien.
"You will be awfully bored."
"Why? Once in a way I am going to enjoy myself and be a swell.
You will teach me, Monsieur Savinien. It cannot be very difficult.
It is only necessary to wear a dove-colored coat like you, a gardenia
in my buttonhole like Monsieur Le Bride, frizzled hair like Monsieur
du Tremblay, and to assail the bank at Monaco."
"Like all these gentlemen," said Suzanne, gayly, "you are a gambler
"I have never touched a card."
"But then you ought to have great good luck," said the young girl.
Herzog had come up to them.
"Will you go partners?" he asked of Marechal. "We will divide the
"You are too kind," replied Marechal, dryly, turning away.
He could not get used to Herzog's familiarity, and there was
something in the man which displeased him greatly. There was, he
thought, a police- court atmosphere about him.
Suzanne, on the contrary, interested him. The simple, lively, and
frank young girl attracted him, and he liked to talk with her. On
several occasions, at Madame Desvarennes's, he had been her partner.
There was through this a certain intimacy between them which he could
not extend to the father.
Herzog had that faculty, fortunately for him, of never appearing
offended at what was said to him. He took Savinien's arm in a
familiar manner and asked: "Have you noticed that the Prince has
looked very preoccupied for the last few days?"
"I don't wonder at it," replied Savinien. "He has been very
unlucky at cards. It is all very well for his wife, my charming
cousin, to be rich, but if he is going on like that it won't last
The two men withdrew to the window.
Suzanne went up to Marechal. She had resumed her thoughtful air.
He saw her advancing, and, guessing what she was going to say, felt
uncomfortable at having to tell an untruth if he did not wish to hurt
her feelings by brutal frankness.
"Monsieur Marechal," she began, "how is it that you are always so
cold and formal with my father?"
"My dear young lady, there is a great difference between your
father and me. I keep my place, that's all."
The young girl shook her head sadly.
"It is not that; you are amiable and ever friendly with me—"
"You are a woman, and the least politeness—"
"No! My father must have hurt your feelings unwittingly; for he is
very good. I have asked him, and he did not seem to understand what I
meant. But my questions drew his attention to you. He thinks highly
of you and would like to see you filling a position more in harmony
with your merit. You know that Monsieur Cayrol and my father have just
launched a tremendous undertaking?"
"The 'Credit European'?"
"Yes. They will have offices in all the commercial centres of
European commerce. Would you like the management of one of these
"I, Mademoiselle?" cried Mar6chal, astonished, and already asking
himself what interest Herzog could have in making him leave the house
"The enterprise is colossal," continued Suzanne, "and frightens me
at times. Is it necessary to be so rich? I would like my father to
retire from these enormous speculations into which he has thrown
himself, body and soul. I have simple tastes. My father wishes to
make a tremendous fortune for me, he says. All he undertakes is for
me, I know. It seems to me that he runs a great risk. That is why I
am talking to you. I am very superstitious, and I fancy if you were
with us it would bring us luck."
Suzanne, while speaking, had leaned toward Marechal. Her face
reflected the seriousness of her thoughts. Her lovely eyes implored.
The young man asked himself how this charming girl could belong to
that horrible Herzog.
"Believe me that I am deeply touched, Mademoiselle, by the favor
you have done me," said he, with emotion. "I owe it solely to your
kindness, I know; but I do not belong to myself. I am bound to Madame
Desvarennes by stronger ties than those of interest—those of
"You refuse?" she cried, painfully.
"The position you fill is humble."
"I was very glad to accept it at a time when my daily bread was not
"You have been reduced," said the young girl, with trembling voice,
"Wretchedness. Yes, Mademoiselle, my outset in life was hard. I
am without relations. Mother Marechal, a kind fruiterer of the Rue
Pavee au Marais, found me one morning by the curbstone, rolled in a
number of the Constitutionnel, like an old pair of boots. The good
woman took me home, brought me up and sent me to college. I must tell
you that I was very successful and gained a scholarship. I won all
the prizes. Yes, and I had to sell my gilt-edged books from the Lycee
Charlemagne in the days of distress. I was eighteen when my
benefactress, Mother Marechal, died. I was without help or succor. I
tried to get along by myself. After ten years of struggling and
privations I felt physical and moral vigor giving way. I looked
around me and saw those who overcame obstacles were stronger than I.
I felt that I was doomed not to make way in the world, not being one
of those who could command, so I resigned myself to obey. I fill a
humble position as you know, but one which satisfies my wants. I am
without ambition. A little philosophical, I observe all that goes on
around me. I live happily like Diogenes in his tub."
"You are a wise man," resumed Suzanne. "I, too, am a philosopher,
and I live amid surroundings which do not please me. I,
unfortunately, lost my mother when I was very young, and although my
father is very kind, he has been obliged to neglect me a little. I
see around me people who are millionaires or who aspire to be. I am
doomed to receive the attentions of such men as Le Bride and Du
Tremblay—empty-headed coxcombs, who court my money, and to whom I am
not a woman, but a sack of ducats trimmed with lace."
"These gentlemen are the modern Argonauts. They are in search of
the Golden Fleece," observed Marechal.
"The Argonauts!" cried Suzanne, laughing. "You are right. I
shall never call them anything else."
"Oh, they will not understand you!" said Marechal, gayly. "I
don't think they know much of mythology."
"Well, you see I am not very happy in the bosom of riches,"
continued the young girl. "Do not abandon me. Come and talk with me
sometimes. You will not chatter trivialities. It will be a change
from the others."
And, nodding pleasantly to Marechal, Mademoiselle Herzog joined her
father, who was gleaning details about the house of Desvarennes from
The secretary remained silent for a moment.
"Strange girl!" he murmured. "What a pity she has such a father."
The door of the room in which Monsieur and Mademoiselle Herzog,
Marechal and Savinien were, opened, and Madame Desvarennes entered,
followed by her daughter, Cayrol, Serge and Pierre. The room, at the
extreme end of the villa, was square, surrounded on three sides by a
gallery shut in by glass and stocked with greenhouse plants. Lofty
archways, half veiled with draperies, led to the gallery. This room
had been the favorite one of Countess Woreseff. She had furnished it
in Oriental style, with low seats and large divans, inviting one to
rest and dream during the heat of the day. In the centre of the
apartment was a large ottoman, the middle of which formed a
flower-stand. Steps led down from the gallery to the terrace whence
there was a most charming view of sea and land.
On seeing his aunt enter, Savinien rushed forward and seized both
her hands. Madame Desvarennes's arrival was an element of interest in
his unoccupied life. The dandy guessed at some mysterious business
and thought it possible that he might get to know it. With open ears
and prying eyes, he sought the meaning of the least words.
"If you knew, my dear aunt, how surprised I am to see you here," he
exclaimed in his hypocritical way.
"Not more so than I am to find myself here," said she, with a
smile. "But, bah! I have slipped my traces for a week."
"And what are you going to do here?" continued Savinien.
"What everybody does. By-the-bye, what do they do?" asked Madame
Desvarennes, with vivacity.
"That depends," answered the Prince. "There are two distinct
populations here. On the one hand, those who take care of themselves;
on the other, those who enjoy themselves. For the former there is the
constitutional every morning in the sun, with slow measured steps on
the Promenade des Anglais. For the latter there are excursions,
races, regattas. The first economize their life like misers; the
second waste it like prodigals. Then night comes on, and the air
grows cold. Those who take care of themselves go home, those who
amuse themselves go out. The first put on dressing-gowns; the second
put on ball-dresses. Here, the house is quiet, lit up by a
night-light; there, the rooms sparkle with light, and resound with the
noise of music and dancing. Here they cough, there they laugh.
Infusion on the one hand, punch on the other. In fact, everywhere
and always, a contrast. Nice is at once the saddest and the gayest
town. One dies of over-enjoyment, and one amuses one's self at the
risk of dying."
"A sojourn here is very dangerous, then?"
"Oh! aunt, not so dangerous, nor, above all, so amusing as the
Prince says. We are a set of jolly fellows, who kill time between the
dining- room of the hotel, pigeon-shooting, and the Cercle, which is
not so very amusing after all."
"The dining-room is bearable," said Marechal, "but pigeon-shooting
must in time become—"
"We put some interest into the game."
"Oh! It is very simple: a gentleman with a gun in his hand stands
before the boxes which contain the pigeons. You say to me: 'I bet
fifty louis that the bird will fall.' I answer, 'Done.' The gentleman
calls out, 'Pull;' the box opens, the pigeon flies, the shot follows.
The bird falls or does not fall. I lose or win fifty louis."
"Most interesting!" exclaimed Mademoiselle Herzog.
"Pshaw!" said Savinien with ironical indifference, "it takes the
place of 'trente et quarante,' and is better than 'odd or even' on the
numbers of the cabs which pass."
"And what do the pigeons say to that?" asked Pierre, seriously.
"They are not consulted," said Serge, gayly.
"Then there are races and regattas," continued Savinien.
"In which case you bet on the horses?" interrupted Marechal.
"Or on the boats."
"In fact, betting is applied to all circumstances of life?"
"Exactly; and to crown all, we have the Cercle, where we go in the
evening. Baccarat triumphs there. It is not very varied either: A
hundred louis? Done—Five. I draw. There are some people who draw
at five. Nine, I show up, I win or I lose, and the game continues."
"And that amid the glare of gas and the smoke of tobacco," said
Marechal, "when the nights are so splendid and the orange-trees smell
so sweetly. What a strange existence!"
"An existence for idiots, Marechal," sighed Savinien, "that I, a
man of business, must submit to, through my aunt's domineering ways!
You know now how men of pleasure spend their lives, my friend, and
you might write a substantial resume entitled, 'The Fool's Breviary.'
I am sure it would sell well."
Madame Desvarennes, who had heard the last words, was no longer
listening. She was lost in a deep reverie. She was much altered
since grief and trouble had come upon her; her face was worn, her
temples hollow, her chin was more prominent. Her eyes had sunk into
her head, and were surrounded by dark rims.
Serge, leaning against the wall near the window, was observing her.
He was wondering with secret anxiety what had brought Madame
Desvarennes so suddenly to his house after a separation of two months,
during which time she had scarcely written to Micheline. Was the
question of money to be resumed? Since the morning Madame had been
smiling, calm and pleased like a schoolgirl home for her holidays.
This was the first time she had allowed a sad expression to rest on
her face. Her gayety was feigned then.
A look crossing his made him start. Jeanne had just turned her
eyes toward him. For a second they met his own. Serge could not help
shuddering. Jeanne was calling his attention to Madame Desvarennes;
she, too, was observing her. Was it on their account she had come to
Nice? Had their secret fallen into her hands? He resolved to find
Jeanne had turned away her eyes from him. He could feast his on
her now. She had become more beautiful. The tone of her complexion
had become warmer. Her figure had developed. Serge longed to call
her his own. For a moment his hands trembled; his throat was dry, his
heart seemed to stop beating.
He tried to shake off this attraction, and walked to the centre of
the room. At the same time visitors were announced. Le Bride, with
his inseparable friend, Du Tremblay, escorting Lady Harton, Serge's
beautiful cousin, who had caused Micheline some anxiety on the day of
her marriage, but whom she no longer feared; then the Prince and
Princess Odescalchi, Venetian nobles, followed by Monsieur Clement
Souverain, a young Belgian, starter of the Nice races, a great pigeon
shot, and a mad leader of cotillons.
"Oh, dear me! my lady, all in black?" said Micheline, pointing to
the tight-fitting black satin worn by the English beauty.
"Yes, my dear Princess; mourning," replied Lady Harton, with a
vigorous shake of the hands. "Ball-room mourning—one of my best
partners; gentlemen, you know Harry Tornwall?"
"Countess Alberti's cavalier?" added Serge. "Well?"
"Well! he has just killed himself."
A concert of exclamations arose in the drawing-room, and the
visitors suddenly surrounded her.
"What! did you not know? It was the sole topic of conversation at
Monaco to-day. Poor Tornwall, being completely cleared out, went
during the night to the park belonging to the villa occupied by
Countess Alberti, and blew his brains out under her window."
"How dreadful!" exclaimed Micheline.
"It was very bad taste on your countryman's part," observed Serge.
"The Countess was furious, and said that Tornwall's coming to her
house to kill himself proved clearly to her that he did not know how
"Do you wish to prevent those who are cleared out from blowing out
their brains?" inquired Cayrol. "Compel the pawnbrokers of Monaco to
lend a louis on all pistols."
"Well," retorted young Monsieur Souverain, "when the louis is lost
the players will still be able to hang themselves."
"Yes," concluded Marechal, "then at any rate the rope will bring
luck to others."
"Gentlemen, do you know that what you have been relating to us is
very doleful?" said Suzanne Herzog. "Suppose, to vary our
impressions, you were to ask us to waltz?"
"Yes, on the terrace," said Le Brede, warmly. "A curtain of
orange-trees will protect us from the vulgar gaze."
"Oh! Mademoiselle, what a dream!" sighed Du Tremblay, approaching
Suzanne. "Waltzing with you! By moonlight."
"Yes, friend Pierrot!" sang Suzanne, bursting into a laugh.
Already the piano, vigorously attacked by Pierre, desirous of
making himself useful since he could not be agreeable, was heard in
the next room. Serge had slowly approached Jeanne.
"Will you do me the favor of dancing with me?" he asked, softly.
The young woman started; her cheeks became pale, and in a sharp
tone she answered:
"Why don't you ask your wife?"
"You or nobody."
Jeanne raised her eyes boldly, and looking at him in the face,
"Well, then, nobody!"
And, rising, she took the arm of Cayrol, who was advancing toward
The Prince remained motionless for a moment, following them with
his eyes. Then, seeing his wife alone with Madame Desvarennes, he
went out on the terrace. Already the couples were dancing on the
polished marble. Joyful bursts of laughter rose in the perfumed air
that sweet March night. A deep sorrow came over Serge; an intense
disgust with all things. The sea sparkled, lit up by the moon. He
had a mad longing to seize Jeanne in his arms and carry her far away
from the world, across that immense calm space which seemed made
expressly to rock sweetly eternal loves.
CHAPTER XV. MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
Micheline intended following her husband, but Madame Desvarennes,
without rising, took hold of her hand.
"Stay with me for a little while," she said, tenderly. "We have
scarcely exchanged ten words since my arrival. Come, tell me, are you
pleased to see me?"
"How can you ask me that?" answered Micheline, seating herself on
the sofa beside her mother.
"I ask you so that you may tell me so," resumed Madame Desvarennes,
softly. "I know what you think, but that is not enough." She added
"Kiss me, will you?"
Micheline threw her arms round her mother's neck, saying, "Dear
mamma!" which made tears spring to the tortured mother's eyes. She
folded her- daughter in her arms, and clasped her as a miser holds his
"It is a long time since I have heard you speak thus to me. Two
months! And I have been desolate in that large house you used to fill
alone in the days gone by."
The young wife interrupted her mother, reproachfully:
"Oh! mamma; I beg you to be reasonable."
"To be reasonable? In other words, I suppose you mean that I am to
get accustomed to living without you, after having for twenty years
devoted my life to you? Bear, without complaining, that my happiness
should be taken away, and now that I am old lead a life without aim,
without joy, without trouble even, because I know if you had any
troubles you would not tell me!"
There was a moment's pause. Then Micheline, in a constrained
"What grief s could I have?"
Madame Desvarennes lost all patience, and giving vent to her
feelings exclaimed, bitterly:
"Those which your husband causes you!"
Micheline arose abruptly.
"Mother!" she cried.
But the mistress had commenced, and with unrestrained bitterness,
"That gentleman has behaved toward me in such a manner as to shake
my confidence in him! After vowing that he would never separate you
from me, he brought you here, knowing that I could not leave Paris."
"You are unjust," retorted Micheline. "You know the doctors
ordered me to go to Nice."
"Pooh! You can make doctors order you anything you like!" resumed
her mother, excitedly, and shaking her head disdainfully. "Your
husband said to our good Doctor Rigaud: 'Don't you think that a season
in the South would do my wife good?' The doctor answered: 'If it does
not do her any good it certainly won't do her any harm.' Then your
husband added, 'just take a sheet of paper and write out a
prescription. You understand? It is for my mother-in-law, who will
not be pleased at our going away.'"
And as Micheline seemed to doubt what she was saying, the latter
"The doctor told me when I went to see him about it. I never had
much faith in doctors, and now—"
Micheline felt she was on delicate ground, and wanted to change the
subject. She soothed her mother as in days gone by, saying:
"Come, mamma; will you never be able to get used to your part?
Must you always be jealous? You know all wives leave their mothers
to follow their husbands. It is the law of nature. You, in your day,
remember, followed your husband, and your mother must have wept."
"Did my mother love me as I love you?" asked Madame Desvarennes,
impetuously. "I was brought up differently. We had not time to love
each other so much. We had to work. The happiness of spoiling one's
child is a privilege of the rich. For you there was no down warm
enough or silk soft enough to line your cradle. You have been petted
and worshipped for twenty years. Yet, it only needed a man, whom you
scarcely knew six months ago, to make you forget everything."
"I have not forgotten anything," replied Micheline, moved by these
passionate expressions. "And in my heart you still hold the same
The mistress looked at the young wife, then, in a sad tone, said:
"It is no longer the first place."
This simple, selfish view made Micheline smile.
"It is just like you, you tyrant!" she exclaimed. "You must be
first. Come, be satisfied with equality! Remember that you were first
in the field, and that for twenty years I have loved you, while he has
to make up for lost time. Don't try to make a comparison between my
love for him and my affection for you. Be kind: instead of looking
black at him, try to love him. I should be so happy to see you
united, and to be able, without reservation, to think of you both with
the same tenderness!"
"Ah! how you talk me over. How charming and caressing you can be
when you like. And how happy Serge ought to be with a wife like you!
It is always the way; men like him always get the best wives."
"I don't suppose, mamma, you came all the way from Paris to run
down my husband to me."
Madame Desvarennes became serious again.
"No; I came to defend you."
Micheline looked surprised.
"It is time for me to speak. You are seriously menaced," continued
"In my love?" asked the young wife, in an altered tone.
"No; in your fortune."
Micheline smiled superbly.
"If that be all!"
This indifference made her mother positively jump.
"You speak very coolly about it! At the rate your husband is
spending, there will be nothing left of your dowry in six months."
"Well!" said the Princess, gayly, "you will give us another."
Madame Desvarennes assumed her cold businesslike manner.
"Ta! ta! ta! Do you think there is no limit to my resources? I
gave you four millions when you were married, represented by fifteen
hundred thousand francs, in good stock, a house in the Rue de Rivoli,
and eight hundred thousand francs which I prudently kept in the
business, and for which I pay you interest. The fifteen hundred
thousand francs have vanished. My lawyer came to tell me that the
house in the Rue de Rivoli had been sold without a reinvestment taking
The mistress stopped. She had spoken in that frank, determined,
way of hers that was part of her strength. She looked fixedly at
Micheline, and asked:
"Did you know this, my girl?"
The Princess, deeply troubled, because now it was not a question of
sentiment, but of serious moment, answered, in a low tone:
"How is that possible?" Madame Desvarennes demanded, hotly.
"Nothing can be done without your signature."
"I gave it," murmured Micheline.
"You gave it!" repeated the mistress in a tone of anger. "When?"
"The day after my marriage."
"Your husband had the impudence to ask for it the day after your
"He did not ask for it, mamma," she replied, with sweetness; "I
offered it to him. You had settled all on me."
"Prudently! With a fellow like your husband!"
"Your mistrust must have been humiliating to him. I was ashamed of
it. I said nothing to you, because I knew you would rather prevent the
marriage, and I loved Serge. I, therefore, signed the contract which
you had had prepared. Only the next day I gave a general power of
attorney to my husband."
Madame Desvarennes's anger was over. She was observing Micheline,
and wished to find out the depth of the abyss into which her daughter
had thrown herself with blind confidence.
"And what did he say then?" she inquired.
"Nothing," answered Micheline, simply. "Tears came to his eyes,
and he kissed me. I saw that this delicacy touched his heart and I
was happy. There, mamma," she added with eyes sparkling at the
remembrance of the pleasure she had experienced, "he may spend as much
as he likes; I am amply repaid beforehand."
Madame Desvarennes shrugged her shoulders, and said:
"My dear child, you are mad enough to be locked up. What is there
about the fellow to turn every woman's brain?"
"Every woman's?" exclaimed Micheline, anxiously, looking at her
"That is a manner of speaking. But, my dear, you must understand
that I cannot be satisfied with what you have just told me. A tear
and a kiss! Bah! That is not worth your dowry."
"Come, mamma, do let me be happy."
"You can be happy without committing follies. You do not need a
"Oh, he has chosen such pretty colors," interrupted Micheline, with
a smile. "Pearl-gray and silver, and pink cap. It is charming!"
"You think so? Well, you are not difficult to please. And the
club? What do you say to his gambling?"
Micheline turned pale, and with a constraint which hurt her mother,
"Is it necessary to make a fuss about a few games at bouillotte?"
This continual defense of Serge exasperated Madame Desvarennes.
"Don't talk to me," she continued, violently. "I am well informed
on that subject. He leaves you alone every evening to go and play
with gentlemen who turn up the king with a dexterity the Legitimists
must envy. My dear, shall I tell you his fortune? He commenced with
cards; he continues with horses; he will finish with worthless women!"
"Mamma!" cried Micheline, wounded to the heart.
"And your money will pay the piper! But, happily, I am here to put
your household matters right. I am going to keep your gentleman so
well under that in future he will walk straight, I'll warrant you!"
Micheline rose and stood before her mother, looking so pale that
the latter was frightened.
"Mother," she said, in trembling tones, "if ever you say one word
to my husband, take care! I shall never see you again!"
Madame Desvarennes flinched before her daughter. It was no longer
the weak Micheline who trusted to her tears, but a vehement woman
ready to defend him whom she loved. And as she remained silent, not
daring to speak again:
"Mother," continued Micheline, with sadness, yet firmly, "this
explanation was inevitable; I have suffered beforehand, knowing that I
should have to choose between my affection for my husband and my
respect for you."
"Between the one and the other," said the mistress, bitterly, "you
don't hesitate, I see."
"It is my duty; and if I failed in it, you yourself, with your good
sense, would see it."
"Oh! Micheline, could I have expected to find you thus?" cried
the mother, in despair. "What a change! It is not you who are
speaking; it is not my daughter. Fool that you are! Don't you see
whither you are being led? You, yourself, are preparing your own
misfortune. Don't think that my words are inspired by jealousy. A
higher sentiment dictates them, and at this moment my maternal love
gives me, I fear, a foresight of the future. There is only just time
to rescue you from the danger into which you are running. You hope to
retain your husband by your generosity? There where you think you are
giving proofs of love he will only see proofs of weakness. If you
make yourself cheap he will count you as nothing. If you throw
yourself at his feet he will trample on you."
The Princess shook her head haughtily, and smiled.
"You don't know him, mamma. He is a gentleman; he understands all
these delicacies, and there is more to be gained by submitting one's
self to his discretion, than by trying to resist his will. You blame
his manner of existence, but you don't understand him. I know him.
He belongs to a different race than you and I. He needs refinements
of luxury which would be useless to us, but the deprivation of which
would be hard to him. He suffered much when he was poor, he is making
up for it now. We are guilty of some extravagances, 'tis true; but
what does it matter? For whom have you made a fortune? For me! For
what object? My happiness! Well, I am happy to surround my Prince
with the glory and pomp which suits him so well. He is grateful to
me; he loves me, and I hold his love dearer than all else in the
world; for if ever he ceases to love me I shall die!"
"Micheline!" cried Madame Desvarennes, beside herself, and seizing
her daughter with nervous strength.
The young wife quietly allowed her fair head to fall on her
mother's shoulder, and whispered faintly in her ear:
"You don't want to wreck my life. I understand your displeasure.
It is natural; I feel it. You cannot think otherwise than you do,
being a simple, hardworking woman; but I beg of you to banish all
hatred, and confine these ideas within yourself. Say nothing more
about them for love of me!"
The mother was vanquished. She had never been able to resist that
"Ah! cruel child," she moaned, "what pain you are causing me!"
"You consent, don't you, dear mother?" murmured Micheline, falling
into the arms of her by whom she knew she was adored.
"I will do as you wish," said Madame Desvarennes, kissing her
daughter's hair—that golden hair which, in former days, she loved to
The strains of the piano sounded on the terrace. In the shade,
groups of merry dancers were enjoying themselves. Happy voices were
heard approaching, and Savinien, followed by Marechal and Suzanne,
came briskly up the steps.
"Oh, aunt, it is not fair," said the dandy. "If you have come here
to monopolize Micheline, you will be sent back to Paris. We want a
vis-a -vis for a quadrille. Come, Princess, it is delightfully cool
outside, and I am sure you will enjoy it."
"Monsieur Le Brede has gathered some oranges, and is trying to play
at cup and ball with them on his nose, while his friend, Monsieur du
Tremblay, jealous of his success, talks of illuminating the trees with
bowls of punch," said Marechal.
"And what is Serge doing?" inquired Micheline, smiling.
"He is talking to my wife on the terrace," said Cayrol, appearing
in the gallery.
The young people went off and were lost in the darkness. Madame
Desvarennes looked at Cayrol. He was happy and calm. There was no
trace of his former jealousy. During the six months which had elapsed
since his marriage, the banker had observed his wife closely, her
actions, her words: nothing had escaped him. He had never found her
at fault. Thus, reassured, he had given her his confidence and this
time forever. Jeanne was adorable; he loved her more than ever. She
seemed very much changed to him. Her disposition, formerly somewhat
harsh, had softened, and the haughty, capricious girl had become a
mild, demure, and somewhat serious woman. Unable to read his
companion's thoughts, Cayrol sincerely believed that he had been
unnecessarily anxious, and that Jeanne's troubles had only been
passing fancies. He took credit of the change in his wife to himself,
and was proud of it.
"Cayrol, oblige me by removing that lamp; it hurts my eyes," said
Madame Desvarennes, anxious that the traces on her face, caused by her
late discussion with her daughter, should not be visible. "Then ask
Jeanne to come here for a few minutes. I have something to say to
"Certainly," said Cayrol, taking the lamp off the table and
carrying it into the adjoining room.
Darkness did Madame Desvarennes good. It refreshed her mind and
calmed her brow. The noise of dancing reached her. She commenced
thinking. So it had vainly tried to prove to her that a life of
immoderate pleasure was not conducive to happiness. The young wife
had stopped her ears so that she might not hear, and closed her eyes
that she might not see. Her mother asked herself if she did not
exaggerate the evil. Alas! no. She saw that she was not mistaken.
Examining the society around her, men and women: everywhere was
feverish excitement, dissipation, and nullity. You might rummage
through their brains without finding one practical idea; in all their
hearts, there was not one lofty aspiration. These people, in their
daily life were like squirrels in a cage, and because they moved, they
thought they were progressing. In them scepticism had killed belief;
religion, family, country, were, as they phrased it, all humbug. They
had only one aim, one passion—to enjoy themselves. Their watchword
was "pleasure." All those who did not perish of consumption would die
in lunatic asylums.
What was she doing in the midst of this rottenness? She, the woman
of business? Could she hope to regenerate these poor wretches by her
example? No! She could not teach them to be good, and they excelled
in teaching others harm. She must leave this gilded vice, taking with
her those she loved, and leave the idle and incompetent to consume and
She felt disgusted, and resolved to do all to tear Micheline away
from the contagion. In the meantime she must question Jeanne. A
shadow appeared on the threshold: it was hers. In the darkness of the
gallery Serge crept behind her without being seen. He had been
watching Jeanne, and seeing her go away alone, had followed her. In
the angle of the large bay-window, opening into the garden, he waited
with palpitating heart. Madame Desvarennes's voice was heard in the
silence of the drawing-room; he listened.
"Sit down, Jeanne; our interview will be short, and it could not be
delayed, for to-morrow I shall not be here."
"You are leaving so soon?"
"Yes; I only left Paris on my daughter's account, and on yours. My
daughter knows what I had to tell her; now it is your turn! Why did
you come to Nice?"
"I could not do otherwise."
"Because my husband wished it."
"You ought to have made him wish something else. Your power over
him is absolute."
There was a moment's pause. Then Jeanne answered:
"I feared to insist lest I should awaken his suspicions."
"Good! But admitting that you came to Nice, why accept hospitality
in this house?"
"Micheline offered it to us," said Jeanne.
"And even that did not make you refuse. What part do you purpose
playing here? After six months of honesty, are you going to change
Serge, behind his shelter, shuddered. Madame Desvarennes's words
were clear. She knew all.
Jeanne's voice was indignant when she replied:
"By what right do you insult me by such a suspicion?"
"By the right which you have given me in not keeping to your
bargain. You ought to have kept out of the way, and I find you here,
seeking danger and already trying those flirtations which are the
forerunners of sin, and familiarizing yourself with evil before wholly
giving yourself up to it."
"Madame!" cried Jeanne, passionately.
"Answer! Have you kept the promise you made me?"
"Have the hopes which you held out to me been realized?" replied
Jeanne, with despair. "For six months I have been away, and have I
found peace of mind and heart? The duty which you pointed out to me
as a remedy for the pain which tortured me I have fruitlessly
followed. I have wept, hoping that the trouble within me would be
washed away with my tears. I have prayed to Heaven, and asked that I
might love my husband. But, no! That man is as odious to me as ever.
Now I have lost all my illusions, and find myself joined to him for
the rest of my days! I have to tell lies, to wear a mask, to smile!
It is revolting, and I suffer! Now that you know what is passing
within me, judge, and say whether your reproaches are not a useless
On hearing Jeanne, Madame Desvarennes felt herself moved with deep
pity. She asked herself whether it was not unjust for that poor child
to suffer so much. She had never done anything wrong, and her conduct
was worthy of esteem.
"Unhappy woman!" she said.
"Yes, unhappy, indeed," resumed Jeanne, "because I have nothing to
cling to, nothing to sustain me. My mind is afflicted with feverish
thoughts, my heart made desolate with bitter regrets. My will alone
protects me, and in a moment of weakness it may betray me."
"You still love him?" asked Madame Desvarennes, in a deep voice
which made Serge quiver.
"Do I know? There are times when I think I hate him. What I have
endured since I have been here is incredible! Everything galls me,
irritates me. My husband is blind, Micheline unsuspicious, and Serge
smiles quietly, as if he were preparing some treachery. Jealousy,
anger, contempt, are all conflicting within me. I feel that I ought
to go away, and still I feel a, horrible delight in remaining."
"Poor child!" said Madame Desvarennes. "I pity you from my soul.
Forgive my unjust words; you have done all in your power. You have
had momentary weaknesses like all human beings. You must be helped,
and may rely on me. I will speak to your husband to-morrow; he shall
take you away. Lacking happiness, you must have peace. Go you are a
brave heart, and if Heaven be just, you will be rewarded."
Serge heard the sound of a kiss. In an embrace, the mother had
blessed her adopted daughter. Then the Prince saw Madame Desvarennes
go slowly past him. And the silence was broken only by the sobs of
Jeanne who was half lying on the sofa in the darkness.
CHAPTER XVI. THE TELLTALE KISS
Serge slipped from his hiding-place and came toward Jeanne. The
carpet deadened the sound of his steps. The young woman was gazing
into vacancy and breathing with difficulty. He looked at her for a
moment without speaking; then, leaning over her shoulder.
"Is it true, Jeanne," he murmured, softly, "that you hate me?"
Jeanne arose, bewildered, exclaiming,
"Yes, Serge," answered the Prince, "who has never ceased to love
A deep blush spread over the young woman's face.
"Leave me," she said. "Your language is unworthy of a man. I will
not listen to you."
And with a quick step she walked toward the gallery. Serge threw
himself in her way, saying:
"You must stop; you cannot escape me."
"But this is madness," exclaimed Jeanne, moving away. "Do you
forget where we are?"
"Do you forget what you have just been saying?" retorted Serge.
"I was there; I did not miss a word."
"If you heard me," said Jeanne, "you know that everything separates
us. My duty, yours, and my will."
"A will which is enforced, and against which your heart rebels. A
will to which I will not submit."
As he spoke, Serge advanced toward her, trying to seize her in his
"Take care!" replied Jeanne. "Micheline and my husband are there.
You must be mad to forget it. If you come a step farther I shall
"Call, then!" cried Serge, clasping her in his arms.
Jeanne tried to free herself from him, but could not.
"Serge," she said, paling with mingled anguish and rapture in the
arms of him whom she adored, "what you are doing is cowardly and
A kiss stopped the words on her lips. Jeanne felt herself giving
way. She made a supreme effort.
"I won't, Serge!" she stammered. "Have mercy!"
Tears of shame rolled down her face.
"No! you belong to me. The other, your husband, stole you from
me. I take you back. I love you!"
The young woman fell on a seat.
"I love you! I love you! I love you!"
A fearful longing took possession of Jeanne. She no longer pushed
away the arms which clasped her. She placed her hands on Serge's
shoulder, and with a deep sigh gave herself up.
A profound silence reigned around. Suddenly a sound of approaching
voices roused them, and at the same moment the heavy curtain which
separated the room from the adjoining drawing-room was lifted. A
shadow appeared on the threshold, as they were still in each other's
arms. The stifled exclamation, "O God!" followed by a sob of agony,
resounded. The door curtain fell, surrounding with its folds the
unknown witness of that terrible scene.
Jeanne had risen, trying to collect her ideas. A sudden light
dawned on her mind; she realized in a moment the extent of her crime,
and uttering a cry of horror and despair, she escaped, followed by
Serge, through the gallery.
Then the heavy curtain was lifted again, and tottering, livid,
almost dead, Micheline entered the room. Pierre, serious and cold,
walked behind her. The Princess, feeling tired, had come into the
house. Chance had led her there to witness this proof of misfortune
Both she and Delarue looked at each other, silent and overwhelmed.
Their thoughts whirled through their brains with fearful rapidity.
In a moment they looked back on their existence. He saw the pale
betrothed of whom he had dreamed as a wife, who had willingly given
herself to another, and who now found herself so cruelly punished.
She measured the distance which separated these two men: the one
good, loyal, generous; the other selfish, base, and unworthy. And
seeing him whom she adored, so vile and base compared to him whom she
had disdained, Micheline burst into bitter tears.
Pierre tremblingly hastened toward her. The Princess made a
movement to check him, but she saw on the face of her childhood's
friend such sincere grief and honest indignation, that she felt as
safe, with him as if he had really been her brother. Overcome, she
let her head fall on his shoulder, and wept.
The sound of approaching footsteps made Micheline arise. She
recognized her husband's step, and hastily seizing Pierre's hand,
"Never breathe a word; forget what you have seen."
Then, with deep grief, she added:
"If Serge knew that I had seen him unawares he would never forgive
Drying her tears, and still tottering from the shock, she left the
room. Pierre remained alone, quite stunned; pitying, yet blaming the
poor woman, who, in her outraged love, still had the absurd courage to
hold her tongue and to resign herself. Anger seized on him, and the
more timid Micheline seemed herself, the more violent and passionate
Serge came back to the room. After the first moment of excitement,
he had reflected, and wanted to know by whom he had been observed.
Was it Madame Desvarennes, Micheline, or Cayrol, who had come in? At
this idea he trembled, measuring the possible results of the
imprudence he had been guilty of. He resolved to face the difficulty
if it were either of these three interested parties, and to impose
silence if he had to deal with an indifferent person. He took the
lamp which Madame Desvarennes had a short time before asked Cayrol to
remove and went into the room. Pierre was there alone.
The two men measured each other with their looks. Delarue guessed
the anxiety of Serge, and the Prince understood the hostility of
Pierre. He turned pale.
"It was you who came in?" he asked, boldly.
"Yes," replied Pierre, with severity.
The Prince hesitated for a second. He was evidently seeking a
polite form to express his request. He did not find one, and in a
threatening manner, he resumed:
"You must hold your tongue, otherwise—"
"Otherwise?" inquired Pierce, aggressively.
"What is the use of threats?" replied Serge, already calmed.
"Excuse me; I know that you will not tell; if not for my sake at
least for that of others."
"Yes, for others," said Pierre, passionately; "for others whom you
have basely sacrificed, and who deserve all your respect and love; for
Madame Desvarennes, whose high intelligence you have not been able to
understand; for Micheline, whose tender heart you have not been able
to appreciate. Yes, for their sakes I will hold my peace, not out of
regard for you, because you neither deserve consideration nor esteem."
The Prince advanced a step, and exclaimed:
Pierre did not move, and looking Serge in the face, continued:
"The truth is unpleasant to you, still you must hear it. You act
according to your fancies. Principles and morals, to which all men
submit, are dead letters to you. Your own pleasure above all things,
and always! That is your rule, eh? and so much the worse if ruin and
trouble to others are the consequences? You only have to deal with
two women, and you profit by it. But I warn you that if you continue
to crush them I will be their defender."
Serge had listened to all this with disdainful impassibility, and
when Pierre had finished, he smiled, snapped his fingers, and turning
toward the young man:
"My dear fellow," said he, "allow me to tell you that I think you
are very impertinent. You come here meddling with my affairs. What
authority have you? Are you a relative? A connection? By what right
do you preach this sermon?"
As he concluded, Serge seated himself and laughed with a careless
Pierre answered, gravely:
"I was betrothed to Micheline when she saw and loved you: that is
my right! I could have married her, but sacrificed my love to hers:
that is my authority! And it is in the name of my shattered hopes and
lost happiness that I call you to account for her future peace."
Serge had risen, he was deeply embittered at what Delarue had just
told him, and was trying to recover his calmness. Pierre, trembling
with emotion and anger, was also striving to check their influence.
"It seems to me," said the Prince, mockingly, "that in your claim
there is more than the outcry of an irritated conscience; it is the
complaint of a heart that still loves."
"And if that were so?" retorted Pierre. "Yes, I love her, but
with a pious love, from the depth of my soul, as one would love a
saint; and I only suffer the more to see her suffering."
Somewhat irritated the Prince exclaimed, impatiently:
"Oh, don't let us have a lyric recitation; let us be brief and
clear. What do you want? Explain yourself. I don't suppose that you
have addressed this rebuke to me solely for the purpose of telling me
that you are in love with my wife!"
Pierre disregarded what was insulting in the Prince's answer, and
calming himself, by force of will, replied:
"I desire, since you ask me, that you forget the folly and error of
a moment, and that you swear to me on your honor never to see Madame
Pierre's moderation wounded the Prince more than his rage had
affected him. He felt petty beside this devoted friend, who only
thought of the happiness of her whom he loved without hope. His
"And what if I refuse to lend myself to those whims which you
express so candidly?"
"Then," said Pierre, resolutely, "I shall remember that, when
renouncing Micheline, I promised to be a brother to her, and if you
compel me I will defend her."
"You are threatening me, I think," cried Serge, beside himself.
"No! I warn you."
"Enough," said the Prince, scarcely able to command himself. "For
any little service you have rendered me, from henceforth we are quits.
Don't think that I am one of those who yield to violence. Keep out
of my path; it will be prudent."
"Listen, then, to this. I am not one of those who shirk a duty,
whatever the peril be in accomplishing it. You know what price I put
on Micheline's happiness; you are responsible for it, and I shall
oblige you to respect it."
And leaving Serge dumb with suppressed rage, Pierre went out on the
On the high road the sound of the carriages bearing away Savinien,
Herzog and his daughter, resounded in the calm starry night. In the
villa everything was quiet. Pierre breathed with delight; he
instinctively turned his eyes toward the brilliant sky, and in the
far-off firmament, the star which he appropriated to himself long ago,
and which he had so desperately looked for when he was unhappy,
suddenly appeared bright and twinkling. He sighed and moved on.
The Prince spent a part of the night at the club; he was
excessively nervous, and after alternate losses and gains, he retired,
carrying off a goodly sum from his opponents. It was a long time
since he had been so lucky, and on his way home he smiled when he
thought how false was the proverb, "Lucky at play, unlucky in love."
He thought of that adorable Jeanne whom he had held in his arms a few
hours before, and who had so eagerly clung to him. He understood that
she had never ceased to belong to him. The image of Cayrol,
self-confident man, happy in his love, coming to his mind, caused
Serge to laugh.
There was no thought for Micheline; she had been the stepping-stone
to fortune for him; he knew that she was gentle and thought her not
very discerning. He could easily deceive her; with a few caresses and
a little consideration he could maintain the illusion of his love for
her. Madame Desvarennes alone inconvenienced him in his arrangements.
She was sagacious, and on several occasions he had seen her unveil
plots which he thought were well contrived. He must really beware of
her. He had often noticed in her voice and look an alarming hardness.
She was not a woman to be afraid of a scandal. On the contrary, she
would hail it with joy, and be happy to get rid of him whom she hated
with all her might.
In spite of himself, Serge remembered the night of his union to
Micheline, when he had said to Madame Desvarennes: "Take my life; it
is yours!" She had replied seriously, and almost threateningly: "Very
well; I accept it!" These words now resounded in his ears like a
verdict. He promised himself to play a sure game with Madame
Desvarennes. As to Cayrol, he was out of the question; he had only
been created as a plaything for princes such as Serge; his destiny was
written on his forehead, and he could not escape. If it had not been
Panine, some one else would have done the same thing for him.
Besides, how could that ex-cowherd expect to keep such a woman as
Jeanne was to himself. It would have been manifestly unfair.
The Prince found his valet asleep in the hall. He went quickly to
his bedroom, and slept soundly without remorse, without dreams, until
noon. Coming down to breakfast, he found the family assembled.
Savinien had come to see his aunt, before whom he wanted to place a
"colossal idea." This time, he said, it was worth a fortune. He hoped
to draw six thousand francs from the mistress who, according to her
usual custom, could not fail to buy from him what he called his idea.
The dandy was thoughtful; he was preparing his batteries.
Micheline, pale, and her eyes red for want of rest, was seated near
the gallery, silently watching the sea, on which were passing, in the
distance, fishing-smacks with their sails looking like white-winged
birds. Madame Desvarennes was serious, and was giving Marechal
instructions respecting her correspondence, while at the same time
watching her daughter out of the corner of her eye. Micheline's
depressed manner caused her some anxiety; she guessed some mystery.
Still the young wife's trouble might be the result of last evening's
serious interview. But the sagacity of the mistress guessed a new
incident. Perhaps some scene between Serge and Micheline in regard to
the club. She was on the watch.
Cayrol and Jeanne had gone for a drive to Mentone. With a single
glance the Prince took in the attitude of one and all, and after a
polite exchange of words and a careless kiss on Micheline's brow, he
seated himself at table. The repast was silent. Each one seemed
preoccupied. Serge anxiously asked himself whether Pierre had spoken.
Marechal, deeply interested in his plate, answered briefly, when
addressed by Madame Desvarennes. All the guests seemed constrained.
It was a relief when they rose from the table.
Micheline took her husband's arm and leading him into the garden,
under the shade of the magnolias, said to him:
"My mother leaves us to-night. She has received a letter recalling
her to Paris. Her journey here was, you no doubt know, on our
account. Our absence made her sad, and she could no longer refrain
from seeing me, so she came. On her return to Paris she will feel
very lonely, and as I am so often alone—"
"Micheline!" interrupted Serge, with astonishment.
"It is not a reproach, dear," continued the young wife, sweetly.
"You have your engagements. There are necessities to which one must
submit; you do what you think is expected of you, and it must be
right. Only grant me a favor."
"A favor? To you?" replied Serge, troubled at the unexpected turn
the interview was taking. "Speak, dear one; are you not at liberty to
do as you like?"
"Well," said Micheline, with a faint smile, "as you are so kindly
disposed, promise that we shall leave for Paris this week. The season
is far advancing. All your friends will have returned. It will not
be such a great sacrifice which I ask from you."
"Willingly," said Serge, surprised at Micheline's sudden
resolution. "But, admit," added he, gravely, "that your mother has
worried you a little on the subject."
"My mother knows nothing of my project," returned the Princess,
coldly. "I did not care to say anything about it to her until I had
your consent. A refusal on your part would have seemed too cruel.
Already, you are not the best of friends, and it is one of my
regrets. You must be good to my mother, Serge; she is getting old,
and we owe her much gratitude and love."
Panine remained silent. Could such a sudden change have come over
Micheline in one day? She who lately sacrificed her mother for her
husband now came and pleaded in favor of Madame Desvarennes. What had
He promptly decided on his course of action.
"All that you ask me shall be religiously fulfilled. No concession
will be too difficult for me to make if it please you. You wish to
return to Paris, we will go as soon as our arrangements have been
made. Tell Madame Desvarennes, then, and let her see in our going a
proof that I wish to live on good terms with her."
Micheline simply said: "Thank you." And Serge having gallantly
kissed her hand, she regained the terrace.
Left alone, Serge asked himself the meaning of the transformation
in his wife. For the first time she had shown signs of taking the
initiative. Had the question of money been raised by Madame
Desvarennes, and was Micheline taking him back to Paris in the hope of
inducing a change in his habits? They would see. The idea that
Micheline had seen him with Jeanne never occurred to him. He did not
think his wife capable of so much self-control. Loving as she was,
she could not have controlled her feelings, and would have made a
disturbance. Therefore he had no suspicions.
As to their leaving for Paris he was delighted at the idea. Jeanne
and Cayrol were leaving Nice at the end of the week. Lost in the
vastness of the capital, the lovers would be more secure. They could
see each other at leisure. Serge would hire a small house in the
neighborhood of the Bois de Boulogne, and there they could enjoy each
other's society without observation.
CHAPTER XVII. CAYROL IS BLIND
Micheline, on her return to Paris, was a cause of anxiety to all
her friends. Morally and physically she was changed. Her former
gayety had disappeared. In a few weeks she became thin and seemed to
be wasting away. Madame Desvarennes, deeply troubled, questioned her
daughter, who answered, evasively, that she was perfectly well and had
nothing to trouble her. The mother called in Doctor Rigaud, although
she did not believe in the profession, and, after a long conference,
took him to see Micheline. The doctor examined her, and declared it
was nothing but debility. Madame Desvarennes was assailed with gloomy
forebodings. She spent sleepless nights, during which she thought her
daughter was dead; she heard the funeral dirges around her coffin.
This strong woman wept, not daring to show her anxiety, and trembling
lest Micheline should suspect her fears.
Serge was careless and happy, treating the apprehensions of those
surrounding him with perfect indifference. He did not think his wife
was ill—a little tired perhaps, or it might be change of climate,
nothing serious. He had quite fallen into his old ways, spending
every night at the club, and a part of the day in a little house in
the Avenue Maillot, near the Bois de Boulogne. He had found one
charmingly furnished, and there he sheltered his guilty happiness.
It was here that Jeanne came, thickly veiled, since her return from
Nice. They each had a latchkey belonging to the door opening upon the
Bois. The one who arrived first waited for the other, within the
house, whose shutters remained closed to deceive passers-by. Then the
hour of departure came; the hope of meeting again did not lessen their
sadness at parting.
Jeanne seldom went to the Rue Saint-Dominique. The welcome that
Micheline gave her was the same as usual, but Jeanne thought she
discovered a coldness which made her feel uncomfortable; and she did
not care to meet her lover's wife, so she made her visits scarce.
Cayrol came every morning to talk on business matters with Madame
Desvarennes. He had resumed the direction of his banking
establishment. The great scheme of the European Credit Company had
been launched by Herzog, and promised great results. Still Herzog
caused Cayrol considerable anxiety. Although a man of remarkable
intelligence, he had a great failing, and by trying to grasp too much
often ended by accomplishing nothing. Scarcely was one scheme
launched when another idea occurred to him, to which he sacrificed the
Thus, Herzog was projecting a still grander scheme to be based on
the European Credit. Cayrol, less sanguine, and more practical, was
afraid of the new scheme, and when Herzog spoke to him about it, said
that things were well enough for him as they were, and that he would
not be implicated in any fresh financial venture however promising.
Cayrol's refusal had vexed Herzog. The German knew what opinion he
was held in by the public, and that without the prestige of Cayrol's
name, and behind that, the house of Desvarennes, he would never have
been able to float the European Credit as it had been. He was too
cunning not to know this, and Cayrol having declined to join him, he
looked round in search of a suitable person to inspire the
shareholders with confidence.
His daughter often went to the Rue Saint-Dominique. Madame
Desvarennes and Micheline had taken a fancy to her, as she was
serious, natural, and homelike. They liked to see her, although her
father was not congenial to their taste. Herzog had not succeeded in
making friends with the mistress; she disliked and instinctively
One day it was rumored that Suzanne Herzog had gone in for an
examination at the Hotel de Ville, and had gained a certificate:
People thought it was very ridiculous. What was the good of so much
learning for a girl who would have such a large fortune, and who would
never know want. Savinien thought it was affectation and most
laughable! Madame Desvarennes thought it was most interesting; she
liked workers, and considered that the richer people were, the more
reason they had to work. Herzog had allowed his daughter to please
herself and said nothing.
Springtime had come, and fine weather, yet Micheline's health did
not improve. She did not suffer, but a sort of languor had come over
her. For days she never quitted her reclining-chair. She was very
affectionate toward her mother, and seemed to be making up for the
lack of affection shown during the first months of her marriage.
She never questioned Serge as to his manner of spending his time,
though she seldom saw him, except at meal hours. Every week she wrote
to Pierre, who was buried in his mines, and after every despatch her
mother noticed that she seemed sadder and paler.
Serge and Jeanne grew bolder. They felt that they were not
watched. The little house seemed too small for them, and they longed
to go beyond the garden, as the air of the Bois was so sweet and
scented with violets. A feeling of bravado came over them, and they
did not mind being seen together. People would think they were a
One afternoon they sallied forth, Jeanne wearing a thick veil, and
trembling at the risk she was running, yet secretly delighted at
going. They chose the most unfrequented paths and solitary nooks.
Then, after an hour's stroll, they returned briskly, frightened at
the sounds of carriages rolling in the distance. They often went out
after that, and chose in preference the paths near the pond of Madrid
where, behind sheltering shrubs, they sat talking and listening to the
busy hum of Parisian life, seemingly so far away.
One day, about four o'clock, Madame Desvarennes was going to
Saint-Cloud on business, and was crossing the Bois de Boulogne. Her
coachman had chosen the most unfrequented paths to save time. She had
opened the carriage-window, and was enjoying the lovely scent from the
shrubs. Suddenly a watering-cart stopped the way. Madame Desvarennes
looked through the window to see what was the matter, and remained
stupefied. At the turning of a path she espied Serge, with a woman on
his arm. She uttered a cry that caused the couple to turn round.
Seeing that pale face, they sought to hide themselves.
In a moment Madame Desvarennes was out of the carriage. The guilty
couple fled down a path. Without caring what might be said of her,
and goaded on by a fearful rage, she tried to follow them. She
especially wished to see the woman who was closely veiled. She guessed
her to be Jeanne. But the younger woman, terrified, fled like a deer
down a side walk. Madame Desvarennes, quite out of breath, was
obliged to stop. She heard the slamming of a carriage-door, and a
hired brougham that had been waiting at the end of the path swept by
her bearing the lovers toward the town.
The mistress hesitated a moment, then said to her coachman:
"Drive home." And, abandoning her business, she arrived in the Rue
Saint-Dominique a few minutes after the Prince.
With a bound, without going through the offices, without even
taking off her bonnet and cloak, she went up to Serge's apartments.
Without hesitating, she entered the smoking-room.
Panine was there. Evidently he was expecting her. On seeing
Madame Desvarennes he rose, with a smile:
"One can see that you are at home," said he, ironically; "you come
in without knocking."
"No nonsense; the moment is ill-chosen," briefly retorted the
mistress. "Why did you run away when you saw me a little while ago?"
"You have such a singular way of accosting people," he answered,
lightly. "You come on like a charge of cavalry. The person with whom
I was talking was frightened, she ran away and I followed her."
"She was doing wrong then if she was frightened. Does she know
"Who does not know you? You are almost notorious—in the
Madame Desvarennes allowed the insult to pass without remark, and
advancing toward Serge, said:
"Who is this woman?"
"Shall I introduce her to you?" inquired the Prince, quietly.
"She is one of my countrywomen, a Polish—"
"You are a liar!" cried Madame Desvarennes, unable to control her
temper any longer. "You are lying most impudently!"
And she was going to add, "That woman was Jeanne!" but prudence
checked the sentence on her lips.
Serge turned pale.
"You forget yourself strangely, Madame," he said, in a dry tone.
"I forgot myself a year ago, not now! It was when I was weak that
I forgot myself. When Micheline was between you and me I neither
dared to speak nor act.
But now, since after almost ruining my poor daughter, you deceive
her, I have no longer any consideration for you. To make her come
over to my side I have only to speak one word."
"Well, speak it! She is there. I will call her!"
Madame Desvarennes, in that supreme moment, was assailed by a
doubt. What if Micheline, in her blind love, did not believe her?
She raised her hand to stop Serge.
"Will not the fear of killing my daughter by this revelation stay
you?" asked she, bitterly. "What manner of man are you to have so
little heart and conscience?"
Panine burst into laughter.
"You see what your threats are worth, and what value I place on
them. Spare them in the future. You ask me what manner of man I am?
I will tell you. I have not much patience, I hate to have my liberty
interfered with, and I have a horror of family jars. I expect to be
master of my own house."
Madame Desvarennes was roused at these words. Her rage had abated
on her daughter's account, but now it rose to a higher pitch.
"Ah! so this is it, is it?" she said. "You would like perfect
liberty, I see! You make such very good use of it. You don't like to
hear remarks upon it. It is more convenient, in fact! You wish to be
master in your own house? In your own house! But, in truth, what are
you here to put on airs toward me? Scarcely more than a servant. A
husband receiving wages from me!"
Serge, with flashing eyes, made a terrible movement. He tried to
speak, but his lips trembled, and he could not utter a sound. By a
sign he showed Madame Desvarennes the door. The latter looked
resolutely at the Prince, and with energy which nothing could
henceforth soften, added:
"You will have to deal with me in future! Good-day!"
And, leaving the room with as much calmness as she felt rage when
entering it, she went down to the countinghouse.
Cayrol was sitting chatting with Marechal in his room. He was
telling him that Herzog's rashness caused him much anxiety. Marechal
did not encourage his confidence. The secretary's opinion on the want
of morality on the part of the financier had strengthened. The good
feeling he entertained toward the daughter had not counterbalanced the
bad impression he had of the father, and he warmly advised Cayrol to
break off all financial connection with such a man. Cayrol, indeed,
had now very little to do with the European Credit. The office was
still at his banking house, and the payments for shares were still
made into his bank, but as soon as the new scheme which Herzog was
preparing was launched, the financier intended settling in splendid
offices which were being rapidly completed in the neighborhood of the
Opera. Herzog might therefore commit all the follies which entered
his head. Cayrol would be out of it.
Madame Desvarennes entered. At the first glance, the men noticed
the traces of the emotion she had just experienced. They rose and
waited in silence. When the mistress was in a bad humor everybody
gave way to her. It was the custom. She nodded to Cayrol, and walked
up and down the office, absorbed in her own thoughts. Suddenly
stopping, she said:
"Marechal, prepare Prince Panine's account."
The secretary looked up amazed, and did not seem to understand.
"Well! The Prince has had an overdraft; you will give me a
statement; that's all! I wish to see how we two stand."
The two men, astonished to hear Madame Desvarennes speak of her
son-in- law as she would of a customer, exchanged looks.
"You have lent my son-in-law money, Cayrol?"
And as the banker remained silent, still looking at the secretary,
"Does the presence of Marechal make you hesitate in answering me?
Speak before him; I have told you more than a hundred times that he
knows my business as well as I do."
"I have, indeed, advanced some money to the Prince," replied
"How much?" inquired Madame Desvarennes.
"I don't remember the exact amount. I was happy to oblige your
"You were wrong, and have acted unwisely in not acquainting me of
the fact. It is thus that his follies have been encouraged by
obliging friends. At all events, I ask you now not to lend him any
Cayrol seemed put out, and, with his hands in his pockets and his
shoulders up, replied:
"This is a delicate matter which you ask of me. You will cause a
quarrel between the Prince and myself—
"Do you prefer quarreling with me?" asked the mistress.
"Zounds! No!" replied the banker. "But you place me in an
embarrassing position! I have just promised to lend Serge a
considerable sum to-night."
"Well! you will not give it to him."
"That is an act which he will scarcely forgive," sighed Cayrol.
Madame Desvarennes placed her hand on the shoulder of the banker,
and looking seriously at him, said:
"You would not have forgiven me if I had allowed you to render him
A vague uneasiness filled Cayrol's heart, a shadow seemed to pass
before his eyes, and in a troubled voice he said to the mistress:
"Because he would have repaid you badly."
Cayrol thought the mistress was alluding to the money he had
already lent, and his fears vanished. Madame Desvarennes would surely
"So you are cutting off his resources?" he asked.
"Completely," answered the mistress. "He takes too much liberty,
that young gentleman. He was wrong to forget that I hold the
purse-strings. I don't mind paying, but I want a little deference
shown me for my money. Good-by! Cayrol, remember my instructions."
And, shaking hands with the banker, Madame Desvarennes entered her
own office, leaving the two men together.
There was a moment's pause: Cayrol was the first to break the
"What do you think of the Prince's position?"
"His financial position?" asked Marechal.
"Oh, no! I know all about that! I mean his relation to Madame
"Zounds! If we were in Venice in the days of the Aqua-Toffana, the
sbirri and the bravi—"
"What rubbish!" interrupted Cayrol, shrugging his shoulders.
"Let me continue," said the secretary, "and you can shrug your
shoulders afterward if you like. If we had been in Venice, knowing
Madame Desvarennes as I do, it would not have been surprising to me to
have had Master Serge found at the bottom of the canal some fine
"You are not in earnest," muttered the banker.
"Much more so than you think. Only you know we live in the
nineteenth century, and we cannot make Providence interpose in the
form of a dagger or poison so easily as in former days. Arsenic and
verdigris are sometimes used, but it does not answer. Scientific
people have had the meanness to invent tests by which poison can be
detected even when there is none."
"You are making fun of me," said Cayrol, laughing.
"I! No. Come, do you wish to do a good stroke of business? Find
a man who will consent to rid Madame Desvarennes of her son-in-law.
If he succeed, ask Madame Desvarennes for a million francs. I will
pay it at only twenty-five francs' discount, if you like!"
Cayrol was thoughtful. Marechal continued:
"You have known the house a long time, how is it you don't
understand the mistress better? I tell you, and remember this:
between Madame Desvarennes and the Prince there is a mortal hatred.
One of the two will destroy the other. Which? Betting is open."
"But what must I do? The Prince relies on me—"
"Go and tell him not to do so any longer."
"Faith, no! I would rather he came to my office. I should be more
at ease. Adieu, Marechal."
"Adieu, Monsieur Cayrol. But on whom will you bet?"
"Before I venture I should like to know on whose side the Princess
"Ah, dangler! You think too much of the women! Some day you will
be let in through that failing of yours!"
Cayrol smiled conceitedly, and went away. Marechal sat down at his
desk, and took out a sheet of paper.
"I must tell Pierre that everything is going on well here," he
murmured. "If he knew what was taking place he would soon be back, and
might be guilty of some foolery or other." So he commenced writing.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE UNIVERSAL CREDIT
The banking-house of Cayrol had not a very imposing appearance. It
was a narrow two-storied building, the front blackened by time. There
was a carriage gateway, on the right-hand side of which was the
entrance to the offices. The stairs leading to the first floor were
covered by a well- worn carpet. Here was a long corridor into which
the different offices opened. On their glass doors might be read:
"Payments of dividends." "Accounts." "Foreign correspondence." "
General office." Cayrol's own room was quite at the end, and
communicated with his private apartments. Everything breathed of
simplicity and honesty. Cayrol had never tried to throw dust into
people's eyes. He had started modestly when opening the bank; his
business had increased, but his habits had remained the same. It was
not a difficult matter to obtain an interview, even by people not
known to him. They sent in their cards, and were admitted to his
It was amid the coming and going of customers and clerks that
Prince Panine came the following day to find Cayrol. For the first
time Serge had put himself out for the banker. He was introduced with
marks of the most profound respect. The great name of Desvarennes
seemed to cast a kind of halo round his head in the eyes of the
Cayrol, a little embarrassed, but still resolute, went toward him.
Serge seemed nervous and somewhat abrupt in manner. He foresaw some
"Well! my dear fellow," he said, without sitting down. "What are
you up to? I have waited since yesterday for the money you promised
Cayrol scratched his ear, and felt taken aback by this plain
"The fact is—" stammered he.
"Have you forgotten your engagement?" asked Serge, frowning.
"No," replied Cayrol, speaking slowly, "but I met Madame
"And what had that to do with your intentions?"
"Zounds! It had everything to do with them. Your mother-in-law
made a scene, and forbade my lending you any money. You must
understand, my dear Prince, that my relations with Madame Desvarennes
are important. I hold a great deal of money of hers in my bank. She
first gave me a start. I cannot, without appearing ungrateful, act
contrary to her will. Place yourself in my position, and judge
impartially of the terrible alternative between obliging you and
displeasing my benefactress."
"Don't cry; it is useless," said Serge, with a scornful laugh. "I
sympathize with your troubles. You side with the money-bags. It
remains to be seen whether you will gain by it."
"My dear Prince, I swear to you that I am in despair," cried
Cayrol, annoyed at the turn the interview was taking. "Listen; be
reasonable! I don't know what you have done to your mother-in-law, but
she seems much vexed with you. In your place I would rather make a
few advances than remain hostile toward Madame Desvarennes. That
would mend matters, you see. Flies are not to be caught with
Serge looked contemptuously at Cayrol, and put on his hat with
"Pardon me, my dear fellow; as a banker you are excellent when you
have any money to spare, but as a moralist you are highly ridiculous."
And, turning on his heel, he quitted the office, leaving Cayrol
quite abashed. He passed along the corridor switching his cane with
suppressed rage. Madame Desvarennes had, with one word, dried up the
source from which he had been drawing most of the money which he had
spent during the last three months. He had to pay a large sum that
evening at the club, and he did not care to apply to the money-lenders
He went down the stairs wondering how he would get out of this
scrape! Go to Madame Desvarennes and humble himself as Cayrol advised?
Never! He regretted, for a moment, the follies which had led him into
this difficulty. He ought to have been able to live on two hundred
thousand francs a year! He had squandered money foolishly, and now
the inexhaustible well from which he had drawn his treasure was closed
by an invincible will.
He was crossing the gateway, when a well-known voice struck his
ear, and he turned round. Herzog, smiling in his enigmatical manner,
was before him. Serge bowed, and wanted to pass on, but the financier
put his hand on his arm, saying:
"What a hurry you are in, Prince. I suppose your pocketbook is
full of notes, and you are afraid of being plundered."
And with his finger, Herzog touched the silver mounted pocketbook,
the corner of which was peeping out of the Prince's pocket. Panine
could not control a gesture of vexation, which made the financier
"Am I wrong?" asked Herzog. "Can our friend Cayrol have refused
your request? By-the-bye, did you not quarrel with Madame Desvarennes
yesterday? Whoever was it told me that? Your mother-in-law spoke of
cutting off all your credit, and from your downcast look I guess that
fool Cayrol has obeyed the orders he has received."
Serge, exasperated and stamping with rage, wanted to speak, but it
was no easy matter interrupting Herzog. Besides, there was something
in the latter's look which annoyed Serge. His glance seemed to be
fathoming the depths of Panine's pockets, and the latter instinctively
tightened his arms across his chest, so that Herzog might not see that
his pocketbook was empty.
"What are you talking about?" asked Serge, at last, with a
"About things which must greatly interest you," said Herzog,
familiarly. "Come, be sincere. Cayrol has just refused you a sum of
money. He's a simpleton! How much do you want? Will a hundred
thousand francs do just now?"
And writing a few words on a check, the financier handed it to
"A man of your position should not be in any difficulty for such a
"But, sir," said Serge, astonished, and pushing away Herzog's hand.
"Accept it, and don't feel indebted to me. It is hardly worth
while between you and me."
And taking Panine's arm Herzog walked on with him.
"Your carriage is there? all right, mine will follow. I want to
talk to you. Your troubles cannot last. I will show you the means of
extricating yourself and that without delay, my dear sir."
And without consulting Panine he seated himself beside him in the
"I told you once, if you remember," continued the financier, "that
I might prove useful to you. You were haughty, and I did not insist;
yet you see the day has come. Let me speak frankly with you. It is
my usual manner, and there is some good in it."
"Speak," answered Serge, rather puzzled.
"You find yourself at this moment, vulgarly speaking, left in the
lurch. Your wants are many and your resources few."
"At least—" protested Serge.
"Good! There you are refractory," said the financier, laughingly,
"and I have not finished. The day after your marriage you formed your
household on a lavish footing; you gave splendid receptions; you
bought race- horses; in short, you went the pace like a great lord.
Undoubtedly it costs a lot of money to keep up such an establishment.
As you spent without counting the cost, you confounded the capital
with the interest, so that at this moment you are three parts ruined.
I don't think you would care to change your mode of living, and it is
too late in the day to cut down expenses and exist on what remains?
No. Well, to keep up your present style you need at least a million
francs every year."
"You calculate like Cocker," remarked Serge, smiling with some
"That is my business," answered Herzog. "There are two ways by
which you can obtain that million. The first is by making it up with
your mother- in-law, and consenting, for money, to live under her
dominion. I know her, she will agree to this."
"But," said Serge, "I refuse to submit."
"In that case you must get out of your difficulties alone."
"And how?" inquired the Prince, with astonishment.
Herzog looked at him seriously.
"By entering on the path which I am ready to open up to you,"
replied Herzog, "and in which I will guide you. By going in for
Serge returned Herzog's glance and tried to read his face, but
found him impenetrable.
"To go into business one needs experience, and I have none."
"Mine will suffice," retorted the financier.
"Or money," continued the Prince,"and I have none, either."
"I don't ask money from you. I offer you some."
"What, then, do I bring into the concern?"
"The prestige of your name, and your relations with Madame
The Prince answered, haughtily:
"My relations are personal, and I doubt whether they will serve
you. My mother-in-law is hostile, and will do nothing for me. As to
my name, it does not belong to me, it belongs to those who bore it
nobly before me."
"Your relations will serve me," said Herzog. "I am satisfied.
Your mother-in-law cannot get out of your being her daughter's
husband, and for that you are worth your weight in gold. As to your
name, it is just because it has been nobly borne that it is valuable.
Thank your ancestors, therefore, and make the best of the only
heritage they left you. Besides, if you care to examine things
closely, your ancestors will not have reason to tremble in their
graves. What did they do formerly? They imposed taxes on their
vassals and extorted money from the vanquished. We financiers do the
same. Our vanquished are the speculators; our vassals the
shareholders. And what a superiority there is about our proceedings!
There is no violence. We persuade; we fascinate; and the money flows
into our coffers. What do I say? They beseech us to take it. We
reign without contest. We are princes, too princes of finance. We
have founded an aristocracy as proud and as powerful as the old one.
Feudality of nobility no longer exists; it has given way to that of
Serge laughed. He saw what Herzog was driving at.
"Your great barons of finance are sometimes subject to executions,"
"Were not Chalais, Cinq-Mars, Biron, and Montmorency executed?"
asked Herzog, with irony.
"That was on a scaffold," replied Panine.
"Well! the speculator's scaffold is the Bourse! But only small
dabblers in money succumb; the great ones are safe from danger. They
are supported in their undertakings by such powerful and numerous
interests that they cannot fail without involving public credit; even
governments are forced to come to their aid. One of these powerful
and indestructible enterprises I have dreamed of grafting on to the
European Credit Company, the Universal Credit Company. Its very name
is a programme in itself. To stretch over the four quarters of the
globe like an immense net, and draw into its meshes all financial
speculators: such is its aim. Nobody will be able to withstand us. I
am offering you great things, but I dream of still greater. I have
ideas. You will see them developed, and will profit by them, if you
join my fortunes. You are ambitious, Prince. I guessed it; but your
ambition hitherto has been satisfied with small things—luxurious
indulgences and triumphs of elegance! What are these worth to what I
can give you? The sphere in which you move is narrow. I will make it
immense. You will no longer reign over a small social circle, you
will rule a world."
Serge, more affected than he cared to show, tried to banter.
"Are you repeating the prologue to Faust?" asked he. "Where is
your magical compact? Must I sign it?"
"Not at all. Your consent is sufficient. Look into the business,
study it at your leisure, and measure the results; and then if it suit
you, you can sign a deed of partnership. Then in a few years you may
possess a fortune surpassing all that you have dreamed of."
The financier remained silent. Serge was weighing the question.
Herzog was happy; he had shown himself to all Paris in company with
Madame Desvarennes's son-in-law. He had already realized one of his
projects. The carriage was just passing down the Champs Elysees. The
weather was lovely, and in the distance could be seen the trees of the
Tuileries and the different monuments of the Place de la Concorde
bathed in blue mist. Groups of horsemen were cantering along the side
avenues. Long files of carriages were rolling rapidly by with
well-dressed ladies. The capital displayed at that hour all the
splendor of its luxury. It was Paris in all its strength and gayety.
Herzog stretched out his hand, and calling the Prince's attention
to the sight, said:
"There's your empire!"
Then, looking at him earnestly, he asked:
"Is it agreed?"
Serge hesitated for a moment, and then bowed his head, saying:
"It is agreed."
Herzog pulled the check-string communicating with the coachman and
"Good-by," said he to Panine.
He slipped into his own carriage, which had followed closely
behind, and drove off.
From that day, even Jeanne had a rival. The fever of speculation
had seized on Serge; he had placed his little finger within the wheels
and he must follow—body, name, and soul. The power which this new
game exercised over him was incredible. It was quite different to the
stupid games at the club, always the same. On the Bourse, everything
was new, unexpected, sudden, and formidable. The intensity of the
feelings were increased a hundredfold, owing to the importance of the
It was really a splendid sight to see Herzog manipulating matters,
maneuvering with a miraculous dexterity millions of francs. And then
the field for operations was large. Politics, the interests of
nations, were the mainsprings which impelled the play, and the game
assumed diplomatic vastness and financial grandeur.
From his private office Herzog issued orders, and whether his
ability was really extraordinary, or whether fortune exceptionally
favored him, success was certain. Serge, from the first week,
realized considerable sums. This brilliant success threw him in a
state of great excitement. He believed everything that Herzog said to
him as if it were gospel. He saw the world bending under the yoke
which he was about to impose upon it. People working and toiling
every day were doing so for him alone, and like one of those kings who
had conquered the world, he pictured all the treasures of the earth
laid at his feet. From that time he lost the sense of right and
wrong. He admitted the unlikely, and found the impossible quite
natural. He was a docile tool in the hands of Herzog.
The rumor of this unforeseen change in Panine's circumstances soon
reached Madame Desvarennes's ears. The mistress was frightened, and
sent for Cayrol, begging him to remain a director of the European
Credit, in order to watch the progress of the new affair. With her
practical common sense, she foresaw disasters, and even regretted that
Serge had not confined himself to cards and reckless living.
Cayrol was most uneasy, and made a confidant of his wife, who,
deeply troubled, told Panine the fears his friends entertained on his
account. The Prince smiled disdainfully, saying these fears were the
effect of plebeian timidity. The mistress understood nothing of great
speculations, and Cayrol was a narrow-minded banker! He knew what he
was doing. The results of his speculations were mathematical. So far
they had not disappointed his hopes. The great Universal Credit
Company, of which he was going to be a director, would bring him in
such an immense fortune that he would be independent of Madame
Jeanne, terrified at this blind confidence, tried to persuade him.
Serge took her in his arms, kissed her, and banished her fears.
Madame Desvarennes had forbidden her people to tell Micheline
anything of what was going on, as she wished her to remain in perfect
ignorance. By a word, the mistress, if she could not have prevented
the follies of which Serge was guilty, could, at least, have spared
herself and her daughter. It would have only been necessary to reveal
his behavior and betrayal to Micheline, and to provoke a separation.
If the house of Desvarennes were no longer security for Panine, his
credit would fall. Disowned by his mother-in-law, and publicly given
up by her, he would be of no use to Herzog, and would be promptly
thrown over by him. The mistress did not wish her daughter to know
the heartrending truth. She would not willingly cause her to shed
tears, and therefore preferred risking ruin.
Micheline, too, tried to hide her troubles from her mother. She
knew too well that Serge would have the worst of it if he got into her
black books. With the incredible persistence of a loving heart, she
hoped to win back Serge. Thus a terrible misunderstanding caused
these two women to remain inactive and silent, when, by united
efforts, they might, perhaps, have prevented dangers.
The great speculation was already being talked about. Herzog was
boldly placing his foot on the summit whereon the five or six
demigods, who ruled the stock market, were firmly placed. The
audacious encroachments of this newcomer had vexed these formidable
potentates, and already they had decided secretly his downfall because
he would not let them share in his profits.
One morning, the Parisians, on awakening, found the walls placarded
with notices advertising the issue of shares in the Universal Credit
Company, and announcing the names of the directors, among which
appeared that of the Prince. Some were members of the Legion
d'Honneur; others recent members of the Cabinet Council, and Prefets
retired into private life. A list of names to dazzle the public, but
all having a weak point.
This created a great sensation in the business world. Madame
Desvarennes's son-in-law was on the board. It was a good speculation,
then? People consulted the mistress, who found herself somewhat in a
dilemma; either she must disown her son-in-law, or speak well of the
affair. Still she did not hesitate, for she was loyal and honest
above all things. She declared the speculation was a poor one, and
did all she could to prevent any of her friends becoming shareholders.
The issue of shares was disastrous. The great banks remained
hostile, and capitalists were mistrustful. Herzog landed a few
million francs. Doorkeepers and cooks brought him their savings. He
covered expenses. But it was no use advertising and puffing in the
newspapers, as a word had gone forth which paralyzed the speculation.
Ugly rumors were afloat. Herzog's German origin was made use of by
the bankers, who whispered that the aim of the Universal Credit
Company was exclusively political. It was to establish branch banks
in every part of the world to further the interests of German
industry. Further, at a given moment, Germany might have need of a
loan in case of war, and the Universal Credit Company would be there
to supply the necessary aid to the great military nation.
Herzog was not a man to be put down without resisting, and he made
supreme efforts to float his undertaking. He caused a number of
unissued shares to be sold on 'Change, and had them bought up by his
own men, thus creating a fictitious interest in the company. In a few
days the shares rose and were at a premium, simply through the jobbery
to which Herzog lent himself.
Panine was little disposed to seek for explanations, and, besides,
had such unbounded faith in his partner that he suspected nothing. He
remained in perfect tranquillity. He had increased his expenditure,
and his household was on a royal footing. Micheline's sweetness
emboldened him; he no longer took the trouble of dissimulating, and
treated his young wife with perfect indifference.
Jeanne and Serge met every day at the little house in the Avenue
Maillot. Cayrol was too much engaged with the new anxieties which
Herzog caused him, to look after his wife, and left her quite free to
amuse herself. Besides, he had not the least suspicion. Jeanne, like
all guilty women, overwhelmed him with kind attentions, which the good
man mistook for proofs of love. The fatal passion was growing daily
stronger in the young woman's heart, and she would have found it
impossible to have given up her dishonorable happiness with Panine.
She felt herself capable of doing anything to preserve her lover.
Jeanne had already said, "Oh! if we were but free!" And they
formed projects. They would go away to Lake Lugano, and, in a villa
hidden by trees and shrubs, would enjoy the pleasures of being
indissolubly united. The woman was more eager than the man in giving
way to these visions of happiness. She sometimes said, "What hinders
us now? Let us go." But Serge, prudent and discreet, even in the
most affectionate moments, led Jeanne to take a more sensible view.
What was the use of a scandal? Did they not belong to each other?
Then the young woman reproached him for not loving her as much as
she loved him. She was tired of dissimulating; her husband was an
object of horror to her, and she had to tell him untruths and submit
to his caresses which were revolting to her. Serge calmed her with a
kiss, and bade her wait awhile.
Pierre, rendered anxious on hearing that Serge had joined Herzog in
his dangerous financial speculations, had left his mines and had just
arrived. The letters which Micheline addressed to the friend of her
youth, her enforced confidant in trouble, were calm and resigned.
Full of pride, she had carefully hidden from Pierre the cause of her
troubles. He was the last person by whom she would like to be pitied,
and her letters had represented Serge as repentant and full of good
feeling. Marechal, for similar reasons, had kept his friend in the
dark. He feared Pierre's interference, and he wished to spare Madame
Desvarennes the grief of seeing her adopted son quarreling with her
But the placards announcing the establishment of the Universal
Credit Company made their way into the provinces, and one morning
Pierre found some stuck on the walls of his establishment. Seeing the
name of Panine, and not that of Cayrol, Pierre shuddered. The
unpleasant ideas which he experienced formerly when Herzog was
introduced to the Desvarennes recurred to his mind. He wrote to the
mistress to ask what was going on, and not receiving an answer, he
started off without hesitation for Paris.
He found Madame Desvarennes in a terrible state of excitement. The
shares had just fallen a hundred and twenty francs. A panic had
ensued. The affair was considered as absolutely lost, and the
shareholders were aggravating matters by wanting to sell out at once.
Savinien was just coming away from the mistress's room. He wanted
to see the downfall of the Prince, whom he had always hated, looking
upon him as a usurper of his own rights upon the fortune of the
Desvarennes. He began lamenting to his aunt, when she turned upon him
with unusual harshness, and he felt bound as he said, laughing, to
leave the "funereal mansion."
Cayrol, as much interested in the affairs of the Prince as if they
were his own, went backward and forward between the Rue
Saint-Dominique and the Rue Taitbout, pale and troubled, but without
losing his head. He had already saved the European Credit Company by
separating it six weeks before from the Universal Credit Company,
notwithstanding Madame Desvarennes's supplications to keep them
together, in the hope that the one would save the other. But Cayrol,
practical, clear, and implacable, had refused, for the first time, to
obey Madame Desvarennes. He acted with the resolution of a captain of
a vessel, who throws overboard a portion of the cargo to save the
ship, the crew, and the rest of the merchandise. He did well, and the
European Credit was safe. The shares had fallen a little, but a
favorable reaction was already showing itself. The name of Cayrol, and
his presence at the head of affairs, had reassured the public, and the
shareholders gathered round him, passing a vote of confidence.
The banker, devoted to his task, next sought to save Panine, who
was at that very moment robbing him of his honor and happiness in the
house of the Avenue Maillot.
Pierre, Cayrol, and Madame Desvarennes met in Marechal's private
office. Pierre declared that it was imperative to take strong measures
and to speak to the Prince. It was the duty of the mistress to
enlighten Panine, who was no doubt Herzog's dupe.
Madame Desvarennes shook her head sadly. She feared that Serge was
not a dupe but an accomplice. And what could she tell him? Let him
ruin himself! He would not believe her. She knew how he received her
advice and bore her remonstrances.
An explanation between her and Serge was impossible, and her
interference would only hurry him into the abyss.
"Well, then, I will speak to him," said Pierre, resolutely.
"No," said Madame Desvarennes, "not you! Only one here can tell
him efficaciously what he must hear, and that is Cayrol. Let us above
all things keep guard over our words and our behavior. On no account
must Micheline suspect anything."
Thus, at the most solemn moments, when fortune and honor, perhaps,
were compromised, the mother thought of her daughter's welfare and
Cayrol went up to the Prince's rooms. He had just come in, and was
opening his letters, while having a cigarette in the smoking-room. A
door, covered by curtains, led to a back stair which opened into the
courtyard. Cayrol had gone up that way, feeling sure that by so doing
he would not meet Micheline.
On seeing Jeanne's husband, Serge rose quickly. He feared that
Cayrol had discovered everything, and instinctively stepped backward.
The banker's manner soon undeceived him. He was serious, but not in
a rage. He had evidently come on business.
"Well, my dear Cayrol," said the Prince, gayly, "what good fortune
has brought you here?"
"If it is fortune, it is certainly not good fortune," answered the
banker, gravely. "I wish to have some talk with you, and I shall be
grateful if you will listen patiently."
"Oh! oh!" said Serge. "How serious you are. You have some heavy
payments on hand, and want a little help, eh? I will speak to
Cayrol looked at the Prince in amazement. So he did not suspect
anything? Such carelessness and negligence frightened him. The
banker resolved to proceed clearly, and without beating about the
bush; to do away with such blind confidence a thunderbolt was
"I have not come about my business, but yours," returned Cayrol.
"The Universal Credit Company is on the eve of disaster; there is
still time for you to withdraw safely and soundly from the sinking
wreck. I bring you the means."
"Thank you, Cayrol; you are very kind, my friend. I know your
intentions are good, but I don't believe a word you are saying. You
have come from Madame Desvarennes. You are both agreed that I shall
give up the Universal Credit, but I will not yield to any pressure. I
know what I am doing. Be easy."
And quietly lighting another cigarette, he gracefully puffed the
smoke toward the ceiling. Cayrol did not trouble to argue, but took a
newspaper from his pocket and handed it to Panine, simply saying,
It was an article in a reliable financial paper prophesying the
failure of the Universal Credit Company, and basing its statements on
irrefutable calculations. Serge took the paper and looked over it.
He turned pale and crushed it in his hand.
"What infamy!" cried he. "I know our adversaries are enraged.
Yes, they know that our new company is destined to crush them in the
future, and they are doing all they can to run us aground. Jealousy!
Envy! There is no other foundation for these rumors, and they are
unworthy a serious man's attention."
"There is neither envy nor jealousy. All is true," said Cayrol.
"You will admit that I am your sincere friend? Well, I swear to you
that the situation is terrible, and you must resign your directorship
of the Universal Credit without loss of time. There's not a moment to
lose. Sit down and write your resignation."
"Do you think I am a child to be led by the nose like that?" asked
the Prince, in a passion. "If you are sincere, Cayrol, as I wish to
believe, I also think you are a fool. You don't understand! As to
drawing out of the company, never! I have a lot of money invested in
"Well, lose your money, Madame Desvarennes will pay you back. At
least you can save your name."
"Ah, I see you are conniving with her!" exclaimed the Prince,
loudly. "Don't tell me another word, I don't believe you. I shall go
straight to the office, and I will speak to Herzog. We will take
measures to prosecute the papers for libel if they dare to publish
Cayrol saw that nothing would convince Panine. He hoped that an
interview with Herzog would enlighten him. He left the matter to
chance, as reasoning was of no avail, and went down to the mistress.
Serge drove to the Universal Credit Company. It was the first day
in the new offices. Herzog had furnished them splendidly, thinking
that this would give the shareholders a high opinion of the
undertaking. How could they have any doubts when they saw such
splendid furniture and large offices? How could they refuse to place
their money in the hands of speculators that could cover their floors
with such soft carpets? The porters, with their dark blue and red
cloth liveries, and buttons with the company's monogram on them,
answered inquiries with haughty condescension. Everything foretold
success. It was in the air. You could hear the cashier shovelling
heaps of gold. The people who had placed the Universal Credit Company
on such a footing were either very powerful or very impudent.
Serge walked in, as he would have done at home, with his hat on,
amid a number of small shareholders, who had come full of anxiety
after reading the accounts in the newspapers, and who felt full of
confidence after seeing the splendor of the place. Panine reached
Herzog's office, but when about to open the door, loud voices struck
his ear. The financier was arguing with a director, and Panine
"The speculation is safe and sure," Herzog was saying. "The shares
are low, I know, because I have ceased to keep them up. I have given
orders in London, Vienna, and Berlin, and we are buying up all shares
that are offered in the market. I shall then run the shares up again,
and we shall realize an enormous sum. It is most simple."
"But it is shady," said the other voice.
"Why? I defend myself as I am attacked. The great banks seek to
deteriorate my stock. I buy in, and take it out of my adversaries.
Is it not just and lawful?"
Panine breathed freely and felt reassured. The depreciation was
caused by Herzog; he had just said so. There was nothing to fear
then. It was just a trick of Herzog's, and the company would come out
brighter than ever.
Serge went in.
"Oh! here's Prince Panine," said Herzog. "Ask him what he thinks
of the matter. I defer to his judgment."
"I don't want to know anything," said Serge. "I have full
confidence in you, my dear manager, and our business will prosper in
your hands, I am sure. Besides, I know the manoeuvres of our
opponents, and I think every financial means justifiable to answer
"Ah! What did I say to you a few minutes ago?" cried Herzog,
addressing his questioner in a tone of triumph. "Let me act and you
will see. Besides, I don't want to keep you against your will," he
added, harshly. "You are at liberty to withdraw from us if you like."
The other protested that what he had said was for the best
interests of all concerned. He did not dream of leaving the company;
on the contrary, they might rely on him. He appreciated the
experience and ability of Herzog too well to separate his fortune from
his friend's. And, shaking hands with the financier, he took his
"Come! What is all this clamor in the newspapers?" asked Serge,
when he found himself alone with Herzog. "Do you know that the
articles published are very perfidious?"
"All the more perfidious because they are founded on truth," said
the financier, coldly.
"What do you mean?" cried Serge, in alarm.
"The truth. Do you think I am to tell you lies as I did to that
idiot who has just gone out? The Universal Credit has at this moment
a screw loose. But patience! I have an idea, and in a fortnight the
shares will have doubled in value. I have a splendid scheme in hand
which will kill the gas companies. It is a plan for lighting by
magnesium. Its effect will be startling. I shall publish sensational
articles describing the invention in the London and Brussels papers.
Gas shares will fall very low. I shall buy up all I can, and when I
am master of the situation, I shall announce that the threatened gas
companies are buying up the invention. Shares will rise again, and I
shall realize a goodly sum, which will be for the benefit of the
"But for such a formidable speculation foreign agents will require
"I will offer it to them. I have here ten million francs' worth of
shares in the European Credit belonging to Cayrol. We will give the
cashier a joint receipt for them. The speculation will last three
days. It is safe, and when the result is achieved we will replace the
shares, and take back the receipt."
"But," asked Serge, "is this plan of taking the shares which don't
belong to us legal?"
"It is a transfer," said Herzog, with simplicity. "Besides, don't
forget that we have to do with Cayrol, that is to say with a partner."
"Suppose we tell him of it," insisted the Prince.
"No! The deuce! We should have to explain everything to him. He
knows what's what, and would find the idea too good, and want a share
of the spoil. No! Sign that, and don't be alarmed. The sheep will
be back in the fold before the shepherd comes to count them."
A dark presentiment crossed Serge's mind, and he was afraid. At
that moment, when his fate was being decided, he hesitated to go
deeper into the rut where he had already been walking too long. He
stood silent and undecided. Confused thoughts crowded his brain; his
temples throbbed, and a buzzing noise sounded in his ears. But the
thought of giving up his liberty, and again subjecting himself to
Madame Desvarennes's protection was like the lash of a whip, and he
blushed for having hesitated.
Herzog looked at him, and, smiling in a constrained way, said:
"You, too, may give up the affair if you like. If I share it with
you it is because you are so closely allied to me. I don't so very
much care to cut the pear in two. Don't think that I am begging of
you to be my partner! Do as you like."
Serge caught hold of the paper and, having signed it, handed it to
"All right," said Herzog. "I shall leave to-night and be absent
three days. Watch the money market. You will see the results of my
And shaking hands with the Prince, Herzog went to the cashier to
get the scrip and deposit the receipt.
CHAPTER XIX. SIN GROWS BOLDER
There was a party at Cayrol's. In the drawing-rooms of the mansion
in the Rue Taitbout everything was resplendent with lights, and there
was quite a profusion of flowers. Cayrol had thought of postponing
the party, but was afraid of rousing anxieties, and like an actor who,
though he has just lost his father, must play the following day, so
Cayrol gave his party and showed a smiling face, so as to prevent harm
to his business.
Matters had taken a turn for the worse during the last three days.
The bold stroke, to carry out which Herzog had gone to London so as
to be more secret, had been got wind of. The fall of the shares had
not taken place. Working with considerable sums of money, the loss on
the difference was as great as the gains would have been. The shares
belonging to the European Credit Company had defrayed the cost of the
game. It was a disaster. Cayrol, in his anxiety, had applied for the
scrip and had only found the receipt given to the cashier. Although
the transaction was most irregular, Cayrol had not said anything; but,
utterly cast down, had gone to Madame Desvarennes to tell her of the
The Prince was in bed, pretending to be ill. His wife, happily
ignorant of all that was going on, rejoiced secretly at his
indisposition because she was allowed to nurse him and have him all to
herself. Panine, alarmed at the check they had experienced, was
expecting Herzog with feverish impatience, and to keep out of sight
had chosen the privacy of his own room.
Still, Cayrol had been allowed to see him, and with great
circumspection told him that his non-appearance at the same time that
Herzog was absent was most fatal for the Universal Credit Company. It
was absolutely necessary that he should be seen in public. He must
come to his party, and appear with a calm face. Serge promised to
come, and had imposed on Micheline the heavy task of accompanying him
to Jeanne's. It was the first time since her return from Nice that
she had entered the house of her husband's mistress.
The concert was over, and a crowd of guests were coming from the
large drawing-room to the boudoir and little drawing-room.
"The symphony is over. Ouf!" said Savinien, yawning.
"You don't like music?" asked Marechal, with a laugh.
"Yes, military music. But two hours of Schumann and Mendelssohn at
high pressure is too much for one man. But I say, Marechal, what do
you think of Mademoiselle Herzog's being at Cayrol's soiree. It is a
little too strong."
"Why, the father has bolted, and the daughter is preparing a dance.
Each has a different way of using their feet."
"Very pretty, Monsieur Desvarennes, but I advise you to keep your
flashes of wit to yourself," said Marechal, seriously. "That may not
"Oh, Marechal, you, too, making a fuss!"
And turning on his heel, he went to the refreshment table.
Prince and Princess Panine were just coming in. Micheline was
smiling, and Serge was pale, though calm. Cayrol and Jeanne came
toward them. Everybody turned to look at them. Jeanne, without
embarrassment, shook hands with her friend. Cayrol bowed respectfully
"Princess," he said, "will you honor me by taking my arm? You are
just in time, they are going to begin dancing."
"Not myself, though, thank you," replied Micheline, with a sad
smile, "I am still very weak, but I will look on."
And on Cayrol's arm she entered the large drawing-room. Serge
followed with Jeanne.
The festivities were at their height. The orchestra was playing a
waltz, and in a whirl of silk and gauze the young people seemed to be
thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Suzanne Herzog was sitting alone near a window, in a simple white
dress, and without a single ornament. Marechal had just approached
her, and she had welcomed him with a smile.
"Are you not dancing to-night, Mademoiselle?" he asked.
"I am waiting to be invited," she answered, sadly, "and, like
sister Anne, I see nobody coming. There are ugly reports abroad about
my father's fortune, and the Argonauts are drawing off."
"Will you give me a dance?" said Marechal. "I don't dance to
perfection, never having practised much, but with a good will."
"Thank you, Monsieur Marechal, I would rather talk. I am not very
cheerful to-night, and, believe me, I only came because Madame
Desvarennes wished it. I would rather have remained at home.
Business has gone wrong with my father by what I can hear, for I
don't know what goes on at the office. I feel more inclined to cry
than to laugh. Not that I regret the loss of money, you know; I don't
care for it, but my father must be in despair."
Marechal listened silently to Suzanne, not daring to tell her what
he thought of Herzog, and respected the real ignorance or willing
blindness of the young girl who did not doubt her father's loyalty.
The Princess, leaning on Cayrol's arm, had just finished
promenading round the rooms, when she perceived Suzanne and, leaving
the banker, came and seated herself beside her. Many of the guests
looked at each other and whispered words which Micheline did not hear,
and if she had heard would not have understood. "It is heroic!" some
said. Others answered, "It is the height of impudence."
The Princess was talking with Suzanne and was looking at her
husband who, leaning against a door, was following Jeanne with his
At a sign from Cayrol, Marechal left the room. The secretary
joined Madame Desvarennes, who had come with Pierre and had remained
in Cayrol's private office. During this party matters of moment were
to be discussed, and a consultation was about to take place between
the interested parties. On seeing Marechal enter, Madame only uttered
"Here he is," answered the secretary.
Cayrol came in, hurriedly.
"Well," he asked, with great anxiety, "have you any news?"
"Pierre has just come from London," answered the mistress. "What
we feared is true. Herzog, conjointly with my son-in-law, has made
use of the ten millions belonging to the European Credit."
"Do you think that Herzog has really bolted?" inquired Marechal.
"No! he is too deep for that," replied Cayrol. "He will return.
He knows that in compromising the Prince it is as if he had
compromised the firm of Desvarennes, therefore he is quite easy on the
"Can the one be saved without the other?" asked the mistress.
"It is impossible. Herzog has so firmly bound up his interests
with those of the Prince that it will be necessary to extricate both
or let both perish together."
"Well, we must save Herzog into the bargain, then!" said Madame
Desvarennes, coldly. "But by what means?"
"These," answered Cayrol. "The shares taken away by Herzog, under
the security of the Prince's signature, were deposited by the
shareholders. When the Universal Credit removed to its new offices,
these shares were taken away by mistake. It will suffice to replace
the scrip. I will give back the receipt to the Prince and all trace
of this deplorable affair will be wiped out."
"But the numbers of the shares will not be the same," said Madame
Desvarennes, accustomed to minute regularity in all operations.
"We can explain the change by feigning a sale when they were high,
and buying them up when low. We will show a profit, and the
shareholders will not quarrel. Besides, I reserve the right of
divulging Herzog's fraud without implicating Panine, if the
shareholders insist. Trust me, I will catch Herzog another time. It
is my stupid confidence in that man which has been partly the cause of
this disaster. I will make your business mine and force him to shell
out. I shall leave for London to- night, by the 1.50 train.
Promptness of action in such a case is the first step toward
"Thank you, Cayrol," said the mistress. "Have my daughter and the
"Yes, Serge is calm; he has more power over himself than I could
"What does it matter to him what is going on? Is it he who will
feel the blow? No. He knows that I shall go on working to keep him
in idleness and maintain him in luxury. I may think myself lucky if
he is reclaimed by this hard lesson, and does not again begin to
rummage in other people's safes, for then I should be unable to save
The mistress rose and, with flashing eyes, walked up and down the
"Oh, the wretch!" she said. "If ever my daughter ceases to come
between him and me!"
A terrible gesture finished the sentence.
Cayrol, Marechal, and Pierre looked at each other. The same
thought came to their minds, dark and fearful. In a paroxysm of rage
this fond mother, this energetic and passionate woman, would be
capable of killing any one.
"You remember what I told you one day," murmured Marechal,
"I would prefer the hatred of ten men to that of such a woman,"
"Cayrol!" continued Madame Desvarennes, after a few moments of
meditation, "the conduct of the business of which you spoke to us a
little while ago depends solely on you, does it not?"
"On me alone."
"Do it at once, then, cost me what it may. Has it been noised
"No one has the slightest suspicion. I have not mentioned it to a
living soul," said the banker—"except to my wife," added he with a
frankness which drew a smile from Pierre. "But my wife and I are
"What did she say?" asked Madame Desvarenes, looking straight at
"If I had been the person concerned," he said, "she could not
possibly have been more affected. She loves you so much, Madame, you
and those belonging to you. She besought me to do all in my power to
get the Prince out of this scrape. She had tears in her eyes: And,
truly, if I did not feel bound to serve you from gratitude I would do
it for her sake and to give her pleasure. I was touched, I can assure
you. Really, she has a heart!"
Marechal exchanged a look with Madame Desvarennes, who advanced
toward the banker, and shook him by the hand, saying:
"Cayrol, you are truly a good man!"
"I know it," said Cayrol, smiling to hide his emotion, "and you may
rely upon me."
Micheline appeared on the threshold of the room. Through the
half-open door the dancers could be seen passing to and fro, and the
sound of music floated in the air.
"What has become of you, mamma? I hear that you have been here for
more than an hour."
"I was talking on business matters with these gentlemen," answered
Madame Desvarennes, smoothing from her brow the traces of her cares by
an effort of will. "But you, dear, how do you feel? Are you not
"Not more so than usual," replied Micheline, looking round to
follow the movements of her husband, who was trying to reach Jeanne.
"Why did you come to this party? It was unwise."
"Serge wished me to come, and I did not care to let him come
"Eh! dear me! exclaimed Madame Desvarennes. "Let him do what he
likes. Men are savages. When you are ill it won't hurt him."
"I am not ill, and I won't be," resumed Micheline, warmly. "We are
going away now."
She motioned to Serge with her fan. Panine came to her.
"You will take me home, won't you, Serge?"
"Certainly, dear one," answered Serge.
Jeanne, who was listening at a distance, raised her hand to her
forehead as a sign that she wanted him. A feeling of surprise came
over the Prince, and he did not understand what she meant. Micheline
had seen the sign. A deadly pallor spread over her features, and a
cold perspiration broke out on her forehead. She felt so ill that she
could have cried out. It was the first time she had seen Serge and
Jeanne together since the dreadful discovery at Nice. She had avoided
witnessing their meeting, feeling uncertain of herself, and fearing to
lose her self- control. But seeing the two lovers before her,
devouring each other with their looks, and making signs to each other,
made her feel most terribly jealous and angry.
Serge had decided to obey the imperious signs which Jeanne made to
him, and turning toward his wife, said:
"I remember now, my dear, that before going home I must call at the
club. I promised, and cannot put it off. Excuse my not going with
you, and ask your mother to accompany you."
"Very well," said Micheline, in a trembling voice. "I will ask
her. You are not going just yet?"
"In a moment."
"I, too, shall leave in a moment."
The young wife did not want to lose one detail of the horrible
comedy being played under her very eyes. She remained to learn,
unawares, the reason for which Jeanne kept her husband.
Not thinking that he was watched, Serge had gone across to Jeanne,
and affecting a smile, inquired:
"What is the matter?"
"Serious news." And she explained that she must speak to her lover
"Where?" Serge asked, with astonishment.
"Here," answered Jeanne.
"But your husband?" the Prince said.
"Is leaving in an hour. Our guests will not remain late. Go to
the garden, and wait in the pavilion. The door of the back stairs
leading to my dressing-room will be open. When everybody has gone,
"Take care; we are observed," said Serge, uneasily.
And they began to laugh with affectation and talked aloud about
frivolous things, as if nothing serious were occupying their thoughts.
Cayrol had come back again. He went up to Madame Desvarennes, who
was talking with her daughter, and, full of business, thoughtlessly
"I will telegraph you as soon as I reach London."
"Are you going away?" inquired Micheline, a light dawning on her
"Yes," said Cayrol; "I have an important matter to settle."
"And when do you start?" continued Micheline, in such a changed
voice that her mother was frightened.
"In a moment," answered the banker. "Allow me to leave you. I
have several orders to give."
And leaving the boudoir, he regained the little drawing-room.
Micheline, with clinched hands and fixed gaze, was saying to
"She will be alone to-night, and has asked him to come to her. He
told me an untruth about his having to go to the club. He is going to
And passing her hand across her brow, as if to drive away an
unpleasant thought, the young wife remained silent, dismayed and
"Micheline, what is the matter with you?" asked Madame
Desvarennes, seizing her daughter's hand, which was icy cold.
"Nothing," stammered Micheline.
"You are ill, I see. Come, let us go home. Come and kiss
"I!" cried Micheline, with horror, instinctively recoiling as if
dreading some impure contact.
Madame Desvarennes became suddenly cold and calm. She foresaw a
terrible revelation, and observing her daughter narrowly, said:
"Why do you cry out when I speak of your kissing Jeanne? Whatever
is the matter?"
Micheline grasped her mother's arm, and pointed to Serge and
Jeanne, who were in the little drawing-room, laughing and talking,
surrounded by a group of people, yet alone.
"Look at them!" she cried.
"What do you mean?" exclaimed the mother in agony. She read the
truth in her daughter's eyes.
"You know—"she began.
"That he is her lover," cried Micheline, interrupting her. "Don't
you see that I am dying through it?" she added, sobbing bitterly and
falling into her mother's arms.
The mistress carried her as if she had been a child into Cayrol's
private office, and shut the door. Then, kneeling beside the couch on
which Micheline was stretched, she gave vent to her grief. She begged
her daughter to speak to her, and warmed her hands with kisses; then,
seeing her still cold and motionless, she was frightened, and wanted
to call for help.
"No; be quiet!" murmured Micheline, recovering. "Let no one know.
I ought to have held my peace; but I have suffered so much I could not
My life is blasted, you see. Take me away; save me from this
infamy! Jeanne, my sister, and Serge. Oh! make me forget it! For
pity's sake, mamma, you who are so strong, you who have always done
what you wished, take from my heart all the pain that is there!"
Madame Desvarennes, overcome by such a load of grief, lost command
of herself, and, quite brokenhearted, began to cry and moan.
"O God! Micheline, my poor child! you were suffering so and did
not tell me. Oh! I knew you no longer trusted your old mother. And
I stupidly did not guess it! I said to myself, at least she knows
nothing about it, and sacrificed everything to keep the knowledge of
their wrong-doing from you. Don't cry any more, darling, you will
break my heart. I, who would have given up everything in the world to
see you happy! Oh, I have loved you too much! How I am punished!"
"It is I who am punished," said Micheline, sobbing, "for not
obeying you. Ah! children ought always to heed their mother. She
divines the danger. Is it not too horrible, mamma? I, who have
sacrificed everything for him, to think that he does not love me, and
never will love me! What will my life be without confidence, hope, or
affection? I am too unhappy. It would be better to die!"
"Die! you!" cried her mother, whose eyes, wet with tears, dried
in a moment, as if by an inward fire. "Die! Come, don't talk such
nonsense! Because a man treats you with scorn and betrays you? Are
men worth dying for? No, you shall live, my darling, with your old
mother. You shall have a deed of separation from your husband."
"And he will be free," exclaimed Micheline, angrily. "He will go
on loving her! Oh! I cannot bear that thought. Do you know, what I
am going to tell you seems awful. I love him so much, that I would
rather see him dead than unfaithful."
Madame Desvarennes was struck, and remained silent. Serge dead!
That idea had already occurred to her as a dream of deliverance. It
came upon her peremptorily, violently, irresistibly. She repelled it
with an effort.
"I can never think of him but as vile and odious," continued
Micheline. "Every day his sin will seem more dastardly and his
hypocrisy more base. There, a little while ago, he was smiling; and do
you know why? Because Cayrol is going away, and during his absence
Serge will return here tonight."
"Who told you?"
"I read it in his joyful looks. I love him. He cannot hide
anything from me. A traitor to me, and a traitor toward his friend,
that is the man whom—I am ashamed to own it—I love!"
"Compose yourself! Someone is coming," said Madame Desvarennes,
and at the same time the door opened and Jeanne appeared, followed by
Marechal, who was anxious at their disappearance.
"Is Micheline ill?" inquired Madame Cayrol, coming forward.
"No; it is nothing. Just a little fatigue," said Madame
Desvarennes. "Marechal, give my daughter your arm, and take her to her
carriage. I shall be down in a minute."
And holding Jeanne by the hand to prevent her following Micheline,
"Stay; I have something to say to you."
Jeanne looked surprised. Madame Desvarennes was silent for a
moment. She was thinking about Serge coming there that night. She had
only to say one word to Cayrol to prevent his going away. The life of
this wretch was entirely in her hands then! But Jeanne! Was she
going to ruin her? Had she the right thus to destroy one who had
struggled and had defended herself? Would it be just? Jeanne had
been led on against her will. She must question her. If the poor
girl were suffering, if she repented, she must spare her.
Madame Desvarennes, having thus made up her mind, turned toward
Jeanne who was waiting.
"It is a long time since I have seen you, my dear, and I find you
happy and smiling. It is the first time since your marriage that you
have seemed so happy."
Jeanne looked at the mistress without answering. In these words
she detected irony.
"You have found peace," continued Madame Desvarennes, looking
steadfastly at Jeanne with her piercing eyes. "You see, my dear, when
you have a clear conscience—for you have nothing to reproach yourself
Jeanne saw in this sentence a question and not an affirmation. She
"You know that I love you, and would be most lenient," continued
Madame Desvarennes, sweetly, "and that you might safely confide in
"I have nothing to fear, having nothing to tell," said Jeanne.
"Nothing?" repeated the mistress, with emphasis.
"Nothing," affirmed Jeanne.
Madame Desvarennes once more looked at her adopted daughter as if
she would read her very soul. She found her quite calm.
"Very well, then!" said she, hastily walking toward the door.
"Are you going already?" asked Jeanne, offering her brow to Madame
"Yes, good-by!" said the latter, with an icy kiss.
Jeanne, without again turning round, went into the drawing-room.
At the same moment, Cayrol, in a travelling-coat, entered the office,
followed by Pierre.
"Here I am, quite ready," said the banker to Madame Desvarennes.
"Have you any new suggestion to make to me, or anything else to say?"
"Yes," replied Madame Desvarennes, in a stern voice which made
"Then make haste. I have only a moment to spare, and you know the
train waits for no one."
"You will not go!"
Cayrol, in amazement, answered:
"Do you mean it? Your interests are at stake yonder."
"Your honor is in danger here," cried the mistress, vehemently.
"My honor!" repeated Cayrol, starting back. "Madame, do you know
what you are saying?"
"Ay!" answered Madame Desvarennes. "And do you remember what I
promised you? I undertook to warn you, myself, if ever the day came
when you would be threatened."
"Well?" questioned Cayrol, turning quite livid.
"Well! I keep my promise. If you wish to know who your rival is,
come home to-night."
Some inaudible words rattled in Cayrol's throat.
"A rival! in my house! Can Jeanne be guilty? Do you know, if it
is true I will kill them both!"
"Deal with them as your conscience dictates," said Madame
Desvarennes. "I have acted according to mine."
Pierre, hitherto dumb with horror at the scene of which he had been
a witness, shook off his stupor, and going up to Madame Desvarennes,
"Madame, do you know that what you have just done is frightful!"
"How? That man will be acting within his rights the same as I am.
They are seeking to take away his wife, and they are killing my
daughter, and dishonoring me! We are defending ourselves! Woe to
those who are guilty of the crime!"
Cayrol had fallen, as if thunderstruck, on a chair, with haggard
eyes; his voice was gone, and he looked the image of despair. Madame
Desvarennes's words came back to him like the refrain of a hated song.
To himself he kept repeating, without being able to chase away the one
haunting thought: "Her lover, to-night, at your house!" He felt as if
he were going mad. He was afraid he should not have time to wreak his
vengeance. He made a terrible effort, and, moaning with grief, he
"Take care!" said Pierre. "Here's your wife."
Cayrol eyed Jeanne, who was approaching. Burning tears came to his
eyes. He murmured:
"She, with a look so pure, and a face so calm! Is it possible?"
He nodded a farewell to Pierre and Madame Desvarennes, who were
leaving, and recovering himself, advanced to meet Jeanne.
"Are you off?" she inquired. "You know you have no time to lose!"
Cayrol shuddered. She seemed anxious to get rid of him.
"I have still a few minutes to spend with you," he said, with
emotion. "You see, Jeanne, I am sad at going away alone. It is the
first time I have left you. In a moment our guests will be gone—I
beg of you, come with me!"
Jeanne smiled. "But you see, dear, I am in evening dress."
"The night of our marriage I brought you away from Cernay like
that. Wrap yourself up in your furs, and come! Give me this proof of
affection. I deserve it. I am not a bad man—and I love you so!"
Jeanne frowned. This pressing vexed her.
"This is childish," she said. "You will return the day after
tomorrow, and I am tired. Have some pity for me."
"You refuse?" asked Cayrol, becoming gloomy and serious.
Jeanne touched his face slightly with her white hand.
"Come! Don't leave me in a temper! You won't miss me much, you
will sleep all the way. Good-by!"
Cayrol kissed her; in a choking voice, he said:
And he left her.
Jeanne's face brightened, as she stood listening for a moment and
heard the carriage which contained her husband rolling away. Uttering
a sigh of relief, she murmured:
CHAPTER XX. THE CRISIS
Jeanne had just taken off her ball-dress to put on a dressing-gown
of Oriental cloth richly embroidered with silk flowers. Leaning her
elbows on the mantelpiece, and breathing heavily, she was waiting.
Her maid came in, bringing a second lamp. The additional light
displayed the rich warm hangings of ruby plush embroidered in dull
gold. The bed seemed one mass of lace.
"Has everybody gone?" asked Jeanne, pretending to yawn.
"Messieurs Le Brede and Du Tremblay, the last guests, are just
putting on their overcoats," answered the maid. "But Monsieur Pierre
Delarue has come back, and is asking whether Madame will speak with
him for a moment."
"Monsieur Delarue?" repeated Jeanne, with astonishment.
"He says he has something important to say to Madame."
"Where is he?" asked Jeanne.
"There, in the gallery. The lights were being put out in the
"Well, show him in."
The maid went out. Jeanne, much puzzled, asked herself, what could
have brought Pierre back? It must certainly be something very
important. She had always felt somewhat awed in Pierre's presence.
At that moment the idea of being face to face with the young man was
most distressing to her.
A curtain was lifted and Pierre appeared. He remained silent and
confused at the entrance of the room, his courage had deserted him.
"Well," said Jeanne, with assumed stiffness, "whatever is the
matter, my friend?"
"The matter is, my dear Jeanne," began Pierre, "that—"
But the explanation did not seem so very easy to give, for he
stopped and could not go on.
"That?" repeated Madame Cayrol.
"I beg your pardon," resumed Pierre. "I am greatly embarrassed.
In coming here I obeyed a sudden impulse. I did not think of the
manner in which I should tell you what I have to say, and I see that I
shall have to run a great risk of offending you."
Jeanne assumed a haughty air.
"Well, but, my dear friend, if what you have to say is so
difficult, don't say it."
"Impossible!" retorted Pierre. "My silence would cause
irreparable mischief. In mercy, Jeanne, make my task easier! Meet me
half way! You have projects for to-night which are known. Danger
threatens you. Take care!"
Jeanne shuddered. But controlling herself, she answered, laughing
"What rubbish are you talking about? I am at home, surrounded by
my servants, and I have nothing to fear. I beg of you to believe me."
"You deny it!" exclaimed Pierre. "I expected as much. But you
are only taking useless trouble. Come, Jeanne, I am the friend of
your childhood; you have no reason to fear aught from me. I am only
trying to be of use to you. You must know that, by my coming here, I
know all. Jeanne, listen to me!"
"Are you mad?" interrupted the young woman, proudly, "or are you
taking part in some absurd joke?"
"I am in my right mind, unfortunately for you!" said Pierre,
roughly, seeing that Jeanne refused to believe him. "And there is no
joke in the matter. Everything is true, serious and terrible! Since
you compel me to say things which may be unpalatable, they must out.
Prince Panine is in your house, or he soon will be. Your husband,
whom you think far away, is within call, perhaps, and will come and
take you unawares. Is not that a serious matter?"
A frown overspread her face, and in an ungovernable rage she
stepped forward, determined not to give in, and exclaimed:
"Go away! or I shall call for assistance!"
"Don't call, it would look bad!" resumed Pierre, calmly. "On the
contrary, let the servants get out of the way, and get the Prince to
go if he be here, or if he has not yet arrived, prevent his coming in.
So long as I remain here you will dissimulate your fear and will not
take any precautions. I will leave you, then. Adieu, Jeanne!
Believe that I wished to render you a service, and be sure that when
I have crossed the threshold of this door I shall have forgotten
everything that I may have said."
Pierre bowed, and, lifting the heavy curtain which hid the door
leading to the gallery, went out.
He had hardly gone when the opposite door opened, and Serge entered
the room. The young woman rushed into his arms and whispered into his
ear, with trembling lips:
"Serge, we are lost!"
"I was there," answered Panine. "I heard all."
"What shall we do?" cried Jeanne, terrified.
"Go away at once. To remain here a moment longer is an
"And I, if I remain, what shall I say to Cayrol when he comes?"
"Your husband!" said Serge, bitterly. "He loves you, he will
"I know; but then we two shall be separated for ever. Is that what
"And what can I do?" cried Serge, in despair. "Everything around
me is giving way! Fortune, which has been my one aim in life, is
escaping from me. The family which I have scorned is forsaking me.
The friendship which I have betrayed overwhelms me. There is nothing
left to me."
"And my love, my devotion?" exclaimed Jeanne, passionately. "Do
you think that I will leave you? We must go away. I asked you long
ago. You resisted; the moment has now come. Be easy! Madame
Desvarennes will pay and save your name. In exchange you will give
her back her daughter. You don't care about her, because you love me.
I am your real wife; she who ought to share your life. Well, I take
back my rights. I pay for them with my honor. I break all ties which
could hold me back. I am yours, Serge! Our sin and misfortune will
bind us more closely than any laws could."
"Think, that with me you will have to endure poverty, and, perhaps,
misery," said the Prince, moved by the young woman's infatuation.
"My love will make you forget everything!"
"You will not feel regret or remorse?"
"Never, so long as you love me."
"Come, then," said the Prince, taking Jeanne in his arms. "And if
life is too hard—"
"Well," added Jeanne, finishing the sentence with sparkling eyes,
"we will seek refuge together in death! Come!"
Serge bolted the door, through which Pierre had passed, and which
alone communicated with the other apartments. Then, taking his
mistress by the hand, he went with her into the dressing-room. Jeanne
threw a dark cloak round her shoulders, put a hat on her head, and
without taking either money, jewels, lace, or, in fact, anything that
she had received from Cayrol, they went down the little back stairs.
It was very dark. Jeanne did not take a light, as she did not care
to attract attention, so they had to feel every step of the way as
quietly as possible, striving not to make the least noise, holding
their breath, and with beating hearts. When they reached the bottom
of the stairs, Jeanne stretched out her hand, and sought the handle of
the door which opened into the courtyard. She turned it, but the door
would not open. She pushed, but it did not give way. Jeanne uttered a
low groan. Serge shook it vigorously, but it would not open.
"It has been fastened on the outside," he whispered.
"Fastened?" murmured Jeanne, seized with fear. "Fastened, and by
Serge did not answer. The idea that Cayrol had done it came to his
mind at once. The husband lying in wait, had seen him enter, and to
prevent his escaping from his vengeance had cut off all means of
Silently, they went upstairs again, into the room through the
dressing- room. Jeanne took off her bonnet and cloak, and sank into
"I must get away!" said Serge, with suppressed rage; and he walked
toward the door of the gallery.
"No! don't open that," cried Jeanne, excitedly.
And with a frightened look, she added:
"What if he were behind the door?"
At the same moment, as if Jeanne's voice had indeed evoked Cayrol,
a heavy step was heard approaching along the gallery, a hand tried to
open the bolted door. Serge and Jeanne remained motionless, waiting.
"Jeanne !" called the voice of Cayrol from the outside, sounding
mournfully in the silence, " Jeanne, open!"
And with his fist he knocked imperatively on the woodwork.
"I know you are there! Open, I say!" he cried, with increasing
rage. "If you don't open the door, I'll—"
"Go! I beseech you!" whispered Jeanne, in Panine's ear. "Go
downstairs again, and break open the door. You won't find any one
"Perhaps he has stationed some one there," answered Serge.
"Besides, I won't leave you here alone exposed to his violence."
"You are not alone. I can hear you talking!" said Cayrol, beside
himself. "I shall break open this door!"
The husband made a tremendous effort. Under the pressure of his
heavy weight the lock gave way. With a bound he was in the middle of
the room. Jeanne threw herself before him; she no longer trembled.
Cayrol took another step and fixed his glaring eyes on the man whom
he sought, uttering a fearful oath.
"Serge!" cried he. "I might have guessed it. It is not only
money of which you are robbing me, you villain!"
Panine turned horribly pale, and advanced toward Cayrol, despite
Jeanne, who was clinging to him.
"Don't insult me; it is superfluous," said he. "My life belongs to
you; you can take it. I shall be at your service whenever you
Cayrol burst into a fearful laugh.
"Ah! a duel! Come! Am I a gentleman? I am a plebeian! a rustic!
a cowherd! you know that! I have you now! I am going to smash
He looked round the room as if seeking a weapon, and caught sight
of the heavy fire-dogs. He caught up one with a cry of triumph, and,
brandishing it like a club, rushed at Serge.
More rapid than he, Jeanne threw herself before her lover. She
stretched out her arms, and with a sharp voice, and the look of a
she-wolf defending her cubs,
"Keep behind me," said she to Serge; "he loves me and will not dare
Cayrol had stopped. At these words he uttered a loud cry:
"wretched woman! You first, then!"
Raising his weapon, he was about to strike, when his eyes met
Jeanne's. The young woman was smiling, happy to die for her lover.
Her pale face beamed from out her black hair with weird beauty.
Cayrol trembled. That look which he had loved, would he never see it
again? That rosy mouth, whose smile he cherished, would it be hushed
in death? A thousand thoughts of happy days came to his mind. His
arm fell. A bitter flood rushed from his heart to his eyes; the iron
dropped heavily from his hand on to the floor, and the poor man,
overcome, sobbing, and ashamed of his weakness, fell senseless on a
Jeanne did not utter a word. By a sign she showed Serge the door,
which was open, and with a swollen heart she leaned on the
mantelpiece, waiting for the unfortunate man, from whom she had
received such a deep and sad proof of love, to come back to life.
Serge had disappeared.
CHAPTER XXI. "WHEN ROGUES FALL OUT"
The night seemed long to Madame Desvarennes. Agitated and
feverish, she listened through the silence, expecting every moment to
hear some fearful news. In fancy she saw Cayrol entering his wife's
room like a madman, unawares. She seemed to hear a cry of rage,
answered by a sigh of terror; then a double shot resounded, the room
filled with smoke, and, struck down in their guilty love, Serge and
Jeanne rolled in death, interlaced in each other's arms, like Paolo
and Francesca de Rimini, those sad lovers of whom Dante tells us.
Hour after hour passed; not a sound disturbed the mansion. The
Prince had not come in. Madame Desvarennes, unable to lie in bed,
arose, and now and again, to pass the time, stole on tiptoe to her
daughter's room. Micheline, thoroughly exhausted with fatigue and
emotion, had fallen asleep on her pillow, which was wet with tears.
Bending over her, by the light of the lamp, the mistress gazed at
Micheline's pale face, and a sigh rose to her lips.
"She is still young," she thought; "she may begin life afresh. The
remembrance of these sad days will be wiped out, and I shall see her
revive and smile again. That wretch was nearly the death of her."
And the image of Serge and Jeanne stretched beside each other in
the room full of smoke came before her eyes again. She shook her head
to chase the importunate vision away, and noiselessly regained her own
The day dawned pale and bleak. Madame Desvarennes opened her
window and cooled her burning brow in the fresh morning air. The
birds were awake, and were singing on the trees in the garden.
Little by little, the distant sound of wheels rolling by was heard.
The city was awakening from its sleep.
Madame Desvarennes rang and asked for Marechal. The secretary
appeared instantly. He, too, had shared the anxieties and fears of
the mistress, and had risen early. Madame Desvarennes greeted him
with a grateful smile. She felt that she was really loved by this
good fellow, who understood her so thoroughly. She begged him to go
to Cayrol's, and gain some information, without giving him further
details, and she waited, walking up and down the room to calm the
fever of her mind.
On leaving the house in the Rue Taitbout, Serge felt bewildered,
not daring to go home, and unable to decide on any plan; yet feeling
that it was necessary to fix on something without delay, he reached
the club. The walk did him good, and restored his physical
equilibrium. He was thankful to be alive after such a narrow escape.
He went upstairs with a comparatively light step, and tossed his
overcoat to a very sleepy footman who had risen to receive him. He
went into the card-room. Baccarat was just finishing. It was three
o'clock in the morning. The appearance of the Prince lent the game a
little fresh animation. Serge plunged into it as if it were a battle.
Luck was on his side. In a short time he cleared the bank: a
thousand louis. One by one the players retired. Panine, left alone,
threw himself on a couch and slept for a few hours, but it was not a
refreshing sleep. On the contrary, it made him feel more tired.
The day servants disturbed him when they came in to sweep the rooms
and open the windows. He went into the lavatory, and there bathed his
face. When his ablutions were over he wrote a note to Jeanne, saying
that he had reflected, and could not possibly let her go away with
him. He implored her to do all in her power to forget him. He gave
this letter to one of the messengers, and told him to give it into the
hands of Madame Cayrol's maid, and to none other.
The care of a woman and the worry of another household seemed
unbearable to him. Besides, what could he do with Jeanne? The
presence of his mistress would prevent his being able to go back to
Micheline. And now he felt that his only hope of safety was in
Micheline's love for him.
But first of all he must go and see if Herzog had returned, and
ascertain the real facts of the position in regard to the Universal
Herzog occupied a little house on the Boulevard Haussmann, which he
had hired furnished from some Americans. The loud luxury of the
Yankees had not frightened him. On the contrary, he held that the gay
colors of the furniture and the glitter of the gilded cornices were
bound to have a fascination for prospective shareholders. Suzanne had
reserved a little corner for herself, modestly hung with muslin and
furnished with simple taste, which was a great contrast to the loud
appearance of the other part of the house.
On arriving, Serge found a stableman washing a victoria. Herzog
had returned. The Prince quietly went up the steps, and had himself
The financier was sitting in his study by the window, looking
through the newspapers. When Serge entered he rose. The two men
stood facing each other for a moment. The Prince was the first to
"How is it that you have kept me without news during your absence?"
asked he, harshly.
"Because," replied Herzog, calmly, "the only news I had was not
"At least I should have known it."
"Would the result of the operation have been different?"
"You have led me like a child in this affair," Serge continued,
becoming animated. "I did not know where I was going. You made me
promises, how have you kept them?"
"As I was able," quietly answered Herzog. "Play has its chances.
One seeks Austerlitz and finds Waterloo."
"But," cried the Prince, angrily, "the shares which you sold ought
not to have gone out of your hands."
"You believed that?" retorted the financier, ironically. "If they
ought not to have gone out of my hands it was hardly worth while
putting them into them."
"In short," said Panine, eager to find some responsible party on
whom he could pour out all the bitterness of his misfortune, "you took
a mean advantage of me."
"Good! I expected you to say that!" returned Herzog, smiling.
"If the business had succeeded, you would have accepted your share of
the spoil without any scruples, and would have felt ready to crown me.
It has failed; you are trying to get out of the responsibility, and
are on the point of treating me as if I were a swindler. Still, the
affair would not have been more honest in the first instance than in
the second, but success embellishes everything."
Serge looked hard at Herzog.
"What is there to prove," replied he, "that this speculation, which
brings ruin and loss to me, does not enrich you?"
"Ungrateful fellow!" observed the financier, ironically, "you
"Of having robbed me!" cried Serge, in a rage. "Why not?"
Herzog, for a moment, lost his temper and turned red in the face.
He seized Panine violently by the arm, and said:
"Gently, Prince; whatever insults you heap upon me must be shared
by you. You are my partner."
"Scoundrel!" yelled Panine, exasperated at being held by Herzog.
"Personalities," said the financier, in a jesting tone. "Then I
take my leave!"
And loosing his hold of the Prince, he went toward the door.
Serge sprang after him, exclaiming:
"You shall not leave this room until you have given me the means of
rectifying this disaster."
"Then let us talk sensibly, as boon companions," said Herzog. "I
know of a marvellous move by which we can get out of the difficulty.
Let us boldly call a general meeting. I will explain the thing, and
amaze everybody. We shall get a vote of confidence for the past, with
funds for the future. We shall be as white as snow, and the game is
played. Are you in with me?"
"Enough," replied the Prince, intensely disgusted. "It does not
suit me to do a yet more shameful thing in order to get out of this
trouble. It is no use arguing further; we are lost."
"Only the weak allow themselves to be lost!" exclaimed the
financier. "The strong defend themselves. You may give in if you
like; I won't. Three times have I been ruined and three times have I
risen again. My head is good! I am down now. I shall rise again,
and when I am well off, and have a few millions to spare, I will
settle old debts. Everybody will be astonished because they won't
expect it, and I shall be more thought of than if I had paid up at the
"And if you are not allowed to go free?" asked Serge. "What if
they arrest you?"
"I shall be in Aix-la-Chapelle to-night," said Herzog. "From there
I shall treat with the shareholders of the Universal Credit. People
judge things better at a distance. Are you coming with me?"
"No," replied Serge, in a low voice.
"You are wrong. Fortune is capricious, and in six months we may be
richer than we ever have been. But as you have decided, let me give
you a piece of advice which will be worth the money you have lost.
Confess all to your wife; she can get you out of this difficulty."
The financier held out a hand to Serge which he did not take.
"Ah! pride!" murmured Herzog. "After all it is your right—It is
you who pay!"
Without answering a word the Prince went out.
At that same hour, Madame Desvarennes, tired by long waiting, was
pacing up and down her little drawing-room. A door opened and
Marechal, the long-looked for messenger, appeared. He had been to
Cayrol's, but could not see him. The banker, who had shut himself up
in his private office where he had worked all night, had given orders
that no one should interrupt him. And as Madame Desvarennes seemed to
have a question on her lips which she dared not utter, Marechal added
that nothing unusual seemed to have happened at the house.
But as the mistress was thanking her secretary, the great gate
swung on its hinges, and a carriage rolled into the courtyard.
Marechal flew to the window, and uttered one word,
Madame Desvarennes motioned to him to leave her, and the banker
appeared on the threshold.
At a glance the mistress saw the ravages which the terrible night
he had passed through had caused. Yesterday, the banker was rosy,
firm, and upright as an oak, now he was bent, and withered like an old
man. His hair had become gray about the temples, as if scorched by
his burning thoughts. He was only the shadow of himself.
Madame Desvarennes advanced toward him, and in one word asked a
world of questions.
"Well?" she said.
Cayrol, gloomy and fierce, raised his eyes to the mistress, and
"Did he not come?"
"Yes, he came. But I had not the necessary energy to kill him. I
thought it was an easier matter to become a murderer. And you thought
so too, eh?"
"Cayrol!" cried Madame Desvarennes, shuddering, and troubled to
find that she had been so easily understood by him whom she had armed
on her behalf.
"The opportunity was a rare one, though," continued Cayrol, getting
excited. "Fancy; I found them together under my own roof. The law
allowed me, if not the actual right to kill them, at least an excuse
if I did so. Well, at the decisive moment, when I ought to have
struck the blow, my heart failed me. He lives, and Jeanne loves him."
There was a pause.
"What are you going to do?"
"Get rid of him in another way," answered Cayrol. "I had only two
ways of killing him. One was to catch him in my own house, the other
to call him out. My will failed me in the one case; my want of skill
would fail me in the other. I will not fight Serge. Not because I
fear death, for my life is blighted, and I don't value it; but if I
were dead, Jeanne would belong to him, and I could not bear the
thought of that even in death. I must separate them forever."
"By forcing him to disappear."
"And if he refuse?"
Cayrol shook his head menacingly, and exclaimed:
"I defy him! If he resist, I will bring him before the assizes!"
"You?" said Madame Desvarennes, going nearer to Cayrol.
"Yes, I!" answered the banker, with energy.
"Wretched man! And my daughter?" cried the mistress. "Think well
what you are saying! You would disgrace me and mine."
"Am I not dishonored myself?" asked Cayrol. "Your son-in-law is a
robber, who has defiled my home and robbed my safe."
"An honest man does not seek to revenge himself after the manner
you suggest," said the mistress, gravely.
"An honest man defends himself as he can. I am not a knight. I am
only a financier. Money is my weapon. The Prince has stolen from me.
I will have him sentenced as a thief."
Madame Desvarennes frowned.
"Make out your account. I will pay it."
"Will you also pay me for my lost happiness?" cried the banker,
exasperated. "Should I not rather have chosen to be ruined than be
betrayed as I am? You can never repair the wrong he has done me. And
then I am suffering so, I must have my revenge!"
"Ah! fool that you are," replied Madame Desvarennes. "The guilty
will not feel your blows, but the innocent. When my daughter and I
are in despair will you be less unhappy! Oh! Cayrol, take heed that
you lose not in dignity what you gain in revenge. The less one is
respected by others the more one must respect one's self. Contempt
and silence elevate the victim, while rage and hatred make him descend
to the level of those who have outraged him."
"Let people judge me as they please. I care only for myself! I am
a vulgar soul, and have a low mind—anything you like. But the idea
that that woman belongs to another drives me mad. I ought to hate
her, but, notwithstanding everything, I cannot live without her. If
she will come back to me I will forgive her. It is ignoble! I feel
it, but it is too strong for me. I adore her!"
Before that blind love Madame Desvarennes shuddered. She thought
of Micheline who loved Serge as Cayrol loved Jeanne.
"Suppose she chooses to go away with Serge," said the mistress to
herself. In a moment she saw the house abandoned, Micheline and Serge
in foreign lands, and she alone in the midst of her overthrown
happiness, dying of sadness and regrets. She made a last effort to
"Come, must I appeal in vain? Can you forget that I was a sure and
devoted friend to you, and that you owe your fortune to me? You are a
good man and will not forget the past. You have been outraged and
have the right of seeking revenge, but think that in carrying it out
you will hurt two women who have never done you any harm. Be
generous! Be just! Spare us!"
Cayrol remained silent; his face did not relax. After a moment he
"You see how low I have fallen, by not yielding at once to your
supplications! Friendship, gratitude, generosity, all the good
feelings I had, have been consumed by this execrable love. There is
nothing left but love for her. For her, I forget everything. I
degrade and debase myself. And what is worse than all, is that I know
all this and yet I cannot help myself."
"Miserable man!" murmured the mistress.
"Oh! most miserable," sobbed Cayrol, falling into an armchair.
Madame Desvarennes approached him, and quietly placed her hand on
"Cayrol, you are weeping? Then, forgive."
The banker arose and, with lowering brow, said:
"No! my resolution is irrevocable. I wish to place a world
between Jeanne and Serge. If he has not gone away by tonight my
complaint will be lodged in the courts of justice."
Madame Desvarennes no longer persisted. She saw that the husband's
heart was permanently closed.
"It is well. I thank you for having warned me. You might have
taken action without doing so. Good-by, Cayrol. I leave your
conscience to judge between you and me."
The banker bowed, and murmured:
And with a heavy step, almost tottering, he went out.
The sun had risen, and lit up the trees in the garden. Nature
seemed to be making holiday. The flowers perfumed the air, and in the
deep blue sky swallows were flying to and fro. This earthly joy
exasperated Madame Desvarennes. She would have liked the world to be
in mourning. She closed the window hastily, and remained lost in her
So everything was over! The great prosperity, the honor of the
house, everything was foundering in a moment. Even her daughter might
escape from her, and follow the infamous husband whom she adored in
spite of his faults—perhaps because of his very faults—and might
drag on a weary existence in a strange land, which would terminate in
For that sweet and delicate child could not live without material
comforts and mental ease, and her husband was doomed to go on from bad
to worse, and would drag her down with him! The mistress pictured her
daughter, that child whom she had brought up with the tenderest care,
dying on a pallet, and the husband, odious to the last, refusing her
admission to the room where Micheline was in agony.
A fearful feeling of anger overcame her. Her motherly love gained
the mastery, and in the silence of the room she roared out these
"That shall not be!"
The opening of the door recalled her to her senses, and she rose.
It was Marechal, greatly agitated. After Cayrol's arrival, not
knowing what to do, he had gone to the Universal Credit Company, and
there, to his astonishment, had found the offices closed. He had
heard from the porter, one of those superb personages dressed in blue
and red cloth, who were so important in the eyes of the shareholders,
that the evening before, owing to the complaint of a director, the
police had entered the offices, and taken the books away, and that the
official seal had been placed on the doors. Marechal, much alarmed,
had hastened back to Madame Desvarennes to apprise her of the fact.
It was evidently necessary to take immediate steps to meet this new
complication. Was this indeed the beginning of legal proceedings?
And if so how would the Prince come out of it?
Madame Desvarennes listened to Marechal, without uttering a word.
Events were hurrying on even quicker than she had dreaded. The fears
of the interested shareholders outran even the hatred of Cayrol. What
would the judges call Herzog's underhand dealings? Would it be
embezzlement? Or forgery? Would they come and arrest the Prince at
her house? The house of Desvarennes, which had never received a visit
from a sheriff's officer, was it to be disgraced now by the presence
of the police?
The mistress, in that fatal hour, became herself again. The
strong- minded woman of old reappeared. Marechal was more alarmed at
this sudden vigor than he had been at her late depression. When he
saw Madame Desvarennes going toward the door, he made an effort to
"Where are you going, Madame?" he inquired, with anxiety.
The mistress gave him a look that terrified him, and answered:
"I am going to square accounts with the Prince."
And, passing through the door leading to the little staircase,
Madame Desvarennes went up to her son-in-law's rooms.
CHAPTER XXII. THE MOTHER'S REVENGE
On leaving Herzog, Serge had turned his steps toward the Rue Saint-
Dominique. He had delayed the moment of going home as long as
possible, but the streets were beginning to be crowded. He might meet
some people of his acquaintance. He resolved to face what ever
reception was awaiting him on the way, he was planning what course he
should adopt to bring about a reconciliation with his redoubtable
mother-in-law. He was no longer proud, but felt quite broken down.
Only Madame Desvarennes could put him on his feet again; and, as
cowardly in trouble as he had been insolent in prosperity, he accepted
beforehand all that she might impose upon him; all, provided that she
would cover him with her protection.
He was frightened, not knowing how deep Herzog had led him in the
mire. His moral sense had disappeared, but he had a vague instinct of
the danger he had incurred. The financier's last words came to his
mind: "Confess all to your wife; she can get you out of this
difficulty!" He understood the meaning of them, and resolved to
follow the advice. Micheline loved him. In appealing to her heart,
deeply wounded as it was, he would have in her an ally, and he had
long known that Madame Desvarennes could not oppose her daughter in
He entered the house through the back garden gate, and regained his
room without making the slightest noise. He dreaded meeting Madame
Desvarennes before seeing Micheline. First he changed his attire; he
had walked about Paris in evening clothes. Looking in the glass he
was surprised at the alteration in his features. Was his beauty going
too? What would become of him if he failed to please. And, like an
actor who is about to play an important part, he paid great attention
to the making up of his face. He wished once more to captivate his
wife, as his safety depended on the impression he was about to make on
her. At last, satisfied with himself, he tried to look smiling, and
went to his wife's room.
Micheline was up.
At the sight of Serge she could not suppress an exclamation of
surprise. It was a long time since he had discontinued these familiar
visits. The presence of her beloved one in that room, which had
seemed so empty when he was not there, made her feel happy, and she
went to him with a smile, holding out her hand. Serge drew her gently
toward him and kissed her hair.
"Up, already, dear child," said he, affectionately.
"I have scarcely slept," answered Micheline. "I was so anxious. I
sat up for you part of the night. I had left you without saying
good-night. It was the first time it had occurred, and I wanted to beg
your pardon. But you came in very late."
"Micheline, it is I who am ungrateful," interrupted Panine, making
the young wife sit down beside him. "It is I who must ask you to be
"Serge! I beg of you!" said the young wife, taking both his
hands. "All is forgotten. I would not reproach you, I love you so
Micheline's face beamed with joy, and tears filled her eyes.
"You are weeping," said Panine. "Ah! I feel the weight of my
wrongs toward you. I see how deserving you are of respect and
affection. I feel unworthy, and would kneel before you to say how I
regret all the anxieties I have caused you, and that my only desire in
the future will be to make you forget them."
"Oh! speak on! speak on!" cried Micheline, with delight. "What
happiness to hear you say such sweet words! Open your heart to me!
You know I would die to please you. If you have any anxieties or
annoyances confide in me. I can relieve them. Who could resist me
when you are in question?"
"I have none, Micheline," answered Serge, with the constrained
manner of a man who is feigning. "Nothing but the regret of not
having lived more for you."
"Is the future not in store for us?" said the young wife, looking
lovingly at him.
The Prince shook his head, saying:
"Who can answer for the future?"
Micheline came closer to her husband, not quite understanding what
Serge meant, but her mind was on the alert, and in an alarmed tone,
"What strange words you are uttering? Are we not both young? And,
if you like, is there not much happiness in store for us?"
And she clung to him. Serge turned away.
"Oh, stay," she murmured, again putting her arms round him. "You
are so truly mine at this moment!"
Panine saw that the opportunity for confessing all had come. He
was able to bring tears to his eyes, and went toward the window as if
to hide his emotion. Micheline followed him, and, in an eager tone,
"Ah! I knew you were hiding something. You are unhappy or in
pain; threatened perhaps? Ah! if you love me, tell me the truth!"
"Well, yes! It is true, I am threatened. I am suffering and
unhappy! But don't expect a confession from me. I should blush to
make it. But, thank Heaven, if I cannot extricate myself from the
difficulty in which I am placed through my own folly and
imprudence—there is yet another way out of it."
"Serge! you would kill yourself!" cried Micheline, terrified at
the gesture Panine had made. "What would become of me then? But what
is there that is so hard to explain? And to whom should it be said?"
"To your mother," answered Serge, bowing his head.
"To my mother? Very well, I will go to her. Oh! don't fear
anything. I can defend you, and to strike you she will first have to
Serge put his arms round Micheline, and with a kiss, the hypocrite
inspired her whom he entrusted with his safety with indomitable
"Wait for me here," added the young wife, and passing through the
little drawing-room she reached the smoking-room.
She halted there a moment, out of breath and almost choked with
emotion. The long expected day had arrived. Serge was coming back to
her. She went on, and as she reached the door of the stair leading to
her mother's rooms, she heard a light tap from without.
Greatly astonished, she opened the door, and suddenly drew back,
uttering an exclamation. A woman, thickly veiled, stood before her.
At the sight of Micheline the stranger seemed inclined to turn and
fly. But overcome with jealousy, the young wife seized her by the arm,
dragged off her veil, and recognizing her, exclaimed:
Madame Cayrol approached Micheline, and beseechingly stretched out
"Micheline! don't think—I come—"
"Hold your tongue!" cried Micheline. "Don't tell me any lies! I
know all! You are my husband's mistress!"
Crushed by such a stroke, Jeanne hid her face in her hands and
"You must really be bold," continued Micheline, in a furious tone,
"to seek him here, in my house, almost in my arms!
Jeanne drew herself up, blushing with shame and grief.
"Ah! don't think," she said, "that love brings me here."
"What is it then?" asked Micheline, contemptuously.
"The knowledge of inevitable and pressing danger which threatens
"A danger! Of what kind?"
"Compromised by Herzog, he is at the mercy of my husband, who has
sworn to ruin him."
"Yes, he is his rival. If you could ruin me, would you not do it?"
"You!" retorted Micheline, passionately. "Do you think I am going
to worry about you? Serge is my first thought. You say you came to
warn him. What must be done?"
"Without a moment's delay he must go away!"
A strange suspicion crossed Micheline's mind. She approached
Jeanne, and looking earnestly at her, said:
"He must go away without delay, eh? And it is you, braving
everything, without a thought of the trouble you leave behind you, who
come to warn him? Ah! you mean to go with him?"
Jeanne hesitated a moment. Then, boldly and impudently, defying
and almost threatening the legitimate wife:
"Well, yes, I wish to! Enough of dissimulation! I love him!" she
Micheline, transfigured by passion, strong, and ready for a
struggle, threw herself in Jeanne's way, with arms outstretched, as if
to prevent her going to Serge.
"Well!" she said; "try to take him from me!"
"Take him from you!" answered Jeanne, laughing like a mad woman.
"To whom does he most belong? To the woman who was as ignorant of
his love as she was of his danger; who could do nothing toward his
happiness, and can do nothing for his safety? Or to the mistress who
has sacrificed her honor to please him and risks her safety to save
"Ah! wretch!" cried Micheline, "to invoke your infamy as a right!"
"Which of us has taken him from the other?" continued Jeanne,
forgetting respect, modesty, everything. "Do you know that he loved
me before he married you? Do you know that he abandoned me for
you—for your money, I should say? Now, do you wish to weigh what I
have suffered with what you suffer? Shall we make out a balance-sheet
of our tears? Then, you will be able to tell which of us he has loved
more, and to whom he really belongs."
Micheline had listened to this furious address almost in a state of
stupor, and replied, vehemently:
"What matter who triumphs if his ruin is certain. Selfish
creatures that we are, instead of disputing about his love, let us
unite in saving him! You say he must go away! But flight is surely an
admission of guilt— humiliation and obscurity in a strange land. And
that is what you advise, because you hope to share that miserable
existence with him. You are urging him on to dishonor. His fate is
in the hands of a man who adores you, who would sacrifice everything
for you, as I would for Serge, and yet you have not thrown yourself at
his feet! You have not offered your life as the price of your
lover's! And you say that you love him!"
"Ah!" stammered Jeanne, distracted. "You wish me to save him for
"Is that the cry of your heart?" said Micheline, with crushing
disdain. "Well, see what I am ready to do. If, to remove your jealous
fears, it is necessary to sacrifice myself, I swear to you that if
Serge be saved, he shall be perfectly free, and I will never see him
Micheline, chaste and calm, with hands raised to Heaven, seemed to
grow taller and nobler. Jeanne, trembling and overpowered, looked at
her rival with a painful effort, and murmured, softly:
"Would you do that?"
"I would do more!" said the lawful wife, bending before the
mistress. "I ought to hate you, and I kneel at your feet and beseech
you to listen to me. Do what I ask you and I will forgive you and
bless you. Do not hesitate! Follow me! Let us throw ourselves at
the feet of him whom you have outraged. His generosity cannot be less
than ours, and to us, who sacrifice our love, he will not be able to
refuse to sacrifice his vengeance."
This greatness and goodness awaked feelings in Jeanne's heart which
she thought dead. She was silent for a moment and then her breast
heaved with convulsive sobs, and she fell helpless into the arms which
Micheline, full of pity, held out to her.
"Forgive me," moaned the unhappy woman. "I am conquered. Your
rights are sacred, and you have just made them still more so. Keep
Serge: with you he will once more become honest and happy, because, if
your love is not greater than mine, it is nobler and purer."
The two women went hand in hand to try to save the man whom they
All this time Serge remained in the little drawing-room enjoying
the hope of returning peace. It was sweet to him, after the troubles
he had gone through. He had not the slightest suspicion of the scene
in the adjoining room between Jeanne and Micheline. The fond heroism
of his wife and the self-denial of his mistress were unknown to him.
Time was passing. At least an hour had sped since Micheline left
him to go to her mother, and Serge was beginning to think that the
interview was very long, when a light step made him tremble. It came
from the gallery. He thought it was Micheline, and opening the door,
he went to meet her.
He drew back disappointed, vexed, and anxious, when he found it was
Pierre. The two men had never met alone since that terrible night at
Nice. Panine assumed a bold demeanor, and returned Pierre's firm
look. Steadying his voice, he said:
"Ah! is it you?"
"Were you not expecting me?" answered Pierre whose harsh voice
The Prince opened his mouth to speak, but Pierre, did not give him
time. In stern and provoking accents, he continued:
"I made you a promise once; have you forgotten it? I have a good
memory. You are a villain, and I come to chastise you!"
"Pierre!" exclaimed the Prince, starting fiercely.
But he suddenly calmed himself, and added:
"Leave me! I will not listen to you!"
"You will have to, though! You are a source of trouble and shame
to the family to which you have allied yourself, and as you have not
the courage to kill yourself, I have come to help you. You must leave
Paris to- night, or you will be arrested. We shall go together to
Brussels and there we shall fight. If chance favors you, you will be
at liberty to continue your infamies, but at any rate I shall have
done my best to rid two unfortunate women of your presence."
"You are mad!" said Serge, sneeringly.
"Don't think so! And know that I am ready for any emergency.
Come; must I strike you, to give you courage?" growled Pierre, ready
to suit the action to the word.
"Ah! take care!" snarled Serge, with an evil look.
And opening a drawer which was close to him, he took out a
"Thief first, then murderer!" said Pierre, with a terrible laugh.
"Come, let's see you do it!"
And he was going toward the Prince when the door opened, and Madame
Desvarennes came forward. Placing her hand on Pierre's shoulder, she
said, in that commanding tone which few could resist:
"Go; wait for me in my room. I wish it!"
Pierre bowed, and, without answering, went out.
Serge had placed the pistol on the table and was waiting.
"We have to talk over several matters," said Madame Desvarennes,
gravely, "and you know it."
"Yes, Madame," answered Panine, sadly, "and, believe me, no one
judges my conduct more severely than I do."
The mistress could not help looking surprised.
"Ah!" she said, with irony, "I did not expect to find you in such
a mood. You have not accustomed me to such humility and sweetness.
You must be afraid, to have arrived at that stage!"
The Prince appeared not to have understood the implied insult in
his mother-in-law's words. One thing struck him, which was that she
evidently did not expect to find him repentant and humbled.
"Micheline must have told you," he began.
"I have not seen my daughter," interrupted the mistress, sharply,
as if to make him understand that he must depend solely upon himself.
Ignorant that Micheline had met Jeanne on her way to her mother,
and had gone to Cayrol, Serge thought he was abandoned by his only
powerful ally. He saw that he was lost and that his feigned
resignation was useless. Unable to control himself any longer, his
face darkened with rage.
"She, too, against me! Well! I will defend myself alone!"
Turning toward Madame Desvarennes, he added:
"To begin with, what do you want with me?"
"I wish to ask you a question. We business folk when we fail, and
cannot pay our way, throw blood on the blot and it disappears. You
members of the nobility, when you are disgraced, how do you manage?"
"If I am not mistaken, Madame," answered the Prince, in a light
tone, "you do me the favor of asking what my intentions are for the
future? I will answer you with precision. I purpose leaving to-night
for Aix-la- Chapelle, where I shall join my friend Herzog. We shall
begin our business again. My wife, on whose good feelings I rely,
will accompany me, notwithstanding everything."
And in these last words he put all the venom of his soul.
"My daughter will not leave me!" exclaimed Madame Desvarennes.
"Very well, then, you can accompany her," retorted Panine. "That
arrangement will suit me. Since my troubles I have learned to
appreciate domestic happiness."
"Ah! you hope to play your old games on me," said Madame
Desvarennes. "You won't get much out of me. My daughter and I with
you—in the stream where you are going to sink? Never!"
"Well, then," cried Panine, "what do you expect?"
A violent ring at the front door resounded as Madame Desvarennes
was about to answer, and stopped the words on her lips. This signal,
which was used only on important occasions, sounded to Madame like a
funeral knell. Serge frowned, and instinctively moved back.
Marechal appeared through the half-open door with a scared face,
and silently handed Madame Desvarennes a card. She glanced at it,
turned pale, and said to the secretary:
"Very well, let him wait!" She threw the card on the table. Serge
came forward and read:
"Delbarre, sheriff's officer."
Haggard-looking and aghast, he turned to the mistress, as if
seeking an explanation.
"Well!" she observed: "it is clear, he has come to arrest you."
Serge rushed to a cabinet, and opening a drawer, took forth some
handfuls of gold and notes, which he crammed into his pockets.
"By the back stairs I shall have time to get away. It is my last
chance! Keep the man for five minutes only."
"And if the door is guarded?" asked Madame Desvarennes.
Serge remained abject before her. He felt himself enclosed in a
ring which he could not break through.
"One may be prosecuted without being condemned," he gasped. "You
will use your influence, I know, and you will get me out of this mess.
I shall be grateful to you for ever, and will do anything you like!
But don't leave me, it would be cowardly!"
He trembled, as he thus besought her distractedly.
"The son-in-law of Madame Desvarennes does not go before the Assize
Courts even to be acquitted," said she, with a firm voice.
"What would you have me do?" cried Serge, passionately.
Madame Desvarennes did not answer, but pointed to the revolver on
"Kill myself? Ah! no; that would be giving you too much pleasure."
And he gave the weapon a push, so that it rolled close to Madame
"Ah! wretch!" cried she, giving way to her suppressed rage. "You
are not even a Panine! The Panines knew how to die."
"I have not time to act a melodrama with you," snarled Serge. "I
am going to try to save myself."
And he took a step toward the door.
The mistress seized the revolver, and threw herself before him.
"You shall not go out!" she cried.
"Are you mad?" he exclaimed, gnashing his teeth.
"You shall not go out!" repeated the mistress, with flashing eyes.
"We shall see!"
And with a strong arm he seized Madame Desvarennes, and threw her
The mistress became livid. Serge had his hand on the handle of the
door. He was about to escape. Madame Desvarennes's arm was stretched
A shot made the windows rattle; the weapon fell from her hand,
having done its work and, amid the smoke, a body dropped heavily on
the carpet, which was soon dyed with blood.
At the same moment, the door opened, and Micheline entered, holding
in her hand the fatal receipt which she had just wrung from Cayrol.
The young wife uttered a heartrending cry, and fell senseless on
Behind Micheline came the officer and Marechal. The secretary
exchanged looks with the mistress, who was lifting her fainting
daughter and clasping her in her arms. He understood all.
Turning toward his companion, he said:
"Alas! sir, here is a sad matter! The Prince, on hearing that you
had come, took fright, although his fault was not very serious, and
has shot himself."
The officer bowed respectfully to the mistress, who was bending
"Please to withdraw, Madame. You have already suffered too much,"
said he. "I understand your legitimate grief. If I need any
information, this gentleman will give it to me."
Madame Desvarennes arose, and, without bending under the burden,
she bore away on her bosom her daughter, regained.