The Project Gutenberg eBook of A Living Lie, by Paul Bourget
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Title: A Living Lie

Author: Paul Bourget
Translator: John De Villiers
Release Date: July 21, 2021 [eBook #65887]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Dagny and Laura Natal Rodrigues at Free Literature (Images generously made available by Hathi Trust Digital Library.)












I. A Provincial Corner of Paris
II. Simple Souls
III. A Lover and a Snob
IV. The 'Sigisbée'
V. The Dawn of Love
VI. An Observer's Logic
VII. The Face of a Madonna
VIII. The Other Side of the Picture
IX. An Actress in Real Life
X. In the Toils
XI. Declarations
XII. Cruel to be Kind
XIII. At Home
XIV. Happy Days
XV. Colette's Spite
XVI. The Story of a Suspicion
XVII. Proofs
XVIII. The Happiest of the Four
XIX. All or Nothing
XX. The Abbé Taconet


In the first place, you must let me thank you for having undertaken the task of introducing 'Mensonges' to the English-reading public; and also express the hope that this novel, which is no longer new, may not cause a recurrence of that misconception which too often arises when a work written in and for a Latin country is suddenly transplanted to Anglo-Saxon soil.

One of the most grievous results of such misconception, and one which French writers—I speak from experience—feel most keenly, is the reproach of immorality. Balzac spent a lifetime in defending himself against that charge; so it was with Flaubert; so it is with Emile Zola. I well remember how hurt I felt myself when, in the course of an action brought some ten years since against a publishing firm in London—who had, by the way, issued a translation of the work without my permission—'Un Crime d'Amour' was harshly spoken of by one of your judges. Not only then, but on many occasions, have I had an opportunity of remarking that the English regard the novelist's art from a standpoint differing entirely from that taken up by French writers. That difference is well worth dwelling upon here, for the problem it raises is neither more nor less than the problem of the whole art of novel-writing.

To French writers—and I refer more particularly to the great school which follows Balzac and Stendhal—the first quality of that art is analytical precision. Balzac called himself 'a doctor of social sciences.' Stendhal-Beyle, when asked his profession, used to reply, 'Observer of the human heart'; and upon the title-page of 'Rouge et Noir' he wrote as a motto the significant words, 'The truth, the ugly truth.' Every word of Flaubert's correspondence breathes forth the conviction that the novelist must always and before all else paint life as it is. These writers and their disciples do but follow, consciously or unconsciously, the scientific movement of the age. They are sociologists and psychologists who write in an imaginative form. The attitude they usually take up towards the object they are studying is explained by the fact that, as analysts, they are obliged to assume that absolute indifference to morality or immorality which should animate every savant whilst pursuing his investigations.

For them the whole question resolves itself into this: they must look the bare realities of life full in the face, reproduce them with absolute fidelity, and reject nothing they find; it should be their aim to produce a work of truth rather than a work of beauty. That is why Balzac, for example, did not hesitate, in 'Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes,' and in 'La Cousine Bette,' to lay bare with the brutal bluntness of a police report the lowest depths of Parisian vice. That, too, is why Flaubert had no compunction in placing before the readers of his 'Madame Bovary' the repulsive picture of Emma and Léon meeting in a house of ill-fame in Rouen. In his conception of imaginative literature the writer takes no heed of what will please or displease, what will comfort or afflict, what will affect or disgust. His aim is to add one document more to the mass of information concerning mankind and society collected by physiology, psychology, and the history of languages, creeds, and institutions. The novelist is merely a chronicler of actual life, and the value of his testimony lies in its truth.

It is easy to see, as I shall presently prove, that these æsthetics are intimately related to that great principle of intellectual conscientiousness which, under the name of science, animates the present age; and this relationship would in itself endow with idealism an art which has apparently no ideal. But a big objection to these theories has long been formulated—an objection that seems to spring up most readily in English minds when confronted with the bold utterances such theories authorise. The novel, it is said, necessarily appeals to the popular taste and places its impress upon the imagination of readers who are totally devoid of the ideal impartiality of those who take up a scientific standpoint. When such readers dip into a work like 'Splendeurs et Misères' or 'Madame Bovary,' they at once enter into the very life and spirit with which these books are permeated. The author's genius, reproducing in vivid colours scenes of questionable morality, makes them almost real, and to man, naturally imitative, such studies form a standing danger. If a bad example is contagious in real life, surely, it is urged, it is none the less so when enhanced by the magic of a master's style.

I do not think that, in stating the case for the other side I have weakened their argument. At the first glance, it seems irrefutable. I think, however, that novelists of the school of Balzac and Flaubert may justly reply that the morality of a book is something totally distinct from the danger that its perusal presents. Before deciding whether the total effect of a certain class of literature is worth the danger it incurs, it would be necessary to ascertain how far a work has been properly or improperly understood by all its readers. I, for my part, am fully convinced that the safety of society is absolutely dependent upon a true knowledge of human life, and that every work composed in a spirit of truth is on that account alone conducive of good. If the work occasionally shocks or offends a reader, it is none the less certain that it adds to the knowledge of the laws governing the minds and passions of men. Now, it is impossible to cite an example where the general conclusions drawn by a novelist of the analytical school have ever been contrary to the eternal laws set forth in the Decalogue.

Balzac might well have headed the last part of his 'Splendeurs et Misères' with this prophetic admonition from the Scriptures, The way of the ungodly shall perish. Flaubert could have chosen no better epigraph for the title-page of 'Madame Bovary' than the Seventh Commandment; and, if a modest disciple may be permitted to compare himself with these great masters, and his humble productions with their superior works, the novel now presented to the English public has its moral in the words addressed by the Abbé Taconet to Claude Larcher and in the lesson of social Christianity they teach.

These few remarks are necessary for the comprehension of passages in the following pages that might be considered crude outside the Parisian circle in which they were written. When 'Mensonges' was first published, nearly ten years ago, it was generally admitted that the picture was very faithfully drawn. On the other hand, it evoked a lively discussion in the Press concerning the value of the process by which this study had been produced—in other words, the value of psychological analysis.

Eminent critics reproached me with carrying the dissection of motives too far, and with too frequently laying bare the exquisitely delicate fibres of the heart. I well remember that amongst my masters Alexandre Dumas was most assiduous in warning me of the dangers of my method. 'It is a very fine thing to show how a watch works,' he would say to me, 'but not if by doing so you prevent it from telling the time.'

That all life is, to a great extent, unconscious is perfectly true, and a psychological analyst may therefore imperil the beauty of the particular life he proposes to describe by bringing into undue prominence and bestowing too much care upon its hidden workings. So far as I am concerned, I am quite willing to own that in so doing I may have deserved reproach; but I am persuaded that, if such be the case, the fault is mine and not that of the method employed. Every work of art, if critically considered, will be found to contain incongruities which the genius of the artist must conceal. The drama, for instance, in its use of dialogue, must compress into a few minutes conversations that would, in reality, occupy whole hours. It would therefore seem a priori as if all semblance of truth were in that case impossible. In the same way a lyric poet, by attempting to express in scholarly rhyme and in verse of complicated structure the most simple and spontaneous feelings of the heart, would seem to undertake a most paradoxical, I had almost said an absurd, task. And yet the dialogue of a Shakespeare or of a Molière has all the movement and colour of life itself. Heine's Lieder and Shelley's lyrics are real vibrations of the heart; and, to come back to the psychological novel, I may surely hold up the works of George Eliot, Tourguenieff, and Tolstoi in reply to the objection that a too minute analysis of character and feeling substitutes a dry anatomical study for the glow and ardour of passion. If 'Mensonges' may not be added to the list, it can only be because its author has not the necessary skill to wield what is, after all, a most excellent instrument.

These are a few of the ideas which I beg you to lay before the readers of the English version of my story in order that their hearts may be inclined to indulgence before they turn to the work itself. Allow me to thank you, as well as MM. Chatto and Windus, once more for having thought this study of Parisian life worthy the distinction of such a careful and masterly translation as yours.

Believe me,

Yours very faithfully,


HYÈRES, January 30, 1896.




'The gates are closed, sir,' said the driver, bending down from his box.

'Closed at half-past nine!' exclaimed a voice from the interior of the cab. 'What a place to live in! You needn't trouble to get down. The pavement's dry—I'll walk.'

The door of the vehicle swung open, and a young man stepped gingerly out, pulling the collar of his fur-lined coat a little more closely about his throat. The dainty patent-leather shoes that left just an inch of the embroidered silk socks visible, the plain black trousers and opera hat, showed that the wearer was in evening dress. The cab was one of those superior conveyances that ply for hire outside the Paris clubs, and the driver, little accustomed to this provincial corner of the city, began to peer, with almost as much interest as his fare, into the strange street that, although situated on the borders of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, had such an old-world look about it. At the time we write of—the beginning of February, 1879—the Rue Coëtlogon, running from the Rue d'Assas to the Rue de Rennes, still possessed the peculiarity of being shut off from the rest of the world by gates, while at night it was lit up by an oil lamp, hanging, in the old-fashioned way, from a rope swung right across the roadway. Since then the appearance of the place has changed a good deal. The mysterious-looking house on the right, standing in its own bit of garden, and affording no doubt a quiet retreat to some retiring old dame, has disappeared. The vacant land, that rendered the Rue Coëtlogon as inaccessible to vehicles on the one side as did the iron gates on the other, has been cleared of its heaps of stones. Gas jets have taken the place of the oil lamp, and only a slight unevenness in the pavement now marks the position of the posts upon which the gates hung. These were never locked, but only swung to at night; there was therefore no necessity for the young man to pull the bell, but before entering the narrow lane he stopped for a few moments to take in the strange scene presented by the dark outline of the houses on the left, the garden on the right, a confused mass of unfinished buildings at the bottom, and the old oil lamp in the middle. Overhead a bright wintry moon hung in the vast expanse of the heavens, through which sped a few swift-sailing clouds. As they scudded across the face of the moon, and flew off into the dark immensity beyond, they seemed only to enhance the metallic brilliancy of the luminary by the momentary shadow they cast in sweeping by.

'What a scene it would make for a parting!' murmured the young man, adding, in a somewhat louder tone:

Until the hour when from the vault above us
Glares down the frowning visage of the moon . . .

Had any observant passer-by happened to hear these two lines from Victor Hugo he would have recognised a man of letters by the way in which they were delivered. The solitary speaker bore indeed a name well to the fore in the literature of the day. But names so quickly disappear and get forgotten in the incessant onward rush of new works, self-assertive claims, and fleeting reputations that the successes of ten years ago seem as distant and as vague as those of another age. Two dramas of modern life, a little too directly inspired by the younger Dumas, had brought this young man—he was thirty-five or more, but he looked barely thirty—momentary renown, and he had not yet spoilt his name by putting it at the bottom of hastily written articles or upon the covers of indifferent novels. He was known only as the author of 'La Goule' and 'Entre Adultères,' two plays of unequal merit, full of a pessimism frequently conventional, but powerful in their trenchant analysis, their smart dialogue, and their painful striving after the Ideal. In 1879 these plays were already three years old, and Claude Larcher, who had allowed himself to drift into a life of idle pleasure, was beginning to accept lucrative and easy work, being no longer fit to make any fresh and long-sustained effort.

Like many analytical writers, he was accustomed to study and probe himself incessantly, though all his introspection had not the least influence upon his actions. The most trifling occurrences served as a pretext for indulging in examination of himself and his destiny, but long-continued dualism of this kind only resulted in keeping his perceptive faculties uselessly and painfully alert. The sight of this peaceful street and the thought of Victor Hugo immediately reminded him of the resolutions he had been vainly formulating for some months past to lead a retired life of regular work. He reflected that he had a novel on order for a magazine, a play to write that had already been accepted, and reviews to send to a 'daily,' whilst, instead of being seated at his table in the Rue de Varenne, here he was gadding about at ten o'clock at night dressed like an idler and a snob. He would pass the remainder of the evening and a part of the night at a soirée given by the Comtesse Komof, a Russian lady of fashion living in Paris, whose receptions at the grand mansion in the Rue de Bel-Respiro were as magnificent as they were mixed. He was about to do even worse. He had come to fetch another writer, ten years younger than himself, who had till that moment led precisely the noble life of hard work for which he himself so longed, in one of the houses in this modest and quiet Rue Coëtlogon.

René Vincy—that was the name of his young colleague—had just leapt with one bound into the full glare of publicity, thanks to one of those strokes of literary luck which do not occur twice in a generation. The 'Sigisbée,' a comedy in one act and in verse, a fanciful, dreamy work, written without any hopes of practical success, had brought him sudden fame. Like our dear François Coppée's 'Le Passant,' it had taken the blasé capital by storm, and had called forth not only unanimous applause in the Théâtre Français, but a chorus of praise in the newspapers next day. Of this astonishing success Claude could claim a share. Was he not the first in whose hands the manuscript of the 'Sigisbée' had been placed? Had he not taken it to Colette Rigaud, the famous actress of the House of Molière? And Colette, having fallen in love with the principal part, had smoothed away all obstacles. It was he, Claude Larcher, who, consulted by Madame Komof upon the choice of a play to be performed in her salon, had suggested the 'Sigisbée;' the Comtesse had acted upon his suggestion, and the performance was to take place that evening. Claude, who had undertaken to chaperon the young poet, had come at the appointed hour to the Rue Coëtlogon, where René Vincy lived with his married sister.

This extreme kindness of an already successful author towards a mere novice was not entirely devoid of a tinge of irony and pride. Claude Larcher, who spent his time in slandering the wealthy and cosmopolitan world in which the Comtesse Komof moved, and in which he himself was always mixing, felt his vanity slightly tickled by being able to dazzle his friend with the glamour of his fashionable connections. At the same time the malicious cynic was amused by the simplicity of the poet and by his childish awe of that magic and meaningless word—Society. He had already enjoyed, as much as a play, Vincy's shyness during their first visit to the Comtesse a few days before, and thoughts of the fever of expectancy in which René must now be made him smile as he approached the house in which his young friend lived.

'And to think that I was just as foolish as that once!' he murmured, remembering that he, too, as well as René, had had his début; then he thought, 'That is a feeling of which those who have always lived in that kind of world have no idea; and how absurd it is for us to go and visit these people!'

Whilst philosophising in this manner Claude had stopped before another gate on the left, and, finding it locked, had rung the bell. The passage to which this gate gave access belonged to a three-storeyed house separated from the street by a narrow strip of garden. The porter's lodge was under the arch at the end of the passage, but either the concierge was absent or the pull at the bell had not been sufficiently vigorous, for Claude was obliged to tug a second time at the rusty ring that hung at the end of a long chain. He had time, therefore, to examine this dull, dismal-looking house, in which there was only one window lit up. This was on the ground floor, and belonged to the suite of rooms occupied by the Fresneaus, four windows of which looked out upon the little garden.

Mademoiselle Emilie Vincy, the poet's sister, had married one Maurice Fresneau, a teacher, whose colleague Claude had been upon first coming to Paris—a début of which the pampered author of 'La Goule' was weak enough to be ashamed. How happy he would have been had he been able to say that he had frittered away his patrimony at cards or upon women! He, however, kept up a close acquaintance with his former colleague, out of gratitude for pecuniary services rendered long ago. He had at first interested himself in René chiefly for the sake of this old comrade of less happy days, but had afterwards yielded to the charm of the young man's nature. How often, when tired of his artificial life and tortured by painful indolence and bitter passions, had he not come to obtain an hour's rest in René's modest room, next to that in which the light was now burning, and which was the dining-room. In the short interval that elapsed between his two rings, and thanks to the swift imagination of his artistic mind, this room suddenly rose up before him—symbolical of the purity of soul hitherto preserved by his friend. The poet and his sister had with their own hands nailed to the wall some thin red cloth adorned here and there with a few engravings, chosen with the consummate taste of a lonely thinker—some studies by Albert Dürer, Gustave Moreau's 'Hélène' and 'Orphée,' and one or two etchings by Goya. The iron bedstead, the neatly kept table, the bookcase filled with well-bound books, the red parquetting of the floor forming a frame to the carpet in the centre—how Claude had loved this familiar scene, with these words from the 'Imitatio' written over the door by René in his boyish days: Cella continuata dulcescit! Larcher's thoughts, at first ironical, had become suddenly modified by the images his brain had conjured up, and he felt moved by the idea that this entry into society through the portals of the Komof mansion was after all a great event for a child of twenty-five who had always lived in this house. What a heart full of ideals he was about to carry into that pleasure-loving and artificial Society that crowded the Comtesse's salons!

'What a pity he should have to go!' he exclaimed, his reverie broken by the click of the lock, adding, as he pushed the gate open, 'But it was I who advised him to accept the invitation, and who got him dressed for to-night.' He had, indeed, taken René to his tailor, his hosier, his bootmaker, and even his hatter, in order to proceed to what he jestingly called his investiture. 'The dangers of contact with the world ought to have been thought of before. . . . But how foolish of me to meet troubles half way! He will be presented to four or five women, he will be invited to dinner two or three times, he will forget to call again, he will forget—and he will be forgotten.'

By this time he was half way down the passage, and had knocked at the first door on the right before coming to the porter's lodge, which it was not necessary to pass. His knock was answered by a big fat maid of about thirty, with a short waist, square shoulders, and a great round face surmounted by a huge Auvergne cap and lit up by two brown eyes betraying animal simplicity. Instinctive distrust was expressed not only in the woman's physiognomy, but also by the manner in which she held the door instead of opening it wide, and by the way she blinked her eyes as she raised the lamp to throw the light upon the visitor's features. On recognising Claude her big face expressed a degree of satisfaction that told plainly how welcome the writer was in the Fresneau household.

'Good evening, Françoise,' said the young man; 'is your master ready?'

'Oh!—it's Monsieur Larcher,' exclaimed the maid, with a joyful smile, showing all her sharp little white teeth, of which she had lost one on each side of the top row. 'He is quite ready,' she added, 'and looks like an angel. You will find la compagnie in the dining-room. Let me take your coat for you . . . Saints preserve us! My dear gentleman, what a weight this must be on your back!'

The familiarity of this maid-of-all-work, who had come straight to the Fresneaus from the professor's native village in Auvergne, and who had made herself thoroughly at home with them for the past fifteen years, was a constant source of amusement to Claude Larcher. He was one of those deep thinkers who worship utter simplicity, no doubt because they find in it a relief from the incessant and exhaustive labour of their own brain. Françoise would sometimes speak to him of his works in most droll and grotesque terms, or with great ingenuousness express the fear with which she was always haunted—that the author was going to put her into one of his plays; or, again, she would, after the manner of her kind, give a most ludicrous turn to some literary phrase she had picked up in waiting at table. Claude remembered how he had once heard her say, in praising René's ardour for work: 'He dentifries himself with his heroes.' He could not help laughing at it even now. She would say ceuiller for cuiller, engratigner for égratigner, archeduc for aqueduc, to travel in coquelicot for incognito, and a heap of other similar slips which the writer would amuse himself by jotting down in one of his innumerable notebooks for a novel that he would never finish. He was therefore as a rule glad to provoke the woman's gossip; but that evening he was not in a mood for it, being suddenly filled with melancholy at the idea that he was playing the part of a vulgar worldly tempter. Whilst Françoise was hanging up his coat for him he looked down the corridor that he knew so well, with its doors on each side. René's bedroom was on the right at the end of the passage, facing the south; the Fresneaus were satisfied with a smaller apartment looking north, the room next to this being occupied by their son Constant, a boy six years old, of whom Emilie thought a good deal less than of René. Claude was fully acquainted with all the reasons for this tender sisterly love, as he was indeed with the whole history of this family. It was that history, so touching in its modest simplicity, which amply justified his remorse in dragging from this peaceful retreat the one in whom all was centred.

The father of Emilie and René, an attorney of Vouziers, had died a wretched death from the effects of intemperate habits. The practice having been sold and what little property there was realised, the widow, after paying all debts, found herself in possession of about fifty thousand francs. Feeling that life in Vouziers would recall too many bitter memories, Madame Vincy went to live in Paris with her two young children. She had a brother there, the Abbé Taconet, a priest of some eminence, who, though educated in the Ecole Normale, had suddenly, and without giving any reasons, entered into holy orders; the astonishment of his former comrades was, if possible, increased when they saw him, soon after leaving Saint-Sulpice, set up a school in the Rue Casette. A conscientious but very liberal Catholic, with strong leanings to Gallicanism, the Abbé Taconet had seen many families of the upper middle class hesitate between purely secular and purely religious colleges, not finding in either that combination of traditional Christianity and modern development they sought, and he had taken orders for the express purpose of carrying into effect a plan he had formed for realising that combination. The height of his ambition was reached on the day that he and two younger priests opened an ecclesiastical day school, which he christened the Ecole Saint-André, after his patron saint. The success that attended the Abbé's enterprise was so rapid that already, in the third year, two small one-horse omnibuses were required to fetch the pupils and take them back to their homes.

This opportunity of giving her son, then ten years old, an exceptional education, was one of the reasons that led Madame Vincy to choose Paris for her residence, especially since Emilie's sixteen years promised the mother valuable aid in the discharge of her household duties. By the advice of the Abbé Taconet, whom the management of the school funds had made quite a business man, she invested her fifty thousand francs in Italian stocks, which at that time could be bought at sixty-five francs, thus securing her an income of two thousand eight hundred francs per year. The secret of the idolatrous affection which Emilie lavished upon her young brother lay almost entirely in the innumerable daily sacrifices entailed by the inadequacy of this amount, for in matters of love we pursue our sufferings as at cards we pursue our losses.

Almost immediately after her arrival in Paris—she had taken rooms in this very house in the Rue Coëtlogon, but on the third floor—Madame Vincy had become an invalid, so that from 1863 to 1871, when the poor woman died, Emilie had discharged the triple duty of nursing her mother, of carefully tending a household where fifty centimes meant much, and of superintending step by step her brother's education. All this, too, she had done without allowing the fatigue that stole the colour from her cheeks to wring from her lips a single complaint. She resembled those sempstresses in the old songs of Paris who consoled themselves in their rude, incessant toil by cultivating some tender flower upon their window sill. Her flower was her brother, a timid, loving child with wistful eyes, and he had well repaid Emilie's devotion by his successes at college—a source of great joy to women whose lives were so entirely devoid of all pleasure. It was not long before René began to write poems, and Emilie had been the happy confidante of the young man's first attempts. Then, when Fresneau asked her to be his wife, not six months after the death of her mother, she consented only on condition that the professor, who had just passed his examinations, would not leave Paris, and that René was to live with them, and devote himself to writing. Fresneau joyfully acceded to these demands. He was one of those very good and very simple men who are peculiarly fitted to be lovers, granting blindly all that the object of their love desires. He had been enamoured of Emilie, without daring to declare his passion, since first making the acquaintance of the Vincys as René's master at the Ecole Saint-André in 1865. This man, who was not far from forty, felt drawn towards the girl by the strange similarity of their destinies. Had he not also renounced all selfish ambition and all personal aspirations in order to liquidate the debts which his father—a ruined schoolmaster—had left behind? From 1851 to 1872, when he married, the professor had paid twenty thousand francs to his father's creditors, and that by giving lessons at five francs each, taking one with the other! If we add to the number of working hours that produced this result the time required for preparing the lessons, correcting exercises, and going about from one place to another—Fresneau would sometimes have lessons at all points of the Parisian compass on the same day—we shall have the sketch of an existence, not uncommon in the profession of teaching, that is capable of wearing out the strongest constitutions. His love for Emilie had formed the one romance of Fresneau's life, too occupied as he had been during his youth to find time for such sentiments. The Abbé Taconet had given his blessing to their union, and an addition had been made to the slaves of René's genius.

Claude Larcher was not ignorant of any of these facts, which had all been of importance in developing the character and talent of the young poet. Whilst Françoise was hanging up his overcoat his rapid glance travelled round the dimly-lighted passage and took in all those material details which for him had a deeper and a moral signification. He knew why, in the corner near the door, side by side with the professor's stout alpaca umbrella with its clumsy handle, there stood a neat English frame with an elegant stick, chosen by Madame Fresneau for her brother. He knew, too, that it was the sister's love that had provided the dainty Malacca that adorned the hall-stand, and which had probably cost thirty times as much as the plain heavy stick carried by Fresneau when it was fine. He knew that the professor's books, after having for a long time been exposed to the dirt and dust on the blackened shelves of a bookcase in this passage, had at length been banished even from that place to a dark cupboard, and that the passage had then been given up to René's decorative fancies. The walls were adorned with engravings of his choosing—a whole row of Raffet's splendid studies of the great Napoleon, which must have been very obnoxious to the Republican tastes of the professor. But Claude knew well enough that Fresneau would be the very last to notice the constant sacrifice of the whole household to this brother, whom he, too, worshipped, out of love for Emilie, as blindly as did the servant and even the uncle—the uncle, for the Abbé Taconet had not been able to resist the influence of the young man's disposition and talent. The Abbé did not forget that his nephew possessed a modest income—the amount invested, by his advice, in Italians, and afterwards transferred to safe French stocks, now bringing in three thousand francs—and that he himself would double it at his death. Was not René's Christian education a guarantee that his literary talents would help to propagate the views of the Church? The priest had therefore done what he could to start the poet on that difficult path of letters where the fortunate youth had so far only met with happiness.

Of this happiness, consisting of pure devotion, silent affection, loving indulgence, and hearty, comforting confidence, Claude Larcher knew the value better than anyone—he who, bereft of both his parents, had, from his twentieth year, been compelled to battle alone against the hardships, the disenchantments, and the contamination of a struggling author's life in Paris. He never visited the Fresneaus without experiencing a feeling of sadness, and to-night was no exception to the rule. It was a feeling which generally made him laugh the louder and exercise his most withering sarcasm. Too enervated to bear the slightest emotion without feeling pain, he was, on such occasions, within an ace of proclaiming his agony, and in view of the hopelessness of ever conquering this excessive sensibility, ready, like a child, to be judged by his words whilst uttering the most atrocious libels on his own heart.



When, with his usual bantering smile, Claude entered the small dining-room he found that la compagnie, as Françoise called it, comprised René—the hero of what seemed to his friends a most remarkable adventure—Madame Fresneau and her husband, Madame Offarel, the wife of a sous-chef de bureau in the Ministère de la Guerre, and her two daughters, Angélique and Rosalie. All these good people were seated around the mahogany table on mahogany chairs, the horsehair seats of which were glossy with the wear of years. This suite formed part of the original household effects of the avoué of Vouziers, and owed its marvellous state of preservation to the care bestowed upon it by its present owners. A portable stove, fixed upon the hearth, did not tend to improve the air in the somewhat small apartment, though it testified to the housewife's habits of thrift. Emilie would have no wood fires except in René's room. A lamp suspended by a brass chain illumined the circle of heads that was turned towards the visitor as he entered and cast a feeble light upon the yellow flowers of the wall-paper, relieved here and there by a piece of old china. The lamp-light revealed more clearly to the new arrival the feelings expressed in the faces of the different occupants of the room. Likes and dislikes are not so easily concealed by those who move in humble circles—there the human animal is less tamed, less accustomed to the mask continually worn in more polite society. Emilie held out her hand to Claude—an unusual thing for her to do—with a happy smile upon her lips, and a look of joy in her brown eyes, her whole being expressing the sincere pleasure she felt at seeing someone whom she knew to be interested in her brother.

'Doesn't his coat fit him beautifully?' she asked impetuously, before Larcher had taken a chair or even exchanged a word of greeting with the other visitors.

René, it was true, was a perfect specimen of the creature so seldom seen in Paris—a handsome young man. At twenty-five the author of the 'Sigisbée' was still without a wrinkle on his brow, while the freshness of his complexion and the look of purity in his clear blue eyes told of a virgin soul and a mind unsullied by the world. He bore a great resemblance to the medallion, but little known, which David, the sculptor, has left of Alfred de Musset in his youth, though René's wealth of hair, his fair and already full beard, and his broad shoulders gave him an air of health and strength wanting in the somewhat effeminate and almost too frail appearance of the great poet. His eyes, generally serious, spoke at that moment of simple and unalloyed happiness, and Emilie's admiration was justified by an innate grace that revealed itself in spite of the levelling effect of a dress-coat. In her tender solicitude the loving sister had even thought of gold studs and links for his shirt-front and cuffs, and had bought them out of her savings at a jeweller's in the Rue de la Paix, after a secret conference with Claude. She had fastened his white tie with her own fingers, and had bestowed as much care upon him that evening as when, fourteen years ago, she had superintended the toilet of this idolised brother for his first communion.

'Poor Emilie,' said René, with a smile that disclosed two splendid rows of teeth; 'you must excuse her, Claude; I am her only weakness.'

'Well! So you are dragging René into dissipation too, eh?' cried Fresneau, as he shook hands with Larcher. The professor was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a great head of hair just beginning to turn grey, and an unkempt beard. Spread out before him, and covered with pencil notes, were some large sheets of paper—the exercises he brought home to correct. He gathered them up, saying, 'Lucky man! You've got rid of this terrible job! Will you take a thimbleful just to warm you?' he asked, holding up a decanter half filled with brandy, which was always left on the table after coffee had been served—the family sitting here in preference to moving into the salon, a room in the front of the house used only on grand occasions. 'Or a cigarette?' he added, offering Claude a bowl filled with tobacco.

Claude thanked him with a deprecatory smile and turned to bow to the three lady visitors, not one of whom offered him her hand. The mother, who scratched her head every now and then with one of her knitting-needles, was busily at work upon a blue woollen stocking, and her two daughters were engaged upon some embroidery. Madame Offarel's hair was quite white, and her face deeply wrinkled; through the round glasses that she managed to balance somehow or other on her short nose there flashed a glance of deep hatred upon Claude. Angélique, the elder of the two girls, repressed a smile as she heard the writer make a slight slip in his pronunciation; with her black eyes, that shot swift sideward glances, with her blushes that came as readily as her smiles, she belonged to the numerous family of shy but mocking females. Rosalie, the younger of the two sisters, had returned Claude's salute without raising her eyes, black as her sister's, but filled with a sweet, timid expression. A few minutes later she stole a glance from beneath her long lashes at René, and her fingers trembled as her needle followed the tracing for the embroidery. She bent her head still lower until her chestnut hair shone in the lamp-light.

Not a whit of this by-play had been lost upon Claude. He was well acquainted with the habits and disposition of ces dames Offarel, as Fresneau called them in his provincial way. They had probably arrived at about seven o'clock, soon after dinner. Old Offarel, after having accompanied them here from the Rue Bagneux, had gone on to the Café Tabourey, at the corner of the Odéon, where he conscientiously waded through all the daily papers. Claude had long guessed that Madame Offarel cherished the idea of a marriage between Rosalie and René; he suspected his young friend of having encouraged these hopes by an innate taste for the romantic, and it was only too evident that Rosalie had been captivated by the mental qualities and physical attractions of the poet. He, Claude Larcher, knew well enough, too, that he himself was both liked and feared by the girl. She liked him because he was devoted to René, and feared him because he was dragging the latter into a fresh current of events. To this innocent child, as well as to all the members of this small circle, the soirée at Madame Komof's seemed like a fairy expedition to distant and unexplored lands. In each of them it conjured up chimerical hopes or foolish fears. Emilie Fresneau had always cherished the most ambitious dreams for her brother, and she now pictured him leaning against a mantelpiece reciting verses in the midst of a crowd of duchesses, and beloved by a 'Russian princess.' These two words expressed the highest form of social superiority that her mind was capable of imagining. Rosalie was the victim of the keenest perspicacity—that of the woman who loves. Although she reproached herself for her folly, René's eyes frightened her with the joy they expressed, and that joy was at going into a world which she, almost his betrothed, could not enter. A bond, stronger than Claude had imagined, already united them, for secret vows had been exchanged by the pair one spring evening in the preceding year. René was then still unknown. She had him to herself. When by her side he thought all things charming; without her, all was insipid. To-day, her confidence disturbed by unconscious jealousy, she began to see what dangerous comparisons threatened her love. With her home-made dresses that spoilt the beauty of her figure, with her ready-made boots in which her dainty feet were lost, with her modest white collars and cuffs, she felt herself grow small by the side of the grand ladies whom René would meet. That was why her fingers trembled and why a vague terror shot through her heart, causing it to beat quicker, whilst the professor pressed Claude to drink a glass of liqueur and to make himself a cigarette.

'I assure you it's excellent eau-de-vie, sent me from Normandy by one of my pupils. Really not? You used to be so fond of it once. Do you remember when we gave lessons at Vanaboste's? Four hours a day, Thursdays included, corrections to be done at home, for a hundred and fifty francs a month! And yet how happy we were in those days! We had a quarter of an hour's interval between the classes, and I remember the little café we used to go to in the Rue Saint-Jacques to get a glass of this eau-de-vie to keep us going. You used to call it hardening the arteries, under the pretence that a man is only as old as his arteries, and that alcohol diminishes their elasticity.'

'I was twelve years younger then,' said Claude, as he laughed at the other's reminiscences, 'and had no rheumatism.'

'It can't be very good for one's health,' interposed Madame Offarel with some asperity, 'to go out nearly every night; and these big dinners, with their fine wines and highly-seasoned dishes, impoverish the blood terribly!'

'Don't be absurd,' said Emilie, interposing; 'we have had the honour of Monsieur Larcher's company to dinner, and you would be surprised to see what a modest meal he makes. And people can afford to go to bed a little late when they are free to sleep long in the morning. René tells us that it is so delightfully quiet in your house,' she added, addressing the writer.

'Yes, so it is. I happened to come across some rooms in an old house in the Rue de Varenne, and I find that at present I am the only tenant in the place. When the blinds are drawn I can fancy it is the middle of the night. I can hear nothing but the ringing of the bells in a convent close by and the roar of the city far, far away.'

'I have always heard it said that one hour's sleep before midnight is worth more than two afterwards,' broke in the old lady, exasperated by Claude's imperturbability. She was incensed against him without knowing exactly why—this feeling being inspired less by the influence he exercised upon René than by deep natural antipathy. She felt that she was being studied by this individual with the inquisitorial eyes, perfect manners, and unfathomable smiles. His presence produced in her a feeling of uneasiness that found vent in sharp words. She therefore added, 'Besides, Monsieur René cannot have such rest here. At what time will this Countess's soirée be over?'

'I don't know,' replied Claude, amused by the ill-concealed rancour of his adversary; 'the "Sigisbée" will be performed about half-past ten, and I suppose we shall sit down to supper about half-past twelve or one.'

'Monsieur René will be in bed about two o'clock, then,' rejoined Madame Offarel, with the visible satisfaction of an aggressive person bringing forward an irrefutable argument; 'and as Monsieur Fresneau goes out about seven, and Françoise begins to potter about at six——'

'Come, come, once in a way!' exclaimed Emilie with some impatience, cutting short the other's words. She feared the old lady's indiscreet tongue, and changed the topic by flattering her pet mania. 'You have not told us whether Cendrillon came back for good?'

Cendrillon was a grey cat presented by Madame Offarel to a young man named Jacques Passart, a teacher of drawing, between whom and the sous-chef de bureau a friendship had sprung up, born of their mutual taste for aquarelles. These were the two family vices—a love for painting in the husband, who daubed his canvases even in his office; and a love of cats in the wife, who had had as many as five such boarders in her flat—a ground floor like that of the Fresneaus, also with its bit of garden. Jacques Passart, who nursed an unrequited affection for Rosalie, had so often gone into rhapsodies over the pretty ways of Cendrette or Cendrinette, as Madame Offarel called her, that he had been presented with the animal. After a stay of three months in the room occupied by Passart on a fifth floor in the Rue du Cherche-Midi, Cendrillon had become a mother. Out of her three kittens two had been killed, and, doubtlessly thinking the third in danger, she had run away with it. Passart had been afraid to speak of his loss, but two days later Madame Offarel heard a scratching at the garden door.

'That's strange,' she said, verifying the number of her cats—one of which was lying at full length on the counterpane of her bed, another on the only sofa, and a third on the marble chimney-piece. 'They are all here, and yet I hear a scratching.' She opened the door, and Cendrillon walked in, purring, arching her back, and rubbing her head against her old mistress with a thousand pretty little ways that charmed the good lady. The next morning Cendrillon had once more vanished. This visit, rendered more mysterious by the avowal Passart had been obliged to make of his negligence, had on the previous day been the sole theme of Madame Offarel's conversation, and the fact that she had not even alluded to the circumstance that evening revealed more than her epigrams the importance attached by Rosalie's mother to René's entry into society.

'Ah! Cendrillon,' she replied, her ill-humour tinged with the enthusiasm evoked by the mention of the dear creature. 'I don't suppose Monsieur René remembers anything about it?' Upon a sign of reassurance from the young man that he had not forgotten the interesting event, she continued: 'Well, she came back this morning, carrying her little one in her mouth, and laid it at my feet like an offering, with such a look in her eyes! The day before she had come to see whether I still cared for her, and now she came to ask me to take her kitten too. It's better to bestow one's affections upon animals than upon human beings,' she added, by way of conclusion; 'they are much more faithful.'

'What a wonderful trait of instinct!' cried Fresneau, beginning once more to disfigure his exercises with cabalistic signs. 'I will make a note of it for my class.' The poor man, a real Jack-of-all-trades in his profession, taught philosophy in a preparatory school for B.A.'s, Latin in another, history in another, and even English, which he could scarcely pronounce. In this way he had contracted the habit, peculiar to old schoolmen, of holding forth at length at every possible opportunity. This marvellous return of Cendrillon to her native hearth was a text to be elaborated ad infinitum. He went on telling anecdote after anecdote, and forgetting his exercises—to all appearances. The excellent man, so weak that he had never been able to keep a class of ten boys in order, was a marvel of observation where his wife was concerned. Whilst his pencil was running over the margins of the sheets of foolscap he had distinctly perceived Madame Offarel's hostility. From Emilie's tone of voice, too, it was clear to him that she was somewhat uneasy as to the turn that such a conversation might take. So the professor prolonged his monologue in order to give the nerves of the sour-tempered bourgeoise time to steady themselves. He was not called upon to play his part long, for there came another ring at the bell.

'That's papa!' exclaimed Rosalie; 'it must be a quarter to ten.' She, too, had suffered from her mother's show of temper towards Claude and René, and the arrival of her father, which was the signal for departure, seemed like a deliverance—to her, too, for whom parting from the Fresneaus was generally an ordeal. But she knew her mother, and felt, by instinct rather than by reasoning, how mean and distasteful the bitterness of her remarks must seem to René. There were only too many reasons why he should no longer care for their company. She therefore rose as her father entered the room. M. Offarel was a tall, withered-looking man, with one of those pinched faces that irresistibly remind one of the immortal type of Don Quixote; an aquiline nose, hollow temples, a harshly drawn mouth, and, to crown all, one of those receding brows the wrinkles and bumps of which represent so many chimerical fancies and false ideas within. To his innocent mania for aquarelles he added the ridiculous weakness of incessantly talking about his imaginary complaints.

'It's very cold to-night,' were his first words, and, addressing his wife, he added, 'Adelaide, have you any tincture of iodine in the house? I am sure I shall have my attack of rheumatism in the morning.'

'Is your cab warmed?' asked Emilie, turning to Claude.

'Oh, yes,' replied the writer, pulling out his watch; 'and I see that it's time to get into it, if we don't want to be late.' Whilst he was taking leave of the little circle René disappeared through the door that led from the dining-room to his bedroom without bidding anyone good night.

'He has probably only gone to get his coat,' thought Rosalie; 'he cannot possibly have gone without saying good-bye, especially as he has not looked at me at all to-night.' She went on with her work whilst Fresneau received the sous-chef de bureau with the same questions he had put to his friend: 'Just a thimbleful to keep the cold out?'

'Only a suspicion,' answered Offarel.

'That's right,' rejoined the professor, 'you are not like Larcher, who despised my eau-de-vie!'

'Monsieur Larcher!' observed the other. 'Don't you know his usual drink? Why'—he added, in a lower key, and prudently looking towards the passage—'I read an article in the paper only this evening that shows him up well.'

'Tell us all about it, petit père,' exclaimed Madame Offarel, dropping her work for the first time that evening, and artlessly allowing her rancorous feelings to betray themselves as openly as her simple affection for her cat.

'It appears,' said the old man, emphasising his words, 'that wherever Monsieur Larcher appears, they offer him blood to drink instead of tea or other things.'

'Blood!' exclaimed Fresneau, taken aback by this astounding statement. 'What for?'

'To sustain him, of course,' said Madame Offarel quickly; 'didn't you notice his face? What a life he must lead!'

'It also appears,' continued Offarel, anxious to gratify that low taste for senseless gossip peculiar to a bourgeois as soon as he gets hold of one of the innumerable calumnies to which well-known men are exposed—'it appears that he lives surrounded by a court of women who adore him, and that he has discovered an infallible method of making whatever he writes a success. He has a dozen copies of his proofs struck off at once, and takes one to each of the ladies he knows. They spread them out on their knees, and "Mon petit Larcher here, and mon petit Larcher there—you must alter this and you must cut out that." So he alters this and he cuts out that, and the ladies imagine that they have written his work for him.'

'I am not at all surprised,' said Madame Offarel; 'he looks like a bold deceiver.'

'I must confess,' replied Fresneau, 'that I don't like his writings much; but as for being a deceiver—that's another matter. My dear Madame Offarel, I assure you he's a perfect child. How it amuses me when the newspapers say that he knows women's hearts! I've always found him in love with the worst creatures on earth, whom he conscientiously believed to be angels, and who deceive him and fool him as much as they please. René told us the other day that he spends his time in dallying with little Colette Rigaud, who plays in the "Sigisbée"—a false hussy who'll worm his last shilling out of him.'

'Hush!' exclaimed Emilie, entering just in time to hear the end of this little speech, and placing her hand on her husband's lips. 'Monsieur Claude is a friend of ours, and I won't have him discussed. My brother desires to be excused for not saying "good night" to you all,' she added; 'they hadn't noticed that it was so late, and left in a hurry. And when am I to have that drawing of the last scene in the "Sigisbée?"' she asked, turning to the sous-chef de bureau.

'It's a bad time of year for water-colours,' replied the latter; 'it gets dark so soon, and we are overwhelmed with work—but you shall have it. Why, what's the matter, Rosalie? You are quite white.'

The poor girl was indeed suffering tortures on finding that René had left her without so much as a look or a word. A great lump rose in her throat, and her eyes filled with tears. She had strength enough, however, to repress her sobs and to reply that she was overcome by the heat of the stove. Her mother darted a look at Emilie containing such a direct reproach that Madame Fresneau turned away her eyes involuntarily. She, too, was deeply grieved; for, although she had always been opposed to this marriage, which was quite out of keeping with the ambitious plans she vaguely cherished for her brother, she loved Rosalie. When the mother and her two daughters had put on their bonnets and were at last ready to go, Emilie's feelings led her to embrace Rosalie more affectionately than was her wont. She was quite ready to pity the girl's sufferings, but that pity was not entirely devoid of a sad kind of satisfaction at seeing René's manifest indifference, and as the door closed behind her visitors she turned to Françoise with unalloyed joy in her honest brown eyes.

'You will take care not to make any noise in the morning, won't you?'

'No more than a mouse,' replied the girl.

'And you too, my big beauty,' she said to her husband, on entering the dining-room, where the professor was once more at his exercises. 'I have told Constant to get up and dress quietly,' adding, with a proud smile, 'what a triumph for René to-night, provided that these grand folks don't turn up their noses at his verse! But I'm sure they'll not do that; his poetry is too good—almost as good as he is himself!'

'It is to be hoped that all these fine ladies will not spoil him as you do,' exclaimed Fresneau, 'for it would end by his losing his head. No, no,' he went on, in order to flatter his wife's feelings, 'it is a pleasure to see how modest he is, even in success.'

And Emilie kissed her husband tenderly for those words.



The two young men got into the cab and were soon being rapidly driven along the Rue du Cherche-Midi in order to reach the Boulevard du Montparnasse, and so follow, by way of the Invalides, the long line of avenues that crosses the Seine by the Pont de l'Alma and leads almost direct to the Arc de Triomphe. At first both remained perfectly silent, René amusing himself by watching for the well-known landmarks of a neighbourhood in which all the reminiscences of his childhood and youth were centred. The pane of glass through which he gazed was clouded with a thin vapour, a fitting symbol of the cloud that separated the world he had just left from that which lay before him. There was not an angle in the Rue du Cherche-Midi that was not as familiar to him as the walls of his own room—from the tall dark building of the military prison to the corner of the quiet Rue de Bagneux, where Rosalie dwelt. The remembrance of the charming girl whom he had so unceremoniously quitted that evening passed through his mind, but caused him no pain. The sensation he felt was like dreaming with open eyes, so little did the individual who had trodden these streets in his dreary and obscure youth resemble the rich and celebrated writer now seated next to Claude Larcher. Celebrated—for all Paris had flocked to see his piece; rich—for 'Le Sigisbée,' first performed in September, had already brought him in twenty-five thousand francs by February. Nor was this source of revenue likely to be soon exhausted. 'Le Sigisbée' had been put into the same bill with 'Le Jumeau,' a three-act comedy by a well-known author that would have a long run. The play, too, was selling well in book form, and the rights of translation and of representation in the provinces were being turned to good account. But all this was only a beginning, for René had several other works in reserve—a volume of philosophical poems entitled 'On the Heights,' a drama in verse dealing with the Renaissance, to be called 'Savonarola,' and a half-finished story of deep passion for which the writer had as yet found no title.

As the cab rolled along, the intoxication produced by thoughts of past success, as well as by ambitious plans for the future, was intensified by the excitement of his entering into Society. The feelings of this grown-up child were similar to those of a girl going to her first ball. He was a prey to a fit of nerves that almost made him feel beside himself. This power of amplifying even to fanciful dimensions impressions of utter mediocrity in themselves is both the misfortune and happiness of poets. To that power is due those transitions, almost startling in their suddenness, from the heights of optimism to the depths of pessimism, from exultation to despair; these lend to the imagination, and consequently to the disposition and feelings, a continual pendulum-like motion—an instability of terrible portent to the women who become attached to these vacillating souls. Amongst such souls, however, there are some in whom this dangerous quality does not exclude true affection. This was the case with René. The involuntary comparison between the present and the past so suddenly provoked by the familiar aspect of the streets brought his thoughts round to the more experienced friend who had witnessed his rapid change of fortune. In obedience to one of those simple impulses which form such a charming trait in the young—affording as they do a beautiful but rare example of the invincible bond between the inner and the outer man—he grasped the hand of his silent companion, saying: 'How kind you have been to me!'. . . And seeing Claude's eyes turned upon him in some astonishment, he continued: 'If you had not been so encouraging when I made my first attempts I should never have brought you "Le Sigisbée," and if you had not recommended it to Mademoiselle Rigaud it would now be mouldering on some manager's shelf. If you had not spoken to the Comtesse Komof my piece would not be performed at her house, and I should not be going there this evening. I am happy, very happy, and I owe it all to you! Ah! mon ami, you may think me as silly as a schoolboy, but you cannot imagine how often I have dreamt of that world into which you are now taking me, where the mere dresses of the women are poems, and where joy and grief are set in exquisite frames!'

'Would that these women had souls of the same stuff as their dresses!' exclaimed Claude with a smile. 'But you surprise me,' he went on; 'do you think that you will be in Society because you are received by Madame Komof, a foreign countess who keeps open house, or by any of the lion-hunters whom you will meet there, and who will tell you that they are at home every afternoon? You will go out a good deal, if you like that kind of thing, but you will be no more in Society than I or any other artist or even genius, simply because you were not born in it, and because your family is not in it. You will be received and made much of. But try to marry into one of these families and you will see what they will tell you. And a good thing for you, too. Good heavens! if you only knew these women whom you picture to yourself as being so refined, so elegant, so aristocratic! Mere bundles of vanity, dressed by Worth or Laferrière . . . Why, there are not ten in the whole of Paris capable of true feeling. The most honest are those who take a lover because they like him. Were you to dissect them, you would find in place of a heart a dressmaker's bill, half-a-dozen prejudices which serve as principles, and a mad desire to eclipse some other woman. What fools we are to be here in this vehicle—two fairly sensible men with work to do at home—you all of a tremble at the idea of mixing with so-called grandes dames, and I . . .!'

'What has Colette been doing to-day?' asked René quietly, a little put out by the asperity of his friend's words, though not laying much weight upon arguments applied with such evident rancour. These furious outbursts were nearly always caused, as he knew, by some coquetry on the part of the actress with whom Claude was madly in love, and who delighted in fooling him, though loving him in her way. It was one of those attachments, based on hatred and sensuality, which both torture and degrade the heart, and which transform their victim into a wild beast, one of the features peculiar to this sort of passion being the frequency with which it is liable to suffer crises as sharp and violent as the physical ideas on which it feeds.

The image of his mistress had probably flashed across Claude's brain, and the happy frame of mind called forth by his last visit had immediately yielded to sudden rage—rage which he would have satisfied at that moment by no matter what outrageous paradox. He fell headlong into the trap laid for him by his friend, and, grasping the arm of the latter tightly, he said with a sickly laugh: 'What has she been doing to-day? . . . Are you anxious to know the depth of this keen analyst of women's hearts, this subtle psychologist as the papers call me, this unmitigated ass as I call myself? Alas! my wits have never served for aught else than to convince me of my folly! . . . Have I told you,' he added, dropping his voice, 'that I have grown to be jealous of Salvaney? . . . I forgot, you don't know Salvaney—an up-to-date gallant who goes about his love affairs cheque-book in hand! . . . With a nose like a beetroot, a bald pate, eyes starting from their sockets, and a colour like a drover! . . . But there you are—he is an anglomane, anglomane to such an extent that the Prince of Wales is a Frenchman by the side of him. . . . Last year he spent three months in Florence, and I myself heard him boast that in those three months he had never worn a shirt that had not been washed in London. You must take my word for it that in Society, which has such a fascination for you, one fact like that gives a man more prestige than if he had written the "Nabab" or "L'Assommoir." Well! this individual pleases Colette. He is to be found in her dressing-room as often as I am, and gazes at her with his whisky-drinker's eyes. It was he who introduced the custom of going to a bar filled with jockeys and bookmakers, in order to sip most abominable spirits after the Opera; I will take you there some evening, and you will see the beauty for yourself. . . . Colette lets him take her even there, and goes about everywhere with him in a brougham. . . . "Get out!" she says, "you are not going to be jealous of a man like that, are you? He smells of gin, to begin with." . . . Such women will tell you these things without any ado, and pull to pieces in the most shameless manner their lovers of yesterday. . . . To cut a long story short, I was at her house this morning. Yes, yes—I knew all about these things, but I didn't believe them. A fellow like Salvaney! If you were to see him you would understand how incredible it seems, and as for her—well, you know her with that soft look in her eyes, with her mouth à la Botticelli and her exquisite grace. What a pity it seems! Well, I was with her when the servant, a fresh importation, who didn't know her business, brought a letter in, saying, "It's from Monsieur Salvaney—his man is waiting for an answer." In one of her fits of affection Colette had just sworn to me that nothing, absolutely nothing, not even the shadow of a shade of a flirtation had ever passed between them. As she held the letter in her hand I was foolish enough to think, "She is going to show me the letter, and I shall have written proofs that she has not told me a lie—and proof positive, for Salvaney could not have known that I should see this letter." She held the letter in her hand, and, looking at me, said to the girl, "Very well, I'll answer it at once. You will excuse me, won't you?" she added, passing into the other room—with her letter! I suppose you think I took my hat and stick and left the house for good with an oath on my lips? No, I stayed, mon cher ami. She came back, rang the bell, gave the servant a note, and then, coming towards me, said, "Are you angry?" Silence on my part. "Did you want to read that letter?" I was still silent. "No, you sha'n't read it," she continued, with a pretty little frown; "I have burnt it. He only asked for the pattern of some stuff for a fancy dress; but I want you to believe me on my bare word." All this was said as coolly as possible; I have never seen her act better. Don't ask me what I said in reply. I treated her as the vilest thing on earth. I flung into her teeth all the disgust, hatred, and contempt I felt for her; and then, as she sat there sobbing, I took her in my arms, and on the very spot where she had lied to me, and I had treated her like the common thing she was, we kissed and made it up. Do you think I have fallen low enough?'

'But were your suspicions correct?' asked René.

'Were they correct?' re-echoed Claude, with that accent of cruel triumph affected by jealous lovers when their mad desire to know all has ended in proving their worst suspicions up to the hilt. 'Do you know what Salvaney's note contained? An appointment—and Colette's reply confirmed the appointment. I know this, for I had her followed. Yes, I stooped even to that. He met her coming from rehearsal, and they were together until eight o'clock.'

'And haven't you broken with her?' asked Vincy.

'It's all over,' replied Claude, 'and for good, I promise you. But I must tell her what I think of her, just for the last time. The wretch! You'll see how I'll treat her to-night.'

In telling his sad tale Claude had betrayed such intense grief that René's former feelings of joy were quite disturbed. Pity for the man to whom he was deeply attached by bonds of gratitude was mingled with disgust for Colette's shameless duplicity. For a moment he felt, too, some deep-lying remorse as he conjured up by way of contrast the pure soul that shone in Rosalie's honest eyes. But it was only a passing fancy, quickly dispelled by the sudden change in his companion. This demon of a man, who was one bundle of nerves, possessed the gift of changing his ideas and feelings with a rapidity that was perfectly inexplicable. He had just been speaking in despairing accents and in a voice broken with emotion, which his friend knew to be sincere. Snapping his fingers as if to get rid of his trouble, he muttered, 'Come, come,' and immediately brought the conversation round to literary topics, so that the two writers were discussing the last novel when the sudden stoppage of the vehicle as it fell in behind a long line of others told them that they had arrived.

René's heart began to beat afresh with short, convulsive throbs. The cab stopped before a doorway protected by an awning, and again the dreamlike feeling came over the young man on finding himself in the ante-room which he had already once passed through. There were several liveried footmen in the room, which was filled with flowers and heated by invisible pipes. The coats and cloaks arranged on long tables and the hum of conversation that came from the salons made it evident that most of the guests had arrived. In the ante-room there was only one lady, whom an attendant was just helping off with her fur-lined cloak, from which she emerged in an elegantly fitting low-necked dress of red material. She had a very distinguished face, a nose slightly tipped, and lips that denoted spirituality. A few diamonds sparkled amidst the tresses of her fair silken hair. René saw Claude bow to her, and he felt himself grow pale as her eyes rested indifferently upon him—eyes of light blue set off by that complexion, found in blondes, which, in spite of the hackneyed metaphor, can only be described as that of a blush rose, possessing as it does all the freshness and delicacy of the latter.

'That's Madame Moraines,' said Claude, 'the daughter of Victor Bois-Dauffin, a Minister during the Empire.'

These words, spoken as if in reply to a mute question, were to come back to René more than once. More than once was he to ask himself what strange fate had brought him face to face, almost on the threshold of this house, with the one woman who, of all those assembled in these salons, was to exercise most influence upon him. But at the moment itself he felt none of those presentiments which sometimes seize us on meeting a creature who is to bring us either good or evil. The vision of this beautiful woman of thirty, who had already disappeared whilst Claude and he were waiting for the numbers of their coats, became lost in the confused impression created by the novelty of everything around him. Though it was impossible for him to analyse his feelings, the richness of the carpets, the splendidly decorated vestibule, the lofty halls, the livery of the footmen, the reflection of the lights, all went a long way towards making this impression a strange medley of painful timidity and delightful sensuality.

On the occasion of his first visit he had already felt himself enveloped by those thousand indescribable atoms that float in the atmosphere of luxury. Persons born in opulence no more perceive these infinitely small but subtle trifles than we perceive the weight of the air that surrounds us. We cannot feel what we have always felt. Nor do parvenus ever tell us their impressions. Their instinct teaches them to swallow such feelings and to keep them hidden in their hearts. Apart from all this, René had no time to reflect upon the snobbishness of the feeling that filled him. The doors were swung back, and he entered the first salon, furnished in that sumptuous but stereotyped style peculiar to all the big modern houses in Paris. Whoever has seen one has seen them all. A novice like René, however, would discover signs of the purest aristocracy in the smallest details of this furniture, in the antique materials with which the arm-chairs were upholstered, and in the tapestry that hung over the chimney-piece and represented a Triumph of Bacchus. The first salon, of middling dimensions, communicated by folding doors with another much larger, in which all the guests were evidently assembled, judging by the hum of conversation. René's perceptive faculties being in that state of intense excitement frequently caused by extreme shyness, he was able to take in the whole scene at a glance; he saw Madame Moraines in her red dress disappear through the open folding doors, and the Comtesse Komof talking, with violent and extravagant gesticulation, to a group of people before the chimney-piece of the smaller salon. The Comtesse was a tall woman of almost tragic appearance; she had shoulders too narrow for the rest of her body, white hair, rather harsh features, and grey eyes of piercing brilliancy. The sombre hue of her dress enhanced the magnificence of the jewels with which she was covered, and her hands, as she waved them about, displayed a wealth of enormous sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds. Acknowledging with a smile the bow that Claude and René made her, she continued her account of a séance of spiritualism—a favourite hobby of hers.

'The table went up, up, up,' she said, 'until our hands could scarcely follow it. The candles were blown out by invisible lips, and in the darkness I saw a hand pass up and down—an immense hand—it was that of Peter the Great!'

The muscles of her face grew rigid as she spoke, and her eyes became fixed as if on a terrible apparition. Traces of that brutish and almost half-witted creature of instinct that lurks even in the most refined Russian appeared for a few seconds upon the surface. Then the Society woman suddenly remembered that she had to perform the honours of her house, and the smile came back to her lips and the gleam in her eyes grew softer. Was it that intuition peculiar to elderly women which gives them such a soothing influence over men of irritable nerves that revealed to her how solitary René felt in the midst of these crowded salons, where he knew not a soul? As soon as her story was ended she was good enough to turn to him with a smile and say: 'Do you believe in spirits, Monsieur Vincy? Of course you do—you are a poet. But we'll talk of that some other day. You must come with me now, in spite of the fact that I'm neither young nor pretty, and be presented to some of my friends, who are already passionate admirers of yours.'

She had taken the young man's arm, and, although he was above the middle height, she was taller than he by half a head. Her tragic expression was not deceptive. She had really lived through what the strange look in her eyes and the determined set of her features led one to imagine. Her husband had been murdered almost at her feet, and she herself had killed the assassin. René had heard the story from Claude, and he could see the scene before him—the Comte Komof, a distinguished diplomat, stabbed to the heart by a Nihilist in his study; the Comtesse entering at the moment and bringing down the murderer by a well-directed shot. While the young man reflected that those tapering fingers, resplendent with rings as they lay on his coat sleeve, had clutched the pistol, his partner had already commenced some fresh story with that savage energy of expression that in people of Slavonic race is not incompatible with the most refined and elegant manners.

'It was on my arrival in Paris about eight years ago, just after the war. I had not been here since the first Exhibition, in 1855. Ah! my dear sir, the Paris of those days was really charming . . . and your Emperor . . . idéal! She had a way of dwelling on her last syllables when she wished to express her enthusiasm. 'My daughter, the Princess Roudine, was with me—I don't think you know her; she lives in Florence all the year round. She was taken ill, but Doctor Louvet—you know, the little man who looks like a miniature edition of Henri III.—got her over it. I always call him Louvetsky, because he only attends Russians. I could not think of taking her away from Paris, so this house being for sale, ready furnished, I bought it. But I've turned everything upside down. Look here, this used to be the garden,' she added, showing René the larger salon, which they had just entered.

This salon was a vast apartment, whose walls were hung with canvases of all sizes and schools, picked up by the Comtesse in the course of her European rambles. Though René had been strongly impressed from the first by the general air of material well-being everywhere apparent, this feeling was intensified by the spiritual luxury, if one may use such a term, which such cosmopolitanism represents. The way in which the Comtesse had mentioned Florence, as if it were a suburb of Paris, the resources indicated by the improvements effected in the mansion, the fluency with which this grand Russian lady spoke French—how could a young man accustomed to the limited horizon of a struggling family of modest bourgeois fail to be struck with childlike wonder at the sight of a world such as these details suggested? His eyes opened wide to take in the whole of the charming scene before him. At the end of the salon heavy, dark red curtains hung across the usual entrance to the dining-room, which apartment, approached by three broad stairs, had been turned for the nonce into a stage. In the centre of the hall stood a marble column surmounted by a bust in bronze of the famous Nicolas Komof, the friend of Peter the Great—this ancestral kind of monument being surrounded by a group of gigantic palms in huge pots of Indian brass ware, whilst lines of chairs were drawn up between the column and the stage.

By this time nearly all the ladies were seated, and the lights shone down upon a living sea of snowy arms and shoulders, some too robust, others too lean, others again most exquisitely moulded; jewels sparkled in tresses fair and dark, the flutter of fans tempered the glances that shot from eloquent eyes, whilst words and laughter became blended in one loud, harmonious murmur. In the ladies' dresses, too, lay a wonderful play of colour, and one side of the salon presented a striking contrast to the other, where the men, in their swallow-tails, formed a solid mass of black. A few women, however, had found their way amongst the sterner sex, while here and there a dark patch amidst the seated fair ones betrayed the presence of a male interloper. The whole of the company, although somewhat mixed, was composed of people accustomed to meet daily, and for years, in places that serve as common ground for different sets of Society. There were blue-blooded duchesses from the Faubourg Saint-Germain, whose sporting tastes and charity errands took them to all kinds of places. There were also the wives of big financiers and politicians, representing every degree of cosmopolitan elegance, and there were even the wives of plain artists, following up their husbands' successes through a string of fashionable dinners and receptions.

But to a new-comer like René Vincy the social distinctions that broke up the salon into a series of very dissimilar groups were utterly imperceptible. The spectacle upon which he gazed surpassed, in outward magnificence, his wildest dreams. Amidst a hum of voices he allowed himself to be presented to some of the men as they passed, and to a few of the women seated on the back row of chairs, bowing and stammering out a few words in reply to the compliments with which the more amiable ones favoured him. Madame Komof, perceiving his timidity, was kind enough not to leave him, especially since Claude, a prey to some fresh fit of his amorous passion, had disappeared. He had probably gone behind the scenes, and when the signal for raising the curtain was given the poet found himself seated beside the Comtesse in the shadow of the palms that surrounded the ancestral bust, happy that he was in a place where he could escape notice.



Two footmen in livery drew back the curtains from before the miniature stage. The scene being laid 'In a garden, in Venice,' nothing had been required in the way of scenery beyond a piece of cloth stretched across the back of the stage and a bank formed of plants selected from the hostess's famous conservatory. With the somewhat crude appearance of their foliage under the glare of the light these exotic shrubs made a setting very different to that which M. Perrin had arranged with so much taste at the Comédie Française. That model of a manager, if ever there was one, had hit upon the happy idea of placing before his audience one of the terraces on the lagoon that lead by a flight of marble steps down to the lapping waters, with the variegated façades of the palaces standing out against the blue sky and the black gondolas flitting round the corners of the tortuous canals. The change from the usual scenery, the diminutive stage, the limited and eminently select audience, all contributed to increase René's feeling of uneasiness, and he again felt his heart beating as wildly as on the night of the first performance at the theatre.

The appearance of Colette Rigaud, dressed à la Watteau, was the signal for a burst of applause, which the actress smilingly acknowledged. Even in her gay attire, copied from one of the great painter's fêtes galantes, and in spite of her powdered hair, her patch, and her pale cheeks bedaubed with paint, there was a tone of sadness about her—something in the dreamy look of the eyes and the melancholy expression on the sensual lips that reminded one of Botticelli's madonnas and angels. How many times had not René heard Claude sigh: 'When she has been telling me lies, and then looks at me in her own peculiar way, I begin to pity her instead of getting angry.'

Colette had already attacked the first lines of her part and René's anguish was at its highest pitch, while all around he heard the loud remarks which even well-bred people will make when an artiste appears on a drawing-room stage. 'She's very pretty. Do you think it's the same dress she wears at the theatre? She's a little too thin for my taste. What a sympathetic voice! No, she imitates Sarah Bernhardt too much. I'm in love with the piece, aren't you? To tell you the truth, poetry always sends me to sleep.' The poet's sharp ears caught all these exclamations and many more. They were, however, soon silenced by a loud 'hush!' that came from a knot of young men standing near René, conspicuous among them being a bald-headed individual with rather a prominent nose and a very red face.

The Comtesse thanked him with a wave of her hand, and, turning to her partner, said: 'That's M. Salvaney; he is madly in love with Colette.' Silence was reestablished, a silence broken only by the rustle of dresses and the unfurling of fans.

René now listened in delightful intoxication to the music of his own verses, for by the silence as well as by the murmurs of approval that were occasionally heard he felt, he knew, that his work was as surely captivating this select audience as it had captivated the 'house' on its first night at the Théâtre Français, then filled with tired critics, worn-out reporters, scoffing boulevardiers, and smart women. Gradually his thoughts took him back, in spite of himself, to the period when he had first thought out and then written the little play which was that night procuring him such a new and delightful thrill of gratification, after having so completely changed the tenor of his life. He saw himself once more in the Luxembourg garden at the close of a bright spring day; the charm of the deepening twilight, the smell of the flowers, the dark blue sky seen through the spare foliage, and the marble statues of the queens—all these things had deeply impressed him as he walked with Rosalie, silent, by his side. She had such a simple way of looking up at him with her great black eyes, in which he could read unconscious though tender passion.

It was on that evening that he had first spoken to her of love, there, amidst the scent of the early lilac, whilst the voices of Madame Offarel and Emilie could be heard, indistinctly, in the distance. He had returned to the Rue Coëtlogon a prey to that fever of hope which brings tears to one's eyes and moves one's nature to its inmost depths. Finding it impossible to sleep, he had sat there alone in his room and drawn a comparison between Rosalie and the object of an earlier but less innocent attachment—a girl named Elise, living in the Quartier Latin. He had met her in a brasserie, where he had been taken by the only two comrades he possessed. Faded as she was, Elise could still boast of good looks, in spite of the black under her eyes, the powder all over her face, and the carmine on her lips. She had taken a fancy to him, and although she shocked him dreadfully by her gestures and her mode of thought, by her voice and her expressions, he had continued the acquaintanceship for about six months—six months that had left him nothing but a bitter memory. Being one of those in whom passion leads to affection, he had become attached to the girl in spite of himself, and he had suffered cruelly from her coquetry, the coarseness of her feelings, and the stock of moral infamy that formed the groundwork of the poor creature's nature.

Seated at his writing-table that night, and dreaming ecstatically of Rosalie's purity, he had conceived the idea of a poem in which he should draw a contrast between a coquette and a true, tender-hearted girl. Then, being an ardent admirer of Shakespeare and de Musset, his vulgar love affair with Elise underwent a strange metamorphosis and became an Italian romance. There and then he made a rough sketch of the 'Sigisbée,' and composed fifty lines. It was the simple story of a young Venetian noble, named Lorenzo, who had fallen in love with Princess Cœlia, a cold and cruel coquette. The unhappy swain, after wasting much time and many tears in wooing this unrelenting beauty, was advised by a young Marquis de Sénecé, a French roué on a visit to Venice, to affect an interest in the sweet and pretty Countess Beatrice in order to awaken Cœlia's jealousy. He then discovered that the Countess had long loved him, and when Cœlia, caught in the trap, tried to lead him back, Lorenzo, profiting by experience, said the perfidious lady nay, and gave himself up entirely to the charms of her who loved him without guile.

Colette, as Cœlia, was speaking while Lorenzo sat lamenting. The roué was cynical and Beatrice lost in dreams. These characters, coming straight from the world of Benedict and Perdican, of Rosalind and Fortunio, strutted on and off, enveloped in a ray of poetry as sweet and light as a moonbeam. As René heard the frequent exclamations of 'Charming!' or 'Exquisite!' that escaped from the crowd of women before him he recalled the nights of wakefulness that this or that passage had cost him. There were these pathetic lines, for instance, written by Lorenzo to Cœlia, and afterwards shown by the latter to Beatrice. How sweet Colette's voice became, in spite of its mocking note, as she read them out.

If kisses for kisses the roses could pay
When our lips o'er their petals in ecstasy stray;
If the lilacs and tall slender lilies could guess
How their sweet perfume fills us with sorrowfulness;
If the motionless sky and the sea never still
Could know how with joy at their beauties we thrill;
If all that we love in this strange world below
A soul in exchange on our souls could bestow:
But the sea set around us, the sky set above,
Lilacs, roses, and you, sweet, know nothing of love.

And as he listened the past returned to René more vividly than ever; he was back in his peaceful room again, and felt once more the secret pleasure of rising each morning to resume his unfinished task. By Claude's advice, and from a childish desire to imitate the ways of genius—a foolish but pretty trait in most young writers—he had adopted the method formerly practised by Balzac. In bed by eight o'clock at night, he would get up before four in the morning, and, lighting the fire and the lamp, would make himself some coffee over a little spirit-stove, all prepared for him by his sister in the evening. As the fire burned up brightly and the aroma of the inspiring Mocha filled the little room, he would sit down at the table with Rosalie's portrait before him and begin work. Gradually the noises of Paris grew more distinct as the great city awakened once more to life. Then he would put down his pen and gaze at the engravings that adorned the wall or turn over the leaves of a book. About six o'clock Emilie would make her appearance. In spite of her household cares, this loving sister found time to copy day by day the lines that her brother had written. For nothing in the world would she have allowed one of René's manuscripts to pass into the hands of the printers. Poor Emilie! How happy it would have made her to hear the applause that drowned Colette's voice, and what unalloyed pleasure René's would have been had not the change in his feelings with respect to Rosalie sent a pang of sadness through his heart at the very moment when the play was finishing amidst the enthusiasm of the whole audience.

'It is a glorious success,' said the Comtesse to the young author. 'You will see how these people will fight for you.' And as if to corroborate what might only have been the flattery of a gracious hostess, René could hear, during the hubbub that succeeded the close of the piece, broken sentences that came to him amid the frou-frou of the dresses, the noise of falling chairs, and the commonplaces of conversation.

'That's the author! Where? That young man. So young! Do you know him? He's a good-looking fellow. Why does he wear his hair so long? I rather like to see it—it looks artistic. Well, a man may be clever, and still have his hair cut. But his play is charming. Charming! Charming! Who introduced him to the Comtesse? Claude Larcher. Poor Larcher! Look at him hanging round Colette. He and Salvaney will come to blows one of these days. So much the better; it will cool their blood. Are you going to stay to supper?'

These were a few of the snatches of conversation that reached the author's sensitive ears as he bowed and blushed under the weight of the compliments showered upon him by a woman who had carried him away from Madame Komof almost by force. She was a long, lean creature of about fifty, the widow of a M. de Sermoises, who, since his death, had been promoted to 'my poor Sermoises,' after having been, while alive, the laughing-stock of the clubs on account of his fair partner's behaviour. The lady, as she grew older, had transferred her attention from men to literature, but to literature of a serious and even devotional kind. She had heard from the Comtesse in a vague sort of way that the author of the 'Sigisbée' was the nephew of a priest, and the air of romance that pervaded the little play gave her reason to think that the young writer had nothing in common with the literature of the day, the tendencies of which she held in virtuous execration. Turning to René with the exaggerated tone of pomposity adopted by her in giving utterance to her poor, prudish ideas—a judge passing sentence of death could scarcely be more severe—she said: 'Ah, monsieur! what poetry! What divine grace! It is Watteau on paper. And what sentiment! This piece is epoch-making, sir—yes, epoch-making. We women are avenged by you upon those self-styled analysts who seem to write their books with a scalpel in a house of ill-fame.'

'Madame,' stammered the young man, taken off his feet by this astonishing phraseology.

'You will come and see me, won't you?' she continued. 'I am at home on Wednesdays from five to seven. I think you will prefer the people I receive in my house to those you have met here to-night; the dear Comtesse is a foreigner, you know. Some of the members of the Institut do me the honour of consulting me about their works. I have written a few poems myself. Oh! quite unpretentious things—lines to the memory of poor Monsieur de Sermoises—a small collection that I have called "Lilies from the Grave." You must give me your candid opinion upon them. Madame Hurault—Monsieur Vincy,' she added, presenting the writer to a woman of about forty, whose face and figure were still elegant in outline. 'Charming, wasn't it? Watteau on paper!'

'You must be very fond of Alfred de Musset, sir, remarked this lady. She was the wife of a Society man who, under the pseudonym of Florac, had written several plays that had fallen flat in spite of the untiring energy of Madame Hurault, who, for the past sixteen years, had not given a single dinner at which some critic, some manager, or some person connected with some critic or manager had not been present.

'Who is not fond of him at my age?' replied the young man.

'That is what I said to myself as I listened to your pretty verse,' continued Madame Hurault; 'it produced the same effect as music already heard.' Then, having launched her epigram, she remembered that in many a young poet there lurks a future critic, and tried to smooth down by an invitation the phrase that betrayed the cruel envy of a rival's wife. 'I hope you will come and see us; my husband is not here, but he will be glad to make your acquaintance. I am always at home on Thursdays from five till seven.'

'Madame Ethorel—Monsieur Vincy,' said Madame de Sermoises, again introducing René, but this time to a very young and very pretty woman—a pale brunette, with large dreamy eyes and a delicacy of complexion that contrasted with her full, rich voice.

'Ah! monsieur,' she began, 'how you appeal to the heart! I love that sonnet which Lorenzo recites—let me see, how does it go?—

The spectre of a year long dead.'

'"The phantom of a day long dead,"' said René, involuntarily correcting the line which the pretty lips had misquoted; and with unconscious pedantry he repressed a smile, for the passage in question, two verses of five lines each, presented not the slightest resemblance to a sonnet.

'That's it,' rejoined Madame Ethorel; 'divine, sir, divine! I am at home on Saturdays from five till seven. A very small set, I assure you, if you will do me the honour of calling.'

René had no time to thank her, for Madame de Sermoises, a prey to that strange form of vanity that delights in reflected glory, and which inspires both men and women with an irresistible desire to constitute themselves the showman of any interesting personage, was already dragging him away to fresh introductions. In this way he had to bow first to Madame Abel Mosé, the celebrated Israelitish beauty, all in white; then to Madame de Suave all in pink, and to Madame Bernard all in blue. Then Madame de Komof once more took possession of him in order to present him to the Comtesse de Candale, the haughty descendant of the terrible marshal of the fifteenth century, and to her sister the Duchesse d'Arcole, these high-sounding French names being succeeded by others impossible to catch, and belonging to some of the hostess's relatives. René was also called upon to shake hands with the men who were in attendance on these ladies, and thus made the acquaintance of the Marquis de Hère, the most careful man in town, who with an income of twenty thousand francs lived as though he had fifty; of the Vicomte de Brèves, doing his best to ruin himself for the third time; of Crucé, the collector; of San Giobbe, the famous Italian shot, and of three or four Russians.

The names of most of these Society women and clubmen were familiar to the poet from his having read them, with childish avidity, in the fashionable intelligence published by the newspapers for the edification of young bourgeois dreaming of high life. He had formed such grand and entirely false notions of the 'upper ten' of Paris—a little world of wealthy cosmopolitans rather than French aristocrats—that a feeling of both rapture and disenchantment came over him at the realisation of one of his earliest dreams. The splendour of his surroundings charmed him, and his success soothed his professional vanity. There were smiles for him on such tempting lips and kind looks in such glorious eyes. But though all this was very flattering, it overwhelmed him with a sense of shyness, and, whilst the crowd of strange faces struck a kind of terror into his soul, the commonplace praise destroyed his illusions. What makes Society—of whatever class it be—utterly insupportable to many artists is the fact that they appear in it on rare occasions only, in order to be lionised, and that they expect something extraordinary, whilst those who really belong to Society move in the atmosphere of a drawing-room with the natural ease that accompanies a daily habit. The indescribable feeling of disenchantment, the daze of excitement produced by endless introductions, the intoxication of flattery and the anguish of timidity all made René eager to find his friend. Claude had disappeared, but the poet's eyes fell upon Colette, who, having come down from the stage in her bright-coloured dress of the last century and her powdered hair, formed a striking contrast in colour to the black coats of the men by whom she was surrounded. She, too, was evidently embarrassed—a feeling betrayed by her somewhat nervous smile, by the look of defiance in her eyes, and the rapid opening and shutting of her fan. With her it was the embarrassment of an actress suddenly transported beyond her sphere, proud of, and yet distressed by, the attentions she commands.

She met René with a smile that showed real pleasure in finding one of her own set, and breaking off her conversation with the owner of a terra-cotta complexion, who could be no other than Claude's rival, Salvaney, she cried, 'Ah! here is my author!—Well,' she added, shaking hands with the poet, 'I suppose you are quite satisfied? How well everything has gone off! Come, Salvaney, compliment Monsieur Vincy, even if you don't understand anything about it. And your friend Larcher,' she went on, 'has he disappeared? Tell him for me that he nearly made me die of laughing on the stage. He was wearing a love-lock and his weeping-willow air. For whom was he acting his Antony?'

A cruel look came into her greenish eyes, and in the curl of her lips there was an expression of hatred called forth by the fact that the unhappy Claude had gone without bidding her good night. Though she deceived and tortured him, she loved him in her way, and loved above all to bring him to her feet. She experienced a keen delight in making a fool of him before Salvaney, and in thinking that the simple René would repeat all her words to his friend.

'Why do you say such things?' replied the young man in an undertone while Colette's partner was shaking hands with a friend; 'you know very well that he loves you.'

'I know all about that,' said the actress with a harsh laugh. 'You swallow all he tells you—I know the story. I am his evil genius, his fatal woman, his Delilah. I have quite a heap of letters in which he treats me to a lot of that kind of thing. That does not prevent him from getting as drunk as a lord, under pretence of escaping from me. I suppose it's my fault, too, that he gambles and drinks and uses morphia? Get out!' And, shrugging her pretty shoulders, she added more gaily: 'The Comtesse is making signs for us to go down to supper. . . . Salvaney, your arm!'

The numerous introductions had taken up some time, and René, suddenly called back to his surroundings by Colette's last words, saw that there were but very few people left in the salons. The Comtesse had not invited more than about thirty to stay, and gave the signal for adjourning to the supper-room by taking the arm of the most illustrious of her guests, an ambassador then much run after in fashionable circles. The other couples marched off behind her, mounting a narrow staircase adorned with some marvellous wood-carving brought from Italy. This led to an apartment which, though furnished as a boudoir, was really a salon in size. In the centre was a long table, laden with flowers, and fruit, and sparkling with crystal and silver. Near each plate stood a small pink glow-lamp encircled with moss—an English novelty that called forth the admiration of the guests as they sat down wherever they chose.

René, having in his bashful way gone up alone among the last, chose an empty seat between the Vicomte de Brèves and the fair woman in red whom Larcher and he had met in the ante-room, and whom Claude had spoken of as Madame Moraines, the daughter of the famous Bois-Dauffin, one of the most unpopular ministers of Napoleon III. Feeling quite unobserved where he was, for Madame Moraines was carrying on a conversation with her neighbour on the left whilst the Vicomte de Brèves was busily engaged with his partner on the right, René was at length able to collect his thoughts and to take a look at the guests, behind whom the servants were continually passing to and fro as they attended to their wants. His glance wandered from Colette, who was laughing and flirting with Salvaney, to Madame Komof, no doubt telling some fresh tale of her spirit experiences, for her eyes had resumed their piercing brilliancy, her looks were agitated, and her long bejewelled hands trembled as she sat oblivious of all around her table—she generally so attentive and so eager to please her guests! René's feeling of solitude had now become almost painful in its intensity, either because the varied sensations undergone that evening had tried his nerves or because the sudden transition from flattery to neglect appeared to him a symbol of the worthlessness of the world's applause. Some of the women who had overwhelmed him with praise were gone; the others had naturally chosen seats near their own friends. At the other end of the table he could see himself reflected in the actor who had taken the part of Lorenzo, the only one of the players besides Colette who had stayed to supper, and who, looking very stiff and awkward in his gorgeous attire, was doing justice to the viands without exchanging a word with anyone.

In this frame of mind René began to look at his fair neighbour, whose charms had made such an impression upon him during their momentary encounter in the hall. He had not been mistaken in judging her at the first glance as a creature of thoroughly aristocratic appearance. Everything about her, from her delicately-cut features to her slim waist and slender wrists, had an air of distinction and of almost excessive grace. Her hands seemed fragile, so dainty were her fingers and so transparent. The fault of such kind of beauty lies in the very qualities that constitute its charm. Its exceeding daintiness is frequently too pronounced, and what might really be graceful becomes peculiar. Closer study of Madame Moraines showed that this ethereal beauty encased a being of strength, and that beneath all this exquisite grace was hidden a woman who lived well, and whose sound health was revealed in many ways. Her shapely head was gracefully poised on a full neck, while her well-rounded shoulders were not disfigured by a single angle. When she smiled she showed a set of sharp white teeth, and the way in which she did honour to the supper testified that her digestion had withstood the innumerable dangers with which fashionable women are beset—from the pressure of corsets to late suppers, to say nothing of the daily habit of dining out. Her eyes, of a soft, pale blue, would remind a dreamer of Ophelia and Desdemona, but possessed that perfect, humid setting in which the physiognomists of yore saw signs of a full enjoyment of life, the freshness of her eyelids telling of happy slumbers that recruit the whole constitution, whilst her lovely complexion showed her rich blood to be free of any taint of anæmia.

To a philosophising physician, the contrast between the almost ideal charm of this physiognomy and the evident materialism of this physiology would have furnished food for reflections not altogether reassuring. But the young man who was stealing glances at this beauty whilst toying with the morsel of chaufroid set before him was a poet—that is to say, quite the opposite of a physician and a philosopher. Instead of analysing, he was beginning to take a delight in this proximity. He had that evening unwittingly succumbed to a spell of sensuality which was personified, so to speak, in this captivating woman, around whom there floated such a subtle and penetrating aroma. A faithful disciple of the masters of Parnassus, he had in his youth possessed a childish mania for perfumes, and he now inhaled with delight the rare and intoxicating odour he recognised as white heliotrope, remembering how he had once, when a prey to the nostalgia of refined passions, written a rhymed conceit in which the following lines occurred:

Opoponax then sang, 'neath shades so sweet,
The story of those lips that never meet.

Once more, but more strongly than ever, there sprang up within him, the simple wish he had expressed to Claude Larcher in the carriage that evening—to be loved by a woman like the one whose sweet laughter was that instant ringing in his ear. Dreams—idle dreams! That hour would pass without his having even exchanged a word with this dreamlike creature, as far from him here as if a thousand miles had lain between them. Did she even know that he existed? But just as he was sadly asking himself this question he felt his heart begin to beat more quickly. Madame Komof, having by this time recovered from her excitement, had no doubt perceived the distress depicted on the young man's face, and from her place at the end of the table said to the Vicomte de Brèves: 'Will you be good enough to introduce Monsieur Vincy to his neighbour?'

René saw the glorious blue eyes turn towards him, the fair head bend slightly forward, and a sympathetic smile come to those lips which he had just mentally compared to a flower, so fresh, pure, and red were they. He expected to hear from Madame Moraines one of the commonplace compliments that had exasperated him all the evening, and he was surprised to find that, instead of at once speaking of his play, she simply continued the topic upon which she had been conversing with her neighbour.

'Monsieur Crucé and I were talking about the talent displayed by Monsieur Perrin in putting plays on the stage. Do you remember the scenery of the "Sphinx"?'

She spoke in a low, sweet voice that matched her style of beauty, and gave her that additional and indefinable attraction which helps to render a woman's charms irresistible to those who come under their spell. René felt that this voice was as intoxicating as the scent, which now grew stronger as she turned towards him. He had to make an effort to reply, so keen was the sensation that overpowered him. Did Madame Moraines perceive his agitation? Was she flattered by it, as every woman is flattered by receiving the homage of unconquerable timidity? However that might be, she was such an adept in the art of opening a conversation—no easy matter between a Society belle and a timid admirer—that, before ten minutes were over, René was talking to her almost confidentially, and expressing his own ideas on stage matters with a certain amount of natural eloquence, growing quite enthusiastic in his praise of the performances at Bayreuth, as described to him by his friends. Madame Moraines sat and listened, putting on that peculiar air worn by these thoroughbred hypocrites when they are looking at the man they have determined to ensnare. Had anyone told René that this ideal woman cared as much about Wagner or music as about her first frock, and that she really enjoyed only light operettas, he would have looked as blank as if the boisterous mirth going on around him had suddenly changed into cries of terror.

Colette, who had evidently had just a little more champagne than was good for her, was laughing somewhat immoderately, and the guests were already addressing each other by familiar appellations; amidst all this noise René heard his neighbour say: 'How delightful it is to meet a poet who is really what one expects a poet to be! I thought that the species had died out. Do you know,' she added, with a smile that reversed their parts, and turned her, the grand Society dame, into a person intimidated by the indisputable superiority of another; 'do you know that I was going to ask for an introduction to you just now in the salon? I had enjoyed the "Sigisbée" so much! But I said to myself—what is the use? And now chance has brought us together. For a man who has just had a triumph,' she continued, with a malicious little smile, 'you were not looking very happy.'

'Ah! madame,' he replied; 'if you only knew—'and in obedience to the irresistible power this woman already exercised over him, he added: 'You will think me very ungrateful. I cannot explain to you why, but their compliments seemed to freeze me.'

'Therefore I didn't pay you any,' she said, adding in a negligent tone, 'You don't go out much, I suppose?' 'You must not make fun of me,' he replied with that natural grace that constituted his chief charm; 'this is my first appearance in Society. Before this evening,' he went on, seeing a look of curiosity come into the woman's eyes, 'I had only read of it in novels. I am a real savage, you see.'

'But,' she asked, 'how do you spend your evenings?'

'I have worked very hard until lately,' he replied; 'I live with my sister, and I know almost no one.'

'Who introduced you to the Comtesse?' inquired Madame Moraines.

'One of my friends, whom I dare say you know—Claude Larcher.'

'A charming man,' she said, 'with only one fault—that of thinking very badly of women. You must not believe all he says,' she added, again assuming her timid smile; 'he would deprave you. The poor fellow has always had the misfortune to fall in love with flirts and coquettes, and is foolish enough to think that all women are like them.'

As she uttered these words an expression of intense sadness came into her eyes. Her handsome face betrayed all kinds of emotions, from the pride of a woman who feels outraged by the cruel sayings of a misogynist writer to pity for Claude, and even a kind of modest fear that René might be led into similar errors—a fear that implied a mute esteem of his character. A silence ensued, during which the young man was surprised to find himself rejoicing in the absence of his friend. It would have been painful to him to listen on his way home to the brutal paradoxes with which Colette's jealous lover had regaled him during their drive from the Rue Coëtlogon to the Rue du Bel-Respiro. He had been right after all in silently protesting against Claude's withering tirades, even before he had known a single one of these superior creatures, towards whom he felt attracted by an irrepressible hope of finding, amongst them, the woman he should love for life! And he sat there listening to Madame Moraines as she spoke of secret troubles often hidden by a life of pleasure, of virtues concealed under the mask of frivolity, and of works of charity such as were undertaken by one or other of the friends whom she named. She said all this so simply and so sweetly that not a single intonation betrayed aught but a sincere love of the good and the beautiful, and as the company rose from the table she observed, with a kind of divine modesty at having thus laid bare her inmost feelings:

'This is a very strange conversation for a supper; you must have heard of so many "fives to sevens" that I hardly dare to ask you to come and see me. But in case you should be passing that way, pray remember that I am always at home before dinner on Opera days. I should like you to see my husband, who is not here this evening—he wasn't very well. He made me come, because the Comtesse had asked us so often—which proves,' she added, as she shook hands with René, 'that one is sometimes rewarded for doing one's duty, even though it be a social one.'



The shock of the novel and varied sensations experienced by René Vincy on that eventful evening had been so great that it was impossible for him to analyse them as he made his way on foot from the Rue du Bel-Respiro to the Rue Coëtlogon. Had Claude not left the house so suddenly, tortured by the pangs of jealousy, the two friends would have returned together. Whilst walking along the deserted streets with the silent stars shining above, they would have indulged in one of those confidential talks in which, when young, we give full utterance to the feelings inspired by the events of the past few hours. By the mere mention of the name of Madame Moraines, René might then have discovered what a hold on his thoughts had suddenly been secured by this rare specimen of beauty, the living embodiment of all his ideas of aristocracy. Perhaps from Claude, too, he might have gathered a few correct notions concerning the lady, and the difference that existed between a mere fashionable woman like Madame Moraines and a real grande dame, he would then have been spared the dangerous fever of imagination which, all along his route, conjured up to his delight visions of Suzanne. He had heard the Comtesse call her by that pretty name as she gave her a farewell kiss, and he could see her again in her long, fur-lined cloak, her shapely head looking quite lost encircled by the deep ermine collar. He could again see the slight inclination of that dainty head in his direction before she got into the carriage. He could see her still, as she sat at supper, with that look in her glorious eyes, so full of intelligence, and that way she had of moving her lips to utter words, very simple in themselves, but each of which proved that this woman's soul matched her beauty, just as her beauty was worthy of her surroundings.

He was scarcely aware of the length of his journey, covering nearly a third of Paris. He gazed up at the sky above, and down into the Seine waters as they rolled darkly along, while the long lines of gas-lamps before him seemed even to lengthen the dim, far-reaching perspective of the streets. The night gave him an idea of immensity—a symbol, it seemed to him then, of his own life. The mental formation peculiar to poets who are poets only predisposes them to attacks of what, for want of a more definite name, might be called the lyric state; this is something like the intoxication produced by hope or despair, according as the power of exaggerating present sensations to the highest degree is applied to joy or sorrow. What, after all, was this entry into Society, which for the moment seemed to this simple boy an entry upon a new life? Scarcely a glance stolen through a half-open door, and which, to be of any use at all, would have to be followed up by a course of petty strategy that only an ambitious man would have dreamt of. A man eager to make his way would have asked himself what impression he had created, what kind of people he had met, which of the women who had invited him were worth a single visit, and which of them deserved more assiduous attentions. Instead of all that, the poet felt himself surrounded by an atmosphere of happiness. The sweetness of the latter portion of the evening spread itself over the whole, and he entirely forgot the feelings of distress that had once or twice overwhelmed him.

It was in this frame of mind that he reached home. As he pushed the heavy house door open, and crept on tip-toe to his room, it pleased him to compare the world he had left behind with the world to which he returned. Was it not this very contrast that lent his pleasure a tinge of romance? Being, however, at that age when the nervous system recruits itself with perfect regularity in spite of the most disordered state of the mind and feelings, his head had no sooner touched his pillow than he was fast asleep. If he dreamt of the splendour he had seen, of the applause that had filled the vast salon, of the sweet face of Madame Moraines set in a wealth of fair tresses, he was oblivious of it all when he awoke about ten o'clock next morning.

A ray of sunlight came streaming through a narrow slit in the blinds. All was quiet in the little street, and there was no noise in the house—nothing to betray the necessary but exasperating performance of matutinal household duties. This silence surprised the young man. He looked at his watch to see how long he had slept, and once more he experienced that feeling, of which he never tired—that of being beloved by his sister with an idolatrous intensity extending to even the smallest details of life. At the same time recollections of the preceding evening came back to his mind. A score of faces rose up before him, all gradually melting away into the delicate features, mobile lips, and blue eyes of Madame Moraines. He saw her even more distinctly than he had done a moment after leaving her, but neither the clearness of the vision nor the infinite delight it afforded him to dwell upon it led him to suspect the feelings that were awakening within him. It was an artistic impression, nothing more—an embodiment, as it were, of all the most beautiful ideals he had ever read into the lines of romancists and poets. Idly reclining on his pillow, he enjoyed thinking of her in the same way as he enjoyed looking round his old, familiar room, with its air of peace and quiet. His gaze dwelt lovingly upon all the objects visible in the subdued light—upon his table, put in order by Emilie's hands, upon his engravings set off by the dark tone of the red cloth, upon the bindings of his favourite books, upon the marble chimney-piece with its row of photographs in leather frames. His mother's portrait was among them—the poor mother who had died before seeing the realisation of her most ardent hopes, she once so proud of the few scattered fragments she had occasionally come across in tidying her son's room! His father's likeness was there too, with its emaciated, drink-sodden features. Often did René think that the want of will power, of which he was dimly conscious, had been transmitted to him by his unhappy parent. But that morning he was not in the humour to reflect upon the dark side of life, and it was with childish glee that he gave two or three smart raps on the bedside. This was his manner of summoning Françoise in the morning to pull up the blinds and open the shutters. Instead of the servant it was Emilie that entered, and as soon as the sunlight was let into the room it was on his sister's face with its loving smile that the young man gazed—a face now beaming with hopeful curiosity.

'A triumph!' he cried, in reply to Emilie's mute interrogation.

The kind-hearted creature clapped her hands for joy, and sitting down on a low chair at the foot of the bedstead, said, in the tone that we use to a spoilt child: 'You mustn't get up yet . . . Françoise will bring you your coffee. I thought that you would wake up about ten, and I had just ground it when you knocked. You shall have it quite fresh.' The maid entering at that moment, holding in her big red hands the tray with its little load of china, Emilie continued: 'I will serve you myself. Fresneau has gone to take Constant to school—so we have plenty of time—tell me all about it.' And René was obliged to give her a full account of the soirée, without omitting any details.

'What did Larcher say?' asked his sister. 'What was the courtyard like? And the hall? What did the Comtesse wear?' She was highly amused by the fantastic metaphors of Madame de Sermoises, and cried: 'What a wretch!' when she heard the epigram of the unsuccessful playwriter's wife; she laughed at the ignorance of pretty Madame Ethorel, and was indignant at Colette's cruelty. But when the poet attempted to describe the dainty features of Madame Moraines, and to give her an idea of their talk at supper, she felt as though she would have liked to thank the exquisite lady who had thus at the first glance discovered what René really was. The habits she had contracted long years since of seeing everything through her brother's eyes and senses made her the most dangerous of confidantes for the poet. She possessed the same imaginative nature as he himself—an artistic imagination yearning after the beautiful—and, since it was all for another's sake, she gave herself up to it unreservedly. There is a kind of impersonal feminine immorality peculiar to mothers, sisters, and all women in love which ignores the laws of conscience where the happiness of one particular man is at stake. Emilie, who was all self-denial and modesty in what concerned herself, indulged only in dreams of splendour and ambition for her brother, often giving expression to thoughts which René dared hardly formulate.

'Ah! I knew you would succeed,' she cried. 'It's all very well for the Offarels to talk, but your place is not in our modest set. What you writers want is all this grandeur and magnificence. Heavens! how I wish you were rich! But you will be some day. One of these fine ladies will fall in love with you and marry you, and even in a palace you will not cease to be my loving brother, I know. Is it possible for you to go on living like this for ever? Can you fancy yourself in a couple of rooms on the fourth floor with a lot of crying children and a wife with a pair of servant's hands like mine'—holding them out for his inspection—'and being obliged to work by the hour, like a cab-driver, to earn your living? Here, it is true, you have not lived in luxury, but you have had your time to yourself.

'Dear, good sister!' exclaimed René, moved to tears by the depths of affection revealed in these words, and still more by the moral support they lent to his secret desires. Although Rosalie's name had never been mentioned between them in any particular way, and Emilie had never been taken into her brother's confidence, René was well aware that his sister had long guessed his innocent secret. He knew that, holding such ambitious views, she would never have approved of such a marriage. But would she have spoken as she did if she had known all the details? Would she have advised him to commit an act of treachery—for that it was, and of a kind, too, most repugnant to a heart born for noble deeds—the treachery of a man who transfers his love, and foresees, nay, already feels, the pain which his irresistible perfidy will necessarily inflict upon himself?

As soon as Emilie had gone René, his mind busied with the thoughts his sister's last words had suggested, rose and dressed himself, and for the first time found courage to look the situation well in the face. He remembered the little garden in the Rue de Bagneux, and the evening when he had first impressed a kiss upon the girl's blushing cheek. It is true, he had never been her avowed lover; but what of those kisses and their secret betrothal? One truth appeared to him indisputable—that a man has no right to steal a maiden's love unless he feels strong enough to cherish it for ever. But he also felt that his sister had given voice to the thought that had filled him ever since the success of his play had opened up such a horizon of hope. 'This grandeur and magnificence!' Emilie had said, and again the vision of all the splendour he had witnessed rose up before him—again, set in this rich frame, he saw the face of Madame Moraines with that sweet smile of hers. In his loyalty the young poet tried to banish this seductive apparition from his mind.

'Poor Rosalie, how sweet she is, and how she loves me!' he said, finding some sad satisfaction in the contemplation of the deep love he had inspired, and carrying these feelings with him to the breakfast table. How simply that table was laid, and how little resemblance it bore to the splendid display of the previous night. The table-cover was of oil-cloth, adorned with coloured flowers; on this stood a very modest service of white china, the heavy glasses that accompanied it being rendered necessary by the combined clumsiness of Fresneau, Constant, and Françoise, which would have made the use of crystal too costly for the family budget. Fresneau, with his long beard and his look of distraction, ate quickly, leaning his elbows on the table and carrying his knife to his mouth; he was as common in manners as he was kind of heart, and, as if to emphasise more strongly by contrast the impression which the idle cosmopolitanism of high life had made upon René, he laughingly gave on account of his morning.

At seven he had given a lesson at Ecole Saint-André. From eight to ten he had taken a class of boys in the same school who were still too young to follow the ordinary curriculum. Then he had just had time to jump into a Pantheon omnibus which took him to a third lesson in the Rue d'Astorg. 'I bought a paper on the way,' added the good man, 'to read the account of last night's affair. Dear me,' he exclaimed, undoing the strap that held his small parcel of books, 'I must have lost it.'

'You are so careless,' said Emilie almost angrily.

'Oh! it doesn't matter!' cried René gaily; 'Offarel will tell us all about it. You know that he is my walking guide-book. By to-night he will have read all the Paris and provincial newspapers.'

Knowing that the smallest details of last night's performance would be collected by Rosalie's father and commented upon by her mother, René was the more anxious to give the girl a full account of it himself. There is an instinct in man—is it hypocrisy or pity?—which impels him to treat with the utmost regard the woman who no longer holds his affections. Directly lunch was over he bent his steps towards the Rue de Bagneux. It had formerly been his custom to call upon the Fresneaus pretty frequently about that time. While covering the short distance he had often extemporised a few verses, after the manner of Heine, which he poured into Rosalie's ear when they were alone. The power of walking in a day-dream had, however, long since left him, and rarely had the vulgarity of this corner of Paris struck him to such a degree. All in it was eloquent of the sordid lives of the petit bourgeois—from the number of the little shops to the display of their cheap and varied wares that covered half the pavement. In the windows of the restaurants were bills of fare offering meals of various courses at extraordinarily low prices. Even the cooking utensils on sale in the bazaars seemed to have an air of poverty about them.

These and a score of other details reminded the young man of the limited resources of small incomes, of an existence reduced to that shabby gentility which has not the horrible and attractive picturesqueness of absolute want. When we begin to love we find in all the surroundings of our beloved so many reasons for increased affection, and when we cease to love these same details furnish the heart with as many reasons for further hardening. Why did the impression made upon René by the wretchedness of the neighbourhood cause him to feel annoyed with Rosalie? Why did the appearance of the Rue de Bagneux make him as angry with the girl as any personal wrong done to himself? This street, with its line of old houses and a blank wall at the bottom, had a most deserted and poverty-stricken air. At the moment when René entered it one end was almost blocked up by a cart heavily laden with straw, the three horses yoked to it, in country fashion, by stout ropes, standing with their heads half hidden in their nosebags whilst the driver was finishing his dinner in a small, greasy-looking cookshop. A Sister of Mercy was walking along the pavement on the left carrying a large umbrella under her arm; the wind flapped the wings of her immense white cap up and down, and the cross of her rosary beat against her blue serge dress. Why, after having heaped upon Rosalie all the displeasure caused by the sight of her miserable surroundings, did René involuntarily connect Madame Moraines with the religious ideas the good Sister's dress evoked? The manner in which that beautiful creature had spoken only the night before of the pious works performed by many so-called frivolous women came back to him. Three times that day had Suzanne's image come before him, and each time more distinctly. Great heavens! What joy were his if his good genius brought him face to face with her in some retired street like this as she was going to visit her poor! But that was out of the question, so René turned down a passage at the end of which were the ground floor apartments occupied by the Offarels. Profiting by the example of the Fresneaus, they, too, had realised the ambition of every family of the petite bourgeoisie of Paris, and had found in this deserted quarter of the capital a suite of rooms with a bit of garden as large as a pocket-handkerchief.

'Ah! Monsieur René!' exclaimed Rosalie, coming to the door in answer to the young man's ring at the bell. The Offarels only employed the services of a charwoman who left at twelve o'clock, and concerning whom the old lady always had an inexhaustible stock of anecdotes. At the sight of her lover, poor Rosalie, generally somewhat pale, coloured with joy, and she could not repress the cry of pleasure that rose to her lips.

'How good of you to come and tell us so soon how your play got on!' she said, taking the visitor into the dining-room, a dismal apartment with a north light, and in which there was no fire. Madame Offarel was so stingy that in winter, when the weather was not too cold, she would save the expense of fuel, and make her daughters wear mittens and capes instead! 'We are just going through the linen,' remarked the good lady, motioning René to a chair.

On the table lay the whole of the fortnightly washing, from the old man's shirts to the girls' underclothes, the bluish whiteness of the calicots and cottons being enhanced by the darkness of the room. It was the poor linen of a family in straitened circumstances; there were stockings evidently darned times out of number, serviettes full of holes, cuffs and collars frayed at the edges—in fact, a whole heap of things that Rosalie felt were not for a poet's eyes. She therefore gave him no time to sit down, but said, 'Monsieur René had much better come into the drawing-room—it's so dark here.'

Before her mother had had time to say anything further she had pushed the visitor into the apartment honoured by that pompous name, and which, in reality, more often served as a workroom for Angélique. The latter added a little to the income of the family by occasionally translating an English novel, and was at that moment seated at a small table near the window, writing. A dictionary was lying at her feet, those extremities being encased in a pair of slippers the backs of which she had trodden down for ease. No sooner had she caught sight of Vincy than she gathered up her books and papers and fled.

'Excuse me, Monsieur René,' she exclaimed, brushing back with one hand the hair that hung about her head and casting an apologetic look at her dress—a loose morning wrapper wanting some half-dozen buttons down the front. 'I am a perfect fright—don't look at me, please.'

The young man sat down and let his eyes wander round the well-known room, whose chief ornament consisted in a row of aquarelles executed by M. Offarel in Government time. There were about a dozen, some representing bits of landscape that he had discovered in his Sunday walks, others being copies of pictures he admired, and which René's more modern taste therefore detested. A faded felt carpet, six cloth-covered chairs and a sofa completed the furniture of this room, which René had once looked upon as a symbol of almost idyllic simplicity, but which now appeared doubly hateful to him in his present state of mind, aggravated by the acidity of Madame Offarel's accents.

'Well, did you enjoy yourself amongst all your grand folks last night? I suppose your friend only visits people now who keep a carriage, eh? Whenever he opens his mouth you hear of nothing but countesses and princesses. Dear me! He needn't think himself as grand as all that—he was giving lessons only ten years ago.'

'Mamma!' exclaimed Rosalie in beseeching tones.

'Well, what does he want to be so stuck up about?' continued the old lady. 'He looks at us as much as to say "Poor devils!"'

'How mistaken you are in him!' replied René. 'He is rather fond of going into smart society, it is true, but that is only natural in an artist. Why, it's the same with me,' he went on, with a smile. 'I was delighted to go to this affair last night and see that magnificent house filled with flowers and fine dresses. Do you think that prevents me appreciating my modest home and my old friends? All writers have that mad longing for splendour—even Balzac and Musset had it. It is a childish fancy of no importance.'

Whilst the young man was speaking Rosalie darted a look at her mother that told of more happiness than her poor eyes had expressed for months past. In thus confessing to and ridiculing his own inmost feelings, René was obeying impulses too complicated for the simple girl to understand. When Madame Offarel had spoken of 'your grand folks' the young man had seen by the look of anguish in her daughter's eyes that his love for the false glamour of elegance had not escaped Rosalie's perspicacity. He was ashamed of being found guilty of such a plebeian failing, and therefore laid bare his impressions as though he were not their dupe—partly in order to reassure the girl and spare her unnecessary pain, partly in order to indulge in a little weakness without having to reproach himself unduly.

Certain natures—and, owing to the habit of introspection, these are frequently found amongst writers—find pardon for their sins in mere confession. In defending Claude Larcher, René, with an irony that would have escaped sharper critics than a trusting girl, managed to administer a sharp rebuke to his own follies. Whilst openly ridiculing what he himself called his snobbishness, he continued to make those mean-spirited mental comparisons that would force themselves upon him all that day. He could not help measuring the gulf that separated the creatures he had seen at Madame Komof's—living blooms reared in the hothouse of European aristocracy—from the pale-faced and simple-looking creature before him, her hands spoilt by work, her hair tied back in a knot, and dressed so plainly as to look almost uncouth. The comparison, when dwelt upon, became quite painful, and caused the young man one of those inexplicable fits of ill-humour that always nonplussed Rosalie.

Knowing him as she did, she could always see when he had them, but she never guessed their cause. She knew by instinct that there were two Renés existing side by side—the one kind, tender, and good, easily moved and unable to withstand grief—in a word, the René she loved; the other cold, indifferent, and easily irritated. The bond that united these two beings she was, however, unable to find. All she knew was that before the triumphant success of the 'Sigisbée' she had seen only the first of these two Renés, and since then only the second. She was afraid to say 'the unfortunate success;' she had been so proud of it, and yet she would have given so much to go back to the time when her darling was poor and unknown, but all her own. How quickly he could make his voice hard, so hard that even the words addressed to another seemed by their intonation alone to be intended to wound her. At that moment, for instance, he was talking to her mother, and the mere accent that he gave to words empty in themselves touched Rosalie to the quick.

Suddenly Madame Offarel, who had been listening intently for a few seconds, started up. 'I can hear Cendrette scratching at the door,' she said; 'the dear creature wants to go out.'

With these words she returned to the dining-room in order to open the yard door for her favourite cat. She was probably delighted to have an excuse for leaving the two young people together; for, Cendrette having gone off, she stood for some time stroking Raton, another of her feline boarders. 'How clever you are, my Raton! How I love you, my little demon!' These were some of the pet names that she had devised for her cats, and as she repeated them and a dozen others in rather loud tones she was saying to herself: 'If he has come at once, that proves he is still faithful to her—but when will he propose? Poor girl! He'll not find a jewel like her in any of his gilded saloons. She's pretty, gentle, good, and true!' Then aloud: 'Isn't that so, my Raton? You understand, don't you, my son?' And as the cat arched her back, rubbed her head against her mistress's skirt, and purred voluptuously, the mother's internal monologue went on: 'And he is a good match, too. We didn't despise him before; so we have a right to set our caps at him now. She won't have to drudge, as I do for Offarel. It's a pity that she should have to spoil her pretty fingers botching up this old linen.' With the mechanical activity of an old housewife, she made a small pile of the handkerchiefs already gone through, and continued her thoughts: 'Her little dowry, too! What a surprise it will be!' By exercising the most stringent economy, she had managed to save, out of her husband's modest salary, some fifteen thousand francs, which she had invested unknown to M. Offarel. She smiled to herself and listened with some anxiety. 'I wonder what they are talking about!'

She knew that her daughter was fond of René, but she was still ignorant of the secret bonds that united the young people. What would have been her astonishment had she known that Rosalie had already frequently but timidly exchanged stolen kisses with her lover, and that immediately her mother's back was turned she had taken René's hand in hers and murmured in a voice of gentle reproach, 'How could you go off last night without saying good-bye?'

'Claude dragged me out,' said René, reddening, and pressing his sweetheart's fingers. She was, however, not taken in either by the excuse or the feigned caress, and, drawing back her hand, shook her head sadly, while her words came out with an evident effort.

'No,' she observed; 'you are not so nice to me as you used to be. How long is it since you last wrote me a line of poetry?'

'You're not so silly as to think people can sit down and write poetry when they like?' replied the young man, almost harshly. He was seized by that irritability which is a sure sign of the decline of love. The obligation to make a show of sentiment—a most cruel duty—was felt by him in one of its thousand forms.

By an instinct which leads them to sound the depths of their present misfortune whilst desperately clinging to their past happiness, the women who feel love slipping from them formulate these small, unpretending demands that have the same effect upon a man as a clumsy tug at the curb has upon a restive horse. The lover who has come with the firm intention of being gentle and affectionate immediately rears. Rosalie had made a mistake; she felt that as plainly as she had felt René's indifference a few minutes ago, and a feeling of despair, such as she had never known before, crept over her. Since her lover's departure on the previous evening she had been jealous—she had no reason to be, and she would scarcely admit to herself that she was—but she was jealous all the same. 'Whom will he meet there? To whom is he talking?' she had asked herself again and again instead of going to sleep. And now she thought, 'Ah! he is already unfaithful, or he would not have spoken to me in this manner.'

The silence that followed the harsh reply was so painful that she timidly asked, 'Did the actors play their parts well last night?'

Why was she hurt to see how eager René was to answer her question, and to turn the conversation from a more serious subject? Because the heart of a woman who is really in love—and that Rosalie was—is susceptible to the lightest trifles, and in despair she heard René reply: 'They acted divinely,' after which he immediately plunged into a dissertation on the difference between acting on a stage some distance from the audience and acting in the limited space of a drawing-room.

'Poor child!' thought Madame Offarel as she returned to the salon, 'she is so simple; she has not got him to talk of anything but that wretched play!' Then, in order to be revenged on some one for René's procrastination in proposing, she added aloud, 'Tell me—isn't your friend Larcher rather jealous of your success?'



René had entered the house in the Rue de Bagneux a prey to painful impressions, and when he left it his impressions were more painful still. Then he had been discontented with his surroundings—now he was discontented with himself. He had called on Rosalie with the idea of giving her a little pleasure, and sparing her the trifling pain of hearing all about his success from the mouth of another; instead of which his visit had only caused the girl fresh grief. Although the poet had never harboured aught else than an imaginary love for this child with the beautiful black eyes, that love had gone deep enough to implant in his breast what is last to die in the break-up of any passion—an extraordinary power of following the least movements of that virgin heart, and a pity, as unavailing as it was distressing, for all the pain he had caused it.

Once more he asked himself this question: 'Is it not my duty to tell her I no longer love her?' An insoluble question, for it admits of only two replies—both impossible ones—the first, cruel and brutal in its egoism, if our feelings are plain; the second a frightful mixture of pity and treachery, if they are complicated. The young man shook his head as if to chase away the obtrusive thought, and muttering the eternal 'We shall see—later on,' by which so many agonies have been prolonged, forced himself to look about him. He had mechanically turned his steps towards that portion of the Faubourg Saint-Germain where, in younger days, he had loved to walk, and, inspired by Balzac, that dangerous Iliad of poor plebeians, imagine that he saw the face of a Duchesse de Langeais or de Maufrigneuse looking out from every window.

He was now in that wide but desolate thoroughfare called Rue Barbet-de-Jouy, which, by reason of the total absence of shops, the grandeur of its buildings, and the countrified look of its enclosed gardens, seems a fitting frame for some fine lady of artificial aristocracy. An inevitable association of ideas brought René's mind back to the Komof mansion, and the thought of that lordly dwelling conjured up, for the fourth time that day, but more clearly than ever, the image of Madame Moraines. This time, however, worn-out by the fretful emotions through which he had passed, he became entirely absorbed in the contemplation of that image instead of trying to dispel it. To think of Madame Moraines was to forget Rosalie, and experience, moreover, a peculiarly sweet sensation.

After a few minutes of this mental contemplation the natural roamings of his fancy led the young man to ask himself, 'When shall I see her again?' He recalled the tone of her voice and her smile as she had said, 'On Opera days, before dinner.' Opera days? This novice of Society did not even know them. He felt a childish pleasure, out of all proportion to its ostensible cause—like that of a man who is realising his wildest dreams—in gaining the Boulevard des Invalides as quickly as possible and in finding one of the posts that display theatrical advertisements. It was Friday, and the bills announced a performance of the Huguenots. René's heart began to beat faster. He had forgotten Rosalie, his remorse of a little while ago, and the question that he had put to himself. That inner voice which whispers in our soul's ear such advice as would, upon reflection, astonish us, had just said to him: 'Madame Moraines will be at home to-day. What if you went?'

'What if I went?' he repeated aloud, and the bare idea of this visit parched his throat and set him trembling. It is the facility with which extreme emotions are brought into play upon the slightest provocation that makes the inner life of young men full of such strange and rapid transitions from the heights of joy to the depths of misery. René had no sooner put the temptation that beset him into words than he shrugged his shoulders and said, 'It's madness.' Having arrived at that decision, he commenced to plead the cause of his own desire under pretence of summing up the objections. 'How would she receive me?' The remembrance of her beautiful eyes and of her sweet smile made him reply, 'But she was so gentle and so indulgent.' Then he resumed his questioning. 'What could I say to justify a visit less than twenty-four hours after having left her?' 'Pooh!' replied the tempting voice, 'the occasion brings its own inspiration.' 'But I am not even dressed.' Well, he had only to go to the Rue Coëtlogon. 'But I don't even know her address.' 'Claude knows it—I have only to ask him.'

The idea of calling on Larcher having once presented itself to his mind, he felt that it would be impossible not to put at least that part of his plan into execution. To call on Claude was the first step towards reaching Madame Moraines; but, instead of confessing that, René was hypocrite enough to pretend other reasons. Ought he not really to go and obtain news of his friend? He had left him so unhappy, so truly miserable, on the previous evening. Perhaps he was now fretting like a child? Perhaps he was preparing to pick a quarrel with Salvaney? In this way the poet excused himself for the haste with which he was now making for the Rue de Varenne. It was not only Suzanne's address that he hoped to obtain, but information about her too—and all the while he was trying to persuade himself that he was simply fulfilling a duty of friendship.

In a very short time he had reached the corner of the Rue de Bellechasse, and a few moments later he found himself before the great doors of the strange house in which Larcher had taken up his abode. Pushing these open, he entered an immense courtyard in which everything spoke of desolation, from the grass that grew between the stones to the cobwebs that covered the windows of the deserted stables on the left. At the bottom of the courtyard stood a noble mansion, built in the reign of Louis XIV., and bearing the proud motto of the Saint-Euvertes, whose town house this had been, Fortiter. The stones of this building, already bearing traces of the ravages of time, its long shuttered windows and its silence were all in harmony with the solitude of the courtyard. The old Faubourg Saint-Germain contains many such houses, strange as the destiny of their owners, and which will always prove peculiarly attractive to minds in search of the psychologically picturesque—if we may unite these two words to define an almost indefinable shade of meaning.

René had heard the history of this mansion from his friend; how the old Marquis de Saint-Euverte, reduced to despair by the almost simultaneous loss of his wife, his three daughters, and their husbands, had, six years ago, gone to live with his grandsons on his estates in Poitou. An epidemic of typhoid fever suddenly breaking out in a small watering-place where all the family were staying together had made this happy old man the lonely guardian of a tribe of orphans. Even during the lifetime of the Marquise—an excellent business woman—two small wings in the house had been let to quiet tenants. These wings had also a history of their own, the grandfather of the present Marquis having placed them at the disposal of two cousins—Knights of Saint-Louis and at one time political refugees—who, after a wretched, wandering existence, had ended their days here. M. de Saint-Euverte had left everything as his wife had arranged it. Claude therefore one day found himself the only tenant in the whole of this silent, gloomy building, for the occupant of the other wing had been scared away by the loneliness of the place, and no one else had yet seemed anxious to bury himself in this tomb, standing between a desolate courtyard and a still more desolate garden.

But all these points, that were so displeasing to others, were a source of delight to Larcher. The oddness of the place appealed particularly to this dreamer and maker of paradoxes. It pleased him to set his irregular existence as an artist and a swell clubman in this framework of imposing solitude; and here, too, he could shut himself up with his secret agonies. The love of analytical introspection with which he knew he was infected, and which, like a doctor cultivating his own disease for the sake of a fine 'case,' he carefully nurtured, could not have found a better home. Then, again, here Larcher enjoyed absolute freedom. The concierge, won over by a few theatre tickets and fascinated by the reputation of his tenant, would have allowed him to hold a saturnalian feast in every hall of the Saint-Euverte mansion had Claude felt any desire to found another Club de Haschischins or to reproduce some scene of literary orgies out of love for the romanticism of 1830. The concierge was absent from his post when René arrived, so that the poet walked straight across the courtyard to the house. Entering the main hall, where the magnificent lamps bore testimony to the grandeur of the receptions once held here, he mounted the stone staircase, whose wrought-iron balustrade formed a splendid ornament to the huge well of the house. On the second floor he turned down a corridor, at the end of which heavy curtains of Oriental texture proclaimed a modern installation hidden in the depths of a mansion that seemed to be peopled only with the bewigged ghosts of grands seigneurs.

The man-servant who answered his ring possessed that type of face peculiar to nearly all custodians of old buildings; it is met with both in the guides of ruined castles and in the vergers of cathedrals, and shows how vast must be the influence which places have on human beings. It is a face with a greenish tint and with a hawk-like expression about the eyes and mouth; from its appearance one would suppose that it smelt damp. Ferdinand—that was the name of this individual—differed from his kind only in dress, which, consisting as it did of Claude's cast off clothes, was fashionable and smart. He had been valet to the late Comte de Saint-Euverte, and, in addition to his duties as Larcher's servant, he was a kind of housekeeper for the whole mansion, from which he seldom emerged more than once a month. The concierge went on all the writer's errands, and his wife did the cooking. This little world lived entirely under the spell of Claude, who, through his knowledge of character and his infantile goodness of heart, possessed in a rare degree the gift of winning the attachment of his inferiors. When Ferdinand saw who the caller was he could not help showing great uneasiness.

'They shouldn't have let you come up, sir!' he said. 'I shall get into trouble.'

'Is Monsieur Larcher at work?' asked René, smiling at the man's terror.

'No,' replied Ferdinand in an undertone, and quite at a loss what to do with a visitor whom his master had evidently not expected. 'But Madame Colette is here.'

'Ask him whether he can see me for a minute,' said the poet, curious to know how the two lovers stood after the scene of the preceding evening; and, in order to conquer the valet's hesitation, he added: 'I'll take all the responsibility.'

'You may come up, sir,' was the answer with which he returned, and, preceding René through the ante-room, he took him up the small inner staircase that led to the three apartments usually inhabited by Claude, and which the writer either called his 'laboratory' or his 'torture-chamber,' according to the mood he was in.

The staircase and the first two of the three rooms were remarkable for the richness of their carpets and hangings. The faint light that filtered through the stained-glass windows on this dull February afternoon scarcely cast a shadow, either in the smoking-room with its morocco-covered furniture or in the large salon lined with books. Claude's favourite nook was a den at the end, the walls of which were hung with some dark material and adorned with a few canvases and aquarelles of the most modern painters of the day—these being what the writer's extravagant fancy preferred. There were two opera boxes by Forain, a dancing girl by Degas, a rural scene by Raffaelli, a sea-piece by Monet, four etchings by Félicien Rops, and on a draped pedestal a bust of Larcher himself by Rodin. The bust was a splendid piece of work, in which the great sculptor had reproduced with marvellous skill all that might be read in his model's face—qualms of morality mingled with libertinism, bold reflection allied to a weak will, innate idealism hand in hand with an almost systematically acquired corruption. A low bookcase, a desk in one corner, three fauteuils in Venetian style with negroes supporting the arms, and a wide green leather couch completed the furniture of this retreat, clouded at that moment with the smoke of Colette's Russian cigarette.

The young lady was lying at full length on the couch, her fair hair tumbling about her ears, and attired in somewhat masculine style, with a stand-up collar and an open jacket. Her short plain cloth skirt revealed a pair of neat ankles and long narrow feet encased in black silk stockings and patent leather shoes. Her sunken cheeks were pale—that pallor produced in most theatrical women by the constant use of paint, by late hours, and by the fatigues of an arduous profession.

'Ah! mon petit Vincy,' she cried, holding out her hand to the visitor, 'you have come just in time to save me from a beating. I only wish you knew how badly this boy treats me! Come, Claudie,' she added, shaking her finger at her lover, who was seated at her feet, 'say it's not true if you dare.' And with a graceful movement of her lithe and supple body—she herself would confess that she scarcely ever wore a corset—the charming creature rose to a sitting posture, laid her fair head on Claude's shoulder, and placed between his lips the cigarette she had just been smoking. The wretched man looked at his young friend with shame and supplication written on his face; then, turning to Colette, his eyes filled with tears. At this the actress's behaviour became more wanton still, and leaning forward upon her lover's shoulder, she gazed into his eyes until she saw in them the look of passion that she knew so well how to turn to her own advantage.

A dead silence ensued. The fire burned brightly in the grate, and a solitary sunbeam, making its way through the coloured glass, fell in a long red streak upon the girl's face. René had been present at scenes of this kind too often to feel surprised at the want of modesty of either his friend or Colette. He was well acquainted with the strange cynicism of their nature; but he also remembered Claude's terrible language the night before, and the cruel words his mistress had uttered after his disappearance. He was astounded to see to what depths of degradation the writer's weakness dragged him down, and to witness such proofs of this wretched woman's inconsistency. In the close atmosphere of this room, impregnated with the perfume that Colette used, and before the almost immodest attitude of the pair before him, there came over him a feeling of sensuality with which he was already too familiar. The sight of this depraved creature—though her depravity was generally clothed in graceful forms—had often awakened in him ideas of a physical passion very different from any he had hitherto known. She had frequently received him in her dressing-room at the theatre, and as she stood in careless dishabille before her glass putting the finishing touches to her face, or completing, with unblushing indifference, the more hidden details of her toilet, she had appeared to him like some temptress personifying the highest forms of voluptuousness, and at such times he would envy Claude as much as he sometimes pitied him. But these feelings would soon be dispelled by the disgust with which the moral degradation of the actress inspired him and by the burning scruples of friendship that animate and restrain the young. René would have been horrified to find himself, even for a moment, coveting what he considered his friend's property, and perhaps the knowledge of this delicacy of feeling went for something in Colette's behaviour. Out of sheer wantonness she amused herself by displaying her beauty before him, just as we hold up a flower to be smelt when we know the hands will not be put out to seize it. Wantonness it was, too, that led the misguided girl to dally with Claude and to lavish such caresses upon him before René.

All this, however, produced in the poet a vague physical longing that he could not repress; it grew upon him unconsciously, and, by an association of desires, more difficult to interrupt in its secret workings than an association of ideas, the vision of Madame Moraines was once more before him, surrounded by the halo of seduction that had so completely dazzled him on the previous evening. Two things were now obvious to René: one was, that he must go and call on that woman to-day; the other, that he would never be able to utter her name and ask for her address before the lascivious creature who was torturing Claude with her kisses.

'Get away,' said the writer, pushing her from him; 'I love you, and you know it. Why, then, do you make me suffer so? Ask René what a state I was in last night. Tell her, Vincy, and tell her she should not trifle with me. After all,' he cried, burying his face in his hands, 'what does it matter? If you became the most degraded wretch on earth, I should still idolise you.'

'These are some of the pretty things I have to hear all day long,' cried Colette, rolling back on the cushions with a laugh. 'Well, René, tell him about me too. Tell him how angry I was last night because he went home without saying a word. And then he didn't write, so I came here. Yes, I came to him, if you please. You savage!' she cried, taking Larcher by the hair, 'do you think I should trouble to run after you if I didn't love you?'

Every feature of her face expressed the real nature of the feeling she entertained for Claude—cruel sensuality, that sensuality which impels a woman to make a martyr of the man from whose power she cannot free herself. History tells of queens who loved in this fashion, and who handed over to the headsman the men whom they hated and yet desired to possess. René quietly observed:

'I was uneasy about him last night, it is true, and you were very cruel.'

'That will do!' cried Colette, with a contemptuous laugh. 'I've already told you that you swallow anything he says. I've given that up myself long ago. One day he threatened to commit suicide, and when I came here in my stage clothes, without even waiting to wash my paint off, I found him—correcting proofs!'

'But that I'm obliged to do,' replied Claude; 'you often have to smile on the stage yourself when you're really in trouble.'

'What does that prove?' she retorted sharply; 'that we are merely acting. Only I take you for what you are, and you don't.'

Whilst she rattled on, rating Claude with that savage rancour that a woman takes no pains to conceal from the man with whom she is on intimate terms, René's glance, as it wandered round the room, fell upon a directory containing the addresses of the 'upper ten' and the hangers-on of Society.

Taking it up he turned over the leaves, and to offer some excuse for his action, mendaciously remarked, 'Why, your name isn't here, Claude!'

'I should think not,' said Colette; 'I won't let him send it. He sees quite enough of the swells as it is.'

'I thought you liked the society of that kind of man,' observed Claude.

'What a clever thing to say!' she replied, with a graceful shrug of her shoulders. 'They're smart, it's true—it's their business to be. They know how to dress, to play tennis, to ride, and to talk of horses, whilst you, with all your brains, will never be anything but a cad. How I wish you were now what you were eight years ago when I first met you in that restaurant at the corner of the Rue des Saints-Pères! I had just come from the Conservatoire with my mother and Farguet, my professor, and we were having some lunch. You looked so good, sitting in the corner—as though you had come from a monastery, and were having your first peep at the world. It was that, I think, that made me like you. Are you coming to the theatre to-night?' she asked René, as he closed the book and rose to go. He had found what he wanted; Madame Moraines lived in the Rue Murillo, near the Parc Monceau. 'No? Well, to-morrow then, and mind you don't get gadding about like this boy! Such fine ladies as they are, too, your Society women—I know something of them! Oh, look at his face—won't he storm as soon as you're gone! You're surely not going to be jealous of women?' she said, lighting a fresh cigarette. 'Good-bye, René.'

'She is like that before you,' observed Claude, as he let his friend out; 'but you wouldn't believe how gentle and affectionate she can be when we are alone!'

'And how about Salvaney?' asked René unthinkingly.

Claude turned pale. 'She says that she merely went to his rooms to look at some drawings for her next rôle: she swears that there was nothing wrong in it With women, everything is possible—even what is good,' he added, giving René a hand that was not very steady. 'I can't help it—I must believe her when she looks at me in her peculiar way.'



'Can a man of sense, and a good fellow into the bargain, fall as low as that?' René asked himself on leaving his unhappy friend. Then, thinking of Colette's handsome face, he muttered, 'She is very pretty. Heavens! if one could only get Rosalie's beauty of soul united to this creature's incomparable grace and elegance!'

But was not such union to be found? The inner or moral beauty, without which a woman is more bitter than death to the heart of a right-thinking man, and the outer or physical glamour that enables her to attract and captivate his grosser nature—was not such complete and supreme harmony to be found in those creatures whom the accidents of birth and fortune have surrounded by the attributes of real aristocracy, and whose personal charms are in keeping with their surroundings? Was not Madame Moraines an example of this? In any case, that was the poet's first impression of her, and he took a delight in strengthening this impression by argument. Yes, he was sure that this woman, whose soothing image floated through his brain, did indeed possess that double charm—not only beauty and grace superior to Colette's, but a soul as unsullied as Rosalie's. The refinement of her manners, the sweetness of her voice, and the ideality of her conversation gave abundant proofs of it.

René walked on, his mind occupied with these thoughts, and his eyes fixed upon a sort of mirage that made him insensible to all around him. He awoke from this fit of somnambulism on reaching the end of the Pont des Invalides, and found himself in the middle of the Avenue d'Antin. His footsteps had mechanically turned towards the quarter where dwelt the woman to whom his thoughts were so constantly recurring that day. He smiled as he remembered how often he had made a pilgrimage to this Rue Murillo when Gustave Flaubert still lived there. René was such an ardent admirer of the author of the 'Tentation' that it had always been a great treat to him to gaze up at the house of the eminent and powerful writer. How long ago those times seemed now, and how rapturous they would have been had he then known that the woman who was to realise his fondest ideal would live in that very street! Should he go and see her to-day? The question became more pressing as time advanced. One sweep more of the large hand round the dial, and it would be five o'clock—he could see her. He could see her! The idea of this being a real possibility took such a hold upon his mind that all the objections his timidity could devise arose at once. 'No,' he muttered, 'I shall not go; she would be surprised to see me so soon. She only asked me to come because she knew all the others had invited me. She did not want to seem less polite.'

What had seemed in others an empty compliment became a delicate attention in the case of the woman he was beginning to love—unknown to himself. The discovery of an additional motive for distinguishing her from all the women he had met on the previous evening made him feel less able to resist the desire to be near her. He hailed a cab almost mechanically, and on reaching home commenced to dress. His sister was out, and Françoise was busy in the kitchen. Though he had still not the courage to say to himself outright, 'I am going to the Rue Murillo,' he paid as much attention to the minute details of his toilet as amorous youths—at such times a deal more coquettish than women—are wont to do. It was now no longer upon his timidity that he relied for help to battle against the ever-increasing desire within him. Every object in the room recalled memories of Rosalie. With the innate honesty of the young, he for a long time tried to impress upon himself the duty he owed the poor girl. 'What would I think of her if I heard that she was accepting the attentions of a man whom she liked as much as I like Madame Moraines? But then,' rejoined the tempting voice, 'you are an artist, and require fresh sensations and experience of the world. And who says that you are going to call on Madame Moraines only to make love to her?'

He was just in the act of applying his handkerchief to a bottle of 'white rose' that stood on his dressing-table. The penetrating perfume sent the warm blood coursing through his veins in that irresistible tide of voluptuous desire that marks the nascent passions of ardent but continent natures such as his. Since his secret engagement to Rosalie his delicate scruples had led him to return to a life of absolute purity. But the barriers of reserve gave way before this subtle perfume, which awakened memories of all that was least ideal in her rival—the golden ringlets in her neck, her ruby lips and pearly teeth, her snowy rounded shoulders and the long bare arms with their tapering wrists. And this, too, just as he was attempting to attribute his admiration for her to intellectual motives. Of what avail were ideas of loyalty towards Rosalie in the face of such visions? It was five o'clock. René left the house, jumped into another cab, and told the man to drive to the Rue Murillo. He kept his eyes closed the whole of the way, so intensely painful was the sensation of suspense. Mingled with this was shame for his own weakness, apprehension of what was in store for him, deep joy at the thought that he was about to see that glorious face once more, and, permeating all, a spice of that mad hope, intoxicating on account of its very vagueness, that urges the young along fresh paths simply for the sake of their novelty. The feeling of permanence, so indispensable to a man of experience, who knows how short life really is, is hateful to the very young. At twenty-five they are by nature changeable, and consequently fickle. René, who was even better than a good many others, had already irreparably betrayed in thoughts the girl who loved him when his cab set him down at the door of the woman he had seen for one hour on the previous night. He would rather have stepped upon Rosalie's heart than not enter that door now. If a last thought of his betrothed did trouble him at that moment, he no doubt dismissed it with the usual phrase—'She won't know,' and passed on.

The house in which Madame Moraines lived was one of those buildings to be found in the fashionable quarters of Paris which, although parcelled out into flats, have been made by the modern architect to look almost like private mansions. The house was of noble elevation and stood back some little distance from the street, the privacy of the courtyard being insured by some railings that shut it off from the outside world. In the centre of these railings was the porter's lodge, a sort of Gothic pavilion, and as René inquired whether Madame Moraines was at home he could see that the interior of this lodge was better furnished and looked smarter and brighter than the drawing-room of the Offarels on reception nights. The strain upon the young man's nerves had now become so painful that if the veteran soldier who was ending his days in this haven of rest had answered him in the negative he would almost have thanked him. But what he heard was, 'Second floor up the steps at the bottom of the courtyard.'

He crossed the marble threshold and then mounted a wooden staircase covered with a soft-toned carpet. The air that he breathed on the stairs was warm, like that of a room. Here and there stood exotic plants, the gaslight glinting on their green foliage. Chairs were placed at every turn of the staircase, and twice did René sink down into one. His knees trembled under him. If until then he had had any doubts respecting the nature of the feelings he entertained for Madame Moraines, his present state of excitement should have warned him that those feelings amounted to something more than simple curiosity. But he went on as if he were in a dream. He was in that state when he pressed the button at the side of the door, when he heard the servant coming to open it, and when he gave him his name; then, before he had recovered his wits, the man had shown him into a small salon, where he found the dangerous creature whose charms had so enslaved him, though he knew nothing of her except that she was beautiful. Alas! that this beauty should so often be only a mask, and a dangerous mask, too, when we give it credit for being more than it really pretends to be.

Had René in fancy painted any setting for this rare and majestic beauty, he could have imagined no other than that in which he saw Madame Moraines for the second time. She was seated at her writing-desk, on which stood a lighted lamp covered with a lace shade, whilst an ivy plant trained to creep along a gilded trellis formed a novel and pleasing screen to the table. The small room was filled with a profusion of ornaments and trifles indispensable to every modern interior. The inevitable reclining-chair, with its heap of cushions, the whatnot crowded with Japanese netsukés, the photographs in their frames of filigree, the three or four genre pictures, the lacquered boxes standing on the little table covered with its strip of Oriental silk, the flowers distributed here and there—who in Paris is unacquainted with this refinement of comfort now so stereotyped as to be quite commonplace? But all that René knew of Society life he had learnt either from Balzac and other novelists of fifty years ago or from more modern authors who had never seen the inside of a drawing-room; the ensemble of this apartment, beautifully harmonised by the soft tints of the shaded lamp, was therefore to him like the revelation of a hidden trait peculiar to the woman who had presided over its arrangement. The charm of the moment was the more irresistible since the Madonna who dwelt in this shrine, with its subdued light and its warm air heavy with the scent of flowers, received him with a smile and a look in her eyes that at once dispelled all his childish fears.

The men whom Nature has endowed with that inexplicable power of pleasing women, apart from whatever other qualities they may possess, either mental or physical, are provided with a kind of antennæ of the soul to warn them of the impressions they produce. The poet, in spite of his complete ignorance both of Suzanne's disposition and of the customs of the world she lived in, felt that he had done right in coming. This knowledge served to soothe his overstrung nerves, and he gave himself up entirely to the sweetness that emanated from this creature, the first of her kind whom he had been permitted to approach. By merely looking at her he saw that she was not the same woman as on the previous evening. She had evidently but just come in; some pressing duty—a note, perhaps, to be written—had only given her time to take off her hat and to substitute a dainty pair of slippers for her outdoor boots, so that she was still wearing a walking-dress of some dark material with a high collar like Colette's. Her hair, René noticed, was of the same colour as the actress's, and was twisted into a plain coil upon her head. Like that, she seemed to René more approachable, less superhuman, less surrounded by that impenetrable atmosphere in which the pomp of dress and the ceremony of grand receptions envelop a woman of fashion. The few traits that she possessed in common with the actress only added to her charms. They enabled René to measure the distance that separated the two beings, and whilst doing this he heard Suzanne say in that voice which on the previous evening had proved so irresistibly seductive: 'How good of you to come, Monsieur Vincy!'

It was nothing—a mere figure of speech. Madame de Sermoises, and Madame Ethorel, and even the spiteful Madame Hurault would have used the same words. But, in the mouth of Madame Moraines, and for him to whom they were addressed, they were expressive of deep and true sympathy, of unbounded kindness, and of divine indulgence. The phrase had been accompanied by a gesture of indescribable grace, by a slight look of surprise in the pale blue eyes, and by a smile more seductive than ever. Had René not come to the Rue Murillo fully prepared to seize upon the slightest motives for admiring Suzanne still more, the tribute which she paid to his vanity by this form of reception would alone have conquered him. Do not the most celebrated authors and those most weary of drawing-room sycophancy allow themselves to be captivated by attentions of this kind? The author of the 'Sigisbée' was not inclined to look at these things so critically, either. He had come in fear and trembling, and his reception had shown him he was welcome. Since the morning he had felt a passionate desire to see Suzanne again; he stood before her, and she was glad to see him.

There was a merry look in her eyes as her pretty lips now framed the second sentence she had yet spoken: 'If you accepted all the invitations which were showered upon you yesterday you must have had a hard day's work?'

'But you are the only one I have called upon, madame,' he replied naïvely. He had scarcely uttered the words when a deep blush overspread his face. The significance of his reply was so apparent, the sentiments it expressed so sincere, that he felt quite abashed, like a child whose simple nature has led it to tell what it wished to keep secret. Had he not been guilty of familiarity that would shock this exquisite creature, this woman whose delicate perception no shade of meaning could escape, and upon whose sensitive nature the slightest want of tact would certainly jar? The pale pink of her cheeks and the silken gloss of her hair, the blue of her eyes, and the grace of all her person made her appear to him for the few seconds that followed his exclamation like some Titania, by the side of whom he was but an obscure and loutish Bottom. Before her he felt as clumsy in mind as he would have been in body had he tried to imitate any of her graceful movements—the way, for instance, in which she closed her handsomely worked blotting-book and with her fair hands put in order the knick-knacks that covered her table. An imperceptible smile hovered about her lips as the young man uttered his simple words. But how could he have seen that smile when his eyes were modestly cast down at the moment? How could he have guessed that his reply would be acceptable, although it was precisely the one that had been expected and even provoked? René was only certain of one thing—that Madame Moraines was as gentle and as kind as she was beautiful; instead of appearing offended or drawing back she tried to conquer the fresh fit of timidity that was beginning to seize him by replying to his foolish remark.

'Well, sir, I certainly deserve that preference, which would create a deal of jealousy if it were known, for no one admires your talent as much as I do. Your poetry contains such true and delicate sentiment. We women, you know, never judge by reason; our hearts criticise for us, and it is so seldom that a modern author manages to touch only the right chords. How can it be otherwise? We are faithful to the old ideals—ah! yes, I know that is not at all the fashion to-day—it makes one look almost ridiculous. But we defy ridicule—and then, besides, I have inherited these ideas from my poor father. It was always his fondest wish to do something towards raising the literary tone in our unhappy country. I thought of him as I listened to your verses; how he would have enjoyed them!'

She stopped, as if to banish these too melancholy recollections. On hearing the way in which she pronounced her father's name one must needs have been a monster of distrust not to believe that the incurable wound caused by the death of that celebrated minister bled afresh every time she thought of him. René was, nevertheless, a little surprised at the tenor of her words. He remembered that one of the last things Sainte-Beuve had written was a philippic against a copyright bill proposed by Bois-Dauffin, and he had always looked upon the statesman as one of the sworn enemies of literature, of whom there are thousands in the political world. He, moreover, had a profound horror of the conventional idealism to which Madame Moraines had alluded. In poetry, his favourite author was Théophile Gautier, both on account of his construction and the precision of his metaphors—in prose, the severe Flaubert, on account of his wonderfully clear style, and his lack of all mannerisms.

It pleased him, however, that Suzanne should see in her father a liberal protector of literature, for it proved the depth of her filial piety. He was also pleased to find that she cherished an ideal of his art almost childish in its simplicity. Such a comprehension of beauty, if sincere, showed real inner purity. If sincere! René would have disdained to entertain such a doubt in the presence of this ethereal angel with her dreamy eyes. He stammered out some phrase as vague as that in which Madame Moraines had expressed her idea, and spoke only of woman's fine judgment in literature—he, the worshipper not only of Gautier, but of Baudelaire! Was she quick enough to hear by his tone of voice that she was on a wrong tack? Or did the profound ignorance in which, like so many Society women, she was content to dwell—never reading anything beyond a paper and a few third-rate novels when travelling—make it impossible for her to keep up a conversation of this order and quote names in support of her ideas? In any case, she soon dropped this dangerous subject, and quickly passed from the ideal in art to another more feminine problem, the ideal in love. In merely uttering the word 'love,' which, in itself, contains so much that is contradictory, she managed to assume such an air of modesty that René felt as if he had been taken into her confidence. It was evidently a subject upon which this woman, so far above all ideas of gallantry, did not care to enter unless she was in full sympathy with her hearer.

'What pleases me, too, so much in the "Sigisbée,"' she observed, in her sweet, musical voice, 'is the faith in love portrayed there—the horror of coquetry, of lies, of all that dishonours the most divine sentiment of which the human soul is capable. Believe me,' she added, resting her head upon her hand as if in deep reflection, and regarding René with a look of such seriousness that it seemed to concentrate all her thoughts; 'believe me, the day that you doubt the reality of love you will cease to be a poet. But there is a God who watches over genius,' she went on, with a kind of suppressed emotion. 'That God will not permit the splendid gifts with which he has endowed you to be sterilised by scepticism—for you are a believer, I am sure, and a good Catholic?'

'I was,' he replied.

'And now?' she asked, with a look almost of pain on her face.

'I have my days of doubt,' he answered in simple fashion. She was silent, whilst he sat gazing in speechless admiration at this woman who, in the vortex of Society life, could still ascend to a world of higher and nobler ideas. He did not stop to think that there was something degrading—something like an attempt to gain cheap applause—in parading before a stranger—and what else was he to her?—the most sacred feelings of the heart. Although he had in his uncle, the Abbé Taconet, a perfect example of a true Christian soul, he was not surprised to hear Madame Moraines combine in one sentence two things so completely foreign to each other as a belief in God and the gift of writing plays in verse. He knew nothing except that to hear her voice once more, to see in her blue eyes that expression of true faith, to gaze upon the curl of her dainty lips, to feel her presence near him now, always, and for ever, he would have braved the direst perils. Amid this silence the singing of the tea urn in a corner of the little salon became more perceptible. Suzanne passed her hand with its well-polished nails over her eyes; then, with a smile of apology for having dared, ignorant as she was, to broach such serious problems to a great mind like his, she suddenly changed her theme as lightly as some women will offer you a sandwich after having discussed the immortality of the soul.

'But you have not come here to be preached at,' she cried, 'and I am forgetting that I am only a worldly woman after all. Will you have a cup of tea? Then come and help me make it.'

She rose; her step was so lithe and she walked with such an easy grace that to René, who was already completely bewitched, it seemed as if her very movements continued in some way the charm of her conversation. He too had risen, and was now made to take a seat near the little table on which the tea-kettle was singing merrily. He looked at her as her dainty hands, so carefully tended, deftly moved amongst the fragile china with which the tray was laden. She was talking, too, but now her talk ran upon a score of details of every day life. As she poured the strong liquor into the cups she told him where she got her tea; then, as she added the boiling water, she questioned him upon the manner in which he made his coffee when he wanted to work. She finished by taking a seat beside him, after having spread a small cloth for the cups, the plates of toast and cake, the pot of cream, and all the rest. She had set it out as though it were for a young lady's tea party, and bestowed upon her visitor those little attentions in which women excel. They know that the most savage men often love to be petted and made much of, and that they are so easily won by this false coinage of pretended affection. Suzanne was now beginning to question the poet, and made him give her an account of his feelings on the first night of the 'Sigisbée,' thus completing her work of seduction by compelling him to talk about himself. All René's timidity had disappeared, and he felt as if he had known this woman for years, so rapidly had she succeeded in gaining an ascendency over him in this first visit. It was therefore a cruel sensation, like awaking from a heavenly dream, when the door opened to admit a new-comer.

'Oh! what a bother!' exclaimed Suzanne in an undertone. How sweet this exclamation sounded in the poet's ears, and how he appreciated her pretty look of annoyance, and the graceful shrug of her shoulders that accompanied it! He rose to take his leave, but not before Madame Moraines had introduced him to the unwelcome visitor.

'Monsieur le Baron Desforges—Monsieur Vincy.'

The poet caught a glance of a man of middle height attired in a smart-fitting frock-coat. The man might have been fifty-five or forty-five—in reality he was fifty-six—so difficult was it to read his age from his impenetrable features. His moustache was still fair, and though the Baron had managed to escape baldness, that plague common to all Parisians, the colour of his hair, a decided grey, showed that he made no attempt to hide his years. His face was a little too full-blooded to be strictly in keeping with the rest of his appearance. His searching gaze rested upon René with that air of profound indifference which diplomatists by profession are so prone to affect, and which seems to say to the man so regarded, 'If I chose to know you, I should know you—but I do not choose to.' Was this really the meaning of the look that rested on him, or was René merely put out by the interruption to his charming tête-à-tête? Be that as it might, the poet felt an immediate and profound antipathy towards the Baron, who, on hearing his name, had bowed without uttering a word to show whether he knew him or not. But what did that matter to René, since Madame Moraines had still managed to say with a smile as she gave him her hand: 'Thanks for your kind visit. I am so glad that you found me at home.'

Glad! And what word should he use—he who, in an almost maudlin state of intoxication, felt, as he left the house in which this delightful creature lived, that before that day and that hour he had never really loved!



'It's Madame Komof's little poet,' said Suzanne, as soon as the door had closed upon René. The tone in which she replied to the Baron's mute interrogation indicated the familiar footing upon which Desforges stood in this house. Then with that girlish smile she could so well assume—one of those smiles in which the most distrustful men will always believe, because they have seen their sisters smile like that—she went on, 'Oh! I forgot—you wouldn't go last night. I looked so nice—you would have been proud of me. I had my hair done just as you like it. I expected to see you come in later on. This young man, who is the author of the play, was introduced to me, and the poor fellow just called to leave his card. He didn't know my hours, and came straight up. You have done him a great service in giving him an opportunity to escape. He had stayed so long that he was afraid to go.'

'You see that I was right in setting my face against last night's affair,' remarked the Baron. 'Here we have another man of letters brought out. He has been here, and will call on others. He'll call again, no doubt, and then he'll be invited here and there. People will talk before him as they do before you and me, without thinking that on leaving your house he will, out of sheer vanity, go and retail the stories he has heard here in some café or newspaper office. And then the Society dames will be astonished to find themselves figuring in the columns of some scurrilous sheet or in an up-to-date novel. To invite writers into the drawing-room is one of the latest and maddest freaks of so-called Society. We wrong them by robbing them of their time, and they return the injury by libelling us. I was told the other day that the daughter of one of this gentleman's colleagues, who helps her papa in his books, was heard to say: "We never go anywhere without bringing home at least two pages of useful notes." I myself cannot understand this mania for talking into phonographs—and such silly, lying phonographs, too, as they are!'

'Ah!' exclaimed Suzanne, taking the Baron's hand in hers, and looking up at him with an admiration that was too marked not to be sincere, 'how fortunate I am in having you to guide me through life! What correct and clear judgment you have!'

'Oh! merely a little gumption, that's all,' replied Desforges, with a shake of the head; 'that will prevent one from committing nine-tenths of the bad actions that are really only follies. All my wisdom of life is to try and get what I can out of what is left me—and what is left me is precious little. Do you know that I shall be fifty-six this week, Suzanne?'

She shook her pretty head, and came closer to him as he stopped in his march up and down the room. With a look of ingenuousness that might have been worn either by an accomplished wanton or a big girl asking her father for a kiss she brought first her cheek with its pretty dimple, and then the corner of her sweet mouth, under the Baron's lips.

'Come,' she said, 'don't you want any tea? It's a bad sign when you begin to talk about your age; you must have upset yourself either in the Chambre or at some Board meeting.'

As she spoke she moved towards the little table, and her eyes fell upon the cups and plates she and René had used. Did she remember the Madonna-like rôle she had played in this very spot only a quarter of an hour ago, and the handsome young man for whose benefit she had assumed her most bewitching attitudes? And if such a thought really entered that pretty head, set in its coils of pale gold, did she feel any shame, any regret, that the poet had gone, or only a kind of secret joy, such as these bold actresses feel in their moments of greatest hypocrisy? She made the tea with as much care as she had bestowed on the process a few minutes before. Desforges had naturally slipped into the arm-chair just vacated by René, and Suzanne occupied her former seat as she sat listening to the Baron's talk. This estimable man had an unfortunate habit of dogmatising at times. He knew the world—that was his great boast, and he was justified in making it. Only, he attached a little too much importance to this knowledge.

'It was rather trying in the Chambre to-day, it is true,' he said. 'I went to hear de Suave hurl his thunderbolts at the Government. He still believes in Parliamentary speeches and in oratorical triumphs. As for me, I have, of course, become a sceptic, a grumbler, and a pessimist since the day when I refused office. They are glad to have me in the House because my grandfather was a Prefect under one emperor and I a Councillor of State under another. The name looks well at the bottom of a poster; but as for hearing me, that's another matter. And they have such respect for me, too! When I drop in at the club in the afternoon I find half-a-dozen of my friends, both young and old, engaged in restoring the monarchy whilst watching the girls pass, if it is summer, or between two deals at bézique in winter. When I come in you should see how quickly they change their faces and their conversation, as if I were discretion itself. I should like to have told them a few home-truths to-day, just to relieve my feelings, but I went to the Rue de la Paix instead to get your earrings.'

With these words he took from his pocket a small leather case; it was quite plain, without the jewellers address, and as he held it out the fire flashed from the two splendid diamonds it contained, making Suzanne's eyes sparkle with delight. The case passed from the Baron's hands into hers, and after gazing at its contents for a moment, she closed the little box and placed it among some other things on a small shelf beside her. The manner in which she accepted it would alone have sufficed to prove how accustomed she was to receiving similar presents. Then, turning to Desforges, her sweet face all aglow with pleasure, she exclaimed, 'How good you are to me!'

'Don't thank me. It's pure selfishness,' said the Baron, though evidently pleased by the impression the earrings had made. 'It is I who ought to thank you for being good enough to wear these poor stones—I do so love to see you look nice. Ah!' he added, 'I had forgotten to tell you—the famous port has arrived; I shall send you half the consignment, and, by a stroke of good luck, I have managed to get the Watteau you admired so much for a mere song.'

'I shall have a chance of thanking you to-morrow, I hope, in the Rue du Mont-Thabor,' she replied, darting a look at him; 'at four o'clock, isn't it?' she added, dropping her eyes with a blush. If, endowed with the power of second sight, poor René, who had just returned home in a fit of idolatry, could have perceived her at that moment without hearing the conversation he would certainly have seen in her noble face an expression of most divine modesty. But those downcast lids and the look she had given him had probably brought other thoughts to the Baron's mind, for his eyes grew bright, and the blood rushed to his cheeks—those cheeks which bore such evident traces of good living, a dangerous vice whose consequences Desforges was always trying to elude. 'I hold the balance,' he used to say, 'between gout and apoplexy.'

Giving his moustache a twirl, he changed the subject, and in a thick voice, by which his mistress could once more gauge the hold she had upon the senses of this hoary sinner, asked, 'Who will be in your box to-night?'

'Only Madame Ethorel.'

'What men?'

'Ethorel cannot come. There will be my husband—and, of course, Crucé.'

'He must make a pretty little thing out of her, only in commission!' exclaimed Desforges. 'He has just put her on to a picture for which she has paid twenty thousand francs—I'll wager he got ten thousand out of it!'

'What a wretch!' cried Suzanne.

'She is such a fool,' remarked the Baron, 'and Crucé is known to be a connaisseur. Besides, if poor Ethorel didn't have him to consult, his money would go just the same in absolute rubbish. All is for the best in this best of possible worlds. Well, go on.'

'Little de Brèves and you. Hark!' she exclaimed, stopping to listen. 'Some one is coming up—I have such an ear.' And then, looking at the Baron in precisely the same way she had looked, at René, she added, with a pretty look of annoyance, 'Mon Dieu! What a bother! Oh! it's no one,' breaking into a silvery laugh as the servant opened the door; 'it's only my husband. Good afternoon, Paul.'

'That sounds very complimentary,' said the man who had just entered, a tall, well-built fellow with frank, fearless eyes, and one of those pale but healthy complexions that reveal great energy. His features had that stamp of regularity which is only to be met with in Paris in very young men, for a face of that kind in a man of more than thirty-five indicates a perfectly clear conscience. The depth of his love was easily measured by the way in which Moraines looked at his wife, and his sincerity by the manner in which he shook hands with the Baron.

After a hearty laugh at Suzanne's exclamation, he added, with mock gravity, 'Am I intruding, madame?'

'Do you want any tea?' asked Suzanne, quietly; 'I must tell you that it's cold. "Yes, please," or "No, thank you?"'

'No, thank you,' replied Moraines, dropping into an arm-chair, and preparing his words as if to produce an effect, like some visitor. 'Some husbands are real idiots, and I blush for the community. Have you heard about Hacqueville? The story was told me at the club just now. Haven't heard it, eh? Well, this morning he happens to open a letter addressed to his wife which leaves no doubt as to the lady's virtue.'

'Poor Mainterne,' cried Suzanne, 'he was so fond of Lucie!'

'That's the beauty of it,' shouted Moraines, in the triumphal accents of one who is about to astonish his hearers; 'the letter didn't come from Mainterne, but Laverdin! Lucie had more than two strings to her bow. And guess to whom Hacqueville takes the letter and looks for advice?'

'To Mainterne,' replied the Baron.

'You've heard the story?'

'No,' rejoined Desforges, 'but it seems so simple. And what did Mainterne say?'

'You may guess how indignant he was. Lucie has gone to her mother's, and a duel is announced between Hacqueville and Laverdin, in which the former insists upon Mainterne being his second. Well, of all the fools I've seen, I think he is about the biggest. And he hasn't a single friend to open his eyes.'

'He'll find one,' said the Baron, rising to go. 'The moral of your story is, never write.'

'Won't you stay and dine with us, Frédéric?' asked Moraines.

'I have an engagement,' replied Desforges, 'but will meet you later at the Opera. Madame Moraines has been good enough to save me a seat.'

'In your box,' rejoined Paul, with more truth than he thought. The Baron, who had been a widower for the past ten years, had kept his box at the Opera, and sublet it for alternate weeks to his excellent friends the Moraines. The rent, however, was never paid. The husband was as little aware of his wife's accommodating ways as he was of the impossibility of living as they did on their income of fifty thousand francs. The remnant of the wretched fortune left by the late Minister, Madame Moraines' father, who in fifteen years of office had saved almost nothing, formed the half of this annual budget. The other half was the salary which Moraines got as secretary to an insurance company, a place procured for him by Desforges. In spite of Suzanne's protests, Paul had not lost the deplorable habit of expatiating upon his wife's clever husbanding of their united income, which was very small for the world in which the Moraines lived. Thanks to his simple-minded confidence, he was the kind of man who, when his friends complained of the increasing severity of the struggle for life, would say, 'You ought to have a wife like mine—she knows where to get bargains. She has a maid who is a perfect treasure, and who can turn out a dress as well as the best tailor!' 'You make me look ridiculous!' Suzanne would often say; but he loved her too well to give up praising her, and now, just after Desforges had left, his first act was to take her hands in his and say, 'How nice it is to have you all to myself for a moment! Kiss me, Suzanne.'

She gave him her cheek and the corner of her mouth, just as she had done to Desforges.

'When I am told such terrible stories as that,' he continued, 'it gives me quite a shock; but I soon recover when I think that I have been lucky enough to get a little woman like yourself. Ah! Suzanne, how I love you!'

'And yet I am sure you will scold me,' she replied, escaping from his embrace. 'The woman you think so clever, and of whom you are so proud, has been very foolish. Those diamonds,' she went on, holding up the box brought by Desforges, 'that I told you about—well, I couldn't resist them, and so I bought them.'

'But it's out of your own savings,' remarked Paul. 'What fine stones! Do you want me not to scold you? Then let me put them in.'

'You'll never be able to manage it,' she replied, holding up one of her dainty ears adorned with a plain pink pearl, which Paul slipped out deftly. Then came the turn of the other ear and the other pearl. He showed the same dexterity in putting in the diamonds, touching his beloved as gently with his strong man's hands as any girl could have done. To look at herself, Suzanne took up a small mirror set in a frame of antique silver, another present of the Baron's, and smiled. She looked so pretty at that moment that Paul drew her towards him, and, holding her in his arms, tried to obtain a kiss from her lips. As a rule, she never refused him this. Possibly, from some complication in her nature, she had managed to preserve, in spite of all, a kind of physical liking for this honest, manly fellow, whom she deceived in such a cruel fashion. What, then, had suddenly come over her, and made the usual kiss unbearable? She pushed her husband away almost roughly, saying, 'Oh! let me alone'—then, as if to mitigate the harshness of her tone, she added, 'It's ridiculous in an old married couple. Good-bye, I have hardly time to dress.'

With these words she passed into her bedroom, and so into her dressing-room. Of all the apartments in her home, this was the one in which the profound materialism that formed the basis of this woman's nature was most revealed. Her maid, Céline, a tall, dark girl with impenetrable eyes, commenced to undress her in this shrine of beauty, as gorgeously upholstered as that of any royal courtesan, and anyone who had seen Suzanne at that moment would have understood that she was ready to do anything for the luxury of living in this atmosphere of supreme refinement.

This woman, so delicately fashioned that she seemed almost fragile, was one of those creatures who combine full hips with a slender waist, neat ankles with a well-turned leg, dainty wrists with rounded arms, small features with a full figure, and whose dresses, by hiding all such material charms, clothe them, as it were, with spirituality. She cast a glance at the long mirror set in the centre of her wardrobe, where, packed away in sweet-smelling sachets, lay piles of embroidered linen; seeing how well she looked she smiled as there once more flashed across her brain the same idea that but a few moments ago had dragged her from her husband's arms. This idea was evidently not one of those which it pleased her to entertain, for she shook her head, and a few minutes later, having thrown over her bare neck and shoulders a dressing-jacket of pale blue foulard silk and put her naked feet into a pair of soft swans-down slippers, she gave herself up to the hands of her maid, who began to dress the long, shining hair. The cool water in which she had bathed her face had completely restored her self-possession, and in the mirror before her she saw all the details of this apartment that she had turned into the chapel of her one religion—her beauty.

All was reflected there—the soft-toned carpet, the bath of English porcelain, the wide marble washhand-stand with its silver fittings and its host of small toilet necessaries. Did the sight of all these things remind her of the divers conditions that secured her this happy existence? In any case, it was of her husband she was thinking when she exclaimed, 'The dear, good fellow!' The sparkling diamonds that she had kept in her ears recalled thoughts of Desforges, and following close upon the other came the mental exclamation, 'Dear, kind friend!' These two contradictory impressions became as easily reconciled in the head adorned with those long silken tresses as the two facts were reconciled in life. Women excel in these moral mosaics, which appear less monstrous when the process of their construction has been carefully watched. This fair Parisian of thirty was certainly as thoroughly corrupted as it is possible to be; but, to do her justice, it must be said at once that she was unaware of it, so passive had she been with regard to the circumstances that had gradually reduced her to this state of unconscious immorality.

When Suzanne had allowed herself to be married to Paul Moraines two years before the war of 1870 she had felt neither repugnance nor enthusiasm. The matter had been arranged by the two families; old Moraines, a senator ever since the establishment of the Second Empire, belonged to the same set as old Bois-Dauffin, and Paul, who was then an officer of the Council of State, a good dancer and a charming ladies' man, seemed made for her, as she did for him. For the first two years they formed what is called in women's parlance 'a sweet couple;' it was one round of balls, suppers, and theatre parties, with rural festivities in summer and hunting parties in autumn, all of which both of them enjoyed to the full. Paul himself well defined the kind of relations that bound him to his wife amidst these continual pleasures. 'You are as bewitching as a mistress,' he would say to her as he kissed her in the brougham that took them home at one in the morning.

The revolution of the Fourth of September put an end to this fairy-like existence. The families on both sides had lived on large salaries that were suddenly stopped, but this stoppage had no immediate effect upon the gratification of their expensive tastes. Until his death, which occurred in 1873, Bois-Dauffin was convinced of the speedy restoration of a régime that had been so strong, so well supported, and so popular. The ex-senator, who survived his friend only a few months, shared his sanguine dreams. Paul had, of course, lost his place at the Council of State. He possessed, to an even greater extent than his father and his father-in-law, that blind faith in the success of the cause which will always remain an original trait of the Imperialist party. Suzanne, who had no faith of any kind, commenced to be troubled in 1873 by a very clear vision of the ruin towards which she and her husband were steering by living, as they did, on their capital. This was precisely the moment when Frédéric Desforges commenced to pay her court.

This man, who was then not yet fifty, had remained the most brilliant representative of the generation that had come in with the Second Empire, and which had for its chief the clear-sighted and seductive Duc de Morny. In Suzanne's eyes the Baron's highest recommendation lay in the romantic tales of gallantry that were told of him in the drawing-room, and soon this prestige was supplemented by his indisputable superiority in the knowledge and management of Parisian Society. Having been left a childless widower after a brief union, with almost nothing to do, for his parliamentary duties did not trouble him much, and with an income of four hundred thousand francs a year, exclusive of his mansion in the Cours-la-Reine, his estate in Anjou and his chalet at Deauville, the former favourite of the famous Duke had the rare courage to allow himself to grow old—just as his leader had had the courage to die. He wished to form one last attachment that would bear cultivating until his sixtieth year, and procure him not only an agreeable and accommodating mistress, but a pleasant circle in which to spend his evenings. He had taken in the position of Madame Moraines at a glance, and decided that this was exactly the kind of woman he wanted—extremely pretty and graceful, guaranteed against all probability of maternity by six years of childless married life, and possessing a presentable husband, who would never become a blackmailer. The crafty Baron summed up all these advantages, and by gradually worming his way into Suzanne's confidence, by proving his devotion in getting Moraines his secretaryship, by making her accept presents upon presents, and by showing that exquisite tact of a man who only asks to be tolerated, he at last got her to consent to his wishes. All this, too, was done so slowly and so imperceptibly, and the liaison, when once established, became so simple and so closely bound up with her daily life, that the criminality of her relations with Desforges scarcely ever seemed to strike Suzanne.

What wrong was she doing Moraines, after all? Was she not his wife, and really attached to him? As for the Baron, it is true that he provided a very fair share of the luxuries in which she indulged. But what of that? May not a woman receive presents? If he paid a bill here, and a bill there, did that hurt anyone? She was his mistress, but their relationship was clothed in an air of respectability that made it seem almost like a legitimate union. She had become so accustomed to this compromise with her conscience that she considered herself, if not quite an honest woman, at least vastly superior in virtue to a number of her friends with whose various intrigues she was acquainted. If her conscience reproached her at all, it was for having deceived Desforges, two years after the beginning of their intimacy, with a swell clubman, whom she had carried off from one of her friends during the racing season at Deauville. This individual had, however, almost compromised her so fatally, and she had been so quick to detect in him the self-conceit of a mere flirt, that she had been only too glad to sever the connection at once. Thereupon she had sworn to restrict herself to the peaceful delights of her three-cornered arrangement—to Paul's gentlemanly ways and the Baron's Epicurean gallantry. And so carefully had she kept her resolve, and with such attention to outward appearance, that her good name was as safe as it could be in the enviable position to which her beauty raised her. She had rivals who were too well accustomed to drawing up accounts not to know that the Moraines were living at the rate of eighty thousand francs a year; 'and we knew them when they were almost beggars,' added these kind people. 'Scandal!' cried all the Baron's friends in chorus, and he had a way of making friends everywhere. 'Scandal!' cried the simple-minded people who are shocked by the tales of infamy that go the round of the drawing-rooms every night. 'Scandal!' added the wiseacres, who know that the best thing to do in Paris is to pretend to believe nothing, and to take people at their own value.

Recollections of the innumerable services that Desforges had rendered her were no doubt running through Suzanne's mind as, seated before her toilet table, she exclaimed, 'The dear, kind friend!' Why, then, did the Baron's face, intelligent but worn, suddenly make way for another and a younger face, adorned with an ideal beard and lit up by a pair of dark blue eyes that reflected all the ardour of a virgin and enthusiastic soul? Why, whilst Céline's nimble fingers were busy with laces and hooks, would an inner voice continually murmur the sweet music of these four syllables—René Vincy? What secret temptation was she resisting when she whispered again and again the word, 'Impossible!'

She had seen the poet twice. That she, the mistress, almost the pupil, of the elegant Desforges; she, the very pattern of the Society belle, who had sold herself for all this fine perfumed linen in which she wrapped her beauty—for these soft, silken skirts which her maid was now fastening about her waist and for the countless luxuries that a licentious woman of fashion delights in, that she could so forget herself as to be captivated by the eyes and words of a chance poetaster, seen to-day and forgotten to-morrow, was well nigh impossible. She had said 'Impossible!' and yet here she was thinking of him again. How strange it was that ever since meeting René she had been unable to rid herself of the alluring hope of winning him! If anyone had used that old-fashioned phrase, 'Love at first sight,' in her hearing, she would have shrugged those pretty shoulders whose graceful contours were now revealed by her low-necked Opera gown and whose whiteness was enhanced by the single string of pearls she wore; and yet, what other words could describe the sudden and ardent feelings that her meeting with the poet had inspired—feelings that were hourly growing more intense?

The fact of the matter was that for some months past Suzanne had been somewhat bored between her husband—'the dear, good fellow'—and her 'dear, kind friend,' the Baron. The life of pleasure and of luxury for which she had made so many sacrifices seemed to her empty and dull. This she called 'being too happy.' 'I ought to have a little trouble,' she would say, with a laugh. Incessant indulgence had destroyed her appetite for enjoyment and made her a prey to the moral and physical weariness that frequently causes demi-mondaines to suddenly throw up a position which it has cost them much labour to attain. They require fresh sensations, and, above all, that of love. They will commit any folly when once they have met the man who is able to make them feel something beyond their former empty delights—one whom their less elegant sisters would expressively term 'their sort.'

For Madame Moraines, who had just attained her thirtieth year, and who, satiated as she was with every kind of luxury, with no ambition to realise, and without the least respect for the men she met in her set, the apparition of a new being like René, so entirely different to the usual drawing-room 'swell,' might and did become an event in its way. It was curiosity that led her to take a seat next to him at Madame Komof's supper-table, and her feminine tact had at once told her in what rôle she would be most seductive in his eyes. His conversation had delighted her, but on her return home she had gone to sleep after uttering the 'Impossible!' which is used as a charm against all complaints of this kind by Society belles, a class more bound down in their narrow paths of pleasure than any busy housewife by her daily duties. Then René had called, and the impression he had already made on her was intensified a hundred-fold. She was pleased with all she saw or imagined in the young man—his good looks, his true-heartedness, his awkwardness, and his timidity. It was in vain that she kept repeating 'Impossible!' as she put the finishing touch to her dress by fastening one or two diamond pins in her bodice—in spite of that word she was already capitulating. She turned the idea over again and again, and all kinds of plans for bringing the adventure to a successful issue passed through her practical mind. 'Desforges is very sharp,' she reflected, adding, as she remembered the Baron's tirade against literary men, 'and he has already smelt a rat.' This tirade had at first afforded her amusement, but now it annoyed her, and made her feel a desire to act in a manner entirely opposed to her excellent friend's wishes. She was so completely absorbed in thought that it attracted her maid's attention, and caused that young person to say to the footman, 'There's something wrong with Madame. Can Monsieur have found out anything?'

This unreasonable and irresistible abstraction lasted all through dinner, then on the way to the theatre, and even during the performance, until Madame Ethorel suddenly remarked, 'Isn't that Monsieur Vincy looking at us over there—in the stalls near the door on the right?'

'Madame Komof's poet?' asked Suzanne indifferently. During René's visit she had mentioned that she was going to the Opera that night. She remembered it now as she put up her own glasses, mounted in chased silver—another present from the Baron. She saw René, and as he timidly turned away his glance a sudden thrill ran through her. Had Desforges, from his place at the back of the box, overheard Madame Ethorel's remark? No, she thought not; he was in deep conversation with Crucé.

'He is talking shop,' she said to herself as she listened, 'and has heard nothing. What is going on in me?'

It was the first time for many a day that the music touched some chord of feeling within her. She spent the evening between the happiness that René's presence caused her and the mortal dread that he might visit her in her box. The shame of having been remarked no doubt paralysed the poet, for he dared not even look towards the place where Suzanne sat, and when she went down to her carriage his face was not to be seen in the double row of men who lined the staircase. There was therefore nothing to prevent her from giving herself up to the idea that had obtained such a hold upon her, and as she laid her fair head upon the lace-covered pillow she had got so far as to say: 'Provided he doesn't ask his friend Larcher for information about me!'



Every morning a little before nine Paul Moraines entered his wife's room. By that time she had had her bath and was employed in attending to little trifles. Her small white feet, showing their blue veins, played in and out of her slippers, her dressing gown of soft clinging material was gathered round her slim waist by a silken cord, and her hair hung down in a thick golden plait. The bedroom, in which the big bedstead took up a good deal of space, was aired and perfumed, and to Paul the three-quarters of an hour he spent in taking his morning cup of tea with Suzanne at a little table near the window was the happiest part of the day. He had to be at his office by ten, and was too busy to come home for lunch. He was the kind of man who sits down in a first-class restaurant about half-past twelve, orders the plat du jour, a small bottle of wine, and a cup of coffee, and goes away after having spent the smallest sum possible. It pleased him to rival his wife's economy in this fashion. But his morning cup of tea was the reward he looked forward to during the six or seven hours he devoted to the Company's work.

'There are some days,' he would say in his simple way, 'when I should see nothing of you if it were not for this thrice blessed cup of tea!' It was he who served her; he buttered her toast with infinite care and watched her dainty teeth attack the crisp morsels. He was uneasy when, as on the morning after she had seen René at the Opera, her eyes were not quite so bright as usual and a look of fatigue showed that she had not had sufficient sleep. All night had she been tormented by thoughts of the young poet, and by the stir he had made amongst the small bundle of remnants she called her feelings. Her mind being before all else clear and precise—the mind of a business man at the service of a pretty woman's whims—she had reviewed the means at her disposal for gratifying her passionate caprice. The first condition was that she should see René again, and see him often; now, that was impossible at her own house, as was proved by her husband's words that very morning. After a few tender inquiries concerning her health, he asked, Did you have many visitors yesterday?'

'None at all,' she replied; and it being her custom never to tell an unnecessary fib, she added, 'only Desforges and that young fellow who wrote the play performed at Madame Komof's the other night.'

'René Vincy,' remarked Moraines. 'I'm sorry I missed him—I like his work very much. What is he like? Is he presentable?'

'He's nothing much,' answered Suzanne; 'quite insignificant.'

'Did Desforges see him?'


'I'll ask the Baron about him. I dare say he took his measure at the first glance. He has a rare knowledge of men.'

'That's just like him,' said Suzanne, when Moraines was gone, after having devoured her with kisses; 'he tells the Baron everything.' She foresaw that the first person to tell Desforges of René's frequent visits to the Rue Murillo, if she got the poet to come, would be Paul himself. 'He is really too silly,' she went on, getting out of patience with him for his absolute confidence in the Baron, which she had herself been most instrumental in inspiring. But now she was beginning to fret under the first feelings of restraint.

Thoughts of René ran through her head all the morning, which was spent in looking over accounts and in receiving the visit of Madame Leroux, her manicure, a person of ripe age, extremely devout, with a sanctimonious and discreet air, who waited on the most aristocratic hands and feet in Paris. As a rule Suzanne, who, with perfect justice, looked upon inferiors as the principal source of all Society scandal, had a long talk with Madame Leroux, partly to procure her good-will, partly to hear a good many details concerning those whom the artiste deigned to honour with her services. Madame Leroux was therefore never tired of singing the praises of that charming Madame Moraines, 'so unaffected and so good. She absolutely worships her husband.' But that day none of the manicure's flattery could draw a single word from her fair client. The desire that had seized hold of the latter grew stronger and stronger, whilst the obstacles that stood in the way of its gratification assumed a clearer and more uncompromising shape. To gain a man's love requires time and opportunities of meeting. René did not go into Society, and if he had done so it would have been worse still, for other women would have taken him from her. Here, in her home in the Rue Murillo, she could have wormed her way into his virgin heart so easily—and only the Baron's watchfulness prevented her.

It was the first time for some years that she felt herself fettered, and a fit of anger against the man to whom she owed all she had came over her. Filled with such thoughts as these she lunched as usual alone, and in very frugal fashion. Even with the generous assistance of her benefactor she could only make both ends meet by practising economy in things that would not be noticed, such as the table. In her solitude she felt so miserable and at the same time so utterly powerless that, as she rose, the cry almost escaped her, 'What is the use of it, after all?'

What was the use of it all, indeed? She was a slave. Not only could she not see René as she wished in her own house, but that very afternoon, in spite of the new sentiments that were springing up within her, she had to keep an appointment with Desforges.

'What is the use of it?' she repeated, as she got herself ready to go out, putting on a pair of tiny shoes instead of boots, a plain dress that fastened in front, a black bonnet, and in her pocket a thick veil. She had ordered her carriage for two o'clock—a brougham and pair that she hired by the month for the afternoon and evening. On getting into it she was so crushed by the weight of her slavery that she could have cried. What, then, were her feelings when, on turning the corner of the street, she saw René standing there, evidently waiting to see her pass?

Their eyes met. He took his hat off with a blush, and she too could not help blushing in the corner of her carriage, so great was the pleasurable revulsion of feeling caused by this unexpected meeting, and especially by the idea that he must be in love with her. She, the creature of calculation and deceit, fell into one of those profound reveries in which women, when in love, anticipate all the delights to which the sentiment they experience and inspire can give birth. At such a moment they will give themselves up in thoughts to the man they did not know a week ago. If they dared, they would give themselves up too, there and then, though this would not hinder them from persuading the man who conquered them at the first glance that their subjugation was a work of time and degrees. In this they are right, for man's stupid vanity is gratified by the difficulties of the conquest, and few have sense enough to understand the divine quality of love that is spontaneous, natural, and irresistible.

Whilst the poet walked off, saying to himself, 'I am undone—she will never forgive me for such folly,' Suzanne was in one of those transports of delight before which prudence itself gives way, and, forgetting her fears of the morning, she now saw her way to carrying out one of those simple plans such as only the eminently realistic mind of a woman can concoct. She had set herself the task of deceiving a very sharp man, and one who was well acquainted with her disposition. The best thing to do, therefore, was to act in a manner exactly contrary to what that man would expect and foresee. Matters must be precipitated; René must be brought to her feet after two or three visits, and she must surrender before he had had time to woo her; Desforges would never suspect her of such an escapade—he who knew her to be so circumspect, so cautious, and so clever. But what if the poet despised her for her too easy surrender? She shook her pretty head incredulously as this objection occurred to her. That was a matter of tact and of woman's wit, and there she was sure of her ground!

Her joy at having roughly worked out this problem and the joy of deceiving the subtle Baron became so strangely mixed that she now looked forward to her appointment not only without regret, but with malicious delight. On reaching the colonnades in the Rue de Rivoli she got out as usual and sent the carriage home. The house in which the Baron had taken rooms for his meetings with Suzanne possessed two entrances, an advantage so uncommon in Paris that buildings favoured in that way are not only well-known, but much sought after by transgressors of the Seventh Commandment. Frédéric was too intimately acquainted with this phase of Parisian life to have fallen into the error of going to a place whose reputation was already made. The house he had somewhat accidentally hit upon must have escaped discovery by reason of its sedate and dismal-looking frontage in the Rue du Mont-Thabor, where he had taken the first floor, consisting of an ante-room and three other apartments. The rooms were kept in order by his valet, a man on whom he could thoroughly rely, thanks to the liberal wages he gave him. Considerable regard had been paid to what must be called the comfort of pleasure in furnishing this small suite, where the hangings and curtains deadened the noises from without, where soft skins were thrown down here and there for naked feet, where the countless mirrors reminded one of similar but less decorous places, and where the low arm-chairs and couches invited those long, familiar talks in which lovers delight. In a word, the minute care bestowed upon this interior would alone have betrayed the extent of the Baron's sensualism.

Suzanne had so often come to this house during the past few years, she had so often tied on her thick veil in the doorway in the Rue de Rivoli, so often hastened past the porter's lodge that she had come to perform almost mechanically these rites of adultery which procure novices such exquisite emotions. To-day, as she mounted the stairs, she could not help thinking how differently she would feel if she were going to meet René Vincy instead of the Baron in this quiet retreat She knew so well exactly what would happen. Desforges would be there and have everything prepared for her reception, from the flowers in the vases to the bread and butter for tea; then, at a given moment, she would go into the dressing-room and come out in a loose lace gown, her hair hanging about her shoulders and her little feet encased in slippers similar to those she wore in the morning. She took not the least pleasure in all this, but the Baron had such a charming way of showing his gratitude for the favours she granted him and displayed so much wit and affection during their long talks together that it was frequently he who had to remind his mistress that it was time to go.

To-day the state of her mind and feelings prompted Suzanne herself to say, as soon as she had entered the room, 'I am very sorry, Frédéric dear, but I shall have to leave you rather early.'

'Has it put you out to come?' asked the Baron as he helped her off with her cloak. 'Why didn't you send me a line to countermand our appointment?'

'He is really too kind,' thought Suzanne, feeling some slight remorse for her unnecessary fib. Taking her hat off before the glass the flash of her diamond earrings caught her eye, and suddenly reminded her of all that she owed this man, who asked for so little in return.

False situations sometimes give rise to conscientious paradoxes, and it was a feeling of honesty that impelled this woman to come and seat herself on the arm of the Baron's easy chair and to sigh, 'I should have been terribly disappointed myself. Will you never believe that I am really glad to come here?—I owe him that at least,' she thought, and in further obedience to her strange qualms of conscience she contrived to be more than usually fascinating and docile during the whole of their tête-à-tête.

At the end of a couple of hours, whilst she was lying back half buried in one of the great arm-chairs, enjoying a caviar sandwich and a thimbleful of fine old sherry, Desforges, who was watching her dainty movements as she ate, could not help exclaiming: 'Ah! Suzon! At my age, too! What would Noirot say?'

This Noirot who had so suddenly troubled the Baron's mind was a doctor who treated him to a course of massage every morning and watched over his general health. Everything in the life of this systematic voluptuary was carefully planned out, from the amount of exercise to be taken each day to the attendance he should receive when in his dotage. He had taken into his house a poor and pious female relative, to whose good works he annually subscribed a pretty round sum. When complimented on his generosity, he would reply in his own jocular and cynical way: 'What can I do? I must have some one to look after me in my old age. My cousin will be my nurse, and make the best one in Paris.'

Generally these outbursts of unblushing egotism amused Suzanne. She saw in them a conception of life whose pronounced materialism was far from displeasing her. But to-day she looked a little more closely at the Baron as he uttered his doctor's name, and sitting there with the lamp-light full upon his wrinkled face, his drooping moustache and his swollen eyelids, he looked so broken down and so fully his age that the hideousness of her own life suddenly burst upon her. It is a horrible thing for a young and beautiful woman to endure the caresses of a man she does not love, even when that man is young, full of passion and ardour. But when he is bordering on old age, when he pays for the right to pollute this fair woman whose love he cannot win, then it is prostitution so terrible that disgust gives way to sorrow. For the first time, perhaps, Desforges looked old in Suzanne's eyes, and by an irresistible impulse of her whole soul she called to mind, as a contrast, the fresh lips and fair young face of the man whose image had haunted her for the past two days. She felt how foolishly she had behaved in hesitating for an instant, and, being a person of determination, she commenced to act at once.

She was now dressed, and having put on her bonnet and buttoned her gloves, she said to Desforges before tying on her veil, 'When are you coming to lunch with me? Once upon a time you often used to come without being asked—it was so nice of you.'

'To-morrow I can't,' he replied, 'nor the next day either, but the day after that——'

'Tuesday, then? That's an understood thing. And to-night I shall see you at Madame de Sermoises', sha'n't I?'

'Charming woman!' thought the Baron, as he was left alone. 'She might have so many adventures, and her only thought is of pleasing me.'

'The day after to-morrow, then, I am sure of being alone,' said Suzanne to herself as she swept along the pavement of the Rue du Mont-Thabor, casting cautious glances to the right and left, but with such art that her eyes scarcely seemed to move. 'But what excuse can I give René'—she already called him by that name in her thoughts—'to make him come? I know—I'll ask him to write a few lines on a copy of the "Sigisbée" that I'm going to send to a friend.'

She had to pass a bookseller's in the Rue Castiglione, and went in to buy the book, being in that state of mind when the execution of an idea follows almost automatically upon its conception. 'I hope he'll not do anything foolish before then. And I hope he won't hear anything about me that will dampen his ardour.' Claude Larcher once more came into her mind. 'Yes—he's certainly dangerous,' she thought, and saw at once the means of avoiding the danger provided René came to her before speaking to Claude. Then it suddenly struck her that she did not know the poet's address, but that difficulty could be got over by calling on Madame Komof. 'It is past six now, and she is sure to be at home.' Hailing a cab, she drove to the Rue du Bel-Respiro, and was lucky enough to find the Comtesse alone, from whom it was easy to obtain the information she wanted.

The worthy lady, whose soirée had been a success, was loud in her praise of the poet. 'Idéal!' she exclaimed, with one of her wild gesticulations, 'charming! And so modest! He will be your modern Poushkin.'

'Do you know where he lives?' inquired Suzanne. 'He called on me and only left his name.'

No sooner had her note been written and sent than she became a prey to that uncertainty upon which newborn love thrives so well that in those days when the strange but not unintellectual vice of seduction was still fashionable the professors of the art used to dwell upon the importance of invoking the aid of this feverish condition. Would René come or not? If he came, what would he look like?

She would be able to see at once by his face if anything had happened to impair the impression she was sure she had made upon him the other day. The hour that she had fixed in her note at length arrived, and when the poet was announced Suzanne's heart beat faster than did that of her simple lover. She looked at him and read to the bottom of his soul. Yes, she was still to him the Madonna she had pretended to be from the first with that facility of metamorphosis peculiar to these Protei in petticoats. In his soft dark blue eyes she perceived both joy and fear—joy at seeing her again so soon, and in her own home; fear at appearing before this angel of purity after having dared to look for her at the Opera and to wait for her at the corner of the street.

This time the charming actress had devised a new background for her beauty. She was seated near the window, and with some bundles of silk thread and the aid of a few pins was working a pattern upon a drum of green cloth. Behind her the lace curtains were drawn back in their bands, and the visitor's gaze could rest upon the landscape of the Parc Monceau, upon the pale blue sky, the bare trees, the yellow grass, and the dark ivy that grew about the ruins. A February sun lit up this wintry prospect, and its rays fell caressingly upon Suzanne's hair with its soft golden sheen. A white dress, made in fanciful style, with long, wide sleeves and trimmings of violets, gave her the appearance of a lady of the Middle Ages. Her feet, encased in silk stockings of the same shade as the trimming of her dress, were modestly crossed upon a low footstool. Had she been told that less than forty-eight hours ago these same modest feet had wandered across the carpets of what was almost a house of ill-fame, that this hair had been handled by an aged lover who paid her, that she was in fact kept by Desforges, she would probably have denied the statement in perfect sincerity, so closely did her desire to please René make her identify herself with the rôle she was playing.

The poet could not be aware of this. He had spent three days in one continual state of exaltation, feeling his desire increase hourly, and very glad to feel it. The beginning of a passion is as alluring at twenty-five as at thirty-five it is terrifying. Suzanne's note had given him unmistakable proofs that the trifling imprudences which he himself looked upon as a crime had not given great displeasure, but in matters that concern us very closely we always find fresh motives for doubt, and this grown-up child had been silly enough to fear the reception that awaited him. How delighted he was, therefore, to be met with the simple familiarity, the beaming eyes, and the sweet smile of this woman whom, seated in the foreground of the wintry landscape, he immediately compared to those saints whom the early masters set in the midst of green fields and placid lakes. But this was a saint whose gown had been made by the first tailor in Paris, a saint from whom there emanated that odour of heliotrope which had already played such havoc with the poet's senses, and through the opening of whose long, wide sleeves two golden bands were seen clasping an arm as white as snow.

What René had so much feared did not take place. Madame Moraines did not make the slightest allusion either to the Opera or to their meeting at the corner of the street. For some time she continued her work, having quite naturally brought the conversation round from Madame Komof's enthusiasm to the poet's plans for the future. She, who could not have distinguished Béranger from Victor Hugo, or Voltaire from Lamartine, spoke like one entirely devoted to literature. She had met Théophile Gautier two or three times under the Empire, and though she had scarcely looked at him on account of his complete lack of British elegance, this did not prevent her from giving the enthusiastic René a minute description of the great writer. He had interested her to such a degree—she thought she must still have some of his letters.

'I must find them for you,' she said. Then, reminded by this lie, she added, 'I am sorry to have put you to all this inconvenience for your autograph, but my friend leaves for Russia to-morrow.'

'What shall I write?' asked René.

'Whatever you please,' she said, rising to get the book, and placing it on her ivy-mantled desk. She got everything ready for him to make his task easier—opened the ink-pot with its silver top and put a fresh pen in the ivory and gold penholder; in doing this she contrived to touch René lightly in passing to and fro, enveloping him with her sweet perfume and causing his hand to tremble as he copied on the fly-sheet of the book the two verses which kind Madame Ethorel had called a sonnet:

The phantom of a day long dead
Appeared, with hand stretched out to show
A fair white rose whose bloom was fled,
And in my ear it whispered low,
'Where is thy heart of long ago?
Where is that hope thy fond heart chose
So like this rose in days of yore?
Dear was the hope and dear the rose:
How sweet their perfume heretofore
When once they bloomed! They bloom no more.

When he had finished writing Madame Moraines took the book from his hands, and, standing behind him, recited the verses in a low, almost inaudible, voice, as if to herself. She added no word of praise or criticism, but, after having read out the lines with a sigh, remained standing there as though their music lent an infinitely tender tone to her reverie.

René gazed at her almost wild with emotion. How could he have resisted such sweet and supreme flattery as that which she had just employed to captivate him, appealing, as it did, both to his vanity as an artist and to his highest conceptions of beauty? And, indeed, she had managed to fall into a splendid pose whilst reading. She knew how charming she looked with half-averted face and eyes cast down. But suddenly she turned these glorious eyes, now eloquent with the feelings inspired by his lines, full upon the poet, and almost asked pardon for her temporary abstraction.

She seemed to step out of her poetic visions as though she were afraid of profaning them, and with a curiosity this time as real as her artificial emotion was apparent, she said: 'I am sure you did not write these lines for your play?'

'That is true,' replied René, with another blush. He had scruples about lying to this woman, even to please her. But how could he tell her the sad and wretched story which, with a poet's touch, he had transformed into a romantic idyll?

'Ah! you men!' she went on, without waiting for further reply—'how full your life is, and how free! But you must not think I am complaining. We Christian wives know our duty, and a beautiful one it is—obedience.' After a moment's silence she added: 'Alas! we do not always choose our master,' and then, in a tone of mingled resignation and pride that both suggested and forbade further speculation, 'I am sorry I have not been able to introduce you to Monsieur Moraines yet I hope you will like him. He is not much interested in art, but he is a very clever man in business. Unfortunately we live in an age when one must be born in Israel to get on well.'

As may be imagined, there was not the slightest anti-Semitic feeling in Suzanne, who was always very glad to receive invitations to dine at two or three Jewish houses of princely hospitality, but it had struck her that these words would intensify the halo of piety with which she had endeavoured to invest herself in the poet's eyes. 'You will find my husband somewhat reserved at first,' she continued; 'it was my ambition to make my drawing-room a rendez-vous of writers and artists, but you know that business men are a little jealous of you all, and then Monsieur Moraines doesn't care for society much. He was not at Madame Komof's the other night; he likes to move just in a small circle, and have only well-known faces about him.'

She spoke with an air of constraint, as if she meant to say, 'You must excuse me if I cannot ask you to come and see me here as I should like.' This constrained air also meant that this lovely woman must have been sacrificed (not that she was ever heard to complain) to cold social considerations which take no account whatever of sentiment. Already, in René's imagination, Paul Moraines, that amiable and jovial fellow, had become a crotchety and bad-tempered husband, to whom this creature of a superior race was bound by the terrible chains of duty. In addition to the passion that animated him, he felt for her that pity which the less a woman deserves it the more she loves to inspire.

Tempering the pointedness of his reply by the generality in which he clothed it, he made bold to say, 'I wish I could tell you how often, when I have wandered as far as the Champs-Elysées, I have longed to know the secret of the sadness I imagined I saw on certain faces. It has always seemed to me that the troubles of the wealthy are the worst, and that mental anguish in the midst of material well-being is most to be pitied.'

She looked at him as if his words surprised her. In her eyes was that look of rapt and involuntary astonishment worn by a woman when she suddenly discovers in a man a shade of sentimentalism which she believed to be restricted to her own sex.

'I think we shall soon become friends,' she said, 'for there is much in our hearts that is similar. Are you like me? I believe in sympathy and antipathy by sheer instinct, and I think I can also feel when people don't like me. Now—perhaps I am wrong in telling you this, but I speak to you in confidence, as if I had known you a long time—there is your friend Monsieur Larcher; I am sure that he doesn't like me.'

She was really agitated as she said this, for she was now about to learn for certain, not whether Claude had been speaking ill of her—she knew he had not by René's face—but whether the poet could hold his tongue. She was well aware that in a love affair the dangerous time for imprudent confidences lies at the beginning and the end. Your only sure men are those who can keep their peace when their hearts are overflowing with hope or bitterness. By René's reply she would be able to judge an important trait in his character, and one that was a principal factor in the plan that she had madly and rapidly evolved. It was only natural that he should have confided his passion to Claude on the very day of its birth—and he would have done so, too, had it not been for Colette's presence. This detail was, of course, unknown to Suzanne, and René's silence was a promise of prudence that set her heart beating.

'We have never mentioned your name,' said the poet; 'but, as you remarked only too justly the other evening, he has always been particularly unfortunate in his love affairs, and he cannot shake his troubles off. If you could but see how he carries on with the woman he is miserably in love with at the present moment!'

'That is no reason,' said Suzanne, 'why he should revenge himself by forcing his attentions upon any woman chance throws in his way. I got quite angry one day when he was seated next to me at table. I heard, too, that he had been speaking ill of me, but I have forgiven him.'

'And now Claude may say what he likes,' she thought when René had gone after promising to come again in three days' time and to bring his collection of unpublished poems. Then she looked at herself in the glass with unfeigned satisfaction. The interview had been a success; she had made the poet understand that she could not receive him in the ordinary way; she had put him on his guard against his best friend, and she had completed her capture of his heart.

'He is mine,' she cried, and this time her joy was sincere and deep.



Suzanne thought she was very clever—and not without reason; but by being too clever people often defeat their own ends. Accustomed to confound love and mere gallantry, she knew nothing of the generous expansion of feeling to be found in one so young as the object of her semi-romantic, semi-sensual caprice. She presumed that the insidious accusation she had thrown out against Claude would put René on his guard. It resulted, however, in giving the poet an irresistible desire to talk to Larcher. It grieved him to think that the latter should entertain a false opinion of Madame Moraines. Which of us, at twenty-five, has not felt a desire that our dearest friend should reserve a special place in his esteem for the woman we loved? It is as strong then as is at forty the wise desire to hide ourselves most of all from that same friend.

René's first act on leaving Suzanne was to proceed at once to the Rue de Varenne. He had not been to see Claude since the day when he had met Colette in his rooms, and as he passed through the gateway and made his way across the spacious courtyard he could not help comparing this visit with his last. They were separated by a very few hours only, but yet by what a gulf! The poet was a prey to that fever of delight which makes reasoning impossible. He did not reflect that his Madonna had been wonderfully clever in bringing matters to such a pass so soon. The amazing rapidity with which his hopes were being realised only delighted him, and showed him how strong his love really was. He felt so light and happy that he bounded up the old staircase two steps at a time, just as he used to do when as a boy he came home from school after reaching the top of the class. To-day Larcher's man admitted him without the slightest hesitation, but he wore such a long face that René asked him what was the matter.

'It isn't right, sir,' sighed Ferdinand, shaking his head. 'Master has been at it now for forty-eight hours—writing, writing, writing—and with only about six hours' sleep altogether. You ought really to tell him, sir, that he'll damage his constitution. Why can't he get into a nice, comfortable habit of working a little every day, like everybody else?'

The man's wise remonstrances prepared René for the sight that he knew so well—the 'den' in which he had seen Colette enthroned turned into a writer's workshop. He went in. The broad leather-covered couch on which the graceful but frivolous actress had reclined was now covered with sheets of paper flung down and covered with great straggling characters written in haste; similar sheets, all torn or crumpled, being strewn about the floor, and the chimney-piece encumbered with half-opened bundles of proofs.

Larcher, with a beard of three days' growth and unkempt hair, was seated at his writing-table, dressed like a beggar, in a dirty coat devoid of a single button, a pair of worn-out slippers on his feet, and a silk handkerchief tied in a knot round his neck. The real Bohemian, utterly regardless of appearance from his earliest youth, came to the surface every time the would-be swell was obliged to step out of his part and put his shoulder to the wheel. And this he was obliged to do pretty frequently. Like all literary workers whose time is their sole capital, and who, therefore, lead most irregular lives, Claude was always behindhand with his work and short of money, especially since his relations with Colette had involved him in that most ruinous expense of all—the expense incurred by a young man for a woman he does not keep. Besides the salary she drew from the theatre, the actress had an income of twenty thousand francs, left her by an old admirer, a Russian noble who was killed at Plevna; but what with riding about and dining out with his mistress, and buying her heaps of flowers and presents, Claude had to find many a bank-note. The proceeds of the two plays being long spent, the writer was forced to earn these wretched notes by overworking his brain in the intervals of his enervating debauches.

'At it again!' he cried, looking up with his pale face and clasping René's hand in his feverish grasp. 'Fifteen chapters to be delivered at once. A splendid stroke of business with the Chronique Parisienne, the new eight-page paper financed by Audry. They came and asked me for a story the other day to run as a feuilleton for a fortnight. A franc a line. I told them I had one ready—only wanted copying. My dear fellow—hadn't got a word written—not that! But I had an idea. Re-write "Adolphe" up to date in our jargon, and put in our local colouring. It will be a beastly hash, but all that's nothing. Do you know what it means to sit down and write while your heart is being tortured by jealousy? I am here at my table, scribbling a phrase; an idea occurs to me, and I want to hold it. Now for it, I think. Suddenly a voice within me says: "What is Colette doing now?" And I put down my pen as the pain—ah! such terrible pain!—comes over me. Balzac used to say that he had discovered how much brain matter was wasted in a night's debauch: half a volume; and he used to add, "There is not a woman breathing worth two volumes a year." What nonsense! It isn't love that wears out an artist, but the continual worry of some fixed idea causing one long heart-ache. Is it possible to think and feel at the same time? We must choose one or the other. Victor Hugo never felt anything—nor did Balzac. If he had really loved his Madame Hanska he would have run after her all over Europe, and would have cared for his "Comédie humaine" as much as I do for this rubbish. Ah! my dear René,' he continued with an air of dejection as he gathered up the sheets scattered all over his desk, 'keep to your simple mode of life. I hope you have not been weak enough to accept the invitations of any of the sharks you met at Madame Komof's.'

'I have only paid one visit,' replied René, 'and that was to Madame Moraines.' He could scarcely control himself as he pronounced her name. Then, with the involuntary impetuosity of a lover who, though come expressly to speak of his mistress, is afraid of criticism, and staves off the reply as he would thrust aside the point of a dagger, he added, 'Isn't she sweetly pretty and graceful? And what lofty ideas she has! Do you think ill of her too?'

'Bah!' exclaimed Claude, too full of his own sufferings to pay much heed to René's words, 'I dare say we could find something ugly in her past or her present if we tried. All women have within them the toad that springs from the mouth of the princess in the fairy tale.'

'Is there anything you know about her?' asked the poet.

'Anything I know!' replied Claude, struck by the strange tone of his friend's voice. He looked at René and saw how matters stood.

Mixing as he did in Parisian society, he was well acquainted with the rumours concerning Suzanne and Baron Desforges, and with the easy-going—though sometimes mistaken—credulity of a misanthrope to whom every infamy seems probable because possible, he believed them. For a moment he was tempted to inform René of these rumours, but he held his tongue. Was it from motives of prudence, and in order not to make an enemy of Desforges, in case Suzanne should get to know what he had said, and tell the Baron? Was it out of pity for the grief his words would cause René? Was it for the cruel delight of having a companion in his torture—for how much better was Suzanne than Colette? Was he impelled by the curiosity of an analyst and the desire to witness another's passion? Who shall determine the exact point of departure of so many and such complex motives as go to make up a sudden resolve?

Claude paused for a moment, as if to ransack his memory, and then repeated his friend's question. 'Is there anything I know about her? Nothing at all. I am a professional woman-hater, as the English say. I only know the woman through having met her here and there, and I thought her a little less foolish than most of her kind. It's true she is very pretty!' And then, either out of malice or in order to sound René's heart, he added, 'Allow me to congratulate you!'

'You talk as though I were in love with her,' replied René, growing red with shame. He had come there with the intention of singing Suzanne's praises, and now Claude's bantering tone caused his confidences to freeze upon his lips.

'So you are not in love with her!' cried Larcher, with his most horribly cynical laugh. Then, with one of those generous impulses in which his better and truer nature revealed itself, he took his friend's hand and begged his pardon. Seeing in René's eyes that this was about to provoke a fresh outburst, he stopped him. 'Don't tell me anything. You'd only hate me for it afterwards. I'm not fit to listen to you to-day. I am enduring torture, and that makes me cruel.'

So it happened that even Suzanne's clumsy manœuvring turned out favourably for her plan of capture. The only man whose hostility she had to fear had voluntarily imposed silence upon himself. Since René was in absolute need of a confidante to receive the overflow of his feelings, it was to Emilie that he turned, and poor Emilie, out of sheer sisterly vanity, was already the abettor of the unknown lady whom she had seen through her brother's eyes encircled with a halo of aristocracy.

The very next morning after the soirée at Madame Komof's she had guessed from René's words that Madame Moraines was the only woman he had met there whom he really liked, and the only one, too, upon whom he had made any strong impression. Mothers and sisters possess some peculiar sense for perceiving these shades of feeling. For the next few days after making her discovery René's restlessness was very plain to Emilie. Bound to him by the double bond of affection and moral affinity, no feeling could traverse her brother's heart without finding an echo in her own. She knew that René was in love as well as if she had been present in the spirit during the two meetings in the Rue Murillo. She felt delighted, too, without being at all jealous, though her brother's attachment to Rosalie had caused her not only jealousy, but anxiety. With peculiarly feminine logic, she thought it but natural that the poet should enter upon an intrigue with a woman who was not free. She recognised that exceptional men require a mode of life and a standard of morality as exceptional as themselves, and she felt that this love of René's for a grand lady, whilst realising the proud dreams she had formed for her idol, would not rob her of a jot of affection.

His passion for Rosalie, on the contrary, she had regarded as an infringement upon her rights. This was because Rosalie resembled her, and was of her world, and because René's attachment to her could only result in marriage and the setting up of another home. It was therefore with secret joy that she beheld the birth of a fresh passion in her brother. She would have been glad if he had taken her further into his confidence, and so completed the confession he had made on awakening only a few hours after the soirée at Madame Komof's. But this he had not done, neither had she led him on to do so, her instinct telling her that René's confidences would only be the more complete for being spontaneous. So she waited, watching his eyes, whose every look she knew so well, for that expression of supreme joy which is the fever of happiness. Her silence was also to a great extent due to the fact that she only saw René when Fresneau was present. With that natural cowardice begotten of certain false positions, the poet left the house as soon as he was up and returned only in time for lunch. Then he again took himself off until dinner, going out immediately after, in order to avoid meeting Rosalie. The professor's abstraction was so great that he did not even notice this change in René's habits. Such, however, was not the case with Madame Offarel. Having come on two consecutive evenings with her two daughters and seen nothing of him whom she already looked upon as her son-in-law, she did not hesitate to remark upon his unwonted absence.

'Does Monsieur Larcher present Monsieur René to a fresh comtesse every evening that we never see him here now, nor at our house either?'

'It's true,' observed Fresneau, 'I never see him now. Where does he get to?'

'He has set to work again upon his "Savonarola,"' replied Emilie, 'and he spends his evenings at the Bibliothèque.'

Early on the morning after this conversation, which was also the morrow of René's second visit to Suzanne, Emilie entered her brother's room to give him a full account of what had been said. She found him getting out a few sheets of fine note-paper—some that she had bought for him—on which he was about to copy, in his best handwriting, the verses he was to read to Madame Moraines. The table was covered with sheet upon sheet of his poems, from which he had already made a selection.

When Emilie told him of her innocent fib he kissed her, and exclaimed, with a laugh, 'How clever you are!'

'There is nothing clever in it,' she replied; 'I am your sister, and I love you.' Then, taking up some of the papers scattered about, she asked, 'Do you really think of getting on with your book?'

'No,' answered René, 'but I have promised to read a few of my verses to some one.'

'To Madame Moraines?' exclaimed his sister.

'You have guessed it,' replied the poet, looking slightly confused. 'Ah! if you only knew!'

And then the pent-up confidence burst forth. Emilie had to listen to an enthusiastic eulogy of Suzanne and all that concerned her. In the same breath René spoke of the lofty nobility of this woman's ideas and of the shape of her shoes, of her marvellous intelligence and of the figured velvet oh her blotting-book. That childish astonishment at these luxurious details should be united to the more poetic fancies in the fabric of love did not surprise Emilie. Had she herself in her love for René not always associated petty desires with boundless ambition? She wished, for instance, with almost equal fervour, that he might have genius and horses, that he might write another 'Childe Harold,' and possess Byron's income of four thousand a year. In this she was as ingenuously plebeian as he himself, confounding—in excusable fashion, after all—real aristocracy of sentiment with that aristocracy expressed by outer and worldly forms. Those who come of a family in which the struggle for bread has lowered the tone of thought easily mistake the second of these aristocracies for a condition inseparable from the first.

Those words, therefore, which might have led an unkind listener to think that René loved Suzanne for her surroundings, and not for herself, charmed Emilie instead of shocking her, and she had so fully entered into her brother's infatuation that on leaving him she said: 'You are not at home to anyone—I'll see that no one comes in. You must show me your verses when you have written them—mind you choose them well.'

The task of making this selection cheated the poet's ardour, and he was able to await the day fixed for his next visit to the paradise in the Rue Murillo without much impatience. The hours of solitude, broken only by his talks with Emilie, passed by in alternate fits of happiness and melancholy. Often a delightful vision of Suzanne would rise up before him. He would then lay down his pen, and all the objects about him would melt away, as if by magic. Instead of the red hangings of his room, it was the little salon of Madame Moraines that he saw; gone were his dear Albert Dürers, his Gustave Moreaus, his Goyas, his small library on whose shelves the 'Imitatio' rubbed shoulders with 'Madame Bovary'—gone were the two leafless trees that stood out black against a light blue sky. But in their place he could see Suzanne, her dainty ways, the poise of her head, the peculiar golden tint of her hair, and the transparent pink of her lovely complexion.

This apparition, which had nothing of a pale or shadowy phantom about it, appealed to René's senses in a way that ought to have made him understand that Madame Moraines' attitudes did but mask the true woman, the voluptuous though refined courtesan. But of this he took no note, and, whilst madly desirous to possess her, he believed that his worship of her was of the most ethereal kind. This mirage of sentiment is a phenomenon frequently observed in men who lead chaste lives, and one which renders them the defenceless prey of the most barefaced hypocrisy. The inability to understand their own feelings makes them still more incapable of analysing the tricks of the women who arouse in them the accumulated passion of a lifetime. The poet, however, became perfectly lucid as soon as Suzanne's image made way for that of Rosalie. On going through his papers he was continually coming across some page headed, in boyish fashion, 'For my flower;' that was the name he had given Rosalie in the heyday of his love, when he had written her a fresh poem almost every morning.

'O Rose of candour and sincerity!' were the terms in which he addressed her at the end of one of these effusions. When his eyes fell upon such lines he was again obliged to lay down his pen, and once more his surroundings would melt away, but this time to make room for a vision of torture. The rooms occupied by the Offarels lay before him, cold and silent. The old woman was busy with her cats. Angélique was turning over the leaves of an English dictionary, and Rosalie was looking at him, René—looking at him through an ocean of space with eyes in which he read no reproach, but only deep distress. He knew as well as if he were there, near her, that she had guessed his secret, and that she was suffering the pangs of jealousy. If such were not the case would he have been so terribly afraid to meet the girl's eyes? Would that he could go to her and say, 'Let us be only friends!' It was his duty to do so. The only means of preserving one's self-esteem is by acting with absolute loyalty in these subsidings of love, which are like fraudulent bankruptcies of the heart. But that loyalty was thrust aside by weakness in which both egoism and pity were equally represented. He took up his pen again, and saying, as on the first day, 'We shall see—later on,' he tried to work. Soon he had to stop once more as his mind reverted to Rosalie's sufferings. He thought of the long nights she would spend in tears, knowing as he did every trifling habit of the simple creature who had given him her heart. She had often told him that the only time she could indulge in her own grief was at night. Then he hid his face in his hands and waited till the vision had passed, meanwhile saying to himself, 'Is it my fault?'

A law in our nature bids our passions grow stronger in proportion to the number of obstacles to be overcome, so that the remorse of his infidelity to poor Rosalie resulted in making René's heart beat faster as the time fixed by Madame Moraines for their next meeting drew near. She, on her side, awaited him with an almost feverish impatience that astonished even herself. She had looked out for the young poet whenever she had been in the street, and again at the Opera when Friday came round. Had she seen his eyes fixed upon her in that simple adoration which is as compromising as a declaration, she would have said, 'How imprudent!' Not to see him, however, gave her a slight fit of doubt, which brought her caprice to its climax. She looked forward to this visit all the more anxiously because she considered it decisive. It was the third time René visited her, and, out of these three times, twice unknown to her husband. Further than that she could not go, on account of the servants. A day or two back Paul, meaning no harm, had said to her at dinner, 'I was talking to Desforges about René Vincy. He doesn't seem to have made a good impression on the Baron. It is decidedly better not to see the authors too closely whose works we admire.'

If the servant who had announced the poet had been in the dining-room at the moment these words were uttered Suzanne would have had to speak. The same thing might happen the next or any other day. She was therefore determined to find a peg in her conversation with René on which to hang an appointment elsewhere. An idea suddenly occurred to her of going somewhere with the poet under pretence of curiosity—a meeting in Notre Dame, for instance, or in some old church sufficiently distant from the fashionable quarter of Paris to be beyond the risk of danger, and she relied upon one or other of René's poems to furnish her with an opportunity of making such an appointment.

On this occasion she once more wore a walking-dress, for, having attended a marriage ceremony in the morning, she had kept on the rather smart mauve gown in which her shapely figure, elegant shoulders, and slim waist were so well set off. Thus attired, and lounging back in a low arm-chair—an attitude that marked the adorable outlines of her body—she begged the poet, after the usual commonplaces had passed, to commence his reading. She listened to his poetry without betraying any surprise at the peculiar drawl with which even the best scholars intone their verses, her great intelligent eyes and the repose of her face seeming to indicate the closest attention. At rare intervals she would venture upon some apparently involuntary exclamation, such as: 'How beautiful that is!' or, 'Will you repeat those lines?—I like them so much!'

In reality, she cared little for the poet's verses, and understood them less. To comprehend even superficially the work of a modern artist—in whom there is always a critic and a scholar—requires such mental development as is only met with in a small number of Society women, sufficiently interested in culture to read much and to think more in the midst of a life entirely opposed to all kind of study and reflection. What made Suzanne's pretty face and big blue eyes look so pensive was the desire not to let the important word slip by upon which to hang her project. But line came after line, stanzas succeeded sonnets, and yet she had not been able to seize upon anything which could reasonably be made to give the conversation the turn she wanted. What a pity it was! For René's eyes, that continually wandered from the page; his voice, that shook occasionally as he read; his hands, that trembled as he turned the leaves—all showed that her pretended admiration had completely intoxicated the Trissotin that lurks in every author.

And now there was only one piece left! This the poet had purposely kept to the last; it was his favourite, and bore a title which was a revelation to Suzanne, 'The Eyes of the Gioconda.' It was rather a long poem, half metaphysical, half descriptive, in which the writer had striven to collect and reproduce in sonorous verse all the opinions of the modern school of critics concerning Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece. In this portrait of an Italian woman we ought, perhaps, to see nothing beyond a study of the purest and most technical naturalism, one of those struggles against conventionality in art in which the great painter appears to have been so frequently engaged. Can it not have been an attempt of the master to seize the unseizable—the play of a face, and to paint the fleeting expression on the lips as they pass from repose to a smile? In his poem René, who took a childish pride in the fact that his family name resembled that of the village which lends its appellation to the most subtle master of the Renaissance, had condensed into thirty verses an entire system of natural and historical philosophy. He valued this symbolical medley higher than the 'Sigisbée,' which contained only what was natural and appertaining to the passions—two qualities fit only for the vulgar herd.

What then was his delight to hear Madame Moraines say, 'If I might be allowed to express any preference, I would say that this is the piece which pleases me most. How well you understand true art! To see the great masterpieces with you must be a revelation! I am sure that if I visited the Louvre under your guidance you would explain to me so much that I see in the pictures but cannot understand. I have often wandered about there, but quite alone!'

She waited. As soon as René had started reading this last poem she had said to herself, 'How foolish of me not to have thought of that before!' closing her eyes for a moment as if to retain some beautiful dream. At the finish she had purposely used such words as would give him an opportunity of seeing her again. He would propose a visit together to the Louvre, to which she would accede, after having cleverly raised just sufficient difficulties. She saw the suggestion trembling on his lips, but he had not the courage to make it. She was therefore compelled to do so herself.

'If I were not afraid of wasting your time——?' Then, with a sigh, 'But we have not been acquainted long enough.'

'Oh; madame!' cried René, 'it seems to me as if I had been your friend for years!'

'That is because you feel I am sincere in what I say,' she replied, with a frank and open smile. 'And I am going to prove it to you once more. Will you show me the Louvre one day next week?'



An appointment had been made for eleven o'clock on the following Tuesday, in the Salon Carré of the Louvre. Whilst Suzanne was being driven to the old palace in a cab she was counting up for the tenth time the dangers of her matutinal escapade. 'No, it's not a very wise thing to do,' she thought; 'and suppose Desforges discovers I've been out? Well, there's the dentist. And what if I meet some one I know? It's very improbable, but in that case I would tell them just as much of the truth as was absolutely necessary.'

That was one of her great maxims—to tell as few lies as possible, to maintain a discreet silence about most things, and never to deny established facts. She was therefore ready to say to her husband, and to the Baron as well, if necessary, 'I went into the Louvre this morning as I passed. I was lucky enough to find Madame Komof's little poet there, and he showed me through a few of the rooms. Yes,' she said to herself, 'that will do for once. But it would be madness to try it on often.'

Her mind then became occupied with other thoughts of less positive purport. The uncertainty of what would take place in this interview with René caused her greater agitation than she cared for. She had played the part of a Madonna before him, and the time had now come to get down from the altar upon which she had been so piously adored. Her feminine tact had hit upon a bold plan—lead the poet to a declaration, reply by a confession of her own feelings, then flee from him as if in remorse, and so leave the way open for any step she might afterwards care to take. Whilst playing havoc with René's heart, this plan would suspend his judgment of her acts and absolve her of any follies she might commit. It was bold but clever, and, above all, simple. There were, nevertheless, a few real dangers connected with it. Let the poet entertain distrust but for one moment and all was lost. Suzanne's heart beat faster at the thought. How many women there are who have been similarly situated, and who, after having reared a most elaborate fabric of falsehoods, have been compelled to continue their rôle in order to obtain satisfaction for the true feelings that originally actuated them! When the men on whose account such women as these have played their hypocritical rôles discover the lie palmed off upon them, their indignation and contempt abundantly prove how important a factor vanity is in all affection.

'Come, come,' exclaimed Suzanne, 'here am I trembling like a school-girl!' She smiled indulgently as she uttered the words, because they proved once more the sincerity of her feelings, and again she smiled when, on alighting from her cab and crossing the courtyard, she saw that she was there to the minute. 'Still a school-girl!' she repeated to herself. A momentary fear came over her at the thought that if René happened to arrive just after her he would see her obliged to ask one of the attendants for the entrance to the galleries—she who had boasted of having been there so often. She had not been in the place three times in her life, though to-day her little feet trotted across the spacious courtyard in their dainty laced boots as confidently as though they performed the journey daily. 'What a child I am!' said the inner voice once more—the voice of the Baron's pupil, who had acquired as deep a knowledge of life as any hoary diplomat. 'He has been waiting for me upstairs for the last half-hour!' Still she could not refrain from looking anxiously about her as she asked her way of one of the attendants. But her worldly knowledge had not deceived her, for no sooner had she reached the doorway between the Galerie d'Apollon and the Salon Carré than she saw René; he was leaning against the iron railing, just underneath the noble work by Veronese, representing Mary Magdalene washing our Saviour's feet, and opposite the famous Noces de Cana.

In his boyish timidity the poor fellow had considered it his duty to put on his very best clothes in coming to meet one who, besides being a Madonna in his eyes, was a 'Society woman'—that vague and fanciful entity which exists in the brain of so many young bourgeois, and is a curious medley of their most erroneous impressions. He was attired in a smart-fitting frock coat, and, although the morning was a cold one, he wore nothing over it. He possessed only one overcoat, and that, having been made at the beginning of the winter, did not come from the tailor to whom he had been introduced by his friend Larcher. With his brand-new chimney-pot hat, his new gloves, and his new boots, he almost looked as though he had stepped out of a fashion plate, though his dress contrasted strangely with his artistic face. If he had made himself appear still more ridiculous, Suzanne would have found still more reasons for growing fonder of him. Such is the way of women in love.

She understood at once that he had been afraid he would not look nice enough to please her, and she stood in the doorway for a few seconds in order to enjoy the anxiety that was depicted on the poet's face. When he saw her there was a sudden rush of blood to his cheeks, though the blush soon died away beneath the gold of his fair silken beard. What a flash, too, lit up those dark blue eyes, dispelling the look of anguish they contained! 'It is lucky there is no one here to see our meeting,' she thought, for the pale light that came through the glass roof fell only upon a few painters setting up their easels and upon a few tourists wandering about, guide-book in hand.

Suzanne, who had taken all this in at a glance, could therefore abandon herself to the pleasure which René's agitation afforded her; as he came towards her he said, in a voice trembling with emotion, 'I hardly dared to hope that you would come.'

'Why not?' she replied, with an air of candid astonishment. 'Do you really think I cannot get up early? Why, when I go and visit my poor I am up and dressed at eight.' And in what a tone of voice it was that she said this! A pleasant, modest tone—like that in which a hero would tell of something extraordinary he had done without seeing anything in it himself—the tone in which an officer would say, 'As we were charging the enemy!' The joke of it was that she had never ventured even to set her foot in a poor man's dwelling. She had as great a horror of poverty as of sickness or of old age, and to her selfish nature charity was a thing almost unknown. But at that moment René would have looked upon anyone who dared charge her with selfishness as guilty of the most infamous blasphemy. After having uttered her well-chosen words this novel Sister of Mercy stopped for a moment in order to enjoy their effect. In René's eyes shone that look of blind faith which these pretty hypocrites are so accustomed to regard as their due that they charge all who refuse it them with heartlessness. Then, as if to evade an admiration that embarrassed her modesty, she went on, 'You forget that you are my guide to-day. I will pretend I know nothing of any of these pictures; I shall then be able to see whether we have the same tastes.'

'Mon Dieu!' thought René, 'I must take care not to show her anything that might give her a bad opinion of me!' The most commonplace women can, when they choose, inspire a man who is vastly superior to them with this sensation of utter inferiority.

They had now commenced their tour, he leading her to those masterpieces which he thought would please her. How well acquainted he was with all the galleries of his dear Louvre! There was not one of these pictures that did not recall the memory of some dream of his youth—a youth entirely spent in adorning with beautiful images the shrine we all carry within us before our twentieth year, but from which our passions soon expel all but the image of Venus! These pale and noble frescoes of Luini that hang in the narrow room to the right of the Salon Carré—how often had he not come to gaze upon their pious scenes when he wished to lend his poetry the soft charm, the broad and tender touch, of the old Lombard master! He had feasted his eyes for whole hours upon the mighty Crucifixion by Mantegna—a fragment of the magnificent painting in the church of San Zeno at Verona—as well as upon that most glorious of Raphaels, Saint George—an ideal hero dealing the dragon a furious stroke of his sword whilst spurring his white charger in pink trappings across the fresh greensward, symbolic of youth and hope. But it was more especially the portraits which had been the objects of his most fervent pilgrimages—from those of Holbein, Philippe de Champaigne, and Titian, to that of the elegant and mysterious lady simply attributed in the catalogue to the Venetian school, and bearing a cipher in her hair. He loved to think, in company with a clever critic, that this cipher meant Barbarelli and Cecilia—the name of the Giorgione and that of the mistress for whom tradition says that this great master died. During a visit he had once paid to the Louvre with Rosalie he had told her the romantic and tragic story on this very spot and before this very portrait. He now found himself repeating it to Suzanne, and in almost the same words.

'The painter loved her, and she betrayed him for one of his friends. At Vienna there is a picture painted by himself in which you see his sweet, sad eyes resting upon his treacherous friend, who approaches him with a gleaming dagger concealed behind his back.'

Yes—the same words! When Rosalie heard the story she had turned her eyes upon him, and he had distinctly read the thoughts that filled her. 'How can any woman betray the man who loves her?' With her the question, had remained a dumb one, but Suzanne, after having stared curiously at the mysterious woman with the thin lips, gave expression to her thoughts with a sigh and a shake of her fair head. 'And yet she looks so good. It is terrible to think that a woman with a face like that could lie!'

As she spoke she too turned her eyes upon René; and, gazing into the clear depths that presented such a contrast to Rosalie's dark orbs, he felt a strange remorse. By one of those ironies of the inner life which a comparison of consciences would often reveal, Suzanne, unspeakably happy in strolling amidst these pictures, which she pretended to admire, was keenly enjoying the impression that her beauty was making on her companion, whilst the latter, a simple child, reproached himself with the double treachery of leading this ideal creature through places that he had once visited with another. The fatal comparison which, since his first meeting with Madame Moraines, was effacing poor little Rosalie from his mind was becoming more obtrusive than ever.

A vision of his betrothed floated before him, humble as she herself, but beside him walked Suzanne, a living sister of the aristocratic beauties the old masters had portrayed on their canvases. Her golden hair shone brightly under her little bonnet; the short astracan jacket fitted her like a glove, and her grey check skirt hung in graceful folds. In her hand was a small muff, from which peeped out the corner of an embroidered handkerchief; the muff matched her jacket, and every now and then she would hold it up just above her eyes in order to get the right light to see the pictures well. How could the present fail to conquer the absent—an elegant woman fail to oust a simple, modest girl, especially since in Suzanne all the refinement of an æsthetic soul seemed allied to the most exquisite charm of external appearance and attitude?

She who in her crass ignorance would have been unable to distinguish a Rembrandt from a Perugino, or a Ribera from a Watteau, had a clever way of listening to what René said, and of supporting the opinions he expressed with an ingenuity that would have deceived men with more experience of feminine duplicity than this young poet of twenty-five. This meeting was to him a source of happiness so complete, such perfect realisation of his most secret dreams, that he felt sad at the thought of having attained his highest ambition. The time slipped by, and an indescribable sensation invaded him; it was made up of the nervous excitement that the sight of masterpieces always produces in an artist, of the remorse he felt for his treachery in profaning the past by the present and the present by the past, and finally of the knowledge of Time's unrelenting flight. Yes, that delightful hour was slipping by, to be followed by so many cold and empty ones—for never, no, never would he dare to ask his adorable companion for another such meeting.

She, the sensual Epicurean, was only eager to prolong the delight of mental possession. Voluptuously, carefully, and secretly did she watch the poet from the corner of her blue eye that looked so modest beneath its golden lashes. She was unable to take exact account of all the changes of feeling he underwent, for although she was already well acquainted with his inner nature, she was so entirely ignorant of all the facts of his life that sometimes she would ask herself with a thrill whether he had ever loved before. It was impossible to follow his thoughts in detail, but it was not difficult to see that he was now looking at her much more than at the pictures, and that his distress was increasing every minute. She attributed this distress to a fit of shyness—a shyness that delighted her, for it proved the presence of a passionate longing tempered by respect. How pleased she was to be the object of a desire that expressed itself with such modesty! It enabled her to measure more correctly the gulf that separated her little René—as she already called him in her thoughts—from the bold and dangerous men with whom she usually mixed. His looks were full of love, though devoid of insolence, and contained an amount of suffering that finally decided her to lead him on to the declaration which she had promised herself to provoke.

'Mon Dieu!' she suddenly cried, catching hold of the iron bar that runs round the walls, and turning to René with a smile that was meant to hide some sharp pain. 'It's nothing,' she added, in reply to the poet's look of anxiety. 'I twisted my foot a little on this slippery floor.' Then, standing on one leg, she put out the foot that she said was hurt, and moved it about in the soft boot with a graceful effort. 'Ten minutes' rest and it will be all right, but you must be my crutch.'

As her pretty lips uttered this ugly word she took hold of René's arm, the poet little thinking, as he almost piously helped her along, that this imaginary accident was but one episode more in the comedy of love in which he was playing so innocent a part. Taking care to throw her whole weight upon him, she managed to redouble his passionate ardour and to completely intoxicate him by the rhythmic and communicated movement of her lithe and supple limbs. The trick succeeded only too well. He could scarcely speak, overwhelmed as he was by the proximity of this woman and penetrated by the subtle perfume she exhaled. It was as much as he dared do to look at her, and then he found beside him a face both proud and playful, a cheek of ideal colouring, and a pair of mobile cherry lips upon which from time to time there hovered a sweet little smile that meant mischief, though when their eyes met this smile would change into an expression of such frank sympathy that it dispelled René's timidity. This she knew by the greater assurance with which he now supported her.

She had been careful to choose one of the most isolated rooms—the salle Lesueur—for acting the episode of her twisted foot. Arm-in-arm they passed through a small passage, and, crossing one of the galleries of the French school, entered a dark, deserted chamber in which were then exhibited Lebrun's pictures representing the victories of Alexander the Great. The Ingres and Delacroix gallery, by which this room is now reached, was not yet opened, and in the centre of the floor stood a large round ottoman covered in green velvet. Though in the very heart of Paris, this spot was more secluded than a room in any provincial museum, and there was no likelihood of being disturbed except by the attendant, who was himself deep in conversation with his colleague in the next apartment.

Suzanne took in the place at a glance, and, pointing to the ottoman, said to René, 'Shall we sit down there for a few minutes? My foot is much better already.'

A fresh silence fell upon them. Everything seemed to emphasise their seclusion—from the noises in the Cour du Carrousel that came to them in a dull murmur through the two high windows to the dim light in the room itself. But this seclusion, instead of encouraging the poet to declare his passion, only increased his distress. He said to himself, 'How pretty she is, and how sweet! She will go, and I shall never see her again. How stupid she must think me!—I feel quite paralysed near her and incapable of speech.' 'I shall never have a better opportunity,' thought Suzanne.

'You are very sad,' she said aloud, bestowing upon him a look of affectionate and almost sisterly sympathy. 'I noticed it as soon as I arrived,' she continued, 'but you do not trust me sufficiently to tell me your troubles.'

'No,' replied René, 'I am not sad. Why should I be? I have everything that can make me happy.'

She looked at him again with an expression of surprise and mute interrogation that seemed to say, 'Tell me what you have to make you happy?' René thought he saw that question in her eyes, but dared not understand it so. He sincerely believed himself to be so inferior to this woman that he had not the courage to disclose to her the depths of his devotion. All Suzanne's delightful confidence, in which he could not possibly detect any cold calculation, would be destroyed the moment he spoke, and he therefore went on as if his words referred to the general circumstances of life.

'Claude Larcher often tells me that I shall never be happier at any period of my literary career. He maintains that there are four stages in a writer's life—when he is unknown, when he is applauded by those who wish to spite his elders, when he is maligned because he is successful, and when he is forgiven because he is forgotten. I am so sorry you don't know him better—I am sure you would like him. Literature is his religion!'

'He is rather too artless, after all,' thought Suzanne, but she was too interested in the result of this interview to give way to her impatience. She seized upon the words René had just uttered and interrupted his uncalled-for praises of Claude by saying, 'His religion! It is true, that is just like you writers. I have a friend who is undergoing the ordeal, and she is always telling me that a woman ought to be careful not to bestow her affections upon an artist. He will never love her as much as he loves his art.'

She repeated these supposititious words of her imaginary friend with a look of pain upon her face; her cherry lips were parted by a half-stifled sigh that hinted at heartrending confidences and a presentiment of similar experiences in store for herself.

'Why, it is you who are sad,' observed René, struck by the sudden change in her pretty face.

'Now for it!' she thought, and then replied, 'That doesn't matter. What difference can it make to you whether I am sad or not?'

'Do you think that I take no interest in you?' rejoined René.

'A little, perhaps,' she replied, shrugging her shoulders; 'but when you have left me will you think of me otherwise than as of some sympathetic woman whom you have casually met and speedily forgotten?'

She had never looked so lovely in René's eyes as when she uttered these words, which went as far as she dared go without jeopardising her game. Her gloved hand rested on the green velvet sofa quite close to the poet, and he was bold enough to take it. She did not draw it back. Her eyes seemed fixed upon some vision far away, and it was doubtful whether she had even noticed René's daring action. There are women who have a delightful way of paying no heed to the familiarities which some people will take with them. René pressed her dainty hand, and, as she did not resent it, he began to speak in a voice trembling with emotion:

'I have no right to be surprised at your thinking that of me. Why should you think that my feelings towards you differ from those of other men you meet? And yet if I told you that since the day when I first spoke to you at Madame Komof's my life has changed for ever—ah! do not smile—yes, for ever! If I told you that since then I have had but one desire—to see you again; that I came to your house with a beating heart; that every hour since then has increased my madness; that I came here in a dream of rapture, and that I shall leave you in despair! I see you do not believe me! People are willing to admit the existence of these sudden and lifelong passions in novels, but do such things ever happen in real life?'

He stopped, amazed at the boldness of his own words. As he finished speaking there came over him that strange sensation that seizes us when in our dreams we hear ourselves revealing some secret to the very person from whom we ought most to hide it. She had listened to him with her eyes still fixed on vacancy, and still wearing her look of abstraction. But her eyelids quivered, her breath came short and quick, and her little hand trembled as it lay in his. This was such a startling and delightful surprise that it gave René courage to go on.

'Forgive me for talking to you like this! If you only knew—it may be childish and silly—but when I saw you for the first time I seemed to recognise you—you are so like the woman I have always dreamt of meeting ever since I have had a heart. Before meeting you I only thought I lived, I only thought I felt. What a fool I was! And what a fool I am! I have gone and undone myself in your eyes. But at least I have told you that I love you—you know it now. You can do with me as you will. My God! how I love you, how I love you!'

As he gazed at her in rapt admiration and repeated the words that seemed to relieve the feelings that raged within him he saw two great tears fall from Suzanne's eyes and slowly make their way down her pink cheeks. He did not know that most women can cry like that at will, especially if they are at all nervous. These two wretched tears drove his delirium up to its highest pitch.

'You are crying! he exclaimed; 'you——'

'Don't finish your sentence,' cried Suzanne, putting her hand on his lips and then moving a little further off. Her eyes remained fixed upon his face, and in them might be read both passion and a kind of startled surprise. 'Yes, you have reached my heart. You have awakened feelings of whose existence I had not the faintest suspicion. I am afraid—afraid of you, afraid of myself, afraid of being here. We must never see each other again. I am not free. I ought not even to have listened to your words.' She stopped; then, taking his hand in hers this time, she went on: 'Why should I deceive you? All that you feel perhaps I feel too, but I swear to you that I did not know it until a moment ago. The feeling of sympathy to which I yielded, and which made me come and join you here this morning—my God!—I understand it now, I understand! Fool that I was not to have known how easily the heart is ensnared!'

Fresh tears started from her eyes, and René was so agitated by all that he had said and heard that he could only murmur, 'Tell me that you forgive me!'

'Yes, I forgive you,' she replied, squeezing his hand so hard that she hurt him. 'I feel that I love you too,' and then, as though suddenly awakening from a dream, she added, 'Good-bye—I forbid you to follow me. This is the last time we shall meet.'

She rose. Her face wore a threatening look, and it was clear that her feelings of honour were now thoroughly roused. There was no longer any thought of fatigue or of a sprained foot. She walked straight out, and with such an angry mien that the poet, utterly crushed by what he had undergone, saw her depart without doing anything to stop her. She had been gone some minutes before he rushed off in the direction she had taken. But he did not find her. Whilst he was trying first one staircase and then another she had crossed the courtyard and jumped into a cab, which rapidly bore her, exulting and in ecstasy, to the Rue Murillo.

Whilst René was employed in seeking means to get her to reconsider her hasty decision he would have no time to reflect upon the rapidity with which his Madonna had led him to make, and had herself made, a declaration of love. So much for her exultation. The recollection of the poet's words, of his face beaming with love, and his eyes eloquent with passion, enchanted her as with a promise of most perfect happiness. So much for her ecstasy. She was already drawing up her plans for the future. He would write to her, of course—but to his first two letters he would get no answer. On receipt of his third or fourth letter she would pretend to believe in his threats of suicide and drop upon him at home—to save him! Just as her thoughts had carried her as far as this, chance, which is sometimes as sarcastic as an ill-tempered friend, made her eyes fall upon Baron Desforges walking along the Boulevard Haussmann. He was probably going to her house to ask her to lunch out with him. She looked at the pretty little gold watch that hung from her bracelet and saw that it was only twenty minutes past twelve. She would be home in good time, and, thoroughly pleased with her morning's outing, she took a keen delight in pulling down the little window-curtain as she passed quite close to the Baron without being seen.



When René Vincy had got as far as the Museum gates without finding Suzanne a crowd of contradictory ideas burst so suddenly upon him that he was lifted, metaphorically speaking, off his feet. Suzanne had not been mistaken in her calculations, the double blow she had dealt the young poet paralysing all his powers of analysis and reflection. Had she simply told him that she loved him he would probably have opened his eyes and perceived the striking contrast between the angelic attitude assumed by Suzanne and the bluntness of this declaration. He would have had to acknowledge that the angel's wings were very loosely attached if they could be so easily laid aside. But instead of committing the mistake of laying them aside the angel had spread her bright pinions out wide and disappeared. 'She loves me, and will never forgive me for having dragged that confession from her,' said René to himself.

He fully believed that she had gone away resolved never to see him again, and all his thoughts became concentrated upon that idea. How could he hope to shake the resolution of a creature so sincere that she had been unable to conceal her feelings, so saint-like that she had immediately regarded her involuntary confession as a crime? And René again saw her before him with terror written on her face and tears starting from her eyes. Lost in these thoughts, he walked straight before him, unable to bear the sight of a human being, even were it Emilie, his dear confidante. Hailing a cab, he told the driver to take him to Saint-Cloud. This was the first name that rose to his lips, because Suzanne had described to him two fêtes at which she had been present in the palace when quite a girl. On getting out of the cab he felt a savage delight in plunging into the denuded wood. A pale February sun lit up the bleak wintry landscape and the dry leaves cracked under his tread as he strode along. Now and then, through a network of blackened trunks and naked branches, he could see the dreary ruins of the old palace and the blue waters of the little lake upon which, in bygone days, Madame Moraines had seen the unhappy Prince, since killed at the Cape.

The impressions produced by his surroundings and by these memories of a tragic past did not distract the poet's thoughts from the one idea that hypnotised him, as it were—by what means he could conquer the will of this woman whom he loved, who loved him in return, and whom he was determined to see again at all costs. What was to be done? Call at her house and demand admittance? Inflict his presence upon her by frequenting the houses she visited? Waylay her at street corners and at theatres? No—he felt that he could not do anything that might furnish Suzanne with a single reason for loving him less. It was to her that he looked for everything, even for the right of beholding her. The memory of the ideals he had cherished in the first years of his manhood and the purer years of his youth inspired him with serious thoughts of doing absolutely nothing to approach her, of obeying her as Dante would have obeyed Beatrice, Petrarch his Laura, Cino da Pistoia his Sylvia—those noble poets of the ages of chivalry who gave voice to the lofty conceptions of an imaginative and holy love full of ideal devotion. He had so often dipped with delight into the Vita Nuova and devoured the sonnets these dreamers wrote their lady-loves. But how could such literature, of almost ascetic purity, hold its own against the poison of sensuous passion which, unknown to him, Suzanne's beauty and surroundings had instilled into his blood? Obey her! No—that he could not do. Fresh ideas welled up within him, and he sought to calm his overwrought nerves by exercise, the only palliative for the terrible mental agonies he was suffering.

Night fell—a wintry night preceded by a short, dismal twilight. Worn out by the excess of emotion, René at last decided to adopt the only course that could be put into immediate execution—that of writing to Suzanne. On reaching the village of Saint-Cloud he entered a café, and there, on a beer-stained blotting-pad, with a spluttering pen, disgusted with the paper he used and the place he was in, disturbed by the noise of billiard balls and blinded by the smoke of the players' pipes, he wrote, under the insolent gaze of a dirty waiter, first one letter, then another, and finally a third. How horrified he would have been had Suzanne seen him sitting there! But, on the other hand, he felt that he could not wait until he got home to tell her what he had to say, and in the following terms, that would have greatly surprised Baron Desforges had he read them and been told that they were addressed to his Suzette of the Rue du Mont-Thabor, he gave vent to his excessive grief:

'I have written you several letters, madame, and torn them up, and I am not sure that I shall send you this one, so great is my fear of displeasing you by the crude expression of sentiments which I am sure would not displease you if you really knew them. Alas! we cannot bare our hearts, and will you believe me when I tell you that the feelings which prompt me to write this letter have nothing in them that would offend the most sensitive and pure-minded woman—not even yourself, madame? But you know so little of me, and the feeling which, with the divine sincerity of a soul that abhors concealment, you have permitted me to see, has been such a surprise that, by the time I am writing these lines, it has probably been already banished and effaced from your heart for ever. If that be so, do not answer this letter—do not even read it. I shall know what to make of your silence, and will bow to your decision. I shall suffer cruelly, but my gratitude to you will be eternal for having procured me the absolute and unalloyed delight of seeing the Ideal of all my youthful dreams in the flesh. For such happiness I can never be sufficiently grateful, even were I to die of grief through having met you only to lose you. You crossed my path, and by your existence alone you have proved that my ideal was no myth. However hard my lot may one day be, this dear, divine memory will be to me a talisman, a magic charm.

'But, unworthy as I am, should the feeling that I read in your eyes this morning—how beautiful they were at that moment, and how I shall always remember them!—should, I say, that feeling conquer your virtuous indignation, should that sympathy with which you reproached yourself still live in your heart, should you remain, in spite of yourself, the woman who wept when she heard me confess my love and adoration—then I conjure you, madame, to wrest some pity from that sympathy. Before confirming the sentence to which I am quite ready to submit—that terrible sentence never to see you more—let me ask you to put me to one single proof. My request is so humble, and so subservient to your will. Hear it, I beg. If I have guessed rightly from the all too short and fleeting conversations we have had, your life, though apparently so complete, is devoid of many things. Have you never felt the need of having near you a friend to whom you could confide your troubles, a friend who would never speak to you again as he once dared to do, but who would be content to breathe the same air as yourself, and to share your joys and sorrows—a friend on whom you could rely, whom you could take or leave at your sweet will—in a word, a thing of your own, whose very thoughts would be yours? Such a friend, with no desire beyond that of serving you, regretting only that he has not always done so, and entertaining no criminal hopes whatever, is what I dreamt of becoming before that interview in which my feelings were stronger than my will. And I feel that I love you sufficiently to realise that dream even now. Nay, do not shake your head. I am sincere in my entreaties, sincere in my determination never to utter a word which will make you repent your forbearance if you decide to put me to this proof. Will it not be time enough to banish me from your presence when you think me in danger of breaking the promise I now make?

'My God! how empty my phrases seem! I tremble at the thought that you will read these lines, and that is why I can scarcely write them. What will your answer be? Will you call me back to that shrine in the Rue Murillo where you have already been so kind and so full of indulgence that the memory of the minutes spent there falls like balm upon my aching heart? That poor heart beats only for you in obedient and humble admiration. Say—oh! say that you forgive me. Say that you will let me see you once more. Say that you will let us try to be friends. You would say all this, I know, if you could read what is in my heart. And even if you do not speak those blessed words, there shall be no murmuring, no reproaches, nothing but eternal gratitude—gratitude as deep in martyrdom as it would have been in ecstasy. I have learnt to-day how sweet it is to suffer through those one loves!'

It was six o'clock when René posted this letter. He gazed after it as it disappeared in the box, and no sooner had it left his hand than he began to regret having sent it, the anguish of suspense respecting the result being greater than his sufferings of the afternoon. In his disturbed state of mind he had entirely forgotten his daily habits and the fact that he had never stayed from home a whole day without giving some previous explanation. He sat down to dinner in the first restaurant he came across, without a thought of his people at home, and completely absorbed in speculations as to what Suzanne would do after reading his effusion. The first thing that awoke him from his state of semi-somnambulism was the exclamation of Françoise when, having reached home on foot about half-past nine, he opened the door and found himself face to face with the big, clumsy maid, who nearly dropped the lamp with fright.

'Oh! sir,' she cried; 'if you only knew how uneasy you've made Madame Fresneau—it's sent her into fits.'

As Emilie ran out into the passage to meet him René said, 'You don't mean to say that you've been upset by my not coming home? I couldn't help it,' he added in an undertone as he kissed her; 'it was on her account.'

Emilie, who had really spent a most wretched evening, looked at her brother. She saw that he too had been greatly agitated, and that his eyes were burning feverishly; she had not the courage to reproach him with selfishness in paying no regard to her own unreasonable susceptibilities—though he knew them so well—and replied in a whisper, as she pointed to the half-open door of the dining-room: 'The Offarels are here.'

These simple words sufficed to give a sudden turn to René's feelings. His fever of suspense was dispelled by a more pressing fear. During the sweetest moments of his walk through the Louvre that morning the memory of Rosalie had been able to give him pain—even when he was with Suzanne! And now he was obliged to unexpectedly face—not a vision—but the girl herself, to meet those eyes which he had avoided in such cowardly fashion for days past, to gaze upon that pallor which he himself had caused. A sense of his treachery once more came over him, but this time it was more painful and acute than ever. He had spoken words of love to another woman before breaking off his engagement with her whom he justly regarded as his betrothed.

He entered the dining-room as if he were walking to the scaffold, and had no sooner come under the full light of the lamp than he saw by the look in Rosalie's eyes that she read his heart like an open book. She was seated between Fresneau and Madame Offarel, working as usual, her feet resting on the supports of an empty chair upon which she had placed her ball of wool and her father's hat; this, as René knew well enough, was only an innocent ruse to get him to sit near her when he came home. She and her mother were knitting some long mittens for old Offarel, who had now got hold of an idea that he was going to have gout in his wrists. Her fanciful parent was there, too, drinking, in spite of his imaginary ills, a glass of good strong grog and playing piquet with the professor. It was Emilie who had proposed the game in order to discourage general conversation, and so be able to give herself up to thoughts of her absent brother, whilst Angélique Offarel had been helping her to unravel some skeins of silk. A soft light illumined this quiet, peaceful scene, symbolical, in the poet's eyes, of all that had so long constituted his happiness, and which he had now given up for ever. Fortunately for him the professor immediately made his loud voice heard, and so put an end to his further reflections.

'Young man,' cried Fresneau, 'you can boast of having a sister who thinks something of you, I can tell you! She was actually proposing to sit up all night! "Something must have happened to him. He would have sent a wire." For two pins she would have sent me off to the Morgue. It was no use my suggesting that some one had kept you to dinner. Come, Offarel, it's your deal.'

'I had to go into the country,' replied René, 'and I lost the train.'

'How badly he tells them!' thought Emilie, admiring her brother as much for his unskilfulness, which in this case was a sign of honesty, as she would have admired him for Machiavelian cleverness.

'You look rather pale,' observed Madame Offarel aggressively, 'aren't you well?'

'Shall I make room for you here, Monsieur René?' asked Rosalie, with a timid smile; 'I'll take away papa's hat.'

'Give it to me,' said old Offarel, perceiving a place for it on the sideboard; 'it will be safer here. It's my Number One, and mamma would scold me if any harm came to it.'

'It's been Number One for such a long time,' cried Angélique, with a laugh. 'Look here, papa, here's a real Number One,' she added, holding up René's hat under the lamp-light and comparing its glossy nap with the shabby silk and old-fashioned shape of her father's headgear, much to the latter's disadvantage.

'But nothing is too good for Monsieur René now,' observed Madame Offarel with her usual acrimony, venting the rest of her displeasure upon Angélique, whose action had annoyed her. 'You'll be lucky if your husband is always as well dressed as your father.'

René was seated by Rosalie's side, and let the epigram of the terrible bourgeoise pass unnoticed, taking no part either in the rest of the conversation, which Emilie wisely led round to cookery topics. Madame Offarel was almost as keen on this subject as she was on that of her feline pets. Not content with having recipes of her own for all kinds of dishes, such as coulis d'écrevisses, her triumph, and canard sauce Offarel, as she had proudly named it, she also kept a list of addresses where specialities might be obtained. Treating Paris like Robinson Crusoe treated his island, she would, from time to time, start out on a foraging expedition to the most remote quarters of the capital, going to some particular shop for her coffee and to another for her pâtes d'Italie. She knew the exact date on which a certain man received his consignment of Bologna sausages, and when another got his Spanish olives in.

The slightest incidents of these excursions were magnified by her into events. Sometimes she would go on foot, and then her comments on the improvements she had noticed, on the increase in the traffic, and on the superiority of the air in the Rue de Bagneux were inexhaustible. At other times she would go by omnibus, and then her fellow-passengers formed the subject of her remarks. She had met a very nice woman who was very fat, or a young man who was very impertinent; the conductor had recognised her and said good morning; the 'bus had nearly been upset three times; an old gentleman—'decorated'—had had some trouble in alighting. 'I really thought he would fall, poor, dear old man!'

The insignificant and superfluous details upon which it pleased the poor woman's simple mind to dilate generally amused René, for the bourgeoise sometimes hit upon some curious figures of speech in her flow of words. She would say, for instance, when speaking of a fellow-passenger who was paying attentions to a cook laden with provisions, 'Some people like their pockets greasy,' or of two persons quarrelling, 'They fought like Darnajats'—a mysterious expression which she had always refused to translate.

But that evening there was too pronounced a contrast between the state of romantic excitement into which his interview with Suzanne had thrown the poet and the meanness of the surroundings in which he had been born. He did not stop to think that similar contrasts are to be found in every form of life, and that the substrata of the fashionable world are composed of mean rivalries, of disgusting attempts to keep up illusory appearances, and of compromises of conscience compared with which the narrow-mindedness of the middle classes is a proof of the most delightful simplicity.

He looked at Rosalie, and the resemblance between the girl and her mother struck him most forcibly. She was pretty, for all that. Her oval face, pale with evident grief, had an ivory tint as she bent down over her knitting in the lamp-light, and when she raised her eyes to his the sincerity of the passion that animated her shone forth from beneath her long lashes. But why were her eyes of precisely the same shade of colour as her mother's? Why, with twenty-four years between them, had they the same shape of brow, the same cut of the chin, and the same lines of the mouth? But how unjust to blame this innocent child for that resemblance, for that pallor, for that grief, and even for the silence in which she wrapped herself! Alas! that it should be so, but when we have wronged a woman it is easy enough to find an inexhaustible source of unjust complaints against her.

Rosalie had unwittingly committed the crime of adding remorse to the feelings brought into play by René's fresh passion. She represented that past which we never forgive if it becomes an obstacle between us and our future. False as most women are in matters of love, their perfidy can never sufficiently punish the secret selfishness of the majority of men. If René had had the sorry courage of his friend Claude Larcher, and looked himself straight in the face, he would have had to confess that the real cause of his irritation lay in the fact that he had deceived Rosalie. But he was a poet, and one who was an adept at throwing a veil over the ugly parts of his soul.

He therefore compelled himself to think of Suzanne, and of the noble love which had sprung up and was burning within him; for the first time he succeeded in forming a resolve to break definitely with Rosalie, saying to himself, 'I will be worthy of her!' She was the lying wanton who, with her luxurious surroundings, her rare science of dress, her incomparable power of aping sentiment, and her seductive, soul-troubling beauty, had such immense advantages over sweet, simple-hearted Rosalie. Her beauty once more rose up before René's enslaved imagination just as old Offarel was giving the signal for departure by rising and saying to Fresneau, 'I've won fourteen sous from you—ha! ha! that'll keep me in cigars for a week. Come,' he added, turning to his wife, 'are you ladies ready?'

'Since we are all here,' replied Madame Offarel, emphasising the word 'all' by darting a look at René. 'When are you coming to dinner? Would Saturday suit you? That's M. Fresneau's best day, I believe?' The professor replying in the affirmative, she now addressed herself to the poet direct, 'Will that suit you, René? You'll be more comfortable at our place, I can assure you, than amongst all those grand people on whom your friend Larcher goes sponging.'

'But, Madame——' exclaimed the poet.

'Oh—that's enough!' cried the old lady; 'I always remember what my dear mother used to say: a crust of bread at home is better than a stuffed turkey at another's table.'

Although this epigram of Rosalie's mother was simply nonsense when applied to the unhappy Claude, whose acute dyspepsia seldom permitted him to drink even a glass of wine, it wounded René as deeply as if it had been thoroughly deserved. This was because he saw in it yet another sign of deep and ever-increasing hostility between his old associations and the new life for which since that morning he so eagerly and ardently longed. These people had a right to him—a fuller right than Madame Offarel knew, for was he not bound to Rosalie by a secret understanding? A fresh fit of irritation against this poor child came over him, and he said to himself more firmly than before, 'I shall break it off.'

Having arrived at that decision, he went to bed, but could not sleep. The current of his ideas had changed. He was now thinking of his letter. It must have reached Suzanne by this, and a series of unforeseen dangers spread itself out before his imagination. Suppose her husband were to intercept the letter? A thrill ran through him as he thought of the misery his imprudence might bring down upon this poor woman, in the power of a tyrant whose brutality he could well imagine. And then, even if the letter reached Suzanne safely, what if it displeased her? And he was sure that such would be the case. He tried to remember the words he had written. 'How can I have been such a fool as to write like that?' he asked himself, and hoped that the letter might miscarry. He knew that such things happened sometimes when people wished the contrary. Why should it not happen now that he expressly desired it? He grew quite ashamed of his childishness, and attributing it to the nervous excitement of the evening, began once more to curse Madame Offarel's mean-spirited remarks. His irritability against the mother paralysed all pity for the daughter. He passed the night in this fashion, tossed between two kinds of tortures, until he fell into that deep morning sleep which is more tiring than refreshing; on awaking, the first thought that occurred to him was his desire, stronger than ever, to break off his engagement.

What means could he employ? A very simple expedient presented itself to his mind at once—ask the girl to make an appointment. It was so easy, too! How many times had she not let him know when Madame Offarel would be out, so that he could come to the Rue Bagneux sure of finding her alone with Angélique; and how considerate the latter had always been in leaving the two lovers together and in peace! This was undoubtedly the most loyal means to adopt. But the poet could not even bear to think of such an interview.

In such crises we are sometimes assailed by a contemptible form of pity that consists in unwillingness to look upon the sufferings we have caused. We do not mind inflicting torture upon the woman we cast off, but we do not care to see her tears. It was only natural that René should try to spare himself this insufferable pain by writing—the resource of the weak in every kind of rupture. Paper can stand a good deal, people say. He got out of bed and commenced to write—but the words would not flow easily, and he was obliged to stop. Meanwhile the hour for the postman's first call was drawing near. Although it was perfect madness to expect Suzanne's reply by that delivery, the lover's heart beat faster when Emilie entered the room with his letters and the newspaper, as was her wont when she knew he was awake. How happy would he have been had one of the three envelopes she brought him borne that long, elegant hand which, though seen but once, he would have recognised amongst a hundred others! No—these were only business letters, which he tossed aside so petulantly that his sister stared at him in surprise.

'Are you in trouble, René?' she asked, and as she put the question there was a look of such intense devotion and love in her eyes that she appeared to her brother like a guardian angel come to save him from the troubles of that cruel night. Why should he not charge Emilie with the utterance of those words he dared not formulate himself, and which he could not manage to put into writing? He had no sooner conceived this plan of getting over the difficulty than he hastened to carry it out with the impetuosity common to all weak minds, and with tears in his eyes he began to disclose the unfortunate plight he was in with regard to Rosalie.

He told his sister exactly how the whole matter stood. Whilst his mind was in that state of excitement frequently caused by confessions, fresh ideas originated within him and strengthened the resolve he had made. They were, however, such as ought to have occurred to him at the time he was entering into those relations which he now regarded as guilty ones. When the intimacy had first sprung up between them—a purely innocent but clandestine affair—he had not told himself that strict morality forbids any secret engagement of this kind, and that to accustom a girl to elude the watchfulness of her parents is a most reprehensible proceeding. He had not told himself then that a man of honour has no right to declare his love until he has satisfied himself as to its stability, and that, although the ardour of passion excuses many weaknesses, a mere desire for obtaining fresh emotions makes such weakness sinful. These reproaches and many more were now in his mind and on his lips, and as he looked in Emilie's face he plainly saw what pain his conduct had caused his confiding sister. In a narrow home circle such dissimulation is productive of much grief to those who have been its victims. But though Madame Fresneau felt as though she had been imposed upon, she vented all her anger upon the girl, and upon her alone, exclaiming, after her brother had told her what he wanted her to do, 'I never would have believed her so deceitful.'

'Don't blame her,' said René shamefacedly. If their relations had remained hidden, whose fault was it? He therefore added: 'I am the guilty one.'

'You!' cried Emilie, folding him in her arms. 'No, no; you are too good, too loving. But I will do what you wish, and I promise you I'll be as gentle as possible. It was the best thing you could have done to come to me. We women know how to smooth things down. And then, you know, it is only right that you should put an end to such a false position. The sooner it's over the better, so I shall go to the Rue Bagneux this very afternoon. If I can't see her alone I will ask her to meet me somewhere.'

In spite of the confidence she had expressed in her own tact, Emilie became so impressed with the difficulties of her mission that, during lunch, she wore a look of anxiety that made her husband feel uneasy and awakened in René feelings of remorse. In employing a third person to tell Rosalie the truth was he not acting in a particularly cruel manner and adding unnecessary humiliation to unavoidable pain? When his sister came to him ready dressed, just before starting on her errand, he was on the point of stopping her. There was still time—but he let her go. He heard the door close. Emilie was in the street—now she was in the Rue d'Assas—now in the Rue du Cherche-Midi.

But such thoughts as these were soon dispelled by the fever of anxiety with which he awaited the arrival of the next post. Suzanne must have had his letter that morning. If she had replied at once the answer would come by the next delivery. This idea, and the approach of the moment in which its correctness would be tested, at once cut short his pity for the girl he had cast off. Complex as are the subtle workings of the heart, love simplifies them wondrously. René was tortured by the suspense felt by all lovers, from the simple soldier who expects an ill-spelt letter from his sweetheart to the royal prince carrying on a sentimental correspondence with the brightest and most heartless Court beauty. The man wishes to go on with his usual occupations, but his mind is on the alert, counting the minutes and unable to endure the torment of waiting. He looks at the clock, and imagines all kinds of possibilities. If he dared he would go twenty times an hour to the person from whom he gets his letters, and ask whether there is nothing for him. Such is the agony of waiting, with all its intense anxiety, its mad conjectures, the burning fever of its illusions and disenchantments. Every other feeling of the soul is burnt up and, consumed in this fire of impatience. When Emilie came back, after having been gone an hour and a half, René seemed to have entirely forgotten on what errand he had sent her, but there was such a look of pain on his sister's face that it quite startled him.

'Well?' he ejaculated, in a tone of suspense.

'It is all over,' she replied, almost in a whisper. 'Oh, René, how I misjudged her!'

'What did she say?'

'Not a word of reproach. She only wept—but, oh, how bitterly! Her love for you is greater than I thought. Her mother had gone out with Angélique—how cruel it sounds!—to order the things for Saturday's dinner. I, for one, am not going to that dinner. When Rosalie opened the door, she turned so pale that I thought she was going to faint. She guessed everything before I said a word. She is like I am with you—it is a kind of second sight. She took me into her room. It is full of you—of your portraits, of trifles that remind her of places you've been to together, and of cuts from the illustrated papers about your play. I began to deliver your message as gently as I could, but I give you my word I was quite as upset as she was. She said, "It is so good of him to have asked you to come. You at least will not think me foolish in loving him as I do." And then she went on, "I have been expecting it for some time. It seemed too good to be true. Ask him to let me keep his letters." Oh, my God! I can't tell you any more about it now. I am so afraid for you, my dear René; I am so afraid that her grief may bring you ill luck.'



The letter posted by René at Saint-Cloud had duly reached its destination on the morning of the day that was to complete poor Rosalie's unhappiness. Suzanne had received it with the rest of her correspondence a few minutes before her husband entered her room to get his morning cup of tea, and she was just engaged in reading it when Paul's kind and jovial face appeared in the doorway.

'Bon jour, Suzon,' he cried in his deep but cheery voice, adding, as he sometimes did, 'my fair rose.' This allusion to de Musset's well-known romance was always accompanied by a kiss. In Paul's eyes de Musset was the embodiment of youth and love, with just a spice of suggestiveness, and it was the favourite joke of this simple-hearted fellow to look upon himself as Suzanne's lover, and not as a lawful spouse. He was one of those strange husbands who say to you in confidence, 'I have no secrets from my wife—that is the only way to cure her of curiosity.' Meanwhile, he was as much in love with his 'fair rose' as ever, and proved it by the manner in which he tenderly kissed her on the neck.

But she checked further demonstrations of affection with the words, 'Get along! See to the tea, and let me finish my letter.'

She knew that Paul would never ask her anything about her correspondence, and it gave her such intense pleasure to read the poet's ardent phrases that she was not satisfied with going over them once, but read them a second time, and then, folding up the letter, slipped it into her bodice. She looked so supremely happy as she sat down to the table and took up the fine porcelain cup filled with fragrant tea that Moraines, wishing to tease her, said, in a voice that was meant to be gruff, 'If I were a jealous husband, I should think you had received a letter from your sweetheart, you look so happy, madame. And if you knew how nice you look like that,' he added, kissing her arm just above the wrist, where the delicate pink skin, perfumed and warmed by her luxurious bath, looked so inviting.

'Well, sir, you would be right,' she replied, with a roguish air. Women take a divine pleasure in saying in fun things which, though true, will not be believed. It procures them that mild sensation of danger which titillates their nerves so delightfully.

'I hope this sweetheart of yours is a nice fellow?' asked Paul, quite amused by what he considered a good joke.

'Very nice.'

'And may I know his name?'

'You are too inquisitive. Guess.'

'Bless me—no!' cried Paul. 'I should have too much to do. Ah! Suzanne,' he added, suddenly changing his tone to one that betrayed deep feeling, 'what pain it must be to harbour suspicions! Just fancy me being jealous of you, and having to sit in the office all day whilst my heart was being torn by doubts! Ah! well,' this with a shrewd look, 'I would set Desforges to watch you!'

'It's lucky there was no one to hear his "joke,"' thought Suzanne when she was alone. 'He has a silly way of saying these things, too, when he's out.' René's letter had, however, put her in such a good temper that she forgot to get angry, as she would do when she thought her husband too utterly simple. Such is the logic of these pretty and light-hearted sinners; they will exercise all their wits in blindfolding a man, and then blame him for stumbling. The fact of having deceived him does not satisfy them—he must only be deceived up to a certain point. If he goes beyond that it is too much—he makes them feel uneasy, and they hate him for it—sincerely. Suzanne contented herself with a shrug of her shoulders and a look of sweet pity. Then she took the letter from its hiding-place and read it for the third time.

'It's quite true,' she said aloud; 'he is not like other men.'

Thereupon she fell into a deep reverie, in which she saw the poet as she had seen him waiting for her at the Louvre, standing just under the large Veronese canvas with his face turned a little to the right. How agitated he had been when his eyes met hers! How young he was! How his lips had trembled when he told her a little later that he loved her—those full, fresh lips which she could have bitten like some fruit, after having caressed his fair cheeks and the soft silken beard that adorned his manly face. But the fruit was not yet ripe; she must learn to wait. She sighed. Her calculation that the poet would write that very letter, and so soon after their meeting, too, had proved correct. She had made up her mind not to reply to it, nor yet to the second. For this second letter she waited one, two, three days. Though her confidence in the strength of the passion with which she had inspired René was unshaken, she was somewhat startled when, on the afternoon of the third day, just as her brougham was turning the corner of the Rue Murillo, she saw him standing where she had seen him once before. She was very careful to look as though she had not noticed him, and put on her saddest expression, her most dreamy eyes and an air of sweet resignation that would have moved a tiger. The comfortable brougham, furnished with a number of dainty and useful knick-knacks, was immediately transformed in René's eyes into a prison van containing a martyr—a martyr to her husband, a martyr to her home, a martyr to her love, and a martyr to her virtue.

She was not acting a very great lie, either, as she passed René. As she saw the pallor on his cheeks, caused by three days' anguish, and the look of despair in his eyes, she would have given much to be able to stop the brougham, to get out or to make him get in, and to exclaim as she carried him off, 'I love you as much as you love me!' Instead of that she drove on to do her shopping and pay her calls, sure now that the second letter so impatiently expected would not be long in coming. It came the same afternoon, but just when its arrival presented most danger. And for this reason. Having gone home immediately after meeting Suzanne, René had written her four pages in feverish haste, and in order that they might reach her sooner and more safely, he had sent them about five o'clock by a commissionaire; the letter was therefore handed to Suzanne by her manservant whilst Desforges was with her. He had come, as he often did at that hour, with a dainty little present; this time it was a pretty needle-case in old gold which he had picked up at a sale.

No sooner had she recognised the writing on the envelope than she said to herself, 'The least sign of emotion and the Baron will smell a rat!' As sometimes happens, the fear of betraying her agitation made it more difficult for her to conceal it. She took the letter, looked at the address as we do when trying to guess from whom a communication comes, tore it open and skimmed its contents, after having first cast a glance at the signature; then, getting up to place it amongst some others on her desk, she said:

'Another, begging letter! It's astonishing how many I've had lately. How do you manage with them, Frédéric?'

'I have a very simple plan,' replied the Baron. 'Fifty francs the first time of asking, twenty francs the second, nothing the third. My secretary has orders to that effect. That's one of the fads I don't believe in—charity! Just as if it were through want of money that the poor are poor! It's their disposition that has made them so, and that you'll never change. Look here, take this person who is sponging on you to-day; I'll bet twenty-five pounds that if you inquire about him you'll find that fortune, or at least a competency, has been in his grasp ten times during his life. If you were to set him up afresh he would be in the same plight in a few years from now. Not that I mind giving, and as much as people want—but as to believing that money so spent is of the least use, that's a different thing altogether. And then these benefactors and lady patronesses—I know them; it's all advertisement—a means of making their way into Society and of getting hold of good people.'

'That's enough,' said Suzanne, 'you are a terrible sceptic.' And with that delicate irony that women sometimes use in avenging themselves upon the man who compels them to lie, she added, 'You're not one to be easily duped.'

The Baron accepted this flattery with a smile. Had his suspicions been aroused, that phrase alone would have lulled them. The most cunning men have that weak point by which they can always be conquered—vanity. But suspicion of any kind had been far from the Baron's mind. Suzanne deceived him as easily as René had deceived his sister. Those who see us every day are the last to perceive what would be evident to the merest stranger. That is because the stranger comes to us without any preconceived idea, whilst our daily associates have formed an opinion about us which they do not take the trouble to verify or change. The Baron therefore did not remark that Suzanne was that afternoon a prey to intense agitation, which lasted during the whole of his visit. He stayed rather longer than usual, too, telling her all sorts of club stories, while she pottered about in the room, under some pretence or other, with one eye on her letter, seizing it once more with delight as soon as Desforges had at last decided to go.

'He is an excellent fellow,' she said, 'but such a bore!' A fortnight's passion had sufficed to bring her to this stage of ingratitude, and she now found compensation for the restraint of the past hour in going over each phrase and word of the poet's mad letter. This time it was an ardent prayer—an appeal to a woman's love. He no longer spoke of friendship. The air of melancholy she had assumed in the brougham had told.

'Since you love me,' he said, 'have pity on yourself, if you have no pity on me.' What would have appeared to Suzanne an intolerable piece of conceit in anyone else touched her deeply as a mark of absolute confidence in her love. She recognised it for what it really was—worship so devout that it did not harbour a shadow of doubt. It would have been so natural if René had accused her of having cruelly trifled with his feelings, but such an hypothesis was far from the poet's thoughts. 'Poor boy!' she said to herself, 'how he loves me!' Then, thinking of Desforges by way of comparison, she added, 'It is the best way to make sure of not being deceived!' She took the letter out once more. Its language was so touching, and it was full of such sincere grief; then, again, the cosy salon, just at that hour, reminded her so forcibly of the poet and of his first visit, and she asked herself whether she had not put him sufficiently to the proof. 'No,' she concluded, 'not yet.'

This burning letter could, indeed, have but one reply—to tell René to come and see her there, and it was in his own home that she wanted to see him, in the little room he had described to her. She would appear before him in a state of distraction, and under pretence of saving him from suicide. The third letter would undoubtedly furnish her with that pretence, and she decided to await its coming, already enjoying in anticipation the delight of seeing René once more. Amidst the whirl of excitement that her sudden and unexpected appearance would cause the poet there would be no room for reflection. All the hateful preliminaries of a false step, impossible to discuss with a man so inexperienced as he, would be dispensed with. It was true there was the presence of the rest of the family to consider. Suzanne would not have been the depraved woman she was, even in this crisis of true passion, if this detail had not given her plans the charm of doubly forbidden fruit.

She waited for that third letter with intense longing. The time slipped rapidly by. She dined out, went to the theatre, and paid calls, her mind entirely absorbed in that one thought. As luck would have it, Desforges, having no doubt been lectured by Doctor Noirot, had not asked for any appointments in the Rue du Mont-Thabor that week. She knew that this was merely a postponement. Even after becoming René's mistress she would still have to continue her relations with the man who supplied so many of her luxurious wants. This seemed to her as natural as the fact of being Paul's wife. 'What does that matter, since you know I love only you?' is what such a wife will say to her lover when he gets into one of those ridiculous fits of jealousy that so ill become a man in that position. And these women are never more sincere than in uttering that phrase. They know full well that love is totally different from duty, interest, or even pleasure. Though Suzanne saw nothing particularly shocking in the plural life she was leading, she was glad that the opportunity was afforded her of devoting herself entirely to her new passion for a day or two. In all this, however, she was still the courtesan, one of those creatures who, when they do fall in love, become real artists of sentiment, feeling as delicately on certain points as they are abominably wanton in others.

'What if he should really have taken it into his head to go away!' This was the thought that struck her when she at last received the much desired third letter, consisting of one long, heartrending farewell—without a word of reproach.

She trembled lest René might have had recourse to the proceeding counselled by Napoleon, who, with his imperial good sense, said, 'In love the only victory is flight.' In behaving as she had done she had staked all. Would she win? What she had foreseen had come to pass with a precision that both delighted and frightened her. The third letter bore the imprint of such deep despair that, on reading it a second time, this subtle actress, with all her experience, was seized by a fresh fear more terrible than the first—the fear that René might really have destroyed himself. In vain did she argue with herself that if the poet had had real intentions of going away he would have mentioned it in the letter, and that a handsome young man of twenty-five does not kill himself on account of the silence of a woman he believes to be in love with him—her anguish was none the less real and intense when she reached the Rue Coëtlogon a few hours after having received the letter.

It was two o'clock. She stopped for a moment at the corner of the street, gazing in wonderment at this provincial corner of Paris, whose picturesqueness had so charmed Claude Larcher on the evening our story opens. The grey clouds hung low in the wintry sky, and the bare branches of the trees stood out drearily against them. The cries of a few children playing at soldiers amongst the ruins at the back alone broke the silence. The strange appearance of the peaceful little street, the perils attending the step she was about to take, and the uncertainty of the result, all combined to bring Suzanne's excitement to its highest pitch, though she smiled as she thought to herself that there was no reason for believing René to be at home unless he were hopelessly waiting for a reply to his last letter. But when the concierge had told her that M. René was in, and had pointed out the door, her wits at once came back to her.

Like all strong-minded women, she possessed the characteristics of a man of action. A plain and circumscribed course of events inspired her with determination and courage to carry out her plans. She rang the bell. Heavy footsteps were heard approaching, and the face of Françoise appeared in the doorway. At any other time she would have smiled at the look of amazement which the simple maid did not even try to conceal. Colette Rigaud had once called upon the poet to get him to make some slight alteration in her part, and Françoise, recovering somewhat from her surprise, no doubt thought that this was a similar visit, for Suzanne could hear her say, as she opened the last door on the right: 'Monsieur René, there's a lady asking for you. . . . A very pretty woman—probably some actress.'

She saw the poet come out of his room and turn as pale as death on recognising her. She glided quietly, along the passage which Raffet's prints had turned into a small Napoleonic museum and entered René's room. He was obliged to get out of the way to let her pass; the door closed, and they were alone.

'You—you here!' cried René. He could only gaze at her as she stood before him looking so slim and elegant in the dark costume she had chosen for this visit, for he was in that state of speechless agitation caused by some unexpected event that suddenly raises us from the depths of despair to the height of bliss. At such moments we are assailed by a whirlwind of ideas and sensations that threatens to turn our brain. Our legs give way beneath us and our hands tremble. It is happiness, and it gives pain. René was obliged to support himself against the wall, his eyes still fixed upon that handsome face that he had despaired of ever seeing again. A small detail completed the madness of his joy. He noticed that Suzanne's hands trembled a little too, and, as it happened, her emotion was sincere.

To the passionate feelings that inspired her there was now added the fear of displeasing the man she was resolved to win. On entering this chamber, where she was sure no woman had ever been before her, her plan of action was as clearly traced as plans of that kind can be. Room must always be left for the unforeseen. Suzanne felt that with René there would be many difficulties which with others might have been lightly and safely glided over. His simplicity both charmed and frightened her. In him she could rely, it was true, upon the impulse of the passions—more daring than cool calculation—but to arouse unnoticed that impulse in the poet when she was herself suffering its tortures was no easy matter.

Whilst he stood gazing at her after the door had closed she felt a momentary hesitation; then, almost forgetting her plans and her part, she threw herself upon his neck and stammered out, 'I was in such terrible fear. Your letter frightened me so that I could not help coming. I have had an awful struggle, and could not hold out any longer. My God, my God! What will you think of me?'

He held her in his arms, and a thrill ran through her. Then he lifted her lovely head and commenced to kiss her, first on her eyes, those eyes whose sadness had so touched him as she passed him in her brougham—next on her cheeks, those cheeks whose ideal form had so charmed him from the first—finally on her sweet mouth, which gave his kisses back. What did he think of her? How could any idea shape itself in his mind, absorbed as it was by that union of the lips which is in itself complete and intoxicating possession? What delight, too, that embrace was to Suzanne! Through all the horrible complexities of her feminine diplomacy one sincere desire had grown stronger and stronger within her—that of meeting with a fresh and spontaneous, natural and thrilling passion. This passion she found in René's breath; it stirred the very depths of her soul and made her almost faint with emotion. Ah! this was youth, with its complete and absolute abandonment, expressing neither thought nor word; oblivious of all, except the immediate present; effacing all, except the fleeting sensation whose sweetness and whose very outlines seem to lie in a kiss.

This woman, corrupted by the influence of a Parisian cynic of fifty and degraded by that horrible venality which has not the excuse of necessity—this Machiavelian courtesan, who had regulated her passion for René like a game of chess—tasted for one second that divine joy. The punishment of those who let calculation enter into their love lies in the remembrance of their calculation in the moment of ecstasy. Though intoxicated by the mad kisses she had given and received, Suzanne clearly saw that she could not abandon herself at once to her lover's arms. She therefore broke away from him and said, 'Let me go now that I have seen you and now that I know you are alive. I beg you to let me go. O René!'—she had never called him by this name before—'don't come near me!'

'Suzanne,' replied the poet, maddened by the burning nectar he had found on those lips—the certainty of being loved—'don't be afraid of me. When shall we have another hour like this to ourselves? Let me beg of you to stop. See,' he added, receding still farther from her, 'I will obey you. I obeyed you even when I found it so very hard. Ah! you believe me now!' he exclaimed, seeing that Suzanne's face no longer expressed such intense fear. 'Will you be very nice?' he continued, in that playful tone which takes so well with women, and which will make any one of them, be she a lady of high degree or a simple girl, call a man a 'darling.' 'Sit down there in that arm-chair, where I have so often sat at work, and then be nicer still, and try to look as though you were not on a visit.'

He had again come closer and had forced her into the chair; then he took away her muff and began to unbutton her coat. She submitted to this with a sad smile, like one who yields against her will. This smile was the death agony of the Madonna, the last act in the comedy of the Ideal performed by Suzanne. He also took off her bonnet, a toque that matched her coat. He was now kneeling before her and gazing at her with that look of idolatry a woman is sure to provoke in her lover if she but give him one of those proofs of affection that flatter a man's vanity and love—the lower passions and the higher passions of the heart. The poet said to, himself: 'How she must love me to have come here, she whom I know to be so pure, so pious, and so devoted to her duty!'

All the lies she had so carefully told him came back to his mind like further proofs of her sincerity as he said: 'How delighted I am to have you here, and just now, too! Don't be afraid—we are quite alone. My sister has gone out for the whole afternoon, and the slave'—this was the name he gave Françoise, in order to amuse Suzanne—'the slave is busy in the kitchen. And I have you here! You see, this is my own little kingdom, this room—the place in which I have endured so much! There is not one of these corners, not one of these objects that could not tell you what I have suffered these past few days. My poor books'—and he pointed to his low bookcase—'were left unopened. These dear old engravings I scarcely looked at. The pen with which I had written to you I never touched. I sat just where you are sitting now counting the hours as they passed. God! what a week I have spent! But what does it all matter now that you are here and I can gaze at you? It is happiness to me to tell you even my troubles!'

She listened with half-closed eyes, giving herself up to the music of his words, and following out her plan in spite of the passions that welled up within her. Does the knowledge of danger as he faces his adversary drive from the mind of a skilful swordsman the lessons he learnt in the school? René's assurance that they were alone in the house had sent a thrill of joy through Suzanne, and the glance she had thrown round the little room, so neatly and carefully kept, had proved, to her delight and satisfaction, that she had not been mistaken concerning her lover's past. Everything here spoke of a studious and secluded life, the pure and noble life of an artist who surrounds himself with an atmosphere of beautiful dreams. Above all, the poet himself pleased her, with his love-lit eyes and the playful way in which he treated her, and she began to see that this exchange of confidences respecting their mutual sufferings would lead her to her goal without the least risk of diminishing her prestige in his eyes.

'And don't you think that I have suffered too?' she replied. 'Why should I deny it? You speak of your letters—God knows that I did not want to read them! I kept the first one in my pocket a whole day, having neither the courage to tear it open nor to burn it. To read your words was to hear you speak once more, and I had determined that it should not be! I had prayed to my guardian angel so long and so fervently for strength to forget you. How I struggled to do so!' Here the Madonna appeared for the last time. She lifted her eyes to heaven—or rather to the ceiling, from which hung two or three little Japanese dolls—and in her glorious orbs were reflected the wings of her guardian angel as he flew far, far away. . . .

Fixing her blue eyes once more on René, she sighed in that tone of abandonment that proves a conquered heart: 'I am lost now, but what of that? I love you so dearly that I do not care what happens—only I cannot bear to picture you in distress.'

Here she broke down, her bosom racked with convulsive sobs, and as the poet tenderly kissed her tears away her head once more fell upon his breast. She lay there for a few moments listening to the wild beating of his heart—then, like a tired child, she entwined her arms about his neck, and heaved a sigh of peace.



When Suzanne left the house in the Rue Coëtlogon her next meeting with René was already arranged. After taking a few steps down the little street she stopped and turned her head, although it would have been more prudent to walk straight on, as she always did in the Rue du Mont-Thabor. But so firm a hold had passion obtained upon this usually cold-blooded woman that she smiled and waved her hand at the poet as he stood watching her from the window of the room in which she had enjoyed such a triumph—for all her calculations had turned out perfectly correct. Getting into a cab at the corner of the Rue d'Assas, she drove to the Bon Marché, where she had ordered her carriage to meet her; on the way the details of the conversation she had had with René recurred to her, and, going over them again, she congratulated herself upon the manner in which she had acquitted herself. As soon as the first real step has been taken in an intrigue of this kind the discussion of further arrangements becomes as easy and as delightful as it was before hateful and difficult.

Suzanne had been the first to attack this delicate question. 'I want you to promise me something. If you do not wish me to reproach myself with this love as with a crime, promise me that you won't go out into Society at all. You are not accustomed to that kind of life, and you ought to be at work. You would fritter away your magnificent talents and genius in idle nonsense, and I should look upon myself as the cause. Promise me that you won't go and see anyone'—and in a whisper—'any of those women who flocked round you the other night.'

How tenderly René had kissed her for those words, in which the author could read a tribute of devotion paid to his future work and the lover a delicate expression of secret jealousy. He asked a little timidly, 'Mayn't I come even to your house?'

'To mine least of all,' she replied. 'I could not bear to see you touch my husband's hand now. You know what I mean,' she added, passing her fingers caressingly through his hair. He was sitting at her feet, while she was still in the arm-chair. She bent forward and hid her face on René's shoulder. 'Don't make me say any more,' she sighed; then, after a few minutes, 'What I should like to be to you is the friend who only enters into a man's life to bring him the sweet and noble gifts of joy and courage, the friend who loves and is beloved in secret, away from the mocking world that sneers at the purest feelings of the soul. I have committed a great sin as it is'—here she hid her face in her pretty hands—'do not let it grow into that series of base and sordid acts which fills me with such horror in others. Spare me this, René, if you love me as you say you do . . . But tell me, do you really love me so much?'

In delivering herself of this pretty batch of lies she had seen in the face of her simple and romantic victim the rapturous joy with which these beautiful sentiments inspired him. The Madonna resumed the halo which she had temporarily laid aside. Then, by a skilful combination of ruse and affection, by giving to cool calculation an appearance of tenderest susceptibility, she had led him to agree to the following convention as being the only one befitting the poetry of her love. He was to look out for a small suite of rooms somewhere not very far from the Rue Murillo; he would engage them in an assumed name, and they could meet there two, three, or four times a week. She had suggested Batignolles, but it was so cleverly done that he almost imagined he had hit upon it himself, as indeed upon the rest of her ideas. He was to start out the very next day, and then write to her, poste restante, in certain initials, at a certain office. All these unnecessary precautions gave René an idea of the state of slavery in which his poor angel lived—if such an existence could be called living! 'Poor angel' he had called her, as she gave utterance to a half-stifled complaint concerning her husband's despotism and compared herself to a hunted animal, 'how you must have suffered!' And she had lifted her eyes to the ceiling with such a well-feigned expression of grief that, years afterwards, the man for whose benefit all this was done still asked, 'Was she not sincere?'

There was, however, no need for so much theatrical display to make René joyfully accede to the plan proposed by the clever pupil of Desforges. Simply out of love for her he would have agreed with pleasure and alacrity to any kind of scheme she put forward. But the programme laid before him corresponded well with the romantic side of his nature. It enchanted the poet to dwell upon the idea of carrying such a delightful secret with him through life, whilst the phraseology in which Suzanne had posed as the patron saint of his work had flattered his vanity, dreaming as he did of reconciling art and love, of uniting indulgence of the baser passions with that independence and solitude his work required.

And now René, after so many days of torture, felt as though both his mind and his heart had wings. So great was his happiness that he did not even notice the look of pained surprise that his sister wore during the evening that followed Suzanne's visit. What had Françoise heard? What had she told Madame Fresneau? That the latter was deeply agitated was very evident. The profound ignorance of certain women who are both romantic and pure exposes them to these rude surprises. They interest themselves in love affairs because they are women, and assist in the establishment of relations which they believe to be as innocent as they are themselves. Then, when they see the brutal consequences to which these relations almost necessarily lead, their surprise is so great that but for its cruelty it would be comical.

According to the description given her by the servant, Emilie had no doubt as to the identity of the visitor, and the mere idea of what might have taken place there in her house filled the staid and pious matron with horror. Her mind involuntarily reverted to the bitter tears she had seen on Rosalie's pale cheeks, and as she thought, first of the poor girl, of whose sincerity she was convinced, and then of the unknown Society lady for whom in her simplicity she had taken sides, she said to herself, 'What if René should be mistaken in this woman?'

But she was a sister too—a sister indulgent to a fault, and, after a feeling of uneasiness which his evident distress had caused her during the past week, she had not the courage to trouble her brother with reproaches on seeing him look so happy. This mixture of conflicting sentiments prevented her from provoking any fresh confidences, and René was become too discreet to make them. It was impossible for him to speak of Suzanne now; what he felt for her could not be expressed in words. He had found suitable apartments almost immediately in a quiet street in the centre of the Batignolles quarter, just where Suzanne had wanted them; and almost immediately, too, chance had so willed it that he was free to devote himself to her entirely. A week had scarcely passed since Suzanne's appearance in the Rue Coëtlogon when Claude Larcher, the only one of the poet's friends whom he visited at all often, suddenly left Paris. He called on René, who had neglected him a little of late, about half-past six one evening, in travelling garb, his face pale and agitated. The family were just sitting down to dinner.

'I have only come to bid you good-bye,' said Claude without taking a seat; 'I am going by the nine o'clock Mont Cenis express, and I shall have to dine at the station.'

'Shall you be away long?' asked Emilie.

'Chi lo sa?' replied Claude, 'as they say in that beautiful land where I shall be to-morrow.'

'Lucky fellow!' cried Fresneau, 'to be able to go and read Virgil in his own country instead of teaching donkeys to translate him!'

'Very lucky, indeed!' said the writer with a forced laugh; but when he took leave of René at the gate, where his cab laden with luggage awaited him, he burst into sobs. 'It's that beast of a Colette!' he cried. 'You remember that day you saw her in my rooms? God! how sweet she looked! And do you remember what she said, as I thought, in a joke? I can't even repeat it. . . . Well, things have come to such a pass that life for me here is unbearable, and I must be off for a time. I had no money, so I was forced to go to a usurer who lent me some at sixty per cent. Terrible, isn't it? What with the usurer, my old aunt in the country, to whom I was bad enough to write, my publisher, and the editor of the "Revue parisienne"—who, by the way, has got me to sign a contract for copy—I have six thousand francs. As the train carries me along every turn of the wheel will seem to go over my heart, but at any rate I shall be getting away from her; and when she gets my letter, written from Milan, what a grand revenge it will be!' He rubbed his hands with joy, then, shaking his head, said, 'It has been like Heine's ballad of Count Olaf all along. You know how he talks of love to his betrothed while the headsman stands at the door—that headsman has always been at the door of Colette's chamber. But when he assumed the form of a Sappho I could bear it no longer. Good-bye, René, you will not see me back till I am cured.' Since then there had been no news from the unhappy fellow, of whom René generally thought when comparing the noble woman he idolised with the savage and dangerous actress. Claude's absence was the reason why René never put in an appearance now at the green-room of the Théâtre Français. Why should he expose himself to the rancour of Colette's tongue, which no doubt wagged loudly enough when on the subject of her fugitive lover? Thanks to this absence, too, all bonds between the poet and the world into which Larcher had introduced him were severed.

Under the influence of his growing passion for Suzanne, the author of the 'Sigisbée' had ignored the most elementary rules of etiquette. Not only had he neglected to call upon the different women who had so graciously invited him, but he had not even paid Madame Komof his duty visit. The Comtesse, who was large-minded enough to understand the unconventional ways of genius, and kind enough to forgive such irregularity, said to herself, 'He was probably bored here,' and, though not angry with him, had not asked him again. She was busy, too, for the moment in bringing out a Russian pianist who pretended that he was in direct communication with the soul of Chopin. René, feeling safe in that quarter, had heard with regret that Madame Offarel was greatly offended that neither he nor Emilie had come to the famous dinner whose ingredients it had taken her a week to collect from all parts of Paris. Fresneau had gone all alone.

'A fine expedition you sent me on!' he said to his wife on his return. 'When I mentioned your headache the old woman gave a grunt that almost knocked me down, and when I told her that René was gone to see a sick friend—a very queer excuse, by the way, but let that pass—she said, "In some palace, I suppose!" During dinner poor Claude was the only topic of conversation. She pulled him to pieces till he hadn't a rag on his back. "He is an egoist and an ill-mannered fellow, he is in bad health and has no future!"—and goodness knows what she didn't say! If it hadn't been for a game of piquet with Offarel—and even that the sly old fox won. Oh!—Passart was there too. Remind me about recommending him to the Abbé for the college. He's a nice young fellow. Between you and me, I think Rosalie rather likes him.'

Emilie could not help smiling at her husband's marvellous perspicacity. She had often heard Madame Offarel complain of the pressing attentions of the young drawing-master, and she immediately understood that he had been asked at the last minute to prove that, besides René, there were other suitors on hand. Thereupon the Offarels, who had never allowed four days to pass without coming in after dinner, had not set foot in the Rue Coëtlogon for a fortnight. When they at last decided to resume their visits, at their wonted hour, they were escorted by the aforementioned Passart, a tall, fair, gawky lad in spectacles, with a shy look on his freckled face. Emilie saw at once that their motive in bringing him was to arouse her brother's jealousy, and the old lady was not long in showing her hand.

'Monsieur Offarel is engaged this evening,' she said, 'so Monsieur Passart was kind enough to bring us. Give Monsieur Jacques that seat near you, Rosalie.'

Poor Rosalie had not seen René since receiving his cruel message through Emilie. In passing from the Rue Bagneux to the Rue Coëtlogon—in reality a short, but to her an interminable distance—she had suffered agonies, and her heart beat fast as she entered the room. She had, however, the courage to steal a glance at her old lover, as a kind of protest that she was not responsible for her mother's mean calculations, and the courage also to reply coldly, as she took a seat in a corner and placed a chair before her, 'I want this chair to put my wool on. I'm sure Monsieur Passart won't deprive me of it.'

'There's room here,' said Emilie, coming to the poor girl's aid, and giving the young man a seat next to herself. Rosalie firmly refused to play the rôle marked out for her, although she well knew what a terrible scene awaited her at home. And yet it would have been so natural if spite had inspired her with that petty mode of revenge. But women with truly delicate feeling, who know what real love is, are strangers to such mean spite. To inspire a fickle lover with jealousy would horrify them simply because it would mean flirting with another, and such a proceeding is beneath them. Such scrupulous loyalty in spite of all is a touching proof of love, and one which ensures a woman a place in a man's regrets for ever.

For ever! But as far as regards the present hour and the immediate result, these loyal hearts get left far behind, and the flirts win. When the years have fled, and the lover, grown old, shall institute comparisons, he will understand the unique position held by her who would not cause him pain—even to win him back. Meanwhile he runs after the jades who make him drink the bitter cup of that degrading but intoxicating passion, jealousy. It is only fair to René to say that, in sacrificing Rosalie for Suzanne, he believed that he was acting in the interests of true love. When, next morning, his sister praised the girl's noble behaviour, he was quite sincere too in his reply, smacking as it did, though, of naïve self-conceit.

'What a pity that such fine feeling should be wasted!'

'Yes,' repeated Emilie with a sigh, 'what a pity!'

Had René had a thought for aught else than his love, the tone in which his sister had uttered these words would no doubt have revealed to him the change that her opinions had undergone with regard to Madame Moraines. His love, however, entirely absorbed him. His days were now parcelled out into two kinds—those on which he was to meet Suzanne and those which he was to spend without seeing her. The latter, which were by far the more numerous, were passed in the following manner. A great part of the morning he spent in bed, dreaming, for he was already beginning to feel a diminution of vital energy. Then he bestowed much time upon his toilet, lavishing such attention on details as would convince a woman of experience that a young man was beloved. His toilet finished, he wrote to his Madonna. She had imposed upon him the sweet task of sending her an account of all his thoughts day by day. As for herself, he had not a line of her writing. She had said, 'I am so watched, and never alone!' And he pitied her as he devoted himself to compiling the detailed diary that she had demanded.

This pose of a sentimental Narcissus gazing incessantly upon himself and his love was well in keeping with that deep-rooted vanity which he possessed in common with nearly all writers. Suzanne had not sufficiently reflected upon the anomalous nature of a man of letters to have taken vanity into account. It pleased her to read René's words when he was not there simply as a burning reminder of the kisses they had exchanged. When the poet had paid his morning devotions to his divinity in this fashion it was time for lunch. Immediately after that he would go to the Bibliothèque in the Rue de Richelieu and work unremittingly at the notes for his 'Savonarola,' which he had again taken up, during the whole of the afternoon, and sometimes right on into the evening. He worked now without ever having, as in writing the 'Sigisbée,' those flashes of talent which pass from the brain to the pen, charging the memory with a flow of words and drawing the images with such precision and life-like resemblance that the effort of production becomes a strong but delightful intoxication that ends in a state of agreeable exhaustion.

To build up the scenes of the drama he was now writing, René had to keep his mind in a painful state of tension, and at a worse tension still to turn his prose sketches into verse. His brain no longer served him in making happy finds. For this there were several important and distinct reasons. The first—a physical one—was the waste of vital energy inseparable from all reciprocated passions; the second—a moral one—the constant hold that Suzanne had upon his mind and the inability to entirely forget her; the last—an intellectual and secret one, though most powerful—was the deadening influence which success exercises upon the greatest genius.

Whilst conceiving and writing he was beginning to think of the public. He saw before him the house on the first night, the critics in their stalls, the fashionable people scattered here and there, and, seated in a box, Madame Moraines. He already heard the shouts of applause, as demoralising for a dramatic author as the number of editions is for a novelist. The desire to produce a certain effect took the place of that disinterested, natural, and irresistible impulse which is a necessary condition in true art. Still too young to possess the skill with which literary veterans can write impassioned phrases in cold blood, and even well enough to deceive the best critics, René sought in himself that source of ideas which he no longer found. His play would not take shape in his mind in a natural and easy way. The goat-like features of the Florentine monk and the tragic figures of the terrible pontiff Alexander VI., the violent Michael Angelo, the sour Machiavelli, and the formidable Cæsar Borgia would not clothe themselves in flesh and blood before his eyes, in spite of the heaps of notes and documents he had collected and the pages erased again and again. Frequently he would lay down his pen and gaze up at the blue sky through the lace curtains of his window; he would listen to the noises in the house—the closing of a door, Constant playing, Françoise grumbling, Emilie passing quietly, Fresneau walking heavily—and then find himself counting how many hours he had still to wait before seeing Suzanne.

'How I love her! How I love her!' he would exclaim, increasing his passion by the fervour with which he uttered these words. Again, he would delight in conjuring up a vision of the room in which these meetings, awaited with such feverish impatience, took place. He had been more lucky in finding a suitable place than his inexperience had led Suzanne to expect, It was a small suite consisting of three rooms, rather prettily furnished by Malvina Raulet, a brunette of about thirty-five, whose sweet voice, demure looks, and general air of propriety had at once enchanted René. This lady, whose attire was almost severe in its simplicity, gave herself out as a widow. She lived ostensibly on a small income left her by the late M. Raulet, an imaginary individual whose profession she defined in a vague way by saying that 'he was in business.' As a matter of fact, the shrewd and cunning landlady had never been married. She was, for the moment, being 'protected' by a respectable physician—a well-known man and the father of a family—whom she had so thoroughly taken in by her fine manners that she managed to get five hundred francs a month out of him, regularly paid on the first, like the salary of a Civil Servant.

Being before all else a thrifty soul, she had conceived the idea of increasing her monthly income by letting out three of the rooms she did not want, and as there were two doors to her flat she was able to give this small suite a separate entrance. The almost elegant furniture it contained had come to her as a weird inheritance. For ten years she had been the mistress of a madman, whose family, desiring for some reason to keep this insanity secret, had paid her well. Upon her unhappy lover's death, Malvina had, according to promise, received twenty thousand francs and the contents of the house in which she had played such a strange part. This woman's dark and hideous past René was never to know. In that gay city, where clandestine attachments abound, how many of the thoughtless youths who hire such places know aught of the history of those who pander to their wants? Nor could the poet think for one moment that this woman with the irreproachable manners had seen right through his demands at the first glance. He had told her that he lived in Versailles, and that he was obliged to come to Paris two or three times a week. The name he gave her was that of his favourite hero—the paradoxical d'Albert in 'Mademoiselle de Maupin;' but as he wrote it at the bottom of the agreement which the careful Madame Raulet got him to sign, he placed his hat on the table, and there the crafty landlady could plainly read the real initials of her new lodger.

'If you would like my servant to undertake the cleaning of the rooms,' she said, 'it will be fifty francs a month extra.'

This exorbitant demand was made in such a cool tone, and Madame Raulet, moreover, looked so thoroughly respectable, that René dared not discuss the amount. He could, however, not help eyeing her somewhat distrustfully. Her appearance, it was true, disarmed all suspicion. She wore a dark dress, well but simply made. Round her neck hung one of those long gold chains so much worn at one time by the French bourgeoisie—a chain which had no doubt once belonged to her sainted mother. She wore her watch in her belt; a brooch containing a lock of white hair—that of a beloved father, most probably—fastened her neat lace collar, and through the meshes of the silk mittens that covered her long hands might be seen her wedding ring.

As René was leaving, this virtuous creature remarked, 'The house is a very quiet one, sir. You are a young man,' she added with a smile, 'and you will not be offended if I make so bold as to say that the least noise on the stairs at night, or anything like that, would be sufficient reason for my asking you to leave.'

René felt himself blush as she spoke. In his excessive simplicity he feared lest the worthy widow might give him notice after his first meeting there with Suzanne. This ridiculous fear impelled him to visit his landlady immediately Madame Moraines had gone under pretence of speaking to her about some trifling matter he wanted done. She received him with the polite air of a woman who knows nothing, understands nothing, and has seen nothing, although she had been watching Suzanne's departure from her window, and had, with the practised eye of a Parisian, taken that lady's measure at a glance. Malvina now saw through it all—her lodger's visitor was a woman in the first ranks of Society, but he himself, although well dressed, showed by the cut of his beard, his hair, his walk and his whole appearance that he belonged to a lower station in life. The landlady thought that most probably the rent would be paid by the mistress, and not by the lover, and she regretted not having asked more than five hundred francs a month besides the fifty for attendance. The whole of the flat cost her fourteen hundred francs a year, and she paid her maid-of-all-work forty-five francs! No matter, she would make up for it in the extras—in the firing, the washing, and especially in the meals, if ever the young man asked her to provide lunch, as she had offered to do.

'She is an excellent woman, and very attentive,' said René, when Suzanne questioned him about Madame Raulet. Was the poet wrong in being so trustful? Of what use would it have been to indulge, as Claude would have done, in a pessimistic analysis of this woman's character, except to conjure up thoughts of blackmail and other dangers, all entirely imaginary, as it happened? For although Malvina was far from being a saint, she was at the same time a bourgeoise who had a sincere hankering after respectability, and who proposed, as soon as she had made her little pile, to return to her native town of Tournon, and lead a life of absolute purity. The fear of seeing her name figure in the report of some evil-smelling case was sufficient to deter her from practising any pronounced form of imposition. So far did her love of respectability carry her that she wove a complicated web of falsehoods to the concierge about her new lodger. She made out that Suzanne and René were a happy couple who lived in the country all the year round, and that they were distantly related to the late M. Raulet. Then, in order that he should have nothing whatever to do with the said concierge, she herself handed René two keys even before he had asked for them.

What cared the poet for the real cause of her attentiveness? The young have sense enough not to go into facts which lend themselves to the gratification of their desires. This system sometimes leads them along perilous paths, but they cull many a flower by the wayside and enjoy its fragrance, nevertheless. When the poet walked across half Paris to reach his little suite in the Rue des Dames there was a music in his heart that shut out all dissonant voices of suspicion. His meetings with Suzanne were generally in the morning. René had never asked himself why that time of the day was most convenient to his beloved. As a matter of fact it was the hour when she was most certain of escaping the watchfulness of Desforges. In the forenoon the hygienic Baron devoted himself to what was dearest to him on earth—his health. First he had a bout of fencing, which he called his 'dose of exercise'; then he galloped through the Bois, which was his 'air cure'; lastly he 'burnt his acid,' a formula he owed to Doctor Noirot.

The double Madonna, who had studied her man thoroughly, knew that he was as much a slave to these rules of health as Paul was to those of his office. She therefore felt a secret pleasure in thinking of her husband seated at his desk, of her 'excellent friend' bestriding an English mare, and of her René entering a florist's to buy some flowers wherewith to adorn the chapel of their love. Roses were his usual choice, roses red as his darling's lips, roses fair as her blushing cheeks, fresh and living blooms that filled the air with their sweet and penetrating perfume. As she was borne towards the harbour of their love she knew that René would be standing at the window listening to the rattle of the cabs as they passed. How delighted he would be when hers stopped before the house! She would ascend the stairs, and there he would be waiting for her, having softly opened the door so as not to lose one second of her sweet presence. Then he would hold her in his arms devouring her with silent kisses that pierced the black lace veil as they sought her fresh and mobile lips.

Suzanne's great triumph consisted in her ability to preserve her innocent Madonna-like expression amidst all the madness of their love; and, by a singular dispensation of nature, too, this strange creature was entirely devoid of all sense of remorse. She belonged, no doubt by heredity, being the daughter of a statesman, to the great race of active beings whose dominant trait is a faculty for distributing their energies. These beings have the power to make the most of the present without allowing themselves to be troubled either by the past or the future. In modern slang we find a pretty phrase to express this power of temporary oblivion—it is called 'cutting the cord.' Suzanne had parcelled out her life into three parts—one belonging to Paul, one to Desforges, and one to René. During the time she devoted to each there was such absolute suspension of the rest of her existence that she would have had some difficulty in realising the extent of her duplicity had she cared to probe her conscience—a proceeding she never dreamt of whilst the opium of pleasure coursed through her brain. She generally remained with René till about twelve o'clock, and when she was gone Madame Raulet would send up his lunch; and he would stay in the rooms for the rest of the day, ostensibly to work, for he had some of his papers there, but really to gloat over the reminiscences that floated in the very air he breathed. When night was beginning to fall he would wend his way homewards, under the twinkling gas lamps that illumined his route, possessed by a divine languor that seemed to combine and blend into one harmonious whole all the delights of the day.



This delightful existence had been going on for about two months with nothing to break its sweet monotony but the pain of parting and the joy of meeting when, one morning, just as René was about to proceed to the Rue des Dames, Françoise handed him a letter that made him start, for on it he recognised Claude Larcher's handwriting. By calling at Larcher's rooms René had learnt from Ferdinand that the writer had stopped at Florence and then at Pisa. He had even sent him a letter to each of these towns addressed poste restante, but had received no reply. He saw by the postmark that Claude was now in Venice, and with feelings of intense curiosity he tore open the envelope, reading the contents as he strolled down to the river through the quiet suburban streets on this fair spring morn that was as fresh and bright as his own love.

'Venice, Palais Dario: April, 1879.

'My DEAR RENÉ,—I am writing you these lines from your Venice—from that Venice whence you evoked the cruel features of your Cœlia and the sweet face of your Beatrice; and as this fairy-like city is, as it always was, the land of improbabilities, the city of the Undines, which on these Eastern shores are called sirens, I have, like Byron, discovered a small furnished suite in a most delightful little palace on the Grand Canal, a palazzino with marble medallions on its façade, all ornamented, carved, and engraved, and leaning as badly as I do on my bad days. As I scribble this letter I have the blue waters of the Canal Grande under my window and around me the peace of this great city—the Cora Pearl of the Adriatic, a wretched play-writer would say—like the silence of a dream. My dear fellow, why have I brought my battered old heart here of all places—here, where I feel it beat louder and stronger in the sweet stillness? I must tell you that it is two o'clock, that I have just breakfasted at Florian's under the arcades after having been to San Giorgio in Bragora to look at a divine Cima, that I am to dine to-night with two ladies directly descended from the Doges—fair as the creations of Veronese—and some Russians as amusing as our friend Beyle's Korazoff, and that, instead of feeling elated, I have come home to look at Her Portrait—with a capital H and a capital P—the portrait of Colette! René, René, why am I not seated in my stall at the Théâtre Français, gazing at her as Camille in "On ne badine pas avec l'amour"—a divine play, as bitter as "Adolphe," yet as sweet as the music of Mozart? Do you remember her smile as she holds her pretty head on one side and says, "Are you sure that a woman lies with all her soul when her tongue lies?" Do you remember Perdican and these words: "Pride, thou most fatal of human counsellors, why art thou come between this maid and me?" All my story—all our story lies in those few words. Only it happens that I am the real Perdican of the play, having in my soul that source of idealism and love, ever flowing in spite of experience, ever pure in spite of so many sins! And she, my Camille, has been stained by so much shame that nought can wash her clean! Alas! how sadly the world treated my flower—when I wished to inhale its fragrance I found instead a smell as of the grave.

'Come, come, it was not to write you such stuff that I sat down before my balcony, through the carving of which I can see the gondolas pass. They glide and slant and turn about, looking so pretty with their slim, funereal shapes. If each of these floating biers carried away one of my dead dreams, what an interminable procession there would be on the dreary waters! Would that I were an etcher! I know what Dance of Death I would engrave—a flight of these black barques in the twilight, with white skeletons as gondoliers at the prow and poop, and a row of ruined palaces for a background. Under it I should write: "Such is my heart!" After a youth more down-trodden than the grapes in the wine-tubs, and when I had just emerged from the miserable drudgery of my profession, it was this horrible slavery of love that stared me in the face—this love with its basis of hatred and contempt! Why, just Heaven!—why? Who could have guessed on that July evening when this madness began that I was entering upon one of the most solemn periods of my life? I had been dining alone after a hard day's work, and, in order to get a little fresh air and pass the time until ten o'clock, I was just strolling wherever my fancy took me, gazing idly at the passers-by. What invisible demon led my steps to the Comédie Française? Why did I go up into the green-room, where I had not been for months, to shake hands with old Farguet, about whom I did not care a rap? Why had I such a ready flow of wit and such brilliant repartee at my command at that very moment—I who, at fashionable dinners, had frequently found myself as dumb as the carp à la Chambord on the dish? Why was Colette there in that adorable costume that belongs to the old répertoire? She was playing Rosine in the "Barber of Seville," and I went to the front to hear her sing the air, "When Love brings us spring again." Why did she look at me as she sang it, and show such real emotion that I dared scarcely believe it was meant for me? Why had she those lips, those eyes, that face on which might be read the sufferings of a conquered Psyche, a prey to love? How passionately we loved each other from that very first evening! And it was only the second time we had met. Can you understand how I was mad enough to expect fidelity from a girl who had thrown herself at me in that fashion? As soon as I got back behind the scenes she invited me into her dressing-room, and before we had been there a quarter of an hour her lips were pressed to mine in most painful ecstasy. Fool that I was! I ought to have taken her for what she was—a charming courtesan—and remembered that women are just the same to others as they are to us. Instead of which—

'Let us leave this road, my dear René, for I perceive a finger-post on which is written "To despair," like the posts in that forest of Fontainebleau where I took her one summer morning in a dog-cart drawn by a black horse named Cerberus. I can see the horse now, with a fox-tail hanging down over his forehead, and my Colette beside me, looking pale, but so beautiful. When was she not beautiful to me? But let us leave, I say, this fatal road, and come to the present, of which I owe you an account, since you have been good enough to write me several such nice letters. When I left you in the Rue Coëtlogon and hied me off to Italy—it sounds like a song!—I wanted to see whether I could do without her. Well, the experiment has been made—and has failed. I cannot. I have argued with myself, and I have struggled long and hard. Since my departure I have got up not ten—but twenty, thirty times, and sworn not to think of her during the whole of that day. It's all right for a quarter of an hour, for half an hour even. But at the end of that time I see her again. I see her eyes and her mouth, I see those gestures I have seen in none other—the pretty way she had, for instance, of laying her head on my shoulder when I held her in my arms, and then, wherever I may be, I am obliged to stop and lean against a wall, so sharp is the pain that pierces my heart. Would you believe that I had to leave Florence because I spent my time in the "Uffizi" before Botticelli's "Madonna Incoronata," a photo of which you have seen in my rooms? I have sometimes taken a cab from the other end of the town in order to reach the gallery before closing time, so that I might gaze upon the canvas once more. The angel on the right, the one that lifts the curtain, is the very image of her, and wears that look which has so often made me pity Colette and bewail her misfortune when I ought to have killed her.

'So I left Florence and came to Pisa, the dead city whose sweet silence had enchanted me in days gone by. I had taken an immense fancy to the square in which stand the Dome, the Baptistery, and the Belfry, with a cemetery wall and the remains of a battlemented rampart to enclose it. Then there was the shore of the Gombo two hours distant—a sandy desert among the pines—and the yellow Arno flowing sluggishly by! My room looked out upon the dreary river, but it was full of sunshine, warm and clear, and I had come there filled with a glorious plan. An old maxim of Goethe had come into my mind, "Poetry is deliverance!" "I will try it," I said to myself, and I swore not to leave Pisa before I had turned my grief into literature. Perhaps, in making bubbles out of the tears I had already shed, I might forget to shed fresh ones. These bubbles grew into a story which I called Analysis. You have no doubt read it in the Revue parisienne. Don't you think it as good as anything I have done? As you see, it is the whole story of my sad love; every detail is absolutely correct, from the episode of the letter to my jealousy of the Sapphos. What do you think of Colette—isn't she well drawn? And of me? Alas! my dear fellow, would that I had obtained peace of mind by besmirching the image of her I have so loved, by dragging in the dirt the idol once adorned with freshest roses, by dishonouring the dear past with all the strength at my command! Hear the result of this noble effort—I had no sooner posted the manuscript of this story than I went home and wrote to Colette asking her to forgive me. An excellent joke, this maxim of Goethe—a sublime Philistine and a Jupiter, as they used to style him! I have plunged a pen into my wound to use my blood for ink, and I have only poisoned myself afresh. If I am to be cured at all, time is the only thing that will cure me. But, after all, why be cured?

'Yes, why? I have been proud—I am proud no longer. I have struggled against the passion that abased me—I will struggle no more. If I had the cancer in my cheek, should I be ashamed of it? Well, I have a cancer in my soul, and make no attempt to check its growth. Listen to the end of my story. Colette did not answer my letter. Could I expect her to be kind to me after my behaviour? I had already begun to humble myself by writing to her. I went on doing so. Then I commenced to feel such delight as I had never felt before—that of degrading myself before her, of letting her trample upon my manly dignity. I wrote to her a second, a third, a fourth time.

'My novel appeared, and I wrote to her again—letters in which I delighted in humbling myself, letters that she might show about and say: "He has left me, he insults me, and yet see how he loves me!" Should not those very insults have proved to her how much I loved her? You don't know her, René; you don't know how proud she is, in spite of all her faults. What pain that wretched novel must have caused her I scarcely dare to think, and that, too, is why I dare not come back. In my present state of mind I could not possibly face a scene such as we used to have, and to live longer without her is equally beyond me. I have therefore decided, my dear René, to ask you to go and speak to her. I know that she has always liked you, and that she is really grateful to you for the pretty rôle you wrote her. I know that she will believe you when you say to her, "Claude can stand it no longer—have pity on him." Tell her, too, René, that she need have no fear of my horrible temper. The rebellious Larcher she could not bear exists no longer. To be near her, to live in her shadow, to have her near me, I will tolerate all, all—you understand. Our last months together were not all honey, it is true, but what a paradise they were compared with this Inferno of absence! And we had our happy hours, too—those afternoons we spent together in her rooms in the Rue de Rivoli, overlooking the gardens of the Tuileries. The bustle of the great city went on around us as I held my darling pressed to my heart. See how my hand trembles only to think of it! If I have ever done you a service in the past, as you say I have, be my friend now and call on her, show her this letter, speak to her, appeal to her heart. Ask her to say that she forgives me and that I may come back to her. Good-bye. I await your reply in agony, and you know what torture that machine is capable of suffering which calls itself your old friend.

'C. L.

'P.S.—Go to the Revue office and ask for five copies of my story; I can get rid of them here.'

'How like him!' said René, after having read this strange epistle, which was nothing but a bundle of the different elements that made up Claude's composite personality. Childish sincerity wedded to a taste for dramatic display; a love of posing even when suffering bitter anguish; most susceptible professional vanity and an absolute lack of all pretensions; profound self-knowledge and total inability to govern himself—all this was there. 'I shall go to the theatre to-night if Colette is playing,' said René to himself. He bought a paper and saw her name in the list for that evening. 'But,' he thought, 'how will she receive me?'

He was so interested in what would happen and so moved by his dear friend's grief that he could not help telling Suzanne all about it as soon as he reached the trysting-place. He even gave her the letter to read, and as she handed it back to him she said: 'Poor fellow!' adding, in an indifferent tone, 'Haven't you really ever mentioned me when talking together?'

'Yes, once, quite casually,' replied René, with some hesitation. Since he had become Suzanne's lover he had never forgiven himself for the question he had put to Claude about her—the unfortunate question which had drawn down upon him the sarcasm of his friend.

Suzanne mistook the cause of his hesitation and returned to the charge. 'I am sure that he said something nasty about me?'

'Indeed, he didn't,' replied René, in a tone of assurance. He was too well acquainted with the play of Suzanne's face not to have remarked the look of anxiety in her eyes as she put her second question, and he, in his turn, now asked: 'How you distrust him! Why?'

'Why?' she repeated with a smile; 'because I love you so dearly, René, and men are so bad.' Then, wishing to entirely destroy the effect that her excessive distrust might have produced in the poet, she added, 'You must go and see Mademoiselle Rigaud.'

'Certainly I must,' said René; 'I intend going to-night And you?' he asked, as he often did, 'how are you going to spend your evening?'

'I am going to the theatre, too,' she replied; 'but not behind the scenes. My husband wants to take me to the Gymnase. Why do you put me in mind of it? I shall be quite miserable enough when I'm there all alone with him. . . Come, give me a nice kiss.'

That voice, sweet as the sweetest music, was still in the poet's ears, and his soul was still troubled by those kisses, more intoxicating than strong drink, when about nine that night he entered the stage door of the Théâtre Français in order to reach the celebrated green-room. He cast a glance round the doorkeeper's lodge, remembering that the room had been one of the stations in Claude's Calvary. Frequently, when entering the theatre together, Larcher would say to his friend as he pointed to the pigeon-hole that contained Colette's letters: 'If I stole them I should perhaps know the truth.'

'How happy I am,' thought René, 'not to know that terrible malady called suspicion!' And he smiled as he ascended the staircase, whose walls are covered with the portraits of actors and actresses of a bygone age. There, fixed on the canvas, are the grinning faces of past Scapins—there the Célimènes, who lived and loved long years ago, still smile down upon us. These reminders of mirth for ever vanished, of passions for ever stilled, of once happy generations for ever gone, have something strangely sad about them for the dreamers who feel their life, like all life, slipping away, and who realise the brevity of human joys.

Often had René experienced this feeling of vague sadness; it came over him again now, in spite of himself, and made him hasten to the green-room, expecting to find a good many acquaintances there with whom he might exchange a few words of greeting. But he found the place entirely given up to two actors in Louis XIV. costumes, their heads adorned with enormous wigs, their legs incased in red stockings, and their feet cramped in high-heeled shoes. They were engaged in a political argument, and took no notice of the poet, who heard one of them, a long, thin, bilious-looking creature, say to the other, a round, red-faced individual, 'All the misfortunes of our country arise from the fact that people do not take sufficient interest in politics.'

'What a pity Larcher isn't here!' thought René as he caught these words; he knew what pleasure they would have given his friend, the exclamation that would have escaped him—'This is grand!'—and how he would have clapped his hands with delight. Everything in this part of the theatre reminded him of Claude, who had so often accompanied him there. They had sat together in the little green-room, now empty. Together they had descended the few steps that lead behind the scenes, and, slipping in between the properties, had mingled with the actors and actresses standing in the narrow passage waiting for their calls.

Colette was not there, and René determined to go up the steep staircase and along the interminable corridors lined with private dressing-rooms. He at length reached the door that bore the name of Mademoiselle Rigaud; he knocked, feebly at first, but conversation was probably going on inside, and he was not heard. He had to knock louder. 'Come in!' cried a shrill voice, which he recognised; it was the same that could make itself so sweet to recite:

If kisses for kisses the roses could pay . . .

On opening the door the visitor entered a tiny ante-room, which communicated with a tiny dressing-room. René lifted the gilt-embroidered curtain of black satin that divided the two miniature apartments, and found himself in an atmosphere overheated by the lamps and the presence of six people; five of these were men, two in evening dress being evidently 'swells,' and the other three friends of the actress of a slightly inferior order. One of the two black-coated gentlemen was Salvaney, but he did not recognise René. He and his friend were the only two who were seated. The ottoman on which they sat had been recovered with an old Chinese dress of pink satin; it was Claude who had given Colette that dress, and who, in the heyday of their love, had presided over the arrangement of the whole dressing-room. He had ransacked Paris to collect the panels set in bamboo frames which adorned the walls. Three of these panels bore figures of Chinese women painted on pale silk. The widest, which, like the heavy curtain, was of black satin, represented a flight of white birds amidst peach blossoms and lilies of the valley. Bright-coloured fans and bunches of peacock's feathers distributed here and there, and a great gilt dragon with enamelled eyes suspended from the ceiling, helped to give this pretty little cabin an air of charming originality.

Colette, with her hair all undone and her bare arms emerging from the wide sleeves of a loose bright blue dressing-gown, was 'making up' under the gaze of the five men. Before her, on the dressing-table, stood a whole row of pots filled with different salves. There were other pots, containing white, yellow, and pink powder, and a few saucers filled with long 'tragedy' pins, while hare's feet covered with paint, enormous powder puffs, black pencils, and small sponges lay scattered all about. The actress could see who entered by looking in the large glass before her. Recognising the author of the 'Sigisbée,' she half turned and showed him her hands covered with vaseline as an apology for not offering him one, and by the look she gave him René understood how prudent Claude had been in not coming back without some previous understanding.

'Good evening!' she cried. 'Why, I thought you were dead, but I see by your face that you've only had an excess of happiness. I'm playing you to-morrow, you know. Sit down, if you can find room.' And before René had time to reply she turned to Salvaney, saying: 'Well, I will if you like. Come for me to-morrow at twelve. Aline will be there, and we'll go and have lunch together first.'

Having uttered these words, she darted another look at René. The lines of her mouth deepened, and her charming face suddenly assumed an expression of intense cruelty. The words had really been hurled in defiance at Claude through his most intimate friend. This friend would certainly repeat them to the jealous lover. It was just as if she had shouted through space to the man whom she could not forget in spite of his flight and his insults: 'You are not here, and so I do exactly what will cause you most pain.'

She then exchanged a few words with the other visitors, recommending some poor fellow in whom she was interested to one, importuning another for the insertion of a complimentary notice in some paper, returning to Salvaney to ask him for a tip for the next races, until at last, having wiped her hands, she rose and said, 'And now, my dear fellows, it is very kind of you to stay, but'—pointing to the door—'I am going to dress, so you must go. No, not you,' she went on, speaking to René, and not minding the others, 'I want to talk to you for a minute.' As soon as they were alone, and she was again seated before the glass pencilling her eyebrows, she asked, 'Have you read Claude's infamous work?'

'No,' replied René, 'but I have received a letter from him; he is terribly unhappy.'

'Oh! haven't you read it?' cried Colette, interrupting him. 'Well, read it! You will see what a cad your friend is!' Crossing her arms, she turned to face the poet, the angry glitter in her eyes intensified by their painted rings and by the artificial pallor of her cheeks. 'Tell me, is it right for a man to insult a woman? What have I done to this gentleman? I refused to slavishly obey his whims, to cut off all my friends, and lead the life of a dog! Did he imagine that I was his wife? Did he keep me? Did I ask him for an account of what he did? And even if I had been in the wrong, was that why he must go and tell the public all the lies he can invent about me? He's a cad, I tell you—a low cad! You can write and tell him so from me, and tell him that I shall spit in his face when I see him! Your fine gentleman treated me like a drab, did he? Well, he shall find out how the drab takes her revenge! Not yet, Mélanie,' she said, as the dresser came in, 'I'll call you in a quarter of an hour.'

'But if he did not love you,' replied René, taking advantage of this interruption, 'he would not carry on in this fashion. He is maddened by grief.'

'Oh! don't come to me with such rubbish,' cried Colette, shrugging her shoulders and again setting to work on her eyebrows; 'do you think that creature has got a heart? And he's no friend of yours, my dear fellow. If you had heard him making fun of your love affairs you would know what to think of him.'

'Of my love affairs?' repeated René, in blank astonishment.

'Come, come,' said the actress, with a nasty laugh, 'it's no use trying to bluff me; but when you want a confidant, choose a better one than your friend Monsieur Larcher?'

'I don't understand you,' replied the poet, his heart beating fast; 'I have never made a confidant of him.'

'Then he must have invented the story of your being in love with Madame Moraines, that pretty, fair woman, the mistress of old Desforges. Well, that beats all!' exclaimed the cruel actress, with the bitter and ironical laugh of a creature whose pride has been deeply wounded. The unhappy Claude, who in his tender moments forgot what he thought of Colette in his lucid ones, had simply said to her on the morrow of René's visit, 'Poor Vincy is in love.' 'With whom?' she had asked. And he had told her.

Colette was well acquainted with the rumours that were afloat concerning Suzanne and the Baron, thanks to the habit most fast men have of retailing Society scandal, be it true or not, to the demi-mondaines whom they frequent. In alluding to René's love affair with Madame Moraines, the actress, beside herself with passion, had spoken almost at random, in order to lower Larcher in his friend's esteem. Seeing the effect that her words had produced on the latter, she continued the theme. To torture the man she had before her, and in whose features she could read the suffering she caused, was to satisfy to a certain extent her thirst for revenge against the other, knowing, as she did, how dear the poet was to Claude.

'Claude did not tell you that,' cried René, excitedly, 'and if he were here he would forbid you to slander a woman whom he knows to be worthy of your respect.'

'Of my respect!' repeated Colette, with a shrill, nervous laugh. 'What do you take me for, my dear fellow? Of my respect! Because she has a husband to hide her shame and help her spend the old man's money? Of my respect! Because she wants a higher wage than the girl in the street who hasn't the price of a dinner? Do you believe in them, these Society women? And look here,' she cried, rising in her fury and betraying her low extraction by the way in which she jerked her head and blinked her eyes, 'if you don't like me telling you that she is your mistress and the Baron's too, go and fight it out with Claude. It'll furnish my fine gentleman with copy. Are you beginning to have the same opinion about him as I have? Between you and me, my boy—just you keep your eyes open. Worthy of my respect! Ha! ha! ha! No—that's a bit too thick. Well, good-bye. This time I am going to dress in earnest. Mélanie!' she cried, opening the door, 'Mélanie! Give Claude my compliments,' she added, as a parting shot, 'and tell him that trifling with Colette is as dangerous as trifling with love.'

With this allusion to the play so enthusiastically mentioned by Claude in his letter, she pushed René out of her room, and as she closed the door broke out once more into silvery but cruel, mocking laughter—laughter that was a strange mixture of affectation and hatred, of a courtesan's nonchalance and the vengeance of a slighted mistress.



'What a wicked woman! What a wicked woman!' muttered René as he went down the staircase, now re-echoing with the shouts of the call-boy. He trembled with agitation and asked himself, 'What harm have I ever done her?' forgetting that for a quarter of an hour he had represented Claude in Colette's eyes. Perhaps the joy felt by the actress in wounding him to the quick might have had its rise in the malice often occasioned by a man's unwillingness to pay his friend's mistress attentions. The loyalty of one man to another ranks amongst the sentiments most odious to women.

'What have I done to her?' repeated the poet, unable to find an answer to his question, unable even to collect his thoughts. There are phrases which, flung at us unexpectedly, will stun us as surely as any blow physically dealt. They bring about a sudden cessation of all consciousness—a cessation even of pain. René was not quite himself again until he stood in the Place du Palais Royal amid its throng of traffic. The first feeling that animated him was a fit of furious rage against Claude. 'The perfidious wretch!' he cried; 'how could he trust my secret to a creature like that? And such a secret, too! What did he know about it?' A slight blush and a moment's hesitation in uttering her name. 'He thinks that is sufficient evidence upon which to slander a woman he hardly knows, and in the ears, too, of a hussy whose infamy he proclaims from the housetops!'

He recalled to mind every detail of the only conversation in which Larcher might have discovered his nascent feelings for Suzanne. He saw himself once more in Claude's rooms in the Rue de Varenne, with the manuscripts and proofs strewn about, and the writer's face looking livid in the greenish light of the stained-glass windows. He saw the sceptical smile flit across that face whilst the sarcastic lips uttered the words: 'So you are not in love with her!' Borne on the same wave of memory came other visions connected with the last. He heard Suzanne's voice saying on the occasion of his third visit: 'Your friend M. Larcher—I am sure he doesn't like me.' Had she not expressed her distrust of him only that morning? Her suspicions had, indeed, been only too well justified. And then if he had only contented himself with coupling her name with his, René's. But he had even dared to make this other vile accusation—that she was kept by Desforges! Not that René harboured the least shadow of a suspicion against his divine mistress—it was not that which maddened him—but the knowledge that Colette had not lied in claiming to have heard this infamous thing from Larcher. If Larcher repeated it, he must have got it from some one else. And if Suzanne had insisted, as she had twice done, upon being told how Claude spoke of her, it was because she knew she was exposed to the insult of this abominable calumny.

René remembered the old beau whom he had once met at her house, with his military bearing, his red, bloated face, and his grey hair. And then he saw her as she had looked only that morning, so fair, so white, so dainty—with her pale blue eyes and that peculiar air of refinement that lent an almost ideal charm to her most passionate embraces. Was it possible that such vile calumnies could have been spread concerning this woman! 'People are too horribly wicked!' exclaimed René aloud. 'And as for Claude——' His affection for him had been so sincere, and it was this man, his dearest friend, who had spoken of Suzanne in such a shameless manner, like a blackguard and a traitor. What a contrast with the poor angel thus insulted, who, knowing it, had taken no further revenge than to say, 'I have forgiven him!' On every other occasion when she had spoken of Claude it had been to admire him for his talents and to pity him for his faults. Another phrase of Suzanne's suddenly struck him. 'That is no reason why he should revenge himself by forcing his attentions upon any woman chance throws in his way. I got quite angry one day when he was seated next to me at table.' 'That is the reason!' said the poet to himself with returning anger; 'he has paid her attentions which she has repelled, and so he slanders her. It is too disgusting!'

A prey to these painful reflections, René had walked as far as the Place de l'Opéra, and, mechanically turning to the right, had ascended the boulevard without really noticing where he was. Hatred and rancour were so repugnant to his soul that these feelings were soon supplanted by the love he bore the beautiful woman so basely reviled by the vindictive actress. What was she doing at that moment? She was yonder, in a box at the Gymnase, obliged to sit out some play with her husband, and, no doubt, sadly dreaming of their love and their last kisses. No sooner had he conjured up her adorable image than he was seized with an instinctive and irresistible longing to see her in the flesh. He hailed a passing cab and gave the driver the name of the theatre. How often had he been similarly tempted to go to some place of amusement when he knew Suzanne would be there! But having given his mistress a promise that he would not do so, he had always scrupulously repelled the temptation. Besides, he took a curious pleasure in dwelling upon the absolute distinction between the two Suzannes—between the woman of fashion and his simple love—above all, he feared to meet Paul Moraines. He had read Ernest Feydeau's 'Fanny,' and was more afraid of the terrible jealousy described in that fine work than of death itself. To an analytical writer, like Claude, this would have been an excellent reason for seeking an encounter with the husband, so as to have a new kind of wound to examine under the microscope. The poets who have not turned their art into a trade nor their hearts into a raree-show are possessed of an instinct which makes them avoid such degrading experiments; they respect the beauty of their own feelings.

Whilst the cab was rolling along towards the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle all these scruples, which René had once so religiously observed, returned to him. But Colette's words had moved him more deeply than he cared to admit. A hideous vision had flashed across his brain. He half feared that it might come again, and he knew that Suzanne's presence was the best preventive. Lovers frequently have these apparently unwarranted ideas—the results of an instinct of self-preservation which our feelings, like animate beings, possess. The cab rolled on whilst René defended his infraction of the agreement made with his mistress. 'If she could know what I have been obliged to hear, would she not be the first to say, "Come and read my love for you in my face?" Besides, I shall only look at her for a quarter of an hour, and then go away purged of this stain. And what of the husband? Well, I must see him sooner or later, and she tells me he is nothing to her!' Madame Moraines had not failed to make her favourite lover swallow the improbable fable served up by all married women to their paramours, though sometimes the fable is true—for woman will be a riddle to all eternity—as the reports of the divorce cases prove. In the delicacy with which Suzanne had allayed his most secret and least legitimate feelings of jealousy René found an additional pretext for denouncing those who slandered this sublime creature. 'This woman the mistress of Desforges! Why? For money? What nonsense! She, the daughter of a Cabinet Minister and the wife of a business man! Claude, Claude! how could you?'

This tumult of ideas was somewhat stilled by the necessity for action as soon as the poet reached the doors of the Gymnase. He was most anxious that he should not be seen by Suzanne, and stood on the steps outside for a moment lost in reflection. The first act was just over, as he could see by the people flocking out, and this circumstance furnished him with an idea for beholding his mistress without being observed by her. He would first take a ticket for one of the cheaper seats in order to get into the house; then, having found out where Suzanne was sitting—which he could easily do during the interval from the corridor at the side of the stalls—he would take a better seat, from which he could safely feast his eyes upon her adorable features.

As he entered the theatre he was startled for a moment by coming face to face with the Marquis de Hère, one of the swells he had seen at Madame Komof's; the young nobleman, wearing a sprig of heather in his button-hole, was swinging his stick and humming an air from the then popular 'Cloches de Corneville' so lightly that he could hardly hear it himself. He brushed past René without recognizing him, or appearing to do so, any more than Salvaney had done an hour ago. The poet quickly made his way to one of the entrances to the stalls. He had not long to look; Madame Moraines was in the third box from the stage, almost opposite him. She occupied the front seat, and there were two men in the background; one, a fine young fellow, with a long beard and a pale complexion—the husband, no doubt—was standing up. The other, who was seated——

But why had chance—it could only be chance—brought into that box on this very night the man whose name the wretched actress had just coupled with Suzanne's? Yes, it was indeed Desforges who occupied the chair behind Madame Moraines. The poet had not the slightest difficulty in recognizing the Baron's energetic countenance, his piercing brown eyes, his fair moustache, his high colour, and his forehead surmounted by a wealth of almost white hair. Why did it distress René to see this old beau talking so familiarly to Suzanne as she sat there fanning herself, her face turned towards him, whilst Moraines scanned the boxes with his opera-glass? Why did it cause him such pain as to make him turn hastily away? For the first time since he had had the happiness to catch sight of this woman on the threshold of the Komof mansion, looking so fair and slim in her red gown, suspicion had entered his soul.

What suspicion? He could not possibly have expressed it in words. And yet? When Suzanne had spoken to him about the theatre that morning she had told him that she was going alone with her husband. What motive had led her to pervert the truth? The detail, it was true, was of no importance. But a lie, be it great or small, is still a lie. After all, perhaps Desforges was only visiting them in their box during the interval. This explanation seemed so natural as well as acceptable that René adopted it on the spot.

Returning to the box-office, he asked for an outside stall, on the left, having calculated that from this seat he would have the best opportunity of watching the Moraines without being seen himself. Meanwhile the audience had again settled down and the curtain rose. Desforges did not leave the box. He kept his seat at the back, leaning forward to talk to Suzanne. But why not? Could not his presence be explained in a thousand ways without Suzanne having lied? Could not Moraines have invited him without his wife's knowledge? He spoke familiarly to the woman, it is true, and she answered him in a similar manner. But had not he, René, met him at her house? A gentleman is sitting down in a theatre talking to a lady he knows. Does that prove that there is a vile bond of sin existing between them?

The poet argued in this fashion, and his arguments would have seemed to him irrefutable if he had seen on Suzanne's face a single one of those traits of melancholy he had expected to find. On the contrary, as she sat there in her elegant theatre-gown of black lace, with a little pink bonnet on her fair hair, eating, with dainty fingers, from the box of crystallised fruit that stood before her, she looked thoroughly happy, and as though she had not a care in the world. She laughed so heartily at the jokes in the piece, and her eyes were so bright and sparkling as she chatted with her two companions, that it seemed impossible to imagine she had only that morning paid a visit to the shrine of her most secret and heartfelt love. The emotions called forth by her meeting with her lover had left so few traces on her face, now beaming with pleasure, that René scarcely believed his own eyes. He had expected to find her so very different.

The husband, too, with cordial joviality expressed in his manly features, seemed by no means the crabbed and suspicious recluse Suzanne had led her credulous lover to imagine. The unhappy fellow had come to the theatre to get rid of the pain which Colette's words had caused him, but when he reached home his distress had only increased. It has often been said that we should not keep many friends if we could hear those to whom we give that title speak of us behind our back. It is an even less satisfactory experiment to take by surprise the woman we love. René had just tried it, but he was too passionately fond of Suzanne to believe in this first vision of his Madonna's duplicity.

'What am I worrying about after all?' he thought, on waking next morning, and finding that he was still a prey to his painful feelings. 'That she was in a good temper last night? I must be very selfish to reproach her with that! That Baron Desforges was in her box when she had told me that she was going to the theatre with her husband alone? She will explain that next time I see her. That her husband's face was not in keeping with his character? Appearances are so deceptive! How thoroughly have I been deceived in Claude Larcher, with his wheedling ways and his frank face! How often has he done me a favour and then pretended he had forgotten it, and yet how basely he has betrayed me after all!'

All the cruel impressions he had experienced on the preceding evening were now concentrated in a fresh and more furious fit of resentment against the man who, by his wicked gossip, had been the primary cause of his trouble. In the excess of his unjust anger René ignored the unquestionable merits of his friend and protector—absolute disinterestedness, a devotion that hoped for no return, and a total lack of literary envy. He was not even charitable enough to admit that Claude might have spoken to Colette unthinkingly and incautiously, but without any treacherous intentions. Suzanne's lover felt that he could not remain the friend of a man who had gone so far as to say what Larcher had said of his mistress. That is what René kept repeating to himself the whole day. On his return from the Bibliothèque, where he had found it almost impossible to work, he sat down to his table to write this villain one of those letters that are not easily forgotten. Having finished it, he read it over. The terms in which he defended Madame Moraines proclaimed his love, and now more than ever did he wish to keep that a secret from Claude.

'What is the use of writing to him at all?' he thought; 'when he comes back I will tell him what I think of him—that is much better.'

He was just about to destroy this dangerous letter when Emilie came in, as she often did before dinner, to ask him how he was getting on with his work. With a woman's innate curiosity, she read the address on the envelope, and said, 'Oh! is Claude in Venice? Then you've heard from him!'

'Never utter that name before me again!'replied René, tearing up the letter in a kind of cool rage.

Emilie said no more. She had not been mistaken in her brother's accents. René was in pain, and his anger against Claude was very great; but since he was silent concerning its cause, his sister knew that the latter must be something more than a mere literary dispute. By that intuition which always accompanies tender affection, Emilie guessed that the two writers had quarrelled on account of Madame Moraines, whose name René never mentioned now, and whom she was beginning to hate for the same reasons that had at first prompted her to like her. For some weeks past she had noticed a great mental and physical change coming over her brother. Although a model of purity herself, she was shrewd enough to attribute this degeneration to its true cause. She noticed it as she copied the fragments of the 'Savonarola' in the same way as she had copied the 'Sigisbée'; and although her admiration for the lightest trifle that came from René's pen was intense, there were many signs by which she could see how differently the two works had been inspired—from the number of lines written at each sitting to the continual reconstruction of the scenes and even to the handwriting, which had lost a little of its bold character.

The bubbling spring of clear, fresh poetry in which the 'Sigisbée' had had its source seemed to have dried up. What change had taken place in René's life? A woman had entered it, and it was therefore to this woman's influence that Emilie attributed the momentary impairment of the poet's faculties. She went still further, and hated this unknown but formidable creature for the pain inflicted on Rosalie. By a strange lapse of memory, frequently met with in generous natures, she forgot what part she had herself taken in her brother's rupture with his former fiancée. It was Madame Moraines whom she blamed for it all, and now this same woman was embroiling René with the best and most devoted of his friends—the one whom his faithful sister preferred because she had gauged the strength of his friendship.

'But how could it have happened,' she thought, 'since Claude is not here?'

She cudgelled her brains for a solution to this problem whilst attending to her household duties, hearing Constant's home lessons, making out Fresneau's bills, and conscientiously examining every button-hole and seam of her brother's linen. René was shut up in his room, where everything reminded him of Suzanne's one heavenly visit, and with feverish impatience he awaited the day appointed for their next meeting. Slander was doing its secret work, like some venomous sting. A poisoned man will go about without knowing that he is ill, except for a vague feeling of restlessness, but all the while the virus is fermenting in his blood and will produce sudden and terrible results.

The poet still treated the shameful accusations brought by Colette against Suzanne with scorn, but, by dint of pondering on her words in order to refute them, his mind became more accustomed to their tenour. At the moment when the actress had made her terrible charge he had not stooped to rebut it; but now, as he turned it over in his mind, he tried to save himself from a terrible abyss of doubt and from the most degrading jealousy by clutching at the marks of sincerity Suzanne had given him. What, then, were his feelings when, at the very outset of their next meeting, he received undeniable proofs that her sincerity was not what he had thought it?

He had reached the Rue des Dames with a troubled look on his face that had not escaped Suzanne. In reply to her solicitous inquiries he had pretended that it was due to an unfair article that had appeared in some paper, but had almost immediately felt ashamed of this innocent excuse, so sweetly had his mistress rebuked him.

'You big baby, you cannot have success without inspiring jealousy.'

'Let us talk about you instead,' he replied, and then asked, with a beating heart: What have you been doing since I saw you last?'

Had Suzanne been watching him at that moment she must have seen his agitation. It was a trap—innocent and simple enough—but a trap for all that. In three times twenty-four hours suspicion had brought the enthusiastic lover to this degree of distrust. But Suzanne could not know this, for he was treating her in exactly the same way as she was treating Desforges. She did not think René capable of stepping out of the only rôle in which she had seen him. How could she imagine that this simple boy was trying to catch her?

'What have I been doing?' she repeated. 'First of all I went to the Gymnase the other evening with my husband. Fortunately we haven't much to say to each other, so I could think of you just as well as if I were alone—I do feel so alone when I am with him. You talk of the troubles of your literary life—if you only knew the misery of my so-called life of pleasure and the loneliness of these weary tête-à-têtes!'

'Did you feel bored at the theatre, then?' continued René.

'You were not there,' she replied with a smile, and looked more intently at him. 'What is the matter, love?'

She had never seen this bitter, almost hard, expression on René's face.

'It's very stupid of me, but I can't forget that article,' said the poet.

'Was it so very bad, then? Where did it appear?' she asked, her instinct of danger thoroughly aroused; but René, being unable to reply to this unexpected question, merely stammered, 'It isn't worth your troubling to read it.'

This only confirmed her suspicions—he was angry with her about something. A question rose to her lips: 'Has some one been speaking ill of me?' Her diplomacy, however, got the better of her impetuosity. Is not anxiety to disarm suspicion almost a confession in itself? The really innocent are quite callous. Her best course was to find out what René had been doing himself, and what persons he had seen who might have told him something.

'Did you go and see Mademoiselle Rigaud?' she asked, indifferently.

'Yes,' replied René, unable to disguise his embarrassment at the question.

'And has she forgiven poor Claude?' continued Suzanne.

'No,' he rejoined, adding: 'She is a very bad woman,' and in such a bitter tone that Madame Moraines at once guessed part of the truth. The actress must certainly have spoken of her to René. She was again seized with a desire to provoke his confidence, and reflected that the surest means of attaining her object was by intoxicating her lover with passion. She knew how powerless he would be to resist the emotions her caresses would let loose, and at once sealed his lips with a long kiss. By the silent and frenzied ardour with which he returned it Suzanne understood not only that René had suffered, but that she had, to a great extent, been the cause.

In her sweetest voice, and in tones best calculated to reach that heart which had always been open to her, she said, 'What is this trouble that you won't tell me?'

Had she uttered those words at the beginning of their interview he would not have been able to resist them. Amidst tears and kisses, he would have repeated what Colette had said! But alas! it was no longer Colette's words that caused him his present sufferings. What now gave him frightful pain and pierced his heart like a dagger was the fact of having caught her, his idol, in a deliberate lie. Yes, she had lied; this time there was no doubt about it. She had told him that she had been to the theatre with her husband only, and that was false; that she had been sad, and that was false too. Could he reply to her question, which betrayed affectionate concern, by two such clear, explicit, and irrefutable charges? He had not the courage to do it, and got out of the dilemma by repeating his former reply. Suzanne looked at him, and he was obliged to turn his head. She only sighed and said, 'Poor René!' and, as it was almost time for her to go, she pushed her inquiries no further.

'He will tell me all about it next time,' she thought as she went home. In spite of herself she was worried by René's silence. Her love for the poet was sincere, though it was a very different passion from that which she expressed in words. Before all else it was a physical love, but, corrupted as Suzanne was by her life and her surroundings, or perhaps because of this very corruption, the poet's nobility of soul did not fail to impress her. And to such an extent that she imagined their romance would be robbed of half its delight if ever the circle of illusions she had drawn round him were broken. That some one had tried to break this magic circle was evident, and this some one could only be Colette. Everything seemed to prove it. But, on the other hand, what reason could the actress have for hating her, Suzanne, whom she probably did not know, even by name? Colette and Claude were lovers, and here Madame Moraines again came upon the man whom she had distrusted from the first day. If Colette had spoken to René about her, Claude himself must have spoken about her to Colette. At this point her ideas became confused. Larcher had never seen her with René. And the latter, whose word she did not doubt, had told her that he had confided nothing to his friend.

'I am on the wrong track,' thought Suzanne. Argue as she would, she could not convince herself that René was so troubled on account of this pretended newspaper article. There was danger in store for the dear relations that existed between them. She felt it, and the feeling became still more pronounced by what her husband told her on the very next day after her unsatisfactory interview with René.

It was just before seven, and Suzanne was alone in the little salon where she had first cast her net over the poet—a net as finely woven and as yielding as the web in which the spider catches the unwary fly. She had had more callers than usual that afternoon, and Desforges had only just gone. Suddenly Paul came in his wonted noisy way and in high animal spirits. Seizing her by the waist—for she had started up at his boisterous entry—he said, 'Give me a kiss—no, two kisses,' taking one after the other, 'as a reward for having been good.' Seeing the look of interrogation in Suzanne's eyes, he added, 'I have at last paid Madame Komof that visit I've owed her for so long. Whom do you think I met there? Guess—that young poet, René Vincy. I can't understand why Desforges doesn't like him. He's a charming fellow; he pleased me immensely. We had quite a long talk. I told him that you would be very glad to see him. Was I doing right?'

'Quite right,' replied Suzanne; 'and who else was there?'

Whilst her husband was reciting a list of familiar names she was thinking: 'What reason had René for going to Madame Komof's?' This was the first call of that kind he had made since the beginning of their attachment. He had so often said to his mistress: 'I want only you and my work.' It had been his custom during the past few months to give her a full account not only of what he had done, but of what he was going to do, and yet he had said nothing of this visit, so entirely out of keeping with his present mode of life. And he had met Paul, who had no doubt proved himself the very opposite of what his wife had described him to be.

Suzanne felt quite out of temper with the kindhearted fellow who had been guilty of calling on the Comtesse on the same day as the poet, and she said, in an almost petulant tone: 'I am sure you haven't written to Crucé for that Alençon.'

'I have written,' replied Moraines, with an air of triumph, 'and you shall have it.' Crucé, who acted as a sort of private art broker, had spoken to Suzanne about some old lace, and it was this she wished her husband to get her. From time to time she would ask him for something that she could show her friends and say, 'Paul is so good to me. This a present he brought me only the other day.' She would forget to add that the money for such presents generally came from Desforges—in an indirect way, it is true. Although the Baron seldom troubled himself with business matters except so far as the careful investment of his capital necessitated, he often had opportunities for speculating with almost absolute safety, and always gave Moraines a chance of doing the same. The Compagnie du Nord, of which Desforges was a director, had recently taken over a local line that was on the brink of ruin. Paul had succeeded in making a profit of thirty thousand francs by purchasing some shares at the right moment, and it was out of this profit that Suzanne was going to have her lace. This little business operation, too, had indirectly led to a somewhat strange scene between René and his mistress.

In the course of conversation she had asked him how much the 'Sigisbée' had produced, adding, 'What have you done with all that money?'

'I don't know,' René had replied, with a laugh. 'My sister bought me some stock with the first few thousand francs, and I have kept the rest in my drawer.' 'Will you let me talk to you like a sister, too?' she had said. 'A friend of ours is a director of the Compagnie du Nord, and he has given us a valuable tip. Do you promise to keep it a secret?' Thereupon she had explained to him how to get hold of some shares. 'Give your orders to-morrow, and you can make as much as you like.'

'Hold your tongue!' René had said, putting his hand over her mouth. 'I know it's very kind of you to talk like that, but I can't allow you to give me that sort of information. I should feel ashamed of myself.'

He had spoken so seriously that Suzanne had not dared to press the matter, though his scruples had appeared to her somewhat ridiculous. But then, if he had not been so unsophisticated and such a gobeur, as she called him in that horrible Parisian slang that spares not even the highest forms of sentiment, would she have been so fond of him? And yet it was this very innocence of soul that she feared. If ever he should get to hear what her life was really like, how his noble heart would turn against her, and how incompatible it would be with his high sense of honour ever to forgive her! A hint had, nevertheless, somehow reached him. In going over the different signs of danger that she had noticed one after another—René's trouble, his anger against Colette Rigaud, his reticence and his unexpected visit to Madame Komof—Suzanne said to herself: 'I made a mistake in not getting him to explain at once.'

When, therefore, she made her appearance in the Rue des Dames a few days later she was fully determined not to fall into the same error again. She saw at once that the poet was even more distressed than before, though she pretended not to notice this distress nor the cool manner in which he received her first kiss. With a sad smile she said to him:

'It was very silly of you, dear, not to tell me you were about to call on the Comtesse. I would have taken care that you were spared a meeting which must have been very painful?'

'Painful?' repeated René in an ironical tone that Suzanne had never heard him use before, 'why, M. Moraines was charming.'

'Yes,' she replied, 'you have made a conquest. He, so sarcastic as a rule, spoke of you with an enthusiasm that really pained me. Didn't he invite you to call on us? You may be proud. It is so rare that he welcomes a new face. Poor René,' she continued, placing both her hands on her lover's shoulder, and laying her cheek on her hands, 'how you must have suffered!'

'I have indeed suffered,' replied René, in a hollow voice. He looked at the pretty face so near his own and remembered what Suzanne had said to him in the Louvre before the portrait of the Giorgione's mistress, 'How can anyone lie with a face like that?' Yet she had lied to him. And what proof had he that she had not been lying all along? Whilst a prey to the torments of suspicion, and especially since his meeting with Paul, the most frightful conjectures had entered his mind. The contrast between the Moraines he had seen and the tyrannical husband described by Suzanne had been too great. 'Why has she deceived me on that point too?' René had asked himself.

He had called on Madame Komof without any distinct aim, but in the secret hope of hearing Suzanne spoken of by those of her own set. They at least would be sure to know her! But alas! his conversation with Moraines had sufficed to involve him in more horrible doubt than ever. One thing was now very plain to him; Suzanne had used her husband as a bugbear to keep him, René, from visiting their house. Why—if it were not that she had something in her life to hide? What was this something? Colette had taken upon herself to answer this question in advance. Under the influence of that horrible suspicion, René had conceived a plan, very simple of execution, and the result of which he thought would prove decisive. He would take advantage of the husband's invitation to ask Suzanne for permission to visit her at home. If she said yes, she had nothing to hide; if she said no——

And as this resolution recurred to the poet he continued to gaze upon that adorable face resting on his shoulder. Each one of those dear features recalled fresh memories! Those eyes so clear and blue—what faith he had had in them! That noble brow—what refined thoughts he had imagined it to shelter! Those delicate, mobile lips—with what sweet abandonment had he heard them speak! No—what Colette had told him was impossible! But why these lies—a first, a second, and a third time? Yes, she had lied three times. There is no such thing as a trivial lie. René understood this now, and felt that confidence, like love, is governed by the great law of all or nothing. We have it or we have it not. Those who have lost it know this only too well.

'My poor René!' repeated Suzanne. She saw that he was in that state when compassion softens the heart and opens it wide.

'Poor indeed!' replied the poet, moved by this mark of pity, that came just when he had most need of it; then, looking into her eyes, he unburdened himself.

'Listen, Suzanne, I prefer to tell you all. I have come to the conclusion that the life we are leading now cannot last. It makes me too unhappy—it does not satisfy my love. To see you only by stealth, an hour to-day and an hour in a few days' time, to know nothing of what you are doing, to share no part of your life, is too cruel. Be quiet—let me speak. There was a weighty objection to my being received in your house—your husband. Well—I have seen him. I have borne the ordeal. We have shaken hands. Since it is done, allow me at least to benefit by my effort. I know there is nothing very noble in what I am saying, but I have no desire to be noble—I love you. I feel that my mind is getting full of all kinds of ideas about you. I entreat you to let me come to your house, to live in your world, to see you elsewhere than here, where we meet only to—'

'To love each other!' she exclaimed, interrupting him and shaking her head; 'do not utter blasphemy.' Then, sinking down into a chair, she continued, 'Alas! my beautiful dream is over then—that dream in which you seemed to take as much delight as I—the dream of a love all to ourselves, and only for ourselves, with none of those compromises that horrified us both!'

'Then won't you let me come and see you as I ask?' said René, returning to the charge.

'What you are asking me to do is to kill our happiness,' cried Suzanne; 'so sensitive as I know you to be, you would never stand the shocks to which you would be exposed. You know nothing of that world in which I am obliged to live, and how unfitted you are for it. And afterwards you would hold me responsible for your disenchantment. Give up this fatal idea, love, give it up for my sake.'

'What is there then in this life of yours that I may not see?' asked the poet, looking at her fixedly. He could not be aware that Suzanne had only one aim in view—to get him to tell her the reason of this sudden desire—for she concluded that it must be the same reason which had caused his distress the other day, and which had taken him to Madame Komof's so unexpectedly. She was not mistaken as to René's meaning, and replied in the broken accents of a woman unjustly accused:

'How can you talk to me like that, René? Some one must have poisoned your mind. You cannot have got hold of such ideas yourself. Come to my house, love! Come as often as you like! "Something in my life that you may not see"—I, who would rather die than tell you a lie!'

'Then why did you tell me a lie the other day?' cried René. Conquered by the despair he thought he could see in those beautiful eyes, disarmed by the permission she had just given him, unable to keep the secret of his grief any longer, he felt that necessity of unbosoming himself which, in a quarrel with a woman, is as good as putting one's head into a noose.

'I told you a lie?' exclaimed Suzanne.

'Yes, when you told me you went to the theatre with your husband.'

'But I did go——'

'So did I,' said René; 'there was some one else in your box.'

'Desforges!' cried Suzanne; 'you're mad, my dear René—mad! He came into our box during one of the intervals, and my husband made him stay till the piece was over. Desforges!' she repeated with a smile, 'why, he's nobody. I didn't even think of mentioning him. Seriously, you don't mean to say you're jealous of Desforges?'

'You looked so bright and happy,' rejoined René, in a voice that already showed signs of relenting.

'Ungrateful man,' she said; 'I wish you could have read what was going on within me! It is this necessity for continual dissimulation which is the bane of my life; and now, to have you reproach me with it! No, René—this is too cruel, too unjust!'

'Forgive me! Forgive me!' cried the poet, now perfectly convinced by the natural manner of his mistress. 'It is true. Some one has poisoned my mind. It was Colette! How justified you were in your distrust of Claude Larcher!'

'I did not allow him to pay me attentions,' said Suzanne; 'men never forgive that.'

'The wretch!' cried the poet angrily, and then, as if to rid himself of his grief by telling it, he went on: 'He knew that I loved you. How? Because I hesitated and got confused the only time I ever mentioned your name to him. He knows me so well! He guessed my secret and told his mistress all about it—and a lot of other lies. I can't repeat them to you.'

'Tell me, René, tell me,' said Suzanne, wearing at that moment the noble look of resignation that is seen on the faces of those who go to the scaffold innocent. 'Did they say that I had had lovers before you?'

'Would that it were only that!' exclaimed René.

'What then, mon Dieu?' she cried. 'What does it matter to me what they said, but that you, René, should believe it! Come, confess, so that you may have nothing on your mind. I have at least the right to demand that.'

'True,' replied the poet, and looking as shamefaced as though he were the guilty one, he stammered rather than pronounced the following words: 'Colette told me she heard from Claude that you were . . . No—I can't say it—well, that Desforges . . .'

'Still Desforges,' said Suzanne, interrupting him with a sweet but ironical smile; 'it is too comical.' She did not want René to formulate the charge that she could now guess. It would have wounded her dignity to descend to such depths. 'You were told that Desforges had been my lover—that he was still so, no doubt. But that is not slander—it is too ridiculous to be that. Poor old friend—he who knew me when I was as high as that!—he and my father were always together. He has seen me grow up, and loves me as if I were his own child. And it is this man whom—— No, René, swear to me that you didn't believe it. Have I deserved that you should think so badly of me?'



In that strange mental disease called jealousy the intervals between the attacks are periods of delight. For some days or for some hours the feelings of love regain their divine sweetness, like a return to strength in convalescence. Suzanne had so fully convinced René of the absurdity of his suspicions that he did not wish to be behind her in generosity, and refused to avail himself of the permission to call in the Rue Murillo for which he had so earnestly entreated. Two or three phrases uttered in the right manner and with the right expression will always overcome the deepest distrust of a devoted lover, provided he has not had ocular proofs of treason—and even then? But here the elements of which this first suspicion was composed were so fragile!

It was therefore with absolute good faith that the poet said to Suzanne, who was herself quite delighted with this unexpected result, 'No, I shall not come to your house. It was foolish of me to desire any change in our relations. We are so happy as we are.'

'Yes, until some wretch libels me again,' she replied. 'Promise me that you will always tell me.'

'I swear I will, love,' said he. 'But I know you now, and I am more sure of myself.'

He said so, and he thought so. Suzanne thought so too, and gave herself up to the delights of her paradise regained, though fully aware that she would have a second battle to fight when Claude returned. But could Larcher say more than he had already said? Besides, René would tell her of his return, and if the first meeting of the two men did not result in a definite rupture it would be time to act. She would make her lover choose between breaking entirely with Claude or with herself, and about his choice she had no doubt whatever. In spite of his protests, the poet seemed to be less sure of himself, for his heart beat fast when, on his return home from the Bibliothèque one evening about a week after the scene with Suzanne, his sister said to him, 'Claude Larcher is back.'

'And has he dared to call here?' cried René.

Emilie was visibly embarrassed and said, 'He asked me when he could see you?'

'You should have answered "Never,"' replied the poet.

'René!' exclaimed Emilie, 'how could I say that to an old friend who has been so kind and devoted to you? I think I had better tell you——' she added; 'I asked him what had taken place between you. He seemed so surprised—so painfully surprised—that I will swear he has never done you any harm. There is some misunderstanding. I told him to come to-morrow morning, and that he would be sure to find you in.'

'Why don't you mind your own business?' cried René angrily; 'did I ask you to meddle in my affairs?'

'How unkind you are!' said Emilie, deeply hurt by her brother's words, and almost in tears.

'All right, don't cry,' replied the poet, somewhat ashamed of his roughness; 'perhaps it is better that I should see him. I owe him that. But after that, I never want to hear his name again. You understand—never!'

In spite of his apparent firmness, René did not sleep much that night, but lay awake thinking of the approaching meeting. Not that he had much doubt about the issue, but, try as he would to increase his resentment against his old friend, he could not get as far as hating him. He had grown extremely fond of this peculiar individual who, when not intentionally disagreeable, commanded affection by his sincere though frivolous nature, by his originality, by those very faults which only harmed himself, and above all by a kind of innate, indestructible, and invincible generosity.

On the eve of severing their friendship René recalled to mind how it had originated. Claude, then very poor, was a tutor in the Ecole Saint-André when René himself was a scholar in the sixth form. A curious legend concerning the eccentric professor was told in this well-conducted and eminently religious institution. Some of the boys declared they had seen him seated in an open carriage next to a very pretty woman dressed in pink. Then one day Claude disappeared from the school, and René did not see him again until he turned up at Fresneau's wedding as best man, and already on the road to fame. After some talk over old times, Claude had asked to see his poems. The writer of thirty had shown as much indulgence as an elder brother in reading these first essays, and had immediately treated the aspiring lad as an equal. With what tact had he submitted these rough sketches to the processes of a higher criticism—a criticism which encourages an artist by pointing out his defects without crushing him beneath their weight. And then had followed the episode of the 'Sigisbée,' in which Claude had displayed unusual devotion for one who was himself a dramatic author.

The poet was sufficiently well acquainted with literary life to know that even simple kindness is rarely met with between one generation and the next. His rapid success had already procured him what is perhaps the bitterest experience of the years of apprenticeship—the jealousy of those very masters he admired most, in whose school he had formed his style, and at whose feet he would so gladly have laid his sprig of laurel. Claude Larcher's delight in another's talent was as spontaneous and as sincere as if he had not already wielded the pen for fifteen years. And now this valuable, nay, unique friendship was to be severed. But was it his fault, René asked himself, as he tossed about in his bed, and recalled all these things one after another? Why had Larcher spoken to this wretched girl as he had done? Why had he betrayed his young friend, who looked up to him as a brother? Why?

This distressing question again led René's mind to ideas from which he turned instinctively. Basilio's famous phrase—'Slander, slander—some is sure to stick'—expresses one of the saddest and most indisputable truths concerning the human heart. René would, it is true, have despised himself for doubting Suzanne after their reconciliation, but every suspicion, even a groundless one, leaves behind it some poisonous remnant of distrust, and had he dared to look into the very depths of his soul he would have recognised that fact in the unhealthy curiosity he felt to learn from Claude what reasons had led him to make his lying accusation. This curiosity, the reminiscences of a long friendship, and a kind of fear of the man who, by his age alone, had always had an advantage over him—all tended to lessen the anger of the wounded lover. He tried to work himself up to the same degree of fury that had possessed him on leaving Colette's dressing-room, but he was not successful. Like all who know themselves to be weak, he wished to rear an insurmountable barrier between Claude and himself at once, and when Larcher made his appearance at nine o'clock, and held out his hand in friendly greeting, the poet kept his own hand in his pocket.

The two men stood for a moment facing each other, both very pale. Claude, though tanned by his travels, looked thin and careworn, and his eyes blazed at the insult offered him. René knew to what lengths Larcher's anger would lead him, and expected to see the hand he had refused raised to strike a blow. But Claude's will was stronger than his offended pride, and he spoke in a voice that trembled with suppressed passion.

'Vincy, do not tempt me. You are only a child, and it is my duty to think for both of us. Come, come! Listen, René—I know all. Do you understand? All—yes, all. I arrived yesterday. Your sister told me that you were angry with me, and a good many other things that opened my eyes. Your silence had frightened me. I thought that you had betrayed me with Colette. Fool that she is! Fortunately she hadn't the sense to guess that there was my vulnerable point. On leaving here I went to her house. I found her alone. She told me what she had done—what she had told you, and gloried in it, the hussy. Then I did what was right.' Here he began to march up and down the room, absorbed in recollections of the scene he described and almost oblivious of the poet's presence. 'I beat her—beat her like a madman. It did me good. I flung her to the ground and rained blow upon blow until she cried "Mercy! mercy!" I could have killed her—and taken a delight in it. How beautiful she looked, too, with her hair all tumbling about and her dress hanging in shreds where I had torn it from her snowy shoulders. Then she grovelled at my feet, but I was relentless, and left the house. She can show the marks on her body to her next lover if she likes, and tell him from whom she got them. How it relieves one to be a brute sometimes!' Then, suddenly stopping before René, he said, 'And all because she had touched you. Yes or no,' he cried, in his same angry tone, 'is it on account of what this jade told you that you are angry with me?'

'It is on that account,' replied René coldly.

'Very well,' said Claude, taking a seat, 'then we can talk. There must be no misunderstanding this time, so I shall be as plain as I possibly can. If I understand rightly, this wretch of a girl has told you two things. Let us proceed in order. This is the first—that I told her you were intimate with Madame Moraines. Excuse me,' he added, as the poet made a gesture. 'Between us two, in a matter affecting our friendship, I don't care a rap for the conventionalities that forbid us to mention a woman's name. I am not conventional myself, and so I mention her. Infamy number one. Colette told you a lie. This was exactly what I had said to her—I recollect the words as though it were yesterday, and regretted them before they had left my mouth—"I think poor René is falling in love with Madame Moraines." The only thing I went by was your embarrassed manner when mentioning her to me. But Colette had seen you sitting next to her at supper and paying her great attention. We had joked about the matter—as people will joke about these things—without attaching much importance to it. At least, I didn't—but all that's nothing. You were my friend. Your feeling might have been a serious one—it was, as it happened. I was wrong, and I frankly apologise in spite of the insult which, on the word of this vile drab, you have just offered me—me, your best and oldest friend!'

'But then why,' cried René, 'did you give me away to this creature, knowing what she was? And again, had you spoken only of me, I would have forgiven you——'

'Let us pass on to this second point,' said Claude, in his calm, methodical tone, 'that is to say, to the second lie. She told you that I had informed her of Madame Moraines' relations with Desforges. That is false. She had heard of them long ago from all the Salvaneys with whom she dined, supped, and flirted. No, René—if there is anything with which I reproach myself, it is not for having spoken to her about Madame Moraines—I could not have told her anything she didn't know. It is for not having spoken to you openly when you came to see me. I was fully acquainted with the depravity of this second but more fashionable Colette, and I did not warn you of it while there was yet time. Yes, I ought to have spoken—I ought to have opened your eyes and said: "Woo this woman, win her and wear her, but do not love her." And I held my peace. My only excuse is that I did not think her sufficiently disinterested to enter into your life as she has done. I said to myself: "He has no money, so there is no danger."'

'Then,' cried René, who had scarcely been able to contain himself whilst Claude was speaking of Suzanne in such terms, 'do you believe this vile thing that Colette has told me of Madame Moraines and Baron Desforges?'

'Whether I believe it?' replied Larcher, gazing at his friend in astonishment. 'Am I the man to invent such a story about a woman?'

'When you have paid a woman attentions,' said the poet, uttering his words very slowly, and in a tone of deepest contempt, 'attentions which she has repulsed, the least you can do is to respect her.'

'I!' cried Claude, 'I! I have paid Madame Moraines attentions? I understand—this is what she has told you.' He broke into a nervous laugh. 'When we put such things into our plays these harlots accuse us of libelling them. Of libelling them! As if such a thing were possible! They are all the same. And you believed her! You believed me, Claude Larcher, to be such a villain as to dishonour an honest woman in order to avenge my wounded pride? Look me well in the face, René. Do I look like a hypocrite? Have you ever known me to act as one? Have I proved my affection for you? Well—I give you my word of honour that this woman has lied to you, like Colette. The hussies! And there was I dying of grief, without a word of pity, because this woman, who is worse than a prostitute, had accused me of this dirty thing. Yes—worse than a prostitute! They sell themselves for bread—and she, for what? For a little of the wretched luxury that parvenus indulge in.'

'Hold your tongue, Claude, hold your tongue!' cried René, in terrible accents. 'You are killing me.' A storm of feelings, irresistible in its fury, had suddenly burst forth within him. He could not doubt his friend's sincerity, and this, added to the assurance with which Claude had spoken of Desforges, forced upon the wretched lover a conviction of Suzanne's duplicity too painful to endure. He could restrain himself no longer, and, rushing upon his tormentor, seized him by the lapels of his coat and shook him so violently that the material gave way.

'When you tell a man such things about the woman he loves you must give him proofs—you understand—proofs!'

'You are mad!' replied Claude, disengaging himself from his grasp; 'proofs!—why, all Paris will give you them, my poor boy! Not one person, but ten, twenty, thirty, will tell you that seven years ago the Moraines were ruined. Who got the husband into the Insurance Company? Desforges. He is a director of that company, as he is also a director in the Compagnie du Nord, and a deputy and an ex-Councillor of State, and Heaven knows what besides! He is a big man, this Desforges, although he doesn't look it, and one who can indulge in all kinds of luxuries. Whom do you always find in the Rue Murillo? Desforges. Whom do you meet with Madame Moraines at the theatre? Desforges. And do you think the fellow is a man to play at Platonic love with this pretty woman married to her ninny of a husband? Such nonsense is all very well for you and me, but not for a Desforges! Wherever are your eyes and ears when you go to see her?'

'I have only been to her house three times,' said René.

'Only three times?' repeated Claude, looking at his friend. Emilie's plaintive confidences on the preceding evening had left him no doubt concerning the relations between Suzanne and the poet. René's imprudent exclamation, however, opened his eyes to the peculiar character these relations must have assumed.

'I don't want to know anything,' he went on; 'it is an understood thing that honour forbids us to talk of such women, just as if real honour did not call upon us to denounce their infamy to the whole world. So many fresh victims would then be spared! Proofs? You want proofs. Collect them for yourself. I know only two ways of getting at a woman's secrets—by opening her letters or having her watched. Madame Moraines never writes—you may be sure of that. Put some one on her track.'

'You are advising me to commit an ignoble action!' cried the poet.

'Nothing is noble or ignoble in love,' replied Larcher. 'I have myself done what I advise you to do. Yes, I have set detectives to watch Colette. A connection with one of these hussies means war to the knife, and you are scrupulous about the choice of your weapon.'

'No, no,' replied René, shaking his head; 'I cannot.'

'Then follow her yourself!' continued the relentless logician. 'I know my Desforges. He's a character, don't you make any mistake. I made a study of him once, when I was still fool enough to believe that observation led to talent. This man is an astonishing compound of order and disorder, of libertinism and hygiene. Their meetings are no doubt regulated, like all else in his life,—once a week, at the same hour,—not in the morning, which would interfere with his exercise,—not too late in the afternoon, which would interfere with his visits and his game of bézique at the club. Watch her. Before a week is over you will know the truth. I wish I could say that I had any doubt concerning the result of the experiment And it is I, my poor boy, who led you into this mire! You were so happy here until I took you by the hand and introduced you to that wicked world where you met this monster. If it hadn't been she it would have been another. I seem to bring misfortune on all those I love. But tell me you forgive me! I have such need of your friendship. Come, don't say no!'

Then, as Claude held out his hands, René grasped them fervently, and sinking down into a chair—the same in which Suzanne had sat—he burst into tears and exclaimed, 'My God, what suffering this is!'

* * * * *

Claude had given his friend a week. Before the end of the fourth day René called at the Sainte-Euverte mansion in a state of such agitation that Ferdinand could not repress an exclamation as he opened the door.

'My poor Monsieur Vincy,' said the worthy man, 'are you going to kill yourself with work like master?'

Claude was seated at his writing-table in the famous 'torture-chamber,' smoking as he worked, but, on seeing René, he threw down his cigarette, and a look of intense anxiety came into his face as he cried, 'Mon Dieu! What has happened?'

'You were right,' replied the poet, in a choking voice, 'she is the vilest of women.'

'Except one,' remarked Claude bitterly, and, parodying Chamfort's celebrated phrase, added, 'Colette must not be discouraged. But what have you done?'

'What you advised me to do,' replied René, in accents of peculiar asperity, 'and I have come to beg your pardon for having doubted your word. Yes—I have played the spy upon her. What a feeling it is! The first day, the second day, the third day—nothing. She only paid visits and went shopping, but Desforges came to the Rue Murillo every day. I was in a cab stationed at the corner of the street, and when I saw him enter the house I suffered agonies of torture. At last, to-day, about two o'clock, she goes out in her brougham. I follow her in my cab. After stopping at two or three places, her carriage draws up in front of Galignani's, the bookseller's, under the colonnade in the Rue de Rivoli, and she gets out. I see her speak to the coachman, and the brougham goes off without her. She walks for a short distance under the colonnade, and I see that she is wearing a thick veil. How well I know that veil! My heart beat fast and my brain was in a whirl. I felt that I was nearing a decisive moment. She then disappears through an archway, but I follow her closely and find myself in a courtyard with an opening at the other end, affording egress into the Rue du Mont-Thabor. I look up and down the latter street. No one. She could not have had time to get out of sight. I decide to wait and watch the back entrance. If she had an appointment there she would not go out the same way she came in. I waited for an hour and a quarter in a wine-shop just opposite. At the end of that time she reappeared, still wearing her thick veil. The dress, the walk, and the veil—I know them all too well to be mistaken. She had come out by the Rue du Mont-Thabor. Her accomplice would therefore leave by the Rue de Rivoli. I rush through to that side. After a quarter of an hour a door opens and I find myself face to face with—can you guess? Desforges! At last I have them—the proofs! Wretch that she is!'

'Not at all! Not at all!' replied Claude; 'she is a woman, and they're all alike. May I confide in you in return—that is, make an exchange of horrors? You know how Colette treated me when I begged for a little pity? The other night I flogged her till she was black and blue, and this is what she writes me. Read it.' And he handed his friend a letter that was lying open on the table. René took it and read the following lines:

'2 A. M.

'I have waited for you till now, love, but you haven't come. I shall wait for you at home all day to-day, and to-night after I come from the theatre. I only act in the first piece, and I shall make haste to get back. Come for the sake of our old love. Think of my lips. Think of my golden hair. Think of our kisses. Think of her who adores you, who is wretched at having given you pain, and who wants you, as she loves you—madly.

'Your own COLETTE.'

'That's something like a love letter, isn't it?' said Larcher with a kind of savage joy. 'It's more cruel than all the rest to have a woman love you like that because you've beaten her to a jelly. But I'll have no more to do with them—neither with her nor anyone else. I hate love now, and I'm going to cut out my heart. Follow my example.'

'If I could!' replied René, 'but it's impossible. You don't know what that woman was to me.' And again yielding to the passion that raged within him, he wrung his hands and broke into a fit of convulsive sobs. 'You don't know how I loved her, how I believed in her, and what I've given up for her. And then to think of her in the arms of this Desforges—it's horrible!' A shudder of disgust ran through him. 'If she had chosen another man, a man of whom I could think with hatred or rage—but without this feeling of horror! Why, I can't even feel jealous of him. For money! For money!' He rose and caught hold of Claude's arm frantically. 'You told me that he was a director of the Compagnie du Nord. Do you know what she wanted to do the other day? To give me a few good tips in shares. I, too, would have been kept by the Baron. It's only natural, isn't it, that the old man should pay them all—the wife, the husband, and the lover? Oh! if I only could! She is going to the Opera to-night—what if I went there? What if I took her by the hair and spat in her face, before all the people who know her, telling them all that she is a low, filthy harlot?'

He fell back into his chair, once more bursting into tears.

'She occupied my thoughts every hour, every moment of the day. You had told me to be on my guard against women, it is true. But then you were beguiled by a Colette, an actress, a creature who had had other lovers before you—whilst she—— Every line in her face swears to me that it is impossible—that I have been dreaming. It is as if I had seen an angel lie. And yet I have the proof, the undeniable proof. Why did I not confront her there in the street, on the threshold of that vile place? I should have strangled her with my hands, like some beast. Claude, my dear fellow, how I wronged you! And the other! I have crushed and trodden under foot the noblest heart that beat in order to get to this monster. It is but just—I have deserved it all. But what can there be in Nature to produce such beings?'

For a long, long time these confused lamentations continued. Claude listened to them in silence, his head resting on his hand. He too had suffered, and he knew what consolation it gives to tell one's sorrow. He pitied the poor youth who sat there sobbing as if his heart would break, and the clear-sighted analyst within him could not help observing the difference between the poet's grief and that which he himself had so often felt under similar circumstances. He never remembered having suffered this torture, even when hard hit, without probing his wounds, whilst René was the picture of a young and sincere creature who has no idea of studying his tears in a mirror. These strange reflections upon the diversity of men's souls did not prevent him from sympathising most deeply with his friend, and there was a note of true feeling in his voice when he at last took advantage of a break in René's lament to speak.

'It is as our dear Heine said—Love is the hidden disease of the heart. You are now at the period of inception. Will you take the advice of a veteran sufferer? Pack up your traps and put miles upon miles between you and this Suzanne. A pretty name and a well-chosen one! A Suzanne who makes money out of the elders! At your age you will be quickly cured. I am quite cured myself. Not that I know how and when it happened—in fact, it amazes me! But for the past three days I have been rid of my love for Colette. Meanwhile, I'm not going to leave you alone; come and dine with me. We shall drink hard and be merry, and so avenge ourselves upon our troubles.'

After his fit of passion had spent itself René had fallen into that state of mental coma which succeeds great outbursts of grief. He suffered himself to be led, like one in a trance, along the Rue du Bac, then along the Rue de Sèvres and the boulevard as far as the Restaurant Lavenue at the corner of the Gare Montparnasse, long frequented by many well-known painters and sculptors of our day. Claude led the way to a cabinet particulier, in which he pointed out to René Colette's name, scratched on one of the mirrors amidst scores of others. Rubbing his hands, he exclaimed: 'We must treat our past with ridicule,' and ordered a very elaborate meal with two bottles of the oldest Corton. During the whole of the dinner he did not cease to propound his theories on women, whilst his companion hardly ate, but sat lost in mental contemplation of the divine face in which he had so fully believed. Was it possible that he was not dreaming, and that Suzanne was really one of those of whom Claude was speaking in terms of such contempt?

'Above all,' said Larcher, 'take no revenge. Revenge in love is like drinking alcohol after burning punch. We become attached to women as much by the harm we do them as by that which they do us. Imitate me, not as I used to be, but as I am now, eating, drinking, and caring as much for Colette as Colette cares for me. Absence and silence—these are the sword and buckler in this battle. Colette writes to me, and I don't answer. She comes to the Rue de Varenne. No admission. Where am I? What am I doing? She cannot get to know. That makes them madder than all the rest. Here's a suggestion: To-morrow morning you start for Italy, or England, or Holland, whichever you prefer. Meanwhile Suzanne thinks you are piously meditating upon all the lies she has told you, but in reality you are comfortably seated in your compartment watching the telegraph poles scud past and saying to yourself, "We are on even terms now, my angel." Then in three, four, or five days' time the angel begins to get uneasy. She sends a servant with a note to the Rue Coëtlogon. The servant comes back:—"Monsieur Vincy is travelling!" "Travelling?" The days roll on and Monsieur Vincy does not return, neither does he write—he is happy elsewhere. How I should like to be there to see the Baron's face when she vents her fury upon him. For these equitable creatures invariably make the one who stays behind pay for the one who has gone. But what's the matter with you?'

'Nothing,' said René, though Claude's mention of Desforges had caused him a fresh fit of pain. 'I think you are right, and I shall leave Paris to-morrow without seeing her.'

It was on that understanding that the two friends separated. Claude had insisted on escorting René back to the Rue Coëtlogon, and, as he shook hands with him at the gate, said, 'I will send Ferdinand to-morrow morning to inquire what time you start. The sooner the better, and without seeing her, mind—remember that!'

'You need not be afraid,' replied René.

'Poor fellow!' muttered Claude, as he returned along the Rue d'Assas. Instead of going towards his own home he walked slowly in the direction of the cab rank by the old Couvent des Carmes, turning round once or twice to see whether his companion had really disappeared. Then he stopped for a few minutes and seemed to hesitate. His eyes fell upon the clock near the cab rank, and he saw that it was a quarter-past ten.

'The piece began at half-past eight,' he said to himself, 'and she's just had time to change. I should be an ass to miss such a chance. Cocher!' he cried, waking up the man whose horse seemed to have most speed in him, 'Rue de Rivoli, corner of Jeanne d'Arc's statue, and drive quickly.'

The cab started off and passed the top of the Rue Coëtlogon. 'He is weeping now,' said Claude to himself; 'what would he say if he saw me going to Colette's?' He little thought that as soon as he had entered the house René had told his sister to get out his dress suit. Astonished at such a request, Emilie ventured upon an interrogation, but was met with, 'I have no time to talk,' uttered in such harsh tones that she dared not insist.

It was Friday, and René, as he had told Claude, knew that Suzanne was at the Opera. He had calculated that this was her week. Why had the idea that he must see her again and at once taken such a firm hold upon him that, in his impatience to be off, he quite upset both his sister and Françoise? Was he about to put his threat into practice and insult his faithless mistress in public? Or did he only wish to feast his eyes once more on her deceptive beauty before his departure? On the occasion of his visit to the Gymnase a week ago, after his interview with Colette, his aim had been clear and definite. It was the outward similarity of that visit with the step he was now taking that made him feel more keenly what a change had come over him and his surroundings in such a short space of time. How hopefully had he then betaken himself to the theatre, and now in what mood of despair! Why was he going at all?

He asked himself this question as he ascended the grand staircase, but he felt himself impelled by some force superior to all reason or effort of will. Since he had seen Suzanne leave the house in the Rue du Mont-Thabor he had acted like an automaton. He took his seat in the stalls just as the ballet scene from 'Faust' was drawing to a close. The first effect produced by the music on his overstrung nerves was a feeling of almost morbid sadness; tears started to his eyes and dimmed his vision as he turned his opera-glasses upon Suzanne's box—that box in which she had looked so divinely modest and pretty on the morrow of Madame Komof's soirée, though not more so than she did now.

To-night she was in blue, with a row of pearls round her fair throat and diamonds in her golden hair. Another woman, whom René had never seen, was seated beside her; she was a brunette, dressed in white, and wore a number of jewels. There were three men behind them. One was unknown to the poet, the other two were Moraines and Desforges. The unhappy lover gazed upon the trio before him—the woman sold to this aged libertine, and the husband who profited by the bargain. At least, René believed that it was so. This picture of infamy changed his feelings of sadness into fury. All combined to madden him—indignation at finding such ideal grace in Suzanne's face when but that afternoon she had hurried home from her disgusting amours, physical jealousy wrought to its highest pitch by the presence of the more fortunate rival, lastly a kind of helpless humiliation at beholding this perfidious mistress happy and admired, in all the glamour of her queenly beauty, whilst he, her victim, was almost dying of grief and unavenged.

By the time that the ballet was over René had lashed himself into that state of fury which in every day language is expressively styled a cool rage. At such moments, by a contrast similar to that observed in certain stages of madness, the frenzy of the soul is accompanied by complete control of the nerves. The individual may come and go, laugh and talk; he preserves a perfectly calm exterior, and yet inside him there is a whirlwind of murderous ideas. The most unheard-of proceedings then seem quite natural as well as the most pronounced cruelties. The poet had been struck with a sudden idea—to go into Madame Moraines' box and express to her his contempt! How? That did not trouble him much. All he knew was that he must ease his mind, whatever the result might be. As he made his way along the corridor, just then filled with the gilded youth of Paris, he was so beside himself that he came into collision with several people, but strode on unheedingly and without proffering a word of excuse. On reaching the ouvreuse, he asked her to show him the sixth box from the stage on the right.

'The box belonging to Monsieur le Baron Desforges?' said the woman.

'Quite right,' replied René. 'He pays for the theatre, too,' he thought; 'that's only as it should be.' The door was opened, and in a trice he had passed through the small ante-room that leads to the box itself. Moraines turned round and smiled at him in his frank and simple way. The next moment he was shaking hands with René in English fashion and saying, 'How d'you do?' as though they were accustomed to meet every day.

Then, turning to his wife, who had witnessed René's entrance without betraying the slightest surprise, he said, 'My darling, this is Monsieur Vincy.'

'I haven't forgotten Monsieur Vincy,' replied Suzanne, receiving her visitor with a graceful inclination of her head, 'although he seems to have forgotten me.'

The perfect ease with which she uttered this phrase, the smile that accompanied it, the painful necessity of shaking hands with this husband whom he regarded as an accessory to his wife's guilt, and of bowing to Baron Desforges as well as to the other persons present in the box—all these details were so strangely out of keeping with the fever consuming the poet that for a few moments he was quite taken aback. Such is life in the world of fashion. Tragedies are played in silence, and amidst an interchange of false compliments, an assumption of meaningless manners, and an empty show of pleasure. Moraines had offered René a seat behind Suzanne, and she sat talking to him about his musical tastes with as much apparent indifference as if this visit were not of terrible significance for her.

Desforges and Moraines were talking with the other lady, and René could hear them making remarks concerning the composition of the audience. He was not accustomed to impose upon himself that self-control which permits women of fashion to talk of dress or music whilst their hearts are being torn with anxiety. He stammered forth replies to Suzanne's words without the least idea of what he was saying. As she bent slightly forward he inhaled the heliotrope perfume she generally used. It awakened tender memories within him, and at last he dared to look at her. He saw her mobile lips, her fair, rose-like complexion, her blue eyes, her golden hair, her snow-white neck and shoulders over which his lips had often strayed. In his eyes there was a kind of savage delirium that almost frightened Madame Moraines. His bare coming had told her that something extraordinary was taking place, but she was under the watchful eye of Desforges, and she could not afford to make a single mistake. On the other hand, the least imprudence on René's part might ruin her. Her whole life depended upon a word or gesture of the young poet, and she knew how easily such word or gesture might escape him. She took up her fan and the lace handkerchief she had laid on the ledge of the box, and rose.

'It is too warm here,' she said, passing her hand over her eyes and addressing René, who had risen at the same time. Will you come into the ante-room? It will be cooler there.'

As soon as they were both seated on the sofa she said aloud, 'Is it long since you last saw our friend Madame Komof?' Then, in an undertone, 'What is the matter, love? What does this mean?'

'It means,' replied René, in a suppressed voice, 'that I know all, and that I am come to tell you what I think of you. You need not trouble to answer. I know all, I tell you—I know at what time you went into the house in the Rue du Mont-Thabor, at what time you left it, and whom you met there. Don't lie; I was there—I saw you. This is the last time I shall ever speak to you, but you understand—you are a wretch, a miserable wretch!'

Suzanne was fanning herself whilst he flung these terrible phrases at her. The emotions they aroused did not prevent her from perceiving that this scene with her enraged lover, who was evidently beside himself, must be cut short at any price. Bending forward, she called her husband from the box.

'Paul,' she said, 'have the carriage called. I don't know whether it's the heat in the house, but I feel quite faint. You will excuse me, Monsieur Vincy?'

'It's strange,' said Moraines to the poet, who was obliged to leave the box with the husband, 'she had been so bright all the evening. But these theatres are very badly ventilated. I am sure she is sorry at being unable to talk to you, for she is such an admirer of your talent. Come and see us soon—good-bye!'

And with his usual energy he again shook hands with René, who saw him disappear towards that part of the vestibule where the footmen stand in waiting. The orchestra was just attacking the first bars of the fifth act of 'Faust.' A fresh fit of rage seized the poet, and found vent in the words which he almost shouted in the now deserted corridor: 'I will be revenged!'



Suzanne knew the Baron's eagle eye too well to imagine that the scene in the box had entirely escaped him. How much had he seen? What did he think? These two questions were of capital importance to her. It was impossible to formulate any reply to them during the few minutes occupied—she leaning on his arm and he supporting her as though he really believed her to be ill—in passing from the box to the entrance reserved for carriages. The Baron's face remained impenetrable and she herself felt unable to exercise her usual faculties of observation. René's sudden onslaught had inspired her with such terror and pain that her indisposition had been a sham only to a certain extent. She had been afraid that the poet, evidently beside himself, might create a scene and ruin her for ever. At the same time her sincere and deep-rooted passion had received a severe blow in this terrible insult and still more terrible discovery. As she lifted up the train of her dress and descended the steps in her blue satin shoes she shuddered as we sometimes do when we escape from a danger which we have had the courage to brave. A faint smile hovered upon her quivering lips, but her face was ashy pale, and it was a real relief to her when she sat down in the corner of her carriage with her husband by her side. Before him, at least, there was no necessity to control herself. As the horses started she bent forward to bow her adieux. A gas-lamp shed its light full upon the Baron's face, which now betrayed his real thoughts. Suzanne read them in a second.

'He knows all,' she thought. 'What is to be done?'

For a few moments after the carriage had gone Desforges still stood there twirling his moustache—with him a sign of extraordinary preoccupation. It being a fine night, he had not ordered his brougham. It was his custom, when the weather was dry, to walk to his favourite club in the Rue Boissy-d'Anglas from any place in which he had been spending the evening—even if such place was some small theatre situated at the other end of the boulevards. Whilst smoking his third cigar—Doctor Noirot only allowed him three a day—he loved to stroll through the streets of that Paris which he justly prided himself upon knowing and enjoying as well as anyone. Desforges was no cosmopolitan, and had a horror of travelling, which he called 'a life of luggage.' This promenade in the evening was his delight. He utilised it for 'making up his balance'—that was his expression—for going over the different events of the day, placing his receipts in one column and his expenses in another. 'Massage, fencing, and morning ride,' were put down in the column of receipts to the credit of his health. 'Drinking burgundy or port'—his pet sin—'or eating truffles or seeing Suzanne' went into the column of expenditure. When he had indulged in some trifling excess that contravened his well-regulated lines of conduct he would carefully weigh the pros and cons, and conclude by pronouncing with the solemnity of a judge whether 'it was worth it' or 'not worth it.'

This Paris, too, in which he had dwelt since his earliest youth, always awakened in him memories of the past. His cynicism went hand in hand with cunning, and he practised only the Epicureanism of the senses. He was a master in the art of enjoying happy hours long after they had passed. In such a house, for instance, he had had appointments with a charming mistress; another recalled to his mind exquisite dinners in good company. 'We ought to make ourselves four stomachs, like oxen, to ruminate,' he used to say; 'that is their only good point, and I have taken it them.'

But when the Moraines had driven away in their brougham on this mild and balmy May evening he began his walk, a prey to most sad and bitter impressions, although the day had been a particularly pleasant one until René Vincy's entry in the box. Suzanne had not been mistaken. He knew all. The poet's visit had struck him all the more forcibly since, that very afternoon, on leaving the house in the Rue de Rivoli, he had found himself face to face with the young man, who stared hard at him. 'Where the deuce have I seen that fellow before?' he had asked himself in vain. 'Where could my senses have been?' he said, when Paul Moraines mentioned René's name to Suzanne. The expression on the visitor's face had immediately aroused his suspicions; when Suzanne went into the ante-room he had placed himself so as to follow the interview from the corner of his eye. Without hearing what the poet said, he had guessed by the look in his eyes, the frown on his brow, and the gestures of his hands that he was taking Suzanne to task. The feigned indisposition of the latter had not deceived him for a single moment. He was one of those who only believe in women's headaches when there is nothing to be gained by them. The manner in which his mistress's hand trembled on his arm as they descended the staircase had strengthened his convictions, and now, as he crossed the Place de l'Opéra, he told himself the most mortifying truths instead of going into his usual raptures before the vast perspective of the avenue, but lately lighted by electricity, or before the façade of the Opera, which he declared to be finer than Notre Dame.

'I have been let in,' he said, 'and at my age, too! It's rather too bad—and for whom?' All combined to render his humiliation more complete—the absolute secresy with which Suzanne had deceived him, and without arousing the slightest suspicion; the startling suddenness of the discovery; lastly, the quality of his rival, a bit of a boy, a scribbling poet! A score of details, one more exasperating than the other, crowded in upon him. The forlorn and bashful look on the poet's face when he had seen him on the day after Madame Komof's soirée; Suzanne's inexplicable fits of abstraction, which he had scarcely noticed at the time and her allusions to matutinal visits to the dentist's, the Louvre, or the Bon Marché. And he had swallowed it all—he, Baron Desforges!

'I have been an ass!' he repeated aloud. 'But how did she manage it?' It was this that completely floored him; he could not understand how she had gone about it, even when René's attitude in the box left him no doubt as to their relations. No, there was no possibility of doubt.

Had Suzanne not been his mistress he would never have dared to speak to her as he did, nor would she have allowed it. 'But how?' he asked himself; 'she never received him at home, or I should have known it through Paul. She did not see him out; he goes nowhere.' Once more he repeated, 'I have been an ass!' and felt really angry with the woman who was the cause of his perturbation. He had just passed the Café de la Paix and had to brush aside two women who accosted him in their usual shameless manner. 'Bah!' he exclaimed; 'they are all alike.' He walked on for a few paces and saw that he had let his cigar go out. He threw it away with a gesture of impatience. 'And cigars are like women.' Then he shrugged his shoulders as it occurred to him how childishly he was behaving. 'Frédéric, my dear fellow,' whispered an inner voice, 'you have been an ass, and you are continuing the rôle.' He took a fresh cigar from his case, held it to his ear as he cracked it, and went into a cigar-shop for a light. The havana proved to be delicious, and the Baron, a connoisseur, thoroughly enjoyed it. 'I was wrong,' he thought; 'here is one that is not a fraud.'

The soothing effect of the cigar changed the tenour of his ideas.

He looked about him and saw that he had almost reached the end of the boulevard. The pavement was as crowded as at midday, and the carriages and cabs went hurrying by. The gas-lamps glinted upon the young foliage of the trees in a fantastic manner, and on the right the dark mass of the Madeleine stood out against the dark blue sky studded with stars. This Parisian picture pleased the Baron, who continued his reflections in a calmer frame of mind. 'Hang it all!' he cried; 'can it be that I am jealous?' As a rule he shook his head whenever he was treated to an example of that mournful passion, and would generally reply, 'They pay your mistress attentions! But that is merely a compliment to your good taste.' 'I, jealous! Well, that would be good!'

When we have accustomed ourselves to play a certain part in the eyes of the world for years together we continue to play it even when alone. Desforges was ashamed of his weakness—like an officer who, sent out on a night expedition, blushes to find himself afraid and refuses to admit the presence of that feeling. 'It is not true,' he said to himself; 'I am not jealous.' He conjured up a vision of Suzanne in René's arms, and it tickled his vanity to feel that the picture, though not a pleasant one, did not cause him one of those fits of intense pain that constitute jealousy. By way of contrast, he recalled the poet's entry in the box, his agitated manner, and the unconquerable frenzy that betrayed itself in every lineament. There you had a really jealous man, exposed to the full fury of that terrible mania.

The antithesis between the relative calm he felt within him and his rival's despair was so flattering to the Baron's vanity that for a moment he was absolutely happy. He caught himself making use of his customary expression, one he had inherited from his father, a clever speculator, who had again had it from his mother, a fine Normandy woman who had linked her fortunes with those of the first Baron Desforges, a Prefect under the grand empereur, 'Gumption! Why should I be jealous? In what has Suzanne deceived me? Did I expect her to love me with a love such as this fool of a poet no doubt dreamt of? What could a man of more than fifty ask of her? To be kind and amiable? That she has been. To afford me an opportunity of spending my evenings agreeably? She has done so. Well, what then? She has met a strapping youth, a bit wild, with a fresh-looking complexion, and a fine pair of lips. As she couldn't very well ask me to get him for her, she has indulged in a little luxury on her own account. But, of the two of us, I should say that he is the cuckold!'

This reflection, so purely Gallic in form, occurred to him just as he reached the door of his club. The plain language in which it had found expression relieved him for a moment. 'That's all very well,' he thought; 'but what would Crucé say?' The adroit collector had once sold him a worthless daub at an exorbitant figure, and Desforges had ever since entertained for him that mixture of respect and resentment felt by very clever men for those who have duped them well. He drew a picture of the small club-room and the cunning Crucé relating Suzanne's adventure with René to two or three of his most envious colleagues. The idea was so hateful to the Baron that it stopped him from entering the club, and he walked away in the direction of the Champs-Elysées trying to shake off its influence. 'Bah! Neither Crucé nor the others will know anything of it. It's lucky after all that she didn't hit upon any of these men about town.' He threw a glance at the club windows that looked out upon the Place de la Concorde, and which were all lit up. 'Instead of that she has taken some one who is not in Society, whom I never meet, and whom she has neither patronised nor presented. I must do her the justice to admit that she has been very considerate. Her trepidation, too, just now, was entirely on my account. Poor little woman!'

'Poor little woman!' he repeated, continuing his soliloquy under the trees of the avenue. 'This beast is capable of making her repent her caprice most bitterly. He seemed in a pretty rage to-night! What want of taste and manners! In my box, too! What irony! If this good Paul were not the husband I have made him, she would be a ruined woman. And then he has discovered the secret of our meetings, and we shall have to leave the Rue du Mont-Thabor. No—the fellow is impossible!' This was one of his favourite expressions. A fresh fit of ill humour had seized him, this time directed against the poet, but, as he prided himself upon being a man of sense and upon his clear-sightedness, he suppressed it at once. 'Am I going to be angry with him for being jealous of me? That would be the height of folly! Let me rather think upon what he is likely to do. Blackmail! No. He is too young for that. An article in some paper? A poet with pretensions to sentiment—that won't be in his line. I wonder whether his indignation will lead him to cast her off altogether? That seems too good to be true. A young scribbler, as poor as a church mouse, shall give up a beautiful and loving mistress, surrounded by all the refinements of luxury, who costs him nothing! Get out! But what if he asks her to break with me, and she is foolish enough to yield?' He saw at once and clearly what disturbance such a rupture would create in his life. 'Firstly, there would be the loss of Suzanne, and where should I find another so charming, so sprightly, so accustomed to my ways and habits? Then, again, I should have to find something to do in the evenings, to say nothing of the fact that I have no better friend in Paris than this excellent Paul.' To remove his fears concerning these contingencies he was obliged to recapitulate the bonds of interest that made him indispensable to the Moraines. 'No,' he concluded, as he reached the door of his mansion in the Cours-la-Reine, 'he will not let her go, she will not give me up, and everything will come right. Everything always comes right in the end.'

This assurance and philosophy were probably not so sincere as the Baron's vanity—his only weakness—would have him believe, and for the first time in his life he got out of patience with his valet, a pupil of his who for years had helped him to undress. Though he was still anxious about the future, and more inwardly upset than he cared to admit, this easy-going egoist nevertheless slept right off for seven hours, according to his wont. Thanks to a life of moderate and continual activity, to a careful system of diet, to absolute regularity in rising and retiring, and, above all, to the care he took to rid his brain at midnight of all troublesome thoughts, he had acquired such a fixed habit of dropping off to sleep at the same hour that nothing less than the announcement of another Commune—the most terrible calamity he could think of—would have kept him awake. On opening his eyes in the morning, his mind refreshed by his recuperative slumbers, all irritation was so completely dispelled that he recalled the events of the preceding night with a smile.

'I am sure that he has not done as much,' he said to himself, thinking of the sleepless hours that René must have spent, 'nor Suzanne either'—she had been so agitated—'nor Moraines.' An indisposition of his wife's always turned that poor fellow upside down. 'What a fine title for a play—"The happiest of the four!" I must take credit for its invention.' His joke pleased him immensely, and when Doctor Noirot, during the process of massage, had said to him, 'Monsieur le Baron's muscles are in excellent condition this morning; they are as healthy, supple, and firm as those of a man of thirty,' the sensation of well-being abolished the last traces of his ill humour.

He had now but one idea—how to prevent last night's scene from bringing any change into his comfortable existence, so well adapted to his dear person. He thought of it as he drank his chocolate, a kind of light and fragrant froth which his valet prepared according to the precepts of a master of the culinary art. He thought of it as he galloped through the Bois on this bright spring morning. He thought of it as he sat down to luncheon about half-past twelve opposite the old aunt whose duties consisted of looking after the linen, the silver, and the servants' accounts, until such time as she should be called upon to look after him. He decided to adopt the principle of every wise policy, both public and private—to wait! 'Better give the young man time to make a fool of himself and slip away of his own accord. I must be very kind, and pretend I have seen nothing.'

Turning this resolve over in his mind, he made his way on foot to the Rue Murillo about two o'clock. He stopped before the shop window of an art dealer whom he knew very well, and his eyes fell upon a Louis XVI. watch, its chased gold case set in a wreath of roses and bearing a charming miniature. 'An excellent means,' he thought, 'of proving to her that I am for the status quo.' He bought the pretty toy at a reasonable price, and congratulated himself upon its acquisition when, on entering Suzanne's little salon, he saw how anxiously she had awaited his coming. Her careworn look and her pallor told him that she must have spent the night in concocting plans to get out of the dilemma into which the scene with René had led her, and by the way in which she eyed him the Baron saw that she knew she had not escaped his perspicacity. This compliment was like balm to his wounded vanity, and he felt real pleasure in handing her the case containing the little bauble with the words, 'How do you like this?'

'It is charming,' said Suzanne; 'the shepherd and shepherdess are most life-like.'

'Yes,' replied Desforges; 'they almost look as though they were singing the romance of those days:

'I gave up all for fickle Sylvia's sake,
She leaves me now and takes another swain . . .'

His fine and well-trained tenor voice had once gained him some success in the drawing-rooms, and he hummed the refrain of the well-known lament with a variation of his own:

'Love's pangs last but a moment,
Love's pleasures last for life . . .'

'If you will place this shepherd and shepherdess on a corner of your table, they will be better than with me.'

'How you spoil me!' said Suzanne, with some embarrassment.

'No,' replied Desforges, 'I spoil myself. Am I not your friend before all else?' Then, kissing her hand, he added in a serious tone that contrasted with his usual bantering accents, 'And you will never have a better.'

That was all. One word more and he would have compromised his dignity. One word less and Suzanne might have believed him her dupe. She felt deeply grateful for the consideration with which he had treated her—the more so since that consideration left her free to devote her mind to René. All her thoughts had been concentrated during her sleepless night upon this one question—how to manage the one while keeping the other, now that the two men had seen and understood each other? Break with the Baron? She had thought of it, but how could it be done? She saw herself caught in the web of lies which she had spun for her husband this many a year. Their mode of life could not be kept up without the aid of her rich lover. To break with him was to condemn herself to immediately seek a new relationship of the same kind. On the other hand, to keep Desforges meant breaking with René. The Baron, she had said to herself, would never understand that in loving another she was not robbing him of a whit of affection. Do men ever admit such truths? And now he was kind and considerate enough not even to mention whatever he had noticed. Never, even when paying the heaviest bills, had he appeared so generous as at that moment, when, by his attitude, he allowed her to devote herself to the task of winning back her young lover and the kisses she neither could nor would do without.

'He is right,' she said to herself when Desforges had gone; 'he is my best friend.' And immediately, with that marvellous facility women possess for indulging in fresh hopes on the slightest provocation, she was ready to believe that matters would arrange themselves as easily on the other side. As she lay at full length on the sofa, her fingers idly toying with the pretty little watch, her thoughts were busied with the poet and with the means she should employ to win him back. She must examine the situation carefully and look it full in the face. What did René know? This first point had been already answered by himself; he had seen both her and the Baron come out of the house in the Rue du Mont-Thabor. Now Desforges, from motives of prudence, never went out the same way as she did. René must therefore know of the existence of the two exits. Had he seen her leave her carriage and walk as far as the entrance in the Rue de Rivoli. It was very probable. If chance alone had brought him into contact with her first, and then with the Baron, he could have drawn no conclusions from the double meeting. No, he must have watched her and followed her. But what had induced him to do so? At their last interview at the beginning of the week she had left him so reassured, so full of love and happiness! There was only one thing that could possibly have caused a revival of suspicion so violent as to lead him to watch her movements—Claude's return. Once more a feeling of rage against that individual came over her.

'If it is to him that I owe this fresh alarm, he shall pay for it,' she thought. But she soon returned to the real danger, which, for the moment, was of more importance to her than her rancour against the imprudent Larcher. The fact remained that in some way or other René had detected the secret of her meetings with Desforges, and this evidently caused him such intense pain that he had been compelled to fling his discovery at her as soon as it was made. His mad conduct at the Opera was but a proof of love, though it had nearly ruined her, and, instead of her being angry with him for it, she only cherished him the more. His passion was a sign of her power over him, and she concluded that a lover who loved so madly would not be difficult to win back. Only she must see him, speak to him, and explain her visit to the Rue du Mont-Thabor with her own lips. She could say that she had gone to see a sick friend who was also a friend of the Baron's. But what of the carriage sent back from Galignani's? She had wanted to walk a little way. But the two entrances? So many houses are built like that. She had had too much experience of René's confiding nature to doubt that she would convince him somehow or other. He had simply been overwhelmed at the moment by proofs that corroborated his suspicions, and was probably already doubtful and pleading with himself the cause of his love.

Her reflections had carried her as far as this when her carriage was announced. The desire to get René back had taken such a hold upon her, and she was, moreover, so convinced that her presence would overcome all resistance, that a bold plan suddenly occurred to her. Why should she not see the poet at once? Why not, now that she had nothing to fear from Desforges? In love quarrels the quickest reconciliations are the best. Would he have the courage to repulse her if she came to him in the little room that had witnessed her first visit, bringing him a fresh and indisputable proof of love? She would say, 'You have insulted, slandered, and tortured me—yet I could not bear to think you in doubt and pain—and I came!' No sooner had she grasped the possibility of taking this decisive step than she clung to it as if it were a sure way out of the anguish that had tortured her since the preceding evening. She dressed so hurriedly that she quite astonished her maid, and yet she had never looked prettier than in the light grey gown she had chosen. Without a moment's hesitation, she told her coachman to drive to the Rue Coëtlogon. To that point had this woman, generally so circumspect and so careful of appearances, come.

'Just for once!' she said to herself as her brougham rolled along; 'I shall get there quicker.' The ideas of worldly prudence had soon made way for others. 'I wonder whether René is at home? Of course he is. He is waiting for a letter from me, or for some sign of my existence.' It was almost the same question she had asked herself and the same answer she had given on the occasion of her first visit in March, two months and a half before. By the difference in her feelings she could measure the progress she had made since that time. Then, she had hastened to the poet's dwelling in obedience to a violent caprice—but still only a caprice. Now, it was love that coursed through her veins, the love that thirsts for love in return, that sees nought else in the world but the object it desires, and that would unflinchingly make for its goal under the cannon's mouth. She loved now with all her body and soul; she had proofs of it in her unreasonable impatience to get along still faster and in her fears that the step she had taken might be in vain. Her agitation was intense when the carriage stopped at the gate that barred the entrance to the street. The latter, thanks to the trees whose foliage overtopped the garden wall on the right, looked fresh and green in the soft sunlight of this bright May afternoon.

She had undoubtedly been less moved on the former occasion when asking the concierge whether M. Vincy was at home. The man told her that he was in. She rang the bell, and, as before, the sound of it caused a thrill to run through her from head to foot. She heard a door open and light footsteps approaching. Remembering the heavy tread she had once heard in the same place, she concluded that the person now coming to the door was neither the maid nor René; the footfall of the latter she knew too well. She had a presentiment that she was about to face her lover's sister—the woman whose absence had favoured her former visit. She had no time to think of the drawbacks of this unexpected incident, for Madame Fresneau had already opened the door. Her face left Suzanne no doubt as to her identity, so great was the resemblance between the brother and sister. Neither had Emilie any hesitation in deciding who the visitor was. The sight of René's fresh sufferings during the past few days, added to the information she had gleaned from Claude, had intensified her hatred towards Madame Moraines, and as she replied to Suzanne's question she could not help giving her words a tone of bitter and unconcealed hostility.

'No, madame, my brother is not in.' Then, her sisterly affection suggesting a way to avoid all further questions as to the time of René's return, she added: 'He left town this morning.'

The reply given her by the concierge told Suzanne that this was a lie, but she had no reason for believing the lie to be an invention of Emilie's. She was obliged to believe, and did believe, that Madame Fresneau was obeying the orders given her by her brother. She tried to learn nothing further, a graceful inclination of her head in the very best form being the only revenge she took for the almost rude manners of the bourgeoise. Her outward calm, however, hid a great deal of disappointment and real pain. She did not stop to ask herself whether Emilie's strange behaviour was due to René's indiscreet confidences or not. She merely said to herself, 'He does not wish to see me again,' and that idea hurt her deeply. On reaching the street she turned to cast a glance at the window of the room into which she had once made her way, and remembered how, on that occasion, she had also looked round on leaving, and had seen the poet standing behind the half-drawn blinds. Would he not take up the same position to see her go when his sister told him who had called? She stood waiting for five minutes, and the fact of the blinds remaining down was a source of fresh grief to her. As she got into her brougham she was as agitated as only a woman can be who loves sincerely and who is obliged to be incessantly changing her plans. After turning the matter over again and again, she, who never wrote, decided to send the following letter:

Saturday, 5 o'clock.

'Dear René,—I called at your house, and your sister told me you had left town. But I know that is not true. You were there, only a few yards away from me, in that room where every object must have reminded you of my former visit, and yet you would not see me. You can surely have no doubts of my sincerity on that occasion? Why should I have acted a lie? I entreat you to let me see you, if it be only for a minute. Come and read in my eyes what you swore never to doubt—that you are my all, my life, my heaven. Since last night I am as one dead. Your horrible words are continually in my ears. It cannot be you who spoke them. Where could you have got that bitterness, almost akin to hatred? How can you condemn me unheard on a suspicion for which you will blush when I have proved to you how false it is? I ought, it is true, to be indignant and angry with you, but my heart, dear René, contains only love for you, and a desire to efface from your soul all that the enemies of our happiness have engraved there. The step I took this morning, though contrary to all that a woman owes herself, I took so cheerfully that, had you seen me, you could have had no doubt respecting the sentiments that animate me. Send me no answer. I feel even as I write how powerless a letter is to describe the feelings of the heart. I shall expect you on Monday at eleven in our sanctuary. It should be my right to tell you I demand to see you there, for those accused have always the right to defend themselves. I will only say, Come, if you ever loved, even for a day, the woman who has never told you and never will tell you aught but the truth. I swear it, my only love.'

When Suzanne had finished her letter she read it over. A lingering instinct of prudence made her hesitate before signing it, but the sincerity of her passion caused her to blush for her momentary weakness, and, taking up her pen, she wrote her name at the bottom of this faithful description of the strange moral condition into which she had drifted. She lied once more in swearing that she spoke the truth, and yet nothing was truer, more spontaneous, and less artificial than the feelings which dictated the supreme deception that capped all the rest. She summoned her footman, and, again scorning all ideas of prudence, told him to give the letter—any single sentence in which would have ruined her—to a commissionaire for immediate delivery. During the thirty-six hours that separated her from the rendez-vous she had fixed she lived in a state of nervous excitement of which she would never have deemed herself capable.

This woman, who had such perfect control over herself, and who had entered upon this adventure with the same Machiavelian sangfroid she had maintained in all her Society relations for years, now felt powerless to follow, or even to form, any kind of plan respecting the attitude to be assumed towards her lover. She was to dine out that night, but she went through the process of dressing in an absolutely listless way—an unusual thing for her—and without even looking in the glass. During the whole of the dinner she found not a word to say to her neighbour, the ubiquitous Crucé, and her brougham had been ordered for ten o'clock on the plea that she was still suffering from her indisposition of the preceding evening. On her way home she paid not the slightest attention to her husband's words; his very presence was intolerable to her, for it was on his account, remaining at home as he did on Sundays, that she had been obliged to put off her meeting with René until Monday. Would the poet consent to come? How anxiously, as the servant helped her off with her cloak, did she scan the tray on which were placed the letters that had come by the evening post! The poet's writing was not to be seen on any envelope. She spent the whole of Sunday in bed, under pretext of a bad headache, but in reality trying to think out some plan in case René refused to believe her story of a sick friend as an explanation of her visit to the Rue du Mont-Thabor.

But he would believe it. She could not admit to herself that he would not; the supposition was too painful. Her fever of longing and suspense, of hope and fear, reached its climax on Monday morning as she ascended the stairs of the house in the Rue des Dames. If René were waiting for her, hidden, as usual, behind the half-open door, it would prove that her letter had conquered him, and in that case she was saved. But no—the door was closed. Her hand trembled as she inserted the key in the lock. She entered the first room and found it empty and the blinds drawn. She sat down in the semi-darkness and gazed upon the objects that recalled a happiness so recent and yet already so far away. There was just the ordinary furniture of a modest drawing-room—a few arm-chairs and a sofa in blue velvet, with antimacassars carefully hung at the proper height. The handful of books René had brought were ranged in perfect order on a well-dusted shelf, and the worthy landlady had even taken care that the gilt clock, with its figure of Penelope, had been kept going.

Suzanne listened to the swing of the pendulum as it broke the silence in the apartment. Seconds passed, then minutes, then quarters, and still René did not come. He would not come now. As this fact dawned upon her Madame Moraines, accustomed from her earliest youth to having all her wishes gratified, was seized with a fit of real despair. She began to weep like a child, and her tears fell faster and faster, unaccompanied now by any thoughts of simulation. She felt a desire to write, but no sooner had she found some paper in the blotting-book left by her lover and dipped the pen in the ink than she pushed the things away, exclaiming, 'What is the good of it?' To show that she had been there in case René should come after she was gone she left behind her the scented handkerchief with which she had dried her bitter tears. She murmured to herself, 'He used to like this scent!' and by the side of the handkerchief she laid the gloves that he had always buttoned for her as she was going. Then, with a heavy heart, she left the room in which she had been so happy. Could it be possible that those happy hours had gone—and for ever?



The Fresneau family were at dinner when the commissionaire delivered Suzanne's letter. Françoise entered, holding the dainty envelope in her great red hand, and the expression on René's face as he tore it open sufficed to tell Emilie from whom the missive came. She trembled. The sight of her brother's wild despair had emboldened her to refuse admission to the unknown visitor whom she had instinctively recognised as its undoubted cause, the dangerous woman Claude Larcher had spoken of as the most wanton creature living. But to face René's anger and tell him what she had done was beyond her strength, and she postponed the unpleasant step from hour to hour. The look her brother gave her after reading the letter made her drop her eyes and colour to the roots of her hair. Fresneau, who was carving a fowl with rare ability—he had learnt the art, a strange one for him, at his father's table in days gone by—was so struck by the expression on his brother-in-law's face that he sat staring at him with a wing stuck on the point of his fork. Then, being afraid that his wife had noticed his surprise, he broke out into a laugh and tried to excuse his momentary abstraction by saying, 'This knife will cut butter.'

His jocular remark was followed by a silence that lasted until dinner was over—a silence threatening to Emilie, inexplicable to Fresneau, and unperceived by René, who was almost choking and did not eat a mouthful. Hardly had Françoise removed the cloth and placed the tobacco bowl and the decanter of brandy on the table when the poet went off to his room, after having asked the maid to light him a lamp.

'He looks annoyed, doesn't he?' observed the professor.

'Annoyed?' replied Emilie. 'Some idea for his play has probably occurred to him, and he wants to put it into writing at once. But it's a bad thing to work immediately after dinner—I'll go and tell him so.'

Glad to have found some excuse, Emilie went into her brother's room. She found him scribbling a reply to Suzanne's note in the twilight, without even waiting for the lamp. He was no doubt expecting his sister to come in, for he said roughly and in an angry tone; 'Oh, there you are! Some one called to see me to-day, and you said I was out of town?'

'René,' said Emilie, joining her hands, 'forgive me; I thought I was doing right. I was afraid of your seeing this woman in your present state.' Then, finding strength in the ardour of her affection to bare her inmost thoughts, she went on, 'This woman is your evil genius——'

'It seems,' cried the poet, with suppressed rage, 'that you still take me for a child of fifteen. Am I at home here—yes or no?' he shouted, bursting out. 'If I cannot do as I like, say so, and I'll go and live elsewhere. I have had enough of this coddling, you understand. Look after your son and your husband, and let me do as I like.'

He saw his sister standing there before him pale and overcome by the harsh words he had used. He was himself ashamed of his outburst. It was so unjust to make poor Emilie atone for the pain that was gnawing at his heart. But he was not in a mood just then for acknowledging himself in the wrong, and, instead of taking in his arms the woman he had so cruelly wounded in her most sensitive parts, he left the room, closing the door behind him with a bang. He snatched up his hat in the ante-room, and from the place where he had left her, trembling with agitation, Emilie could hear him leave the house.

The worthy Fresneau, who, after listening in amazement to René's excited accents, had also heard the noise of his departure, now entered the room to learn what had happened. He saw his wife standing there in the semi-darkness like one dead. Seizing her hands, he cried, 'What's the matter?' in such an affectionate tone that she flung her arms round his neck and cried out amidst her sobs:

'Mon ami—I have no one but you in the world!'

She lay there weeping, with her head on her husband's shoulder, whilst the poor fellow scarcely knew whether to curse or bless his brother-in-law, his despair at his wife's grief and his joy at seeing her fly to him for comfort being equally great.

'Come, come,' he said, 'don't be silly. Tell me what has taken place between you.'

'He has no heart, he has no heart,' was all the answer he could get.

'Nonsense, nonsense!' he replied, adding, with that clear-sightedness which true affection brings to the dullest, 'He knows how much you love him, and he abuses his knowledge—that's all!'

Whilst Fresneau was consoling Emilie as well as he could, though without getting her to divulge the secret of her quarrel with the poet, the latter was striding along the streets a prey to a fresh attack of that grief which had tortured his soul for the past twenty-four hours. Suzanne had been right in thinking that a voice within him would plead against what he knew—against what he had seen. Who that has loved and been betrayed has not heard that voice which reasons against all reason and bids us hope against all hope? Faith has gone for ever, but how pleased we should be to find ourselves again at the stage of doubt! How regretfully we then recall as some happy period the cruel days when suspicion had not yet grown into horrible and unbearable certainty!

René would have purchased with his blood the shadow of the shadow of a doubt, but the more he dwelt upon all the details that had led to his conviction the more firmly did that conviction take root in his heart. 'But if she had been paying a harmless visit?' hazarded the voice of love. Harmless? Would she have concealed her destination from her coachman? Would she have gone out by the other door, thickly veiled, walking straight before her, but looking furtively about her just as she did on leaving him? And then the appearance of Desforges almost immediately after at the other entrance! . . . All the proofs brought forward by Claude occurred to him one after another—the Society rumours, the recent ruin of the Moraines, the post obtained for the husband, the suggestion made to him by Suzanne for purchasing shares, and her lies, now proved to be such. 'What more positive proofs can I have,' he asked himself, 'except one?' And as the terrible vision of Suzanne in the arms of her aged lover rose up before him he closed his eyes in pain. Then came thoughts of her visit to the Rue Coëtlogon and of the letter he had in his pocket. 'And she dares ask to see me? What can she have to say? I will go, as she asks, and take my revenge by insulting her as Claude insults Colette. . . . No,' he continued, 'that would be degrading myself to her level; true revenge consists in ignoring her. I shall not go.'

He wavered between these two decisions, feeling quite powerless to make up his mind, so intense was his longing to see Suzanne once more and so sincere his resolution not to be duped again by her lies. His perplexity became so great that he resolved to go and ask Claude's advice. Now only did he begin to feel some surprise that this faithful friend had not sent to inquire about him in the morning, as he had promised to do.

'I'll go and call on him, although he'll probably not be in,' said René as he bent his steps towards the Rue de Varenne. It was about half-past ten when he rang the ponderous bell of the Sainte-Euverte mansion. There was a light burning in one of the apartments occupied by Claude, who, contrary to René's expectations, was not out. The poet found him in the smoking-room, the first of the small set at the top of the stairs. A lamp with a pink globe shed a soft light round the apartment, the walls of which were adorned with a large piece of tapestry and a copy of the 'Triumph of Death' attributed to Orcagna. In a corner of the room the bluish flame of a spirit lamp was burning under a small tea kettle; this, with the two cups, a decanter of sherry, and some bouchées au foie gras on a china dish were proofs that the occupant of this quiet abode expected a visitor. A bundle of small Russian cigarettes with long mouthpieces—Colette's favourites—plainly revealed to René who that visitor was. He would still have hesitated to believe his own eyes had not Claude, in evident embarrassment, said, with a shamefaced smile:

'After all, it's as well that you should know it—canis reversus ad vomitum suum. Yes, I am expecting Colette. She is coming here after the theatre. Do you object to meeting her?'

'Candidly,' replied René, 'I prefer not to see her.'

'And how do matters stand with you?' asked Claude.

After the poet had briefly acquainted him with the present position, the scene at the Opera, Suzanne's visit, and her request for a meeting, Larcher rejoined: 'What can I say to you? Have I the right to advise you, weak as I am myself? But does that really matter? I can see my own follies clearly enough, although I am continually stumbling like a blind man. Why, then, should I not see clearly for you, who have perhaps more energy than I? You are younger, and have never stumbled yet. . . . It comes to this. Have you resolved to become, like me, an erotic maniac, a madman ruled only by sexual passion, and—worse than all—a wretch sensible of his own degradation? Then keep this appointment. Suzanne will give you no reasons, not one. Don't you see that if she were innocent the very sight of you would be hateful to her after what you have said? She came to your house. Why? To blind you once more with her beauty. Now she summons you to the very place where you will be least able to resist that beauty. She will say what women always say in these cases. Words—and words—and words again. But you will see her, you will hear the rustle of her skirts. And, believe me, there is no love-potion so powerful as treachery! You will feel the truth of this when you stifle her with savage and brutish embraces—and then, good-bye to reproaches! Everything is forgotten. But what follows? You saw how brave I was yesterday. See what a coward I am to-day, and say to yourself, like the workman who sees his drunken comrade staggering helplessly along, "That's how I shall be on Sunday!" If, after all, you feel unable to do without her—if you must have her, as the drunkard must have his wine—you will find solace in this cowardice, even though it kill you. That solace I have found. Glut yourself with this woman's love. It will rid you either of your love for her or of your self-respect. You will learn to treat Suzanne exactly as I treat Colette. But remember what I have told you to-night—it is the end of all. Talent I no longer possess. Honour! What should I do with it, having forgiven what I have forgiven? My poor boy,' he concluded in tones of entreaty, 'you can still save yourself. You are at the top of the ladder that leads down to the sewer—listen to the cry of an unhappy wretch who is up to his neck in filth at the bottom. And now, good-bye, if you don't want to see Colette. Why did she tell you what she did? You knew nothing, and where ignorance is bliss—— Good-bye once more, old man. Think of me and pity me!'

'No,' said the poet, as he made his way home, 'I will not descend to such depths.' For the first time perhaps since witnessing Claude's unhappy passion he really understood the nature of his wretched friend's malady. He had just discovered in himself feelings identical to those which had made such an abject slave of Colette's lover—a mingling of utter contempt and ardent physical longing for a woman justly tried and condemned. Yes, in spite of all he had learnt he still desired Suzanne—still desired those lips kissed by Desforges and all that beauty which the hoary libertine had stained but not destroyed. It was that fair white flesh that troubled his senses now—nought but that flesh! To this had come his noble love, his worship of her whom he had once called his Madonna. Claude was right: if he yielded to this base longing but once, all would be lost. His loathing for the slough of corruption in which his friend was helplessly struggling was so intense that it gave him strength to say, 'I pledge myself not to go to the Rue des Dames on Monday,' and he knew he would keep his word.

Whilst Suzanne was undergoing the tortures of hope and despair in the little blue salon on the appointed morning René too was suffering intensely, but it was in his own room. 'I won't go—I won't go!' he muttered repeatedly. Then he thought of his friend, and he sighed 'Poor Claude!' as he fully realised the position of the man who had been beaten in the struggle in which he himself was now engaged. He pitied himself whilst pitying Colette's victim, and this pity, as well as his old and long-continued religious habits, aided his courage. For some time now he had refrained from all observances, and had surrendered himself to those doubts which all modern writers entertain more or less before returning to Christianity as the sole source of spiritual life. But even during the period of doubt the moral muscle, developed by exercise in childhood and youth, continues to put forth its strength. In his resistance to the most pressing calls of passion, the nephew and pupil of the Abbé Taconet once more found this power at his service. When the last stroke of twelve had died away he said to himself, 'Suzanne has gone home—I am saved.'

Saved he was not, and his inability to follow Claude's advice to the letter ought to have convinced him of this. Neither on the Monday nor the following days could he summon up sufficient courage to leave the city that contained the woman from whom he now both wished and thought himself freed. He invented all kinds of shallow pretexts for remaining in Paris. 'I am as far from her in this room as I should be in Rome or Venice; I shall not go to her, and she will not come here.' In reality, he was expecting—he scarce knew what. He only knew that his passion was too intense to die in this way. A meeting would take place between Suzanne and himself. How or where mattered little, but it would certainly take place. He would not confess to this cowardly and secret hope, but it had taken such hold upon him that he remained a prisoner in the Rue Coëtlogon in hourly expectation of receiving another letter or of finding himself the object of some last attempt. No letter came, no attempt was made, and his heart grew heavier within him.

At times this desire to see Suzanne once more—a desire he felt, but would not admit—drove him to his writing-table, where he would sit and indite page after page of the wildest sentiment to the abandoned creature. His pent-up rage found vent in the mad lines in which he both insulted and idolised her, and in which terms of endearment mingled with words of hatred. Then Claude's piteous laments would re-echo in his ears, and he would tear up the paper as he stifled an answering wail that rose within him. He lay down at night with despair in his heart, thinking of death as the only thing to be desired. He rose, and his thoughts were unchanged. The bright days, so glorious in the budding time of Nature, were to him intolerable, and his poetic soul longed for the twilight hour and the darkness that matched so well the black night in his heart. In the gloaming, too, he could find sweet solace in tears. It was the hour that his poor sister feared most for him. They had become reconciled on the very next day after their quarrel.

'Are you still angry with me?' she had asked him, with that gentleness of voice that betokens true affection.

'No,' he replied; 'I was entirely in the wrong; but, unless you wish to see me act so unjustly again, I entreat you never to re-open that subject.'

'Never,' she said, and she kept her word. Meanwhile she saw her brother wasting away, his cheeks growing still thinner and a fierce light that frightened her burning in his sunken eyes. It was for this reason, then, that she generally chose the dangerous hour of twilight to come and sit with him. One day Fresneau had gone to take Constant for a walk in the Luxembourg; she herself had found some pretext for staying at home. She took her darling brother's hand in hers, and this dumb caress made the unhappy fellow feel inexpressibly sad. He returned her pressure without a word, her benign and soothing influence controlling him until thoughts of Desforges suddenly flashed across his brain. 'Leave me,' he said to Emilie, and she obeyed him in the hope of easing his pain. As soon as she was gone he buried his head in the pillows of the bed whilst jealousy gripped his heart with relentless claws. Ah! the agony of it!

How many days had he spent in this fashion? Scarcely seven, but in his present sufferings they appeared to him an eternity. Looking at the almanac on the morning of the eighth day, he saw that May was drawing to an end. Although the pilgrimage he contemplated inspired him with horror, the bourgeois habits of regularity that had animated him throughout his life induced him to turn his steps once more towards the Rue des Dames. There was the landlady's bill to be paid and notice of leaving to be given her. He chose the afternoon for his visit, so as to be sure of not meeting Suzanne. 'Just as if she had not already forgotten me,' he said to himself. What were his feelings on finding not only her handkerchief and gloves, but next to them a note she had left there on a second visit addressed to 'M. d'Albert!' He tore it open, but his hands shook so terribly that it took him quite five minutes to read the few sentences it contained, many of the words, too, being half effaced by tears.

'I came back once more, my love! From the shrine of our passion, and in the name of the memories it must contain for you as well as for me, I entreat you to see me once again. Darling—will you not think of me here without those horrible flashes of hatred I have seen in your eyes? Remember what proofs of affection I have given you on the spot where you are reading these lines. No! I cannot live if you doubt what is the one, the only great truth of my life. I repeat once more that I am not angry nor indignant—I am in despair; if you do not believe me it is because, with my heart full of love and pain, I cannot stoop to artifice to make you believe anything. Good-bye, my love! How often have I repeated these words on the threshold of this room! And then I would add—Au revoir! But I suppose it must really be good-bye now, both on my lips and in my heart—can it be good-bye for ever?'

'Good-bye, my love!' repeated René, trying in vain to steel his heart. The simple, loving words, the sight of the room, the thought that Suzanne had come here without the hope of seeing him, and merely as a pilgrim to the shrine of their past love—all contributed to work him up to a pitch of frenzy, which he did his best to withstand. 'Her love!' he cried, with a sudden outburst of fury, 'and she went to another—for money! What a coward I am!' To escape the painful feelings he could not banish he left the room hurriedly and rang Madame Raulet's bell. The fair-spoken and accommodating landlady soon made her appearance, and led the way into her own little parlour, furnished with the remaining articles she could not get into the other. On his telling her that he was giving up the apartments her face showed signs of real annoyance.

'The bill is not quite ready,' she said.

'I am in no hurry,' replied René, and, fearing a fresh attack of despair if he returned to the room he had left, he added, 'I'll wait here, if you don't mind.'

Although he was in no observant mood, he could not help noticing that in the twenty minutes she kept him waiting Madame Raulet had found time to change her dress. Instead of the striped cotton wrapper in which she had received him, she now wore a becoming evening dress of black grenadine. The corsage consisted of bands of stuff alternating with lace insertions, through which might be seen the fair neck and shoulders of the coquettish widow. There was a brighter look in her eyes and a more vivid colour in her cheeks than usual, and, laying the bill on the table, she said:

'Excuse me for having kept you waiting. I didn't feel very well. I have such palpitations of the heart—feel!' Taking René's hand with a smile that would not have deceived the simplest soul living, she placed it on the spot where her heart should have been.

She had suspected the rupture between the pseudo-d'Albert and his mistress by the two solitary visits of Madame Moraines. The fact of René giving up the apartments proved her suspicions to be correct, and an idea of taking advantage of the rupture had suddenly entered her head, either because the poet with his manly beauty really pleased her or because she had an eye to pecuniary considerations she could not afford to despise. She was by no means old and thought herself very attractive. But on looking at her lodger as she carried his hand to her side she saw in his eyes a look of such cool contempt and disgust that she immediately loosed her hold of his fingers. She took up the bill, the writing in which showed that it had been prudently made out beforehand, and tried to cover her confusion by entering into profuse explanations of this or that item in a highly inflated account which the poet did not even stoop to verify. He handed her the sum he owed her, half in paper, half in gold. The humiliating defeat of her amorous attempt had not deprived her wits of their sharpness, for she examined the notes by holding each one up to the light, and looked closely at each of the gold pieces as she counted them. She even sounded one of the coins that seemed a little light in weight, and, after a moment's hesitation, said: 'I must ask you to let me have another for this.'

The impressions produced by this shamelessness and sordid greed were so well in keeping with the rest of René's feelings that during the quarter of an hour it took him to carry the few things he had in the three rooms to his cab he—to use the apt and expressive words of a humourist—'was as merry as a mute going to his own funeral.' As the old 'growler' jolted along over the stones, carrying in its musty-smelling interior the emblems of his happiness, his cruel merriment changed to a fit of most abject melancholy. He recognised every inch of the way he had so often trodden in the ecstasy of love, and which he would never tread again. Dark and lowering clouds hung over the city. Since the preceding evening there had been one of those unexpected returns of winter to which Paris is frequently exposed about the middle of spring, and which nip the young verdure with frost. As the cab crossed the Seine, flowing darkly and drearily along, the unhappy man looked down into the water and thought, 'How easy it would be to end it all!'

After this movement of despair he felt in his pocket for Suzanne's letter, as if to convince himself of the reality of his grief. He also took out her handkerchief and inhaled its perfume—for some time; then he gazed at her gloves, and saw in them the shape of the fingers he had loved so well. He felt that he had exhausted all his energy in resisting temptation, and as soon as he was alone in his room after this fresh and painful crisis he cried aloud, 'I cannot bear it any longer!'

Calmly, almost mechanically, he opened a drawer and took out of a leather case a small revolver his sister had given him to carry in his pocket when coming home late from the theatre. It was not loaded, and, taking out a packet of cartridges, he weighed one in the palm of his hand. Poor human machine, how little is required to bring you to a standstill! He loaded the revolver and unbuttoned his shirt; then, feeling for the place where his heart throbbed within him, he pressed the barrel against it.

'No,' he said, in a firm tone, 'not before I have tried.'

These words were the outcome of an idea which had repeatedly entered his mind, and which, repeatedly rejected as a crazy one, now took shape and form with the precision our thoughts assume in moments of important action. He put the revolver back in the drawer, and sitting down in his arm-chair—Suzanne's arm-chair—he plunged into that abyss of tragic thought in which visions stand out in bold relief, arguments follow on each other with lightning rapidity, and desperate resolutions are adopted. 'My love!' he repeated to himself, remembering the words of Suzanne's letter. Yes, in spite of her lies, in spite of the play she had acted—the innumerable scenes of which now passed through his mind—in spite of her base connection with Desforges, she had truly and passionately loved him. If that love were not sincere, then the story of the past few months was perfectly unintelligible! What other motive could have thrown her into his arms? It could not have been an interested one. He was so poor, so humble, so utterly beneath her. Neither was it the glory of enslaving a fashionable author, for she had herself begged that their relations should be kept a secret. It could not be vanity, for she had not stolen him from any rival, nor had she held out long to give her conquest more value. No—monstrous as that love might be, mingled as it was with corruption and deceit, there was no doubt that she had loved him and that she loved him still. That soul whose moral leprosy had struck him with horror was yet capable of some kind of sincerity. There was still something within this woman better than her life, better than her actions. René at length consented to listen to the voice which pleaded for his mistress, and calmly and dispassionately did he now weigh the crime of venality that had at first so disgusted him.

His visits to the Komof mansion and his intimate relations with Suzanne had opened his eyes to a new world and initiated him into the mysteries of the highest forms of luxury and refinement. The false notions of high life which the unsophisticated bourgeois poet had at first entertained were soon dispelled by a more correct idea of the frightful extravagance which fashionable existence in Paris involves. Now, whilst his love was struggling for life and attempting to justify Suzanne, or at least to understand her, to discover in her something to save her from utter contempt, he began to see, thanks to his truer knowledge of the world, the tragedy in which this woman had played a leading part. Claude had summed up the situation briefly in these words: 'Seven years ago the Moraines were ruined.' Ruined! That word was now synonymous in René's ears with all the privation and humiliation it generally brings. Suzanne had been brought up in luxury to lead a life of luxury. It was as necessary to her as the air she breathed. Her husband had no doubt been the first to urge her to adopt her sinful expedient—so at least did the poet continue to judge poor Paul. Desforges had presented himself, and she had sinned, but not from love. When at length love did come to her could she break her chains? Yes—she could, by proposing to him, René, that each should give up all that bound them here, and that they two should go and live together for ever!

'Give up all! . . . They two! . . . Live together!' He caught himself uttering these words as in a dream. Was it too late? What if he went to Suzanne now and offered to sacrifice all to their love, to wipe out all the past except that love, and to bind up and identify with it their whole being, their whole present, their whole future? What if he said: 'You swear that you love me, that this love is the one and only truth in your heart. Prove it. You have no children, you are free. Take my life and give me yours. Go with me, and I will forgive you and believe in you. . . . I am going mad,' he said, suddenly bringing his mind to a standstill as this idea presented itself so clearly that he could actually see Suzanne listening to him. Mad? But why? The stories he had read in his youth about the redemption of fallen women by love—an idea of such sublime conception that it has attracted the greatest writers—came back to him. Balzac's Esther, the most divine character of an amorous courtesan ever painted, had often figured in his dreams of long ago, and natures like his, in which literary impressions precede those of life itself, never altogether lose the impress of such dreams.

He loved Suzanne, and Suzanne loved him. Why should he not attempt to save her, in the name of that sublime passion, from the infamy that covered her, and try to drag himself away from the dark abyss of death towards which he felt drawn? Why should he not offer her this unique opportunity of repairing the hideous wretchedness of her fate? But she—what answer would she make? 'I shall know then whether she loves me,' continued René. 'Yes—if she loves me, how eagerly will she seize this means of escaping from the horrible luxury to which she is chained! And if she says no?' A thrill of terror shot through him at the thought. 'It will be time enough to act then,' he concluded.

The whirlwind of passion let loose by the sudden conception of this plan raged for nearly three hours. As his thoughts swayed hither and thither the poet seemed unconscious of the fact that his mind was already made up, and that the fluctuations only served to disguise from him the one feeling that dominated all the rest—a furious longing, amounting almost to a necessity, to have his mistress back. Even had this plan of elopement been more irrational, more impracticable, and less likely to succeed, he would have taken it up as the most reasonable, the easiest, and most certain of success, simply because it was the only one that reconciled the irrepressible ardour of his love with that dignity his still unsullied honour would never compromise.

'To action,' he said at last. He sat down to his table and wrote Suzanne a note in which he asked her to be at home the next day at two o'clock. He took the letter to the post himself, and immediately experienced that relief which invariably follows upon some definite resolve. He who for a whole week, and ever since his first wild fit of grief, had felt himself unable to put forth the least energy, and incapable even of opening the manuscript of his 'Savonarola,' at once set about preparing everything, as if there could be no doubt what Suzanne's reply would be. He counted out the money he had in his drawer; there was a little over five thousand francs. That would suffice for the initial expenses. And afterwards? He made a calculation of the amount to which he was entitled out of the patrimony that had never been divided between Emilie and himself. The great thing was to get over the first two years, during which he would finish his play and have it staged. Immediately after that he would publish his novel, which the success of his piece would help on, just as one wave sweeps on another, and then would come his collection of poems. A boundless horizon of work and of triumph seemed to lie before him. Of what efforts would he not be capable, sustained by the divine elixir of happiness and by the desire to provide Suzanne with that luxury she would have sacrificed for him? When his sister entered his room she surprised him arranging his papers, putting his books in order, and sorting some prints.

'What are you doing?' she asked.

'You can see that,' he replied, 'I'm getting ready to go.'

'To go!'

'Yes,' he rejoined; 'I think of going to Italy.'

'When?' asked Emilie in astonishment.

'Most probably the day after to-morrow.'

He meant what he said. He had calculated that Suzanne would require about twenty-four hours for her preparations if she decided to go. If she decided to go! The mere possibility of his attempt failing caused him such pain that he did not care to dwell upon it. Since the scene at the Opera, when he had left her pale and crushed in the semi-darkness of the private box, he had imposed almost superhuman restraint upon himself by stemming the torrent of passionate longing within him. The hope so suddenly conceived was a kind of breach through which the torrent swept with such unrestrained and violent fury that it overturned and carried away all before it. In his madness René even went so far as to look at some trunks in two or three shops in the Rue de la Paix. Since the departure from Vouziers no one in the Vincy family had left Paris, even for twenty-four hours. The only articles in the Rue Coëtlogon that could hold anything were two old worm-eaten coffers and three leather portmanteaus falling to pieces from age. These preparations, which lent an appearance of reality to the poet's dreams, cheated the fever of suspense until the hour of his appointment. The illusion in which he had indulged had been so strong that he did not realise his actual position until he stood in the little salon in the Rue Murillo. Nothing had yet been achieved.

'Madame will be here in a moment,' the servant had said, leaving him alone in the room. He had not been there since the day when he read his choicest verses to her whom he then regarded as a Madonna. Why did she keep him waiting for full five minutes in this place that must awaken in him so many recollections? Was it yet another ruse on her part? Recollections did indeed rise up before him, but produced an effect totally different from that anticipated by Suzanne. The elegance of these surroundings, once so much admired, now inspired him with horror. An atmosphere of infamy seemed to hang over all these objects, many of which had no doubt been paid for by Desforges. The horror he felt intensified his desire to drag the woman he loved away from her misery, and when she appeared on the threshold it was not love that she read in his eyes, but a fixed and determined look of resolve.

What resolve? Of the two she was undoubtedly the most agitated and least under control. Her long white lace robe lent a sickly hue to her face, already drawn and haggard by the trouble she had lately undergone. There had been no necessity for her to pencil her eyes—a custom practised by actresses of the drawing-room as well as by those of the stage—nor of studying the movement with which, at sight of René, she brought her hand to her heart and leant against the wall for support. At the first glance she saw that she had a hard battle to fight, and she feared the result. There fell upon the two lovers one of those spells of silence so awful in their solemnity that in them we seem to hear the flight of destiny!

The silence became unbearable to the unhappy woman, and she broke it by saying in a low tone, 'René, how you have made me suffer!' Then, rushing forward in her mad state of agitation, she took hold of his two hands, and, throwing herself upon him, sought his lips for a kiss. But he had the strength to shake her off.

'No,' he said, 'I won't.'

Wringing her hands, she cried in distress, 'Then you still believe in those vile suspicions! You did not come, and you condemned me unheard! What proofs had you? That you saw me leave a certain house! Not a single doubt in my favour—not one out of twenty suppositions that might have pleaded for me! What if I tell you that a friend of mine living in that house was ill, and that I had been to call on her? What if I tell you that the presence of the other person whose sight drove you mad was due to the same cause? Shall I swear it by all I hold most sacred, by——'

'Don't swear,' exclaimed René in harsh tones, 'I shouldn't believe you—I don't believe you.'

'He does not believe me even now—my God! What shall I do?' She paced up and down the room, repeating, What shall I do? What shall I do?'

During the whole of that week she had been tormented by the thought that he might be so thoroughly exasperated as not to believe her. If but a single suspicion were left him she was lost. He would follow her again or have her watched. He would know that she met Desforges every time she visited her imaginary friend, and the whole thing would begin over again. What, then, was the use of going on with her lies? She had had enough of it all. Now that her heart was stirred by the sincerest of passions she felt a desire to tell her lover the truth—the whole truth, and, while telling him, to convince him of the depth of her love. He must be made to hear the cry that came from her heart, and made to believe it.

Almost beside herself, she commenced her story.

'It is true—I lied to you. You want to know all—you shall know all.'

She stopped for a moment and passed her hands wildly over her face. No, no! She felt incapable of making this confession. He would despise her; and inventing, as she went on, a kind of incoherent compromise between her desire to unbosom herself and the fear of repelling René, she began again.

'It is a horrible story. My father died. There were letters to get back with which his enemies might have blackened his memory. This required money—a good deal. I had none. My husband stood aloof. Then this man came. I lost my head, and once he had me in his grasp he would not let me go. Ah! can you not understand that I lied only to keep you?'

René had been watching her as these hurried words fell from her lips. The story of rescuing her father's honour he knew to be a fresh lie, but her last cry, uttered with almost savage ardour, had the ring of truth in it What mattered to him all the rest? He would know by her answer whether this love, the only sincerity to which she now laid claim, was strong enough to triumph over all else.

'So much the better!' he replied. 'Yes, so much the better if you are the slave of a wretched past that weighs you down! So much the better if your subjection to this man causes you such horror! You say that you have loved me—that you still love me, and that you lied only to keep me? I now, offer you an opportunity of giving me such proofs of that love as will put an end to all my doubts.

'I ask you to efface the past for ever and with one stroke. I too love you, Suzanne—ah! how tenderly! Do not ask me what my feelings were on learning what I have learnt, on seeing what I have seen. If it has not killed me, it is because we do not die of despair. I am ready to forgive all, to forget all, provided I know of a certainty that you really love me. I am free, and, since you have no children, you too are free. I am ready to give up everything for you, and I have come to ask you whether you are ready to do the same. We will go wherever you like—to Italy, to England, to any country where we shall be sure of finding no traces of your past life. That past I will blot out; my belief in your love will give me strength to do this. I shall say to myself: "She did not know me; but as soon as I bared my heart there was nothing that could withstand her love." To accept the present horrible state of things is impossible. To see you coming to me stained by this man's caresses—or even, if you should break with him, to doubt the reality of the rupture, and to reassume the degrading rôle of a spy I have already played—no, Suzanne, do not ask it of me! We have reached that point when we must be all or nothing to each other—either absolute strangers or lovers who find in their love compensation for the loss of family, country, and the whole world. It is for you to choose.'

He had spoken with the concentrated energy of a man who has sworn to carry out what he has in his mind. Mad as the proposal seemed in the eyes of a woman accustomed only to such forms of passion as are compatible with the laws and usages of social life, Suzanne did not hesitate for a moment. René had spoken in all sincerity, but in doing so had given proofs of such deep-rooted affection that she had no doubt as to her final triumph over the rebellious and mad schemes of the poet.

'How good you are to talk to me like that!' she replied with a thrill of joy. 'How you love me! How you love me!' In uttering these words she hung her head a little, as if the happiness brought her by these proofs were almost too much to bear. 'God! how sweet this is!' she murmured.

Then, approaching him once more, she took his hand, almost timidly this time, and held it tightly clasped in her own.

'Child that you are, what is it you offer me? If it were only a question touching myself, how gladly I would say, "Take all my life," and deserve little praise for doing so! But how can I accept the sacrifice of yours? You are twenty-five years old and I am more than thirty. Close your eyes, and look at us in ten years' time. I shall be an old woman, whilst you will still be a young man. What then? And what about your work—that art to which you are so attached that it makes me quite jealous? Why should I hide it from you now? You must be in Paris to be able to write. I should see you pining away beside me. I should see you, an unwilling slave, bestowing affection upon me out of pity and from a sense of duty. No—I could not bear it! My love, lay aside this mad plan and say that you forgive me without it—say it, René, I implore you!'

Whilst speaking she had nestled closer to the poet, and now hung her arms about his neck, seeking his lips with hers. An intense desire to fold her in his arms came over him, but it was drowned in the disgust he felt at her lasciviousness.

Seizing her by the wrist, he flung her from him, shouting in his fury, 'Then you refuse to come—tell me once more you refuse to come!'

'René, I entreat you,' she went on, with tears in her voice and in her eyes, 'do not cast me off! Since we love each other, let us be happy. Take me as I am, with all the wretchedness of my life. It is true—I love luxury, I love gaiety, I love the Paris you hate. I shall never have the courage to break my bonds and give all this up. Take me for what I am, now that you know all, now that you feel I am speaking the truth when I swear I love you as I have never loved before. Keep me! I will be your slave, your thing! When you call me, I will come. When you drive me away, I will go. Do not look at me with such eyes, I implore you—let your heart be softened! When you came to me, did I ask you whether you had another mistress? No; I had but one wish—to make you happy. Can you reproach me for having kept all the misery of my life from you? Look at me—I kneel before you and beseech you——'

She had, indeed, thrown herself at his feet. She took no heed of prudence now, nor of the possibility of a servant entering the room. Clinging to his garments, she dragged herself about on her knees. Never had she looked so beautiful as when, with eyes aglow and her face burning with all the fire of passion, she at length laid aside the mask and proclaimed herself the sublime courtesan she had always been. René's senses were in a state of wild commotion, but a cruel reminiscence flashed across his brain, and he flung his words at her with an insulting sneer—

'And what about Desforges?'

'Don't speak of him,' she moaned, 'don't think of him! If I could get rid of him or forbid him the house, do you think I should hesitate? Don't you understand what a hold he has upon me? My God! My God! It is not right to torture a woman like this! No,' she added, in a dull, despairing tone, still on her knees, but now immovable and with hanging head, 'no, I can bear it no longer!'

'Then accept my offer,' said René; 'there is still time. Let us fly together.'

'No,' she replied, in accents of still greater despair, 'no; I can't do that either. It would be so easy to make a promise and break it. But I have already lied too much.' She rose. The crisis through which she had passed was beginning to react upon her nerves, and she repeated wearily, 'I can't do that either—I can't.'

'What, then, do you want?' he cried in tones of fury. 'Why were you on your knees just now? A toy—a plaything—is that what you want me to be? A young man whose caresses would compensate you for those of the other!' His anger carried him away, and the brutal words almost led to deeds. He strode towards her with uplifted fist and with an expression so terrible that she thought he was going to kill her. She drew back, pale with fear, and with outstretched hands.

'Forgive me, forgive me!' she cried in her distraction. 'Don't hurt me!'

She had taken shelter behind a table upon which, amongst other trifles, there stood the photograph of the Baron in a plush frame. In struggling with the horrible temptation to strike this defenceless woman René had turned his eyes from her. As they fell upon the portrait he broke out into a hideous laugh. Taking up the frame, he seized Suzanne by the hair and rubbed the portrait violently over her lips and face, at the risk of cutting her, continuing his frantic laughter all the time.

'Here,' he cried, 'here is your lover! Look at him—your lover!'

He threw the frame upon the floor, and crushed it with his heel. But no sooner had he committed this mad action than he was ashamed of it. For the last time he looked at Suzanne as, with dishevelled hair and staring eyes, she stood in a corner overcome with fear—then without a word he left the room, and she had not the strength to utter a syllable to retain him.



Two days after this terrible scene Claude Larcher was standing on the balcony of Colette's rooms, which overlooked the Tuileries gardens. It was about two in the afternoon, and there had been a return of glorious spring weather, bringing a bright blue sky and warm May breezes. Claude had spent several days with Colette. The two lovers had been seized with one of those revivals of passion which are all the more ardent and vehement on account of the memories of past quarrels and the certainty of others to come. Larcher was reflecting upon this curious law of love as he watched the smoke of his cigar curling up in thin blue wreaths in the sunshine. Then he looked down upon the line of carriages in the street and the crowd of promenaders under the scanty foliage of the gardens.

He was astonished at the state of perfect felicity into which these few days of indulgence had plunged him. His painful jealousy, his legitimate anger, his feelings of degradation—all had passed away since Colette had acted in accordance with his wishes and closed her door to Salvaney. This would not last, he knew full well, but the presence of this woman was to him such complete happiness that it allayed his fears for the future as it effaced his rancour for the past. He smoked his cigar slowly and peacefully, turning round every now and then to look at Colette through the open window as she sat in a cane rocking-chair, dressed in a Chinese gown of pink satin embroidered with gold—a duplicate of the one in her dressing-room at the theatre. Swinging herself to and fro, she slipped her dainty feet in and out of her embroidered morocco leather slippers, displaying, as she did so, a pair of pink silk stockings to match her dress.

The room in which she sat was filled with flowers. The walls were covered with souvenirs of an artist's life—water-colour drawings of scenes in the green-room, tambourines won in cotillons, photographs, and wreaths. A small white Angora kitten, with one eye blue and the other black, was lying on its back playing with a ball whilst Colette continued rocking herself—now smiling at Claude between the puffs at her Russian cigarette, now reading a newspaper she held in her hand, and all the time humming a charming ballad of Richepin's recently set to music by a foreign composer named Cabaner.

'One month flies by, another comes,
And time runs like a hare——'

'Mon Dieu!' murmured the writer as he listened to the couplets of the only poet of our time who has been able to compete successfully with the divine Chansons populaires—'these lines are very fine, the sky is very blue, my mistress is very pretty. To the deuce with analysis!'

The actress interrupted this placid soliloquy of her contented lover with a cry of alarm. She had risen from her chair and was holding the paper with a trembling hand. After having, according to her wont, looked over the contents of the third page, where the theatrical news are chronicled, she had turned to the second and then to the first. It was there she had just read what had so upset her, for she stammered, as she handed Claude the paper—

'It is horrible!'

Claude, terrified by her sudden and intense agitation, took the paper and read the following lines under the heading, 'Echos de Paris:'

'As we go to press we hear of an event that will cause much grief and consternation in the literary world. M. René Vincy, the successful author of the "Sigisbée," has made an attempt to commit suicide in his rooms in the Rue Coëtlogon by discharging a revolver in the region of his heart. In order to remove the fears of M. Vincy's numerous admirers, we hasten to add that the attempt will have no fatal results. Our sympathetic confrère is indeed grievously wounded, but the ball has been extracted, and the latest news are most reassuring. Much speculation is indulged in concerning the motive of this desperate act.'

'Colette!' cried Claude, 'it is you who killed him!'

'No, no!' moaned the actress wildly; 'it can't be. He won't die. You see, the paper says he is better. Don't say that! I should never forgive myself. How was I to know? I was so mad with you—you had behaved so cruelly that I would have done anything to be revenged. But you must go to him—run! Here is your hat, your gloves, your stick. Poor little René! I will send him some flowers; he was so fond of them. And do you think it is on account of that woman?'

As she spoke—her incoherent sentences betraying both her customary puerility and the real good feeling she possessed in spite of all—she had dressed Larcher and pushed him towards the door.

'And where shall I find you?' he asked.

'Fetch me here at six o'clock to go and dine in the Bois. Mon Dieu!' she added, 'if I hadn't these two appointments with the milliner and the dressmaker, I would go with you. But I must see them.'

'Do you still want to go and dine in the Bois?' said Claude.

'Don't be unkind,' she replied, giving him a kiss; 'it is such fine weather, and I do so want to dine out in the open.' With these words closed a scene which described the actress to a nicety, with her sudden transitions from sincerest grief to a most passionate love of pleasure.

Larcher kissed her in return, though despising himself in a vague kind of way for being so indulgent to her least whims even now after hearing of a catastrophe that touched him so closely. Rushing out of the room, he flew down the stairs four at a time, jumped into a cab, and at the end of fifteen minutes found himself before the gate in the Rue Coëtlogon through which he had passed but a few months since.

All that had struck him so forcibly then suddenly came back to him now—the frowning sky, the pale moon sailing amid the swift-scudding clouds, and the strange presentiment that had chilled his heart. Now the bright May sunshine filled the heavens with light, and the narrow strip of garden in front of the house was decked with green. The air of spring that hung over the peaceful abode was an excellent presentment of what René's life had long been, and what it would have remained if he had never met Suzanne. Who had been the indirect author of that meeting? In vain did Claude try to shake off his remorse by saying, 'Could I foresee this catastrophe?' He had foreseen it. Nothing but evil could result from the poet's sudden transplantation to a world of luxury in which both his vanity and sensuality had been drawn to the surface. The worst had come to pass—by a terrible run of ill luck, it is true. But who had provoked that ill luck? The answer to that question was a cruel one for a true friend, and it was with a heavy heart that Claude walked up to the house in which formerly there had dwelt naught but simplicity, honest labour, and a pure and noble love.

How many deadly stings had entered it since then, and what an infinity of grief! This came home to him once more on seeing the maid's agitated face and on hearing the sobs which burst from her as she opened the door and recognised the visitor. Wiping her eyes with the corner of her blue apron, she let loose a flow of words thickly sprinkled with her own patois.

'Ah! l'la faut-i! Mon bon monsieur! To try and kill himself like that—a child I've known as tender and as gentle as a girl! Jésus, Marie, Joseph! Come in, Monsieur Claude, you will find Madame Fresneau and Mademoiselle Rosalie in the salle-à-manger. Monsieur l'Abbé Taconet is with him!

Emilie and Rosalie were together in the room in which Claude had so often been welcomed by a charming family picture. The doctor had evidently just gone, for there was a strong smell of carbolic acid, like that left by rebandaging. A bottle bearing a red label was standing on the table with a saucer beside it, and close by lay a small heap of square pieces of cotton. A packet of linen bandages, some strips of plaster, a pot of ointment labelled red like the bottle and covered with tinfoil, some nursery pins, and a stamped prescription gave the room the appearance of a hospital ward. Emilie's pallor revealed more than words what she had gone through during the past forty-eight hours. The sight of Claude produced the same effect upon her as upon Françoise. His mere presence recalled to her the old days when she had been so proud of her René.

She burst into tears, and, giving him her hand, said: 'You were right!'

Rosalie had darted a look at the visitor charging him as plainly as possible with René's attempted suicide. Her eyes expressed such deep hatred and their meaning was so fully in keeping with Claude's secret remorse that he turned his own eyes away, and asked, after a moment's silence, 'Can I see him?'

'Not to-day,' replied Emilie, 'he is so weak. The doctor fears the least excitement.' She added, 'My uncle will tell you how he is now.'

'When did this happen? I only heard of it from the papers.'

'Has it got into the papers?' said Emilie. 'I tried so hard that it should not.'

'A few lines of no importance,' replied Claude, guessing the truth from Rosalie's sudden change of colour. Old Offarel had a young man under him in the War Office who was connected with the Press, and whom Larcher knew. The sous-chef had no doubt been gossiping, and his daughter had already got to hear of it. Larcher made an attempt to gain fresh favour in Rosalie's eyes by allaying Madame Fresneau's suspicions. 'The reporters ferret out everything,' he said; 'no one who is the least bit known can escape them. But,' he continued, 'what are the details?'

'He came home the day before yesterday about four o'clock, and I saw at once by his face that there was something wrong with him. I had, however, been so accustomed to see him look sad of late that it did not strike me very much. He had told me that he was going to Italy on a long tour. I said to him: "Do you still intend going to-morrow?" "No," he replied, and, taking me in his arms, held me there for some time, whilst he sobbed like a child. I asked him what was the matter. "Nothing," he said; "where is Constant?" His question surprised me. He knew that the boy never comes home from school before six o'clock. "And Fresneau?" he added. Then he drew a deep sigh and went into his room. I stood there for five minutes debating with myself—I thought that perhaps I ought not to leave him alone. At last I began to get frightened—he is so easily led away in his fits of despair. And then I heard the report—I shall hear it all my life!'

She stopped, too agitated to go on, and, after another storm of tears had spent itself, Claude asked, 'What does the doctor say?'

'That he is out of danger, unless some unforeseen complication sets in,' replied Emilie; 'he has explained to us that the trigger of the revolver—it was I who gave it him!—was somewhat hard to pull. The pressure that he brought to bear upon it must have altered the direction of the ball; it passed through the lung without touching the heart, and came out on the other side. At twenty-five! Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! What a terrible thing! No—he does not love us; he has never loved us!'

Whilst she was thus lamenting and laying bare a heart suffering from those pangs of unrequited affection that mothers know so well the Abbé Taconet appeared on the threshold of the sick-room. He shook hands with Claude, whom he had long since forgiven for having run away from the Ecole Saint-André, and replied to the inquiring looks of his niece and Rosalie:

'He is going to sleep, and I must get back to my school.'

'Will you allow me to walk with you?' said Claude.

'I was going to ask you to do so,' replied the priest.

For some minutes the two men walked side by side in silence. The Abbé Taconet had always inspired Larcher with respect. His was one of those spotless natures which form such a contrast to the ordinary low standard of morality that their mere existence is a standing reproach to a man of the period like the writer, given up to vice though craving for the ideal. Even now, as the Abbé walked beside him with his somewhat heavy tread, Claude looked at him and thought of the moral gulf that separated them. The director of the Ecole Saint-André was a tall, strong-looking man of about fifty. At first sight there was nothing in his robust corpulence to betray the asceticism of his life. His rounded cheeks and ruddy complexion might even have lent him an air of joviality had not the serious lines of his mouth and the usually serene look in his eyes corrected this impression. The sort of imagination found in true artists, and which, elaborated by heredity, had produced the morbid melancholy of René's mother, the poet's own talent, his delight in all things brilliant, and even Emilie's inordinate affection for her brother—that imagination which will not allow the mind to be satisfied with the present and the positive, but which paints all objects in too bright or too dark a colour—this dangerous yet all-powerful faculty had also its reflex in the eyes of the priest. But Catholic discipline had corrected its excesses as deep faith had sanctified its use. The serenity of his piercing glance was that of a man who has lain down at night and risen each morning for years together with but one idea, and that—of self-sacrifice.

Claude was well acquainted with the precise terms in which this idea was couched, and to which the Abbé Taconet always reverted in his conversation—the salvation of France by the aid of Christianity. Such was, according to this robust worker in moral spheres, the task laid down in our day for all Frenchmen who were willing to undertake it. Claude was also aware of the hopes this truly eminent priest had cherished concerning his nephew. How often had he heard him say 'France has need of Christian talent'! He therefore looked at him with particular curiosity, discovering in his usually calm face a trace of anxiety—he would almost have called it an expression of doubt. They were walking along the Rue d'Assas, and were just about to cross the Rue de Rennes, when the Abbé stopped and turned to his companion.

'My niece tells me you know the woman who has driven my nephew to this desperate act. God has not permitted the poor boy to disappear in this fashion. The body will be healed, but the soul must not be allowed to relapse. What is she?'

'What all women are,' replied the writer, unable to resist the pleasure of displaying before the priest his pretended knowledge of the human heart.

'If you had ever sat in the confessional you would not say all women,' remarked the Abbé. 'You do not know what a Christian woman is, and of what sacrifices she is capable.'

'What almost all women are,' repeated Claude, with a touch of irony, and began to relate what he knew of René's story, drawing a fairly exact portrait of Suzanne with the aid of many psychological expressions, and speaking of the multiplicity of her person—of a first and a second condition of her 'I.' 'There is in her,' he said, 'a woman who is fond of luxury, and she therefore keeps a lover who can give it her; then there is a woman who is fond of love, and so she takes a young lover; a woman who is fond of respect, and so she lives with a husband whom she treats with consideration. And I will wager that she loves all three—the paying lover, the loving lover, and the protecting husband—but in a different way. Certain natures are so constructed, like the Chinese boxes which contain six or seven others. She is a very complicated animal!'

'Complicated?' said the Abbé, throwing back his head. 'I know you use these words to avoid uttering more simple ones. She is merely an unhappy woman who allows herself to be governed by her senses. All this is filth.'

There was a look of profound disgust on his noble face as he uttered these words of brutal simplicity. It was plain that the thought of matters concerning the flesh provoked in him that peculiar repugnance found in priests who have had to struggle hard against a natural inclination for love. His disgust soon made way for a deep melancholy, and he continued his remarks.

'It is not this woman who causes me alarm in René's case. According to what you tell me, she would have left him when once her whim was gratified. In his present state she will not give him a thought. It is the moral condition of the poor lad, as shown by this affair, which troubles me. Here is a young man of twenty-five, brought up as he has been, knowing how indispensable he is to the best of sisters, possessing that divine and incomparable gift called talent—a gift which, if properly directed, can produce such great things—and possessing it, too, at a tragic moment in the history of our country; here is one, I say, who knows that to-morrow his country may be lost for ever in another hurricane, that its safety is entrusted to every one of us—to you and me and each of these passers-by—and yet all this does not outweight the grief of being deceived by a wretched woman! But,' he continued, as if his remarks applied to Claude as much as to the wounded man he had just quitted, 'what is it you hope to find in that troubled sea of sensuality into which you plunge on a pretext of love, except sin with its endless misery? You speak of complication. Human life is very simple. It is all comprised in God's Ten Commandments. Find me a case, a single one, which is not provided for there. Has a blindness fallen upon the men of this generation that a lad, whom I knew to be pure, has sunk so low in so short a time, and only through breathing the vapours of the age? Ah, sir,' he added in the accents of a father deceived in his son, 'I was so proud of him! I expected so much of him!'

'You talk as if he were dead,' said Claude, feeling both moved and irritated by the Abbé's words. On the one hand, he pitied him for his evident distress; but, on the other hand, he could not bear to hear the priest enunciate such ideas, although they were also his own in his fits of remorse. Like many modern sceptics, he was incessantly sighing for a simpler faith, and yet his taste for intellectual or sentimental complexities was incessantly leading him to look upon any and every faith he examined as a mutilation. There suddenly came over him an irresistible desire to contradict the Abbé Taconet and to defend the very youth whose fate he had himself so bewailed on reaching the Rue Coëtlogon that afternoon.

'Do you think,' he said, 'that René will not be all the stronger for this trial—more able to exercise and to develop that talent in which you at least believe, Monsieur l'Abbé? If we writers could evolve our ideas as easily as a mathematician solves his problems on the black-board, and enunciate them, coolly and calmly, in well-chosen and precise terms—why, every one would set up as an author instead of turning engineer or lawyer. They would only require patience, method, and leisure. But writing is a different thing altogether.' He was getting more excited as he went on. 'To begin with, one must live, and, to know life, in every one of its peculiar phases, become acquainted with every possible sensation. We must experiment upon ourselves. What Claude Bernard used to do with his dogs, what Pasteur does with his rabbits, we must do with our heart, inoculating it with every form of virus that attacks humanity. We must have felt, if only for an hour, each of the thousand emotions of which our fellow-man is capable, and all in order that some obscure reader in ten, a hundred, or two hundred years' time may stop at some phrase in one of our books and, recognising the disease from which he is suffering, say, 'This is true.' It is indeed a terrible game, and we run a terrible risk in playing it. Greater even than that incurred by doctors, for they run no risk of cutting themselves with the dissecting knife nor of being struck down when visiting a cholera hospital. It was nearly all over with poor René, but when he next writes of love, jealousy, or woman's treachery, his words will be tinged with blood—the red blood that has coursed through his veins—and not with ink borrowed from another's pen. And it will make a fine page, too, one that will swell the literary treasures of that France you accuse us of forgetting. We serve our country in our own fashion. That fashion may not be yours, but it has its greatness. Do you know what a martyrdom of suffering has to be endured before an Adolphe or a Manon can be dragged from the soul?'

'Beati pauperes spirtu,' replied the priest. 'I remember having heard something of the kind in the Ecole Normale thirty years ago as I walked in the courtyard with some of my comrades who have since distinguished themselves. They possessed fewer metaphors, but greater powers of abstraction than you have, and they called it the antinomy of art and morality. Words are but words, and facts remain facts. Since you talk of science, what would you think of a physician who, under pretence of studying an infectious disease, gave it to himself and so to all the town? Do you ever think of the terrible responsibility that rests upon those great writers whom you envy for having been able to give the world their own wretched experiences? I have not read the two novels you mention, but I well remember Goethe's "Werther" and de Musset's "Rolla." Don't you think that the pistol-shot René fired at himself was somewhat influenced by these two apologies of suicide? Do you know that it is awful to think that both Goethe and de Musset are dead, but that their work can still place a weapon in the hand of a heart-broken lad? The sufferings of the soul should be laid bare only to be relieved, and a cold, pitiless interest in human woe inspires me with horror whenever I meet with it. Believe me,' he added, pointing to the crucifix that adorned the gateway of the Couvent des Carmes, 'no one can say more than He has said about sufferings and passions, and you will find a remedy nowhere else.'

Irritated by the priest's air of conviction, Claude replied, 'You brought René up in His name, and you yourself admit that your hopes have been deceived.'

'The ways of God are inscrutable,' replied the Abbé, with a look of mute reproach that made Claude blush. In attacking René's uncle in a painful spot, simply because the argument was going against him, he had yielded to an evil impulse of which he was now ashamed. The two men passed the corner of the Rue de Vaugirard and the Rue Cassette in silence, and reached the door of the Ecole Saint-André just as a class of boys was entering. There were about forty of them—lads of about fifteen or sixteen years old, all looking very well and happy. As they passed the Directeur they saluted him so deferentially and with such evident heartiness that this act alone would have shown what rare influence their excellent instructor possessed. Claude, however, also knew from experience how conscientiously the Abbé discharged his duty; he knew that each of these boys was followed daily, almost hourly, by the serene but vigilant eyes of the worthy priest.

A sudden rush of feeling prompted him to seize the latter by the hand and to exclaim, 'You are an upright man, Monsieur l'Abbé, and that is the best and finest talent one can have!'

'He will save René,' he said, as he saw the good Christian's robe disappear across the threshold that he had himself so often crossed in less happy days. His thoughts became singularly serious and sad, and as his steps wandered almost mechanically towards his rooms in the Rue de Varenne, where he had not put in an appearance for several days, he allowed his mind to dwell upon the ideas awakened by the conversation and the life of the priest. The feeling of physical beatitude experienced two hours ago on Colette's balcony had fled. All the wretchedness of the undignified life he had been leading for the past two years came home to him, and looked still more wretched when compared with the hidden glory of the perfect life of duty he had been privileged to behold.

His disgust grew stronger when he found himself in his own rooms, recalling, as they did, the memories of so many hours of shame and pain. A score of visions rose up before him illustrating the drama in which he had played a part—René reading the manuscript of the 'Sigisbée,' the first performance at the Comédie Française, the soirée at Madame Komof's, Suzanne's appearance in her red gown, and Colette in his rooms on the day after the soirée; then René telling him of his visit to Madame Moraines, his own departure for Venice, his return, the scenes to which it had led, and the two parallel passions that had sprung up in his heart and René's, ending with the attempted suicide of the one and the abasement of the other. 'The Abbé is right,' he thought; 'all this is filth.' He went on with his soliloquy. 'Yes, the Abbé will save René; he will compel him to go for a tour of six months or a year as soon as he is better, and he will come back rid of this horrible nightmare. He is young—a heart of twenty-five is such a vigorous and hardy plant. Who knows? He may perhaps be moved by Rosalie's love and marry her. Anyhow, he will triumph. He has suffered, but he has not debased himself. But I?'

In a few moments he had drawn up a statement of his actual position—well over thirty-five years of age, not a single reason for remaining alive, disorder within and disorder without, in his health and in his thoughts, in his money matters and in his love affairs, an absolute conviction of the emptiness of literature and the degrading power of passion, coupled with sheer inability to turn aside from the profession of letters or to give up his libertine life.

'Is it really too late?' he asked himself, as he paced up and down his room. He could see, like a port in the distance, the country home of his old aunt, his father's sister, to whom he wrote two or three times a year, and nearly always to ask for money. He saw before him the little room that awaited his coming, its window looking out upon a meadow. The meadow, through which ran a stream bordered with willows, was closed in by some rising ground. Why not take refuge there and try to commence over again? Why not make one more attempt to escape the misery of an existence in which there was not a single illusion left? Why not go at once, without again beholding the woman who had exercised a more baneful influence upon him than Suzanne had had upon René?

The agitation brought on by this sudden prospect of a still possible salvation drove him from his rooms, but not before he had told Ferdinand to pack his trunk. He went out and wandered aimlessly as far as the entrance to the Champs-Elysées. On this bright May evening the roadway was crowded with an interminable line of carriages. The contrast between the moving panorama of Paris at its gayest, once his delight, and the quiet scene he had evoked for his complete reform, charmed his artistic soul. He sat down upon a chair and watched the string of vehicles, recognising a face here and there, and recalling the rumours, true or false, he had heard about each. Suddenly a carriage came in view that attracted his particular attention—no, he was not mistaken! It was an elegant victoria, in which sat Madame Moraines with Desforges by her side, and Paul Moraines facing them. Suzanne was smiling at the Baron, who was evidently taking his mistress and her husband to the Bois—probably to dine there. She did not see René's friend, who gazed after her shapely blonde head, half turned to her protector, until it was lost to view.

He laughed.

'What a comedy life is, and how silly we are to turn it into a drama!'

He took out his watch and rose hurriedly.

'Half-past six—I shall be late for Colette.' And he hailed a passing cab in order to get to the Rue de Rivoli—five minutes sooner!


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