The Double Mistake
The Double Mistake
Adapted from the translation of William M. Arnold, Olive Edwards Palmer, and Emily Mary Waller found in the Novels, Tales and Letters of Prosper Mérimée. New York: Frank S. Holby, 1905. For educational use only.
Zagala, mas que las flores blanca, rubia y ojos verdes,
Si piensas seguir amores piérdete bien, pues te pierdes!
(Little one, fairer than flowers, rosy with eyes of green,
if you think to follow love you are lost, alas! you are wholly lost!)
I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X XI XII XIII XIV XV XVI XVII
Julie de Chaverny had been married for about six years, and for nearly five years and six months she had had her eyes open not only to the impossibility of loving her husband, but also to the difficulty of merely giving him a place in her esteem.
This husband was not boorish. He was neither stupid nor foolish. Still there may have been, perhaps, a mingling of all those qualities in him. If she had recalled the past she might have remembered that once upon a time she had found him pleasant; but now he bored her. Everything about him seemed to her repulsive. His way of eating, of drinking coffee, of speaking, gave her nervous shudders. They seldom met or talked together except at table; but they dined together several times a week and that was sufficient to keep Julie’s aversion alive.
As for Chaverny, he was rather a fine-looking man, a little too stout for his age, clean-skinned and ruddy, not by nature given to those vague uneasinesses which often torture the imaginative. He piously believed that his wife felt for him a calm affection (he was too much of a philosopher to believe that he was loved as upon the first day of his married life), and this belief caused him neither pain nor pleasure; if the contrary had been true, he would have made the best of it in the same way. He had served for some years in a cavalry regiment, but falling heir to considerable fortune he took a dislike to a soldier’s life, retired from the army and married. It may seem a somewhat difficult undertaking to try to explain the marriage of two people who had not a single idea in common. On the one hand, grandparents and officious friends, who, like Phrosine, would marry the Venetian Republic to the Grand Turk, had busied themselves in arranging matters. On the other hand Chaverny belonged to a good family; in those days he was not too stout; he was merry and he was, in the full acceptation of the term, what is called “a good fellow.” Julie was always glad to see him come to her mother’s house because he made her laugh with his tales of the army, tales in a vein of humorous wit which was not always of the most unquestionable taste. She thought him very pleasant because he danced with her at all the balls, and there was never a lack of good reasons to persuade Julie’s mother to stay late, to go to the theatre, or to the Bois de Boulogne. Finally Julie thought him a hero because he had fought two or three duels with honour. But what completed the triumph of Chaverny was his description of a certain carriage which he would have built after a plan of his won, and in which he himself would take Julie for a drive after she had consented to give him her hand.
At the end of several months of married life all Chaverny’s good qualities had greatly decreased in merit. He no longer danced with his wife–needless to say. His amusing stories had all been told three or four times. Now he complained that balls were kept up far too long. He yawned at the theatre and objected to the custom of dressing for dinner as being a perfect nuisance. His chief fault was laziness. If he made an effort to make himself pleasing to his wife he might perhaps have succeeded; but any kind of restraint seemed to him perfect torture; a view which he held in common with nearly all stout people. Society bored him because in it we are cordially received only in proportion as we exert ourselves to be agreeable. Coarse pleasures seemed to him decidedly preferable to all more refined amusements; for to make himself prominent among persons of his own taste the only trouble he had to take was to shout louder than the others, which, for one with lungs as vigorous as his, was not very difficult. Moreover he prided himself on drinking more champagne than an ordinary man, and took his horse easily over a four-bar fence. As a consequence, he enjoyed a legitimately acquired esteem among those beings who are so hard to define, whom we call “young people,” and who throng our boulevards about five in the afternoon. Hunting parties, country expeditions, races, bachelor dinners, bachelor suppers he sought out eagerly. Twenty times a day he said that he was the happiest of men, and every time that Julie heard him she cast her eyes upward, and her little mouth took on an indescribable expression of disdain.
Beautiful, young and married to a man who was uncongenial, she would naturally be surrounded by interested homage. But, in addition to the protection of her mother–a most prudent woman–her own pride (which was her greatest failing) had up to that time defended her against the seductions of the world. Moreover the disappointment following her marriage, by giving her a certain kind of experience, had made it hard for her to grow enthusiastic over anything. She was proud of seeing herself pitied in society, and quoted as a model of resignation. After all, she was nearly happy, for she was in love with no one, and her husband left her entirely free. Her coquetry (and it must be confessed that she rather liked to show that her husband did not know what a treasure he possessed), her coquetry, instinctive, as that of a child, accorded very well with certain disdainful reserve which was not prudery. She had the art of being pleasant to every one, but to every one without distinction. Scandal could not find the slightest trifle with which to reproach her.
The husband and wife had been dining at the house of Madame de Lussan, Julie’s mother, who was about to leave for Nice. Chaverny, who was always bored to death at his mother-in-law’s, had been obliged to spend the evening there in spite of his desire to join his friends on the boulevard. After dinner he settled himself on a comfortable sofa and passed two hours without uttering a sin syllable. The reason was simple. He was sleeping, decorously enough, seated, with his head bent to one side, as if he were following the conversation with interest; he afterwards awoke and made some remark.
Then he had been obliged to take a hand at whist, a game which he detested because it requires a certain amount of application. All of which had kept him rather late. It had just struck eleven. Chaverny had no engagement for the evening–he really did not know what to do. While he was in this state of perplexity his carriage was announced. If he returned to the house he would have to take his wife home. The prospect of a twenty minutes’ tête-à-têtewith his wife was enough to frighten him; but he had no cigars in his pocket and he was dying to open a box which he had received from Havre just as he was starting out for dinner. So he resigned himself to his fate.
As he was wrapping his wife up in her shawl he could not restrain a smile as he caught in a mirror a reflection of himself showing the little attentions of a husband who has been married for a week. He also looked at his wife, whom he had scarcely noticed. That evening she seemed to him prettier than usual; so he spent some little time wrapping the shawl about her shoulders. Julie was as much put out as he at the prospect of the conjugal tête-à-tête that was in store for them. Involuntarily her mouth drew itself down into a little pout, and her arched brows drew together. All of which gave her an air of such charming grace that even a husband could not remain unmoved. Their eyes met in the mirror during the operation of which I have just been speaking. Both were greatly embarrassed. To hide his confusion Chaverny, with a smile, kissed the hand which his wife raised to arrange her shawl.
“How they love each other,” said Madame de Lussan to herself, noticing neither the cold disdain of the wife nor the indifferent air of the husband.
When they were both seated in their carriage, so close that they almost touched each other, they remained for some time without speaking. Chaverny was well aware that it would be very suitable to say something, but nothing occurred to him. Julie, on the other hand, maintained a silence that drove him to despair. He yawned three or four times, until he was ashamed of it himself, and the last time he felt called upon to apologise to his wife.
“It was a long evening,” he added, by way of excuse.
Julie saw in this sentence merely a wish to criticise the evenings at her mother’s and to say something disagreeable. For some time past she had been in the habit of avoiding any discussion with her husband; so she continued to maintain her silence.
Chaverny, who that evening felt like talking in spite of himself, continued, after a couple of minutes:
“I had a good dinner to-day; but I really must say that your mother’s champagne is too sweet.”
“I beg your pardon?” said Julie, turning her head toward him with a very nonchalant air, and pretending that she had heard nothing.
“I was saying that your mother’s champagne is too sweet. I forgot to tell her so. Really it is most astonishing, but people imagine that it is easy to select champagne. Well! Nothing could be more difficult. To twenty kinds of bad champagne there is only one kind that is good.”
“Ah!” and Julie, after having accorded this interjection to courtesy, turned away her head and began looking out of the carriage windows. Chaverny leaned back and placed his feet on the cushion in the front of the carriage, a little mortified that his wife would show herself so insensible to all the trouble which he was taking to open up a conversation.
However, after having yawned two or three times more, he continued, drawing nearer to Julie:
“That dress you have on is wonderfully becoming, Julie. Where did you get it?”
“Doubtless he wishes to buy one like it for his mistress,” thought Julie. “At Burty’s,” she answered, with a slight smile.
“Why are you laughing?” asked Chaverny, taking his feet off the cushion, and drawing still nearer. At the same time he took one of her sleeves and began to touch it somewhat after the manner of Tartufe.
“I am laughing,” said Julie, “because you noticed my gown. Be careful, you are rumpling my sleeves,” and she drew away her sleeve out of Chaverny’s hand.
“I assure you I pay particular attention to your gowns, and I have the greatest admiration for your taste. No, my word of honour, I was speaking about it the other day to–a woman who is always badly dressed–although she spends a shocking amount on clothes. She would ruin . . . I was telling her . . . I was quoting you . . .”
Julie was enjoying his embarrassment, and did not make any effort to relieve it by interrupting him.
“Your horses are really wretched. They don’t go at all. I shall have to change them for you,” said Chaverny, completely disconcerted.
During the rest of the drive the conversation was not any more animated; both stopped short at simple replies.
At last they reached Rue . . . and separated, after bidding each other good-night.
Julie began to undress, and her maid had just left the room on some errand or other when the door of her bedroom opened somewhat suddenly and Chaverny entered. Julie hurriedly covered her shoulders.
“Excuse me,” said he, “I should like to have the latest volume of Scott to read myself asleep. . . . It is ‘Quentin Durward,’ isn’t it?”
“It must be in your room,” answered Julie; “there are no books here.”
Chaverny looked at his wife in her semi-disorder which is so becoming to beauty. She seemed to him “piquant,” to use an expression which I detest. “She is really a most beautiful woman,” he thought. He remained standing before her, without moving, his candlestick in his hand. Julie standing in front of him crumpled her cap and seemed to wait impatiently until he would leave her alone.
“You are damn charming this evening!” cried Chaverny, taking a step forward, and setting down his candle. “How I love women with their hair in disorder!” And as he spoke he took in one hand the long tresses which covered Julie’s shoulders, and slipped his arm most tenderly around her waist.
“Good Heavens! How horribly you smell of tobacco!” cried Julie, turning away. “Let go of my hair, you will get it simply saturated with the odour, and I shall never be able to get myself rid of it.”
“Bah! You say that at random because you know that I smoke sometimes. Don’t be so stand-offish, little wife.”
And she could not free herself from his arms quickly enough to avoid a kiss which he imprinted on her shoulder.
Fortunately for Julie her maid returned; for there is nothing that a woman finds more odious than those caresses which it is almost as ridiculous to refuse as to accept.
“Marie,” said Madame de Chaverny, “the bodice of my blue gown is far too long. I saw Madame de Bégy to-day, and her clothes are always in perfect taste; her bodice was certainly two good fingers shorter than mine. Here, take it in with pins, to try the effect.”
Whereupon there arose between the mistress and maid a most interesting dialogue upon the exact dimensions befitting a bodice. Julie knew that Chaverny hated nothing so much as to hear fashion discussed, and that she was going to put him to flight. As a matter of fact, after five minutes of pacing up and down, Chaverny, seeing that Julie was completely taken up with her bodice, yawned inordinately, took up his candle again, and went out, this time not to return.
Commandant Perrin was seated by a little table reading attentively. His carefully brushed frock-coat, his police-force cap, and especially the inflexible stiffness of his shoulders bespoke the old soldier. Everything in his room was very neat but exceedingly simple. An inkwell and two quills ready for use lay on his table beside a quire of note-paper, of which he had not used a single sheet in at least a year. If Commandant Perrin did not write, he read a great deal. At that moment he was perusing the “Lettres Personnes” and smoking his pipe with the amber mouthpiece, and these two occupations so completely absorbed his attention that he did not at first notice the entrance of Commandant de Châteaufort. The latter was a young officer from his regiment, with a charming countenance, exceedingly agreeable, somewhat vain, and under the patronage of the minister of war–in a word, the opposite of Commandant Perrin in almost every respect. Still they were friends, I know not why, and saw each other every day.
Châteaufort clapped Commandant Perrin on the shoulder. The latter turned his head without removing his pipe. His first expression was one of pleasure at seeing his friend; the second of regret, worthy man! because he was going to be obliged to leave his book; the third indicated that his mind was made up and that he was going to do the honours of his apartment to the best of his ability. He fumbled in his pocket to find the key of the cupboard in which was shut up the precious box of cigars, which the Commandant did not smoke himself, but which he gave one at a time to his friend; but Châteaufort, who had seen him make the same gesture a hundred times, cried: “Stop, Papa Perrin, keep your cigars, I have one about me!” Then drawing out of an elegant case a cinnamon-coloured cigar beautifully slender at both ends, he lighted it, stretched himself out on a little sofa which Perrin never used, with his head on a pillow and his feet on the other arm. Châteaufort began by veiling himself in a cloud of smoke, while with closed eyes, he seemed to meditate profoundly on what he had to say. His face was beaming with joy, and he seemed to have great difficulty in keeping locked in his breast the secret of joy which he was burning to have guessed. Commandant Perrin, having placed his chair in front of the sofa, smoked for some time without saying anything; then as Châteaufort was in no hurry to speak, he said to him:
“How is Ourika?”
He referred to a black mare which Châteaufort had somewhat overdriven, and which was threatened with becoming broken-winded.
“Very well,” said Châteaufort, who had not listened to the question. “Perrin,” he cried, stretching out toward him the leg which was resting on the arm of the sofa, “do you know that you are lucky to have me for a friend?”
The old Commandant tried to think of the advantages he had gained from his acquaintance with Châteaufort, but nothing occurred to him except the gift of a few books of Kanaster, and a few days enforced confinement to which he had been obliged to submit for having been involved in a duel in which Châteaufort had played a leading part. His friend bestowed upon him, it is true, numerous marks of confidence. Châteaufort always applied to him when he wished a substitute on duty, or a second.
Châteaufort did not leave him much time for reflection, and handed him a note written on satin-finished English paper, in a pretty angular hand. Commandant Perrin made a grimace which with him was equivalent to a smile. He had often seen these satin-finished letters covered with dainty writing, addressed to his friend.
“Here,” said the latter, “take it and read it. You owe all this to me.”
Perrin read as follows:
“We shall be very happy if you will dine with us. M. de Chaverny would have gone to ask you in person, but he was obliged to go to a hunt. I do not know the address of M. le Commandant Perrin, and so can not write to ask him to accompany you. You have made me eager to know him, and I shall be doubly indebted to you if you can bring him with you.
“Julie de Chaverny.”
“P.S.–My warmest thanks for the music you were so good as to copy for me. It is delightful, and you always show such good taste. You have given up coming to our Thursday receptions; and yet you know what pleasure it gives us all to see you.”
“A pretty writing, but very fine,” said Perrin as he finished. “But the deuce! What a nuisance her dinner is; for I shall have to get into silk stockings, and there will be no smoking after dinner!”
“A terrible misfortune surely, to be obliged to prefer the prettiest woman in Paris to a pipe. What I admire most of all, however, is your gratitude. You don’t thank me at all for this mark of favour which you owe to me.”
“Thank you! But I don’t owe you the pleasure of being asked to this dinner–if there is any pleasure about it.”
“To whom, then?”
“To Chaverny, who was captain of our regiment. He must have said to his wife, ‘Ask Perrin, he is a good old chap!’ How can you suppose that a pretty woman whom I have seen only once would think of inviting an old herring like me?”
Châteaufort smiled as he looked at himself in the very narrow mirror which adorned the Commandant’s wall.
“You show no insight at all today, Papa Perrin. Just read this note over again and you may find something that you had not noticed before.”
The Commandant read and re-read the note, but he could see nothing.
“What, you old dragon,” cried Châteaufort, “you don’t see that she is inviting you to please me, just to show me that she makes much of my friends, that she wishes to give me a proof of . . . ?”
“Of what?” interrupted Perrin.
“Of . . . you know very well what.”
“That she loves you?” asked the Commandant, with a doubtful air.
Châteaufort whistled without answering.
“She has told you so?”
“But . . . it is evident . . . I should say.”
“What? In this letter?”
Now came Perrin’s turn to whistle. His whistle was as significant as the famous Lilli-buleroof my Uncle Toby.
“What!” cried Châteaufort, snatching the letter out of Perrin’s hands, “you don’t see how much . . . tenderness . . . yes, tenderness there is in it? What have you to say to this: ‘My Dear Sir?’ Notice that in the other note which she wrote me she wrote simply, ‘Sir,’ nothing more. ‘I shall be doubly indebted,’ that is proof positive. And do you see, a word has been effaced just after it, it is a thousand; she wished to write ‘a thousand good wishes’ was not enough. . . . She did not finish the note! Oh, my good old chap, do you think that a woman of good family, like Madame de Chaverny, would throw herself at the head of your humble servant as if she were a woman of the streets? I tell you her letter is charming, and one would be blind not to feel the passion which it breathes. And the reproaches at the end because I missed a single Thursday, what have you to say to that?”
“Poor little woman!” cried Perrin, “don’t grow sentimental over this rascal, or you will soon repent it.”
Châteaufort paid no attention to his friend’s apostrophe; but assuming a lower, wheedling tone:
“Do you know, old fellow,” he said, “you can do me a great service.”
“You must help me in this matter. I know that her husband is not at all good to her–he is a beast and makes her very unhappy. You used to know him, Perrin; just tell his wife that he is a brutal fellow, and that he has the worst possible reputation. . . .”
“A libertine. . . . You know it. He had mistresses when he was in the army; and what kind of mistresses! Tell all that to his wife.”
“Oh! How could I say all that? It is dangerous to put your hand between the tree and the bark.”
“Oh, good heavens! There is a way of saying anything. But especially, be sure to speak well of me.”
“That, now, is something easier. Still . . .”
“Not so easy. Now listen to me, for if I let you have your say, you would make a eulogy of me, which would not in the least help on my plans. Tell her that for some time past you have noticed that I am sad, that I have become silent, and have lost my appetite . . .”
“The very dickens!” cried Perrin, with a great burst of laughter, which made his pipe twist about absurdly; “I could never in the world look Madame de Chaverny in the face and tell her that. Only last evening I was almost obliged to carry you away from the dinner the fellows gave us.”
“Maybe. But there is no use in telling her about that. It is well that she should know that I am in love with her; and novelists have persuaded women that a man who eats and drinks can not be in love.”
“For my own part, I don’t know of anything that makes me stop eating or drinking.”
“Well, my dear Perrin,” said Châteaufort, putting on his hat and arranging his curls, “that’s agreed, isn’t it? Next Thursday I am to call for you; silk stockings and buckled shoes, correct evening dress! And above all don’t forget to say shocking things about the husband and very nice things about me.”
He went out twirling his cane gracefully and leaving Commandant Perrin much taken up with the invitation which he had just received, and still more concerned as he thought of the silk stockings, buckled shoes, and the strict evening dress.
The fact that several of Madame de Chaverny’s guests had begged off, put a certain damper on the gaiety of the evening. Châteaufort who sat next to Julie, showed himself exceedingly attentive in supplying her wants, and was gallant and agreeable as usual. As for Chaverny, having taken a long ride during the day, he had a most prodigious appetite. So he ate and drank in a way that would have whetted the appetite of the most ill. Commandant Perrin kept him company, often filling his glass and laughing till the glass jingled whenever his host’s coarse gaiety provoked him to laughter. Chaverny, finding himself in the company of soldiers once more, had regained immediately the good humour and manners of his soldiering days. Moreover, he had never shown great delicacy of feeling in his selection of jokes. His wife assumed an air of cold disdain at each fresh incongruous sally; then she turned toward Châteaufort, and began an aside with him, so that she would seem not to hear a conversation which was unspeakably disagreeable to her.
Here is a sample of the urbanity of this model husband. Toward the end of the dinner, conversation happed to turn upon the opera, and the relative merits of several ballet dancers was discussed, and, among others, Mademoiselle —- was greatly praised. Whereupon Châteaufort even outdid the others, praising especially her grace, her figure, and her modest air.
Perrin, whom Châteaufort had taken to the opera a few days before, and who had gone only the once, remembered the mademoiselle very well.
“Is she,” he asked, “the little one in pink, who frisks about like a lamb?…the one whose legs you talked about so much, Châteaufort?”
“Ah! You were talking about her legs?” cried Chaverny; “but don’t you know if you talk too much about them you will get into trouble with your general, the Duc de —-? Have a care, my friend!”
“But I do not suppose that he is so jealous that he would forbid looking at them through an opera-glass.”
“Quite the contrary, for he is as proud of them as if he himself had discovered them. What have you to say about them, Commandant Perrin?”
“I don’t know much about anything but horses’ legs,” answered the old soldier modestly.
“They are really stunning,” continued Chaverny, “and there are none finer in Paris except those . . .” He stopped and began to twirl his moustache with a knowing air, and looked at his wife, who blushed to the very roots of her hair.
“Except those of Mademoiselle D—-?” interposed Châteaufort, naming another ballet girl.
“No!” answered Chaverny, with the tragic voice of a Hamlet; “but look at my wife.”
Julie became purple with indignation. She flashed upon her husband a glance quick as lightning, in which were expressed scorn and fury. Then, making an effort to control herself, she turned sharply toward Châteaufort.
“We must,” she said in a voice that trembled slightly, “study the duet from Maometto. It must exactly suit your voice.”
Chaverny was not easily discountenanced. “Châteaufort,” he continued, “do you know that I wished to have a cast taken of the legs I am telling you about. But I was never allowed to do it.”
Châteaufort, who felt a keen joy at hearing this impertinent revelation, pretended to hear nothing and talked about Maometta with Madame de Chaverny.
“The person of whom I speak,” continued the pitiless husband, “was usually horrified when her superiority in this direction was acknowledged, but in reality she was not at all vexed. Do you know she used to have her measure taken by the man from whom she buys her stockings–my dear, don’t be vexed–the woman from who she buys her stockings, I mean to say. And when I was at Brussels I took with me three pages of her writing with the most detailed directions for buying stockings.”
But he talked on in vain, Julie was determined to hear nothing. She talked to Châteaufort with assumed gaiety, and her charming smile tried to convince him that she was listening to him alone. Châteaufort, for his part, seemed to be quite absorbed by the discussion of Maometto; but he did not miss one of Chaverny’s coarse jokes.
They had some music after dinner, and Madame de Chaverny sang at the piano with Châteaufort. Chaverny disappeared the moment the piano was opened. Several callers came in, but did not prevent Châteaufort from having frequent little asides with Julie. As they were leaving he assured Perrin that the evening had not been lost, and that his affairs were moving on satisfactorily.
To Perrin it seemed perfectly natural that a husband should talk of his wife’s legs; so when he was alone in the street with Châteaufort he said to him in moved tones:
“How can you have the heart to disturb that nice home? He is so fond of his little wife!”
For a month Chaverny had been absorbed by the idea of becoming a gentleman-in-waiting.
It may seem surprising that a stout, lazy man, very fond of taking his ease, should be stirred by an ambitious thought; but he had no lack of good reasons to justify himself. “First,” he told his friends, “I spend a great deal of money on the theatre boxes which I give to women. When I have a position at Court I shall have as many boxes as I wish, without being put to a penny’s expense. And then, you know all that goes along with boxes. Besides, I am very fond of hunting and I shall be able to ride the royal hunts. Moreover, now that I have no longer a uniform, I do not know how I should dress to go to balls with my wife. I do not like the dress of a marquis; but the attire of a gentleman-in-waiting would suit me very well.” Consequently he canvassed; he would have liked his wife to do the same, but she obstinately refused, although she had several very influential friends. As he had several times been of some slight service to the Duc de H—-, who had at that time a good deal of influence at Court, he counted much upon his protection. His friend Châteaufort, who also had influential friends, worked for him with a zeal and devotion such as you may perchance meet if you are the husband of a pretty woman.
One incident did much to help forward Chaverny’s schemes, although it may have had for him dire enough consequences. Madame de Chaverny had procured, not without considerable difficulty, a box at the opera for a certain first night. This box had seats for six. Her husband, strange to say, and only after violently protesting, had consented to go with her. Now Julie wished to invite Châteaufort, and feeling that she could not go alone with him to the opera she had compelled her husband to go too.
Directly after the first act Chaverny went out, leaving his wife alone with his friend. At first they maintained a somewhat constrained silence; Julie, because for some time past, she had a certain feeling of embarrassment whenever she found herself alone with Châteaufort; Châteaufort, because he had his plans and he had deemed it fitting to seem moved. Casting a sidelong glance over the theatre he saw with pleasure that the glasses of several of his friends were directed toward the box. He felt a lively satisfaction as he thought that some of his friends were envying his good fortune, and that, judging from appearances, they would think it much greater than it really was.
Julie, after having several times sniffed at her smelling salts and her bouquet, spoke of the heat, the opera, and the gowns before them. Châteaufort listened with an air of abstraction, sighed, moved about on his chair, looked at Julie and sighed again. Julie was beginning to grow uneasy. Suddenly he cried:
“How I regret that the days of chivalry are past!”
“The days of chivalry! Why, tell me?” asked Julie. “Doubtless because the costume of a knight of the Middle Ages would be very, becoming to you?”
“You think me a perfect coxcomb,” he said in a tone of mingled bitterness and sadness. “No, I regret that those days are past . . . because a man who felt his heart beating within him could . . . aspire . . . too much. As a matter of fact all you needed to do was to cleave through a giant to win a lady’s favour. . . . Look, you see that great fellow in the balcony? I wish that you would command me to go and demand his moustache from him, in order that I might then have permission to say three little words to you without vexing you.”
“What nonsense,” cried Julie, blushing crimson, for she at once guessed those three little words. “But do look at Madame de Sainte Hermine, décolletée at her age, and in a ball gown!”
“I see only one thing, and that is that you are not willing to listen to me, and I have noticed it for a long time. . . . You wish it, so I keep silence; but . . .” he added in a low voice, and heaving a sigh, “you understood what I meant?”
“Indeed I did not,” answered Julie sharply. “But where can my husband have gone?”
Very fortunately some one came into their box and relieved the embarrassment of the situation. Châteaufort did not open his lips. He was pale and seemed deeply moved. When their caller departed he made some indifferent remarks about the opera. There were long intervals of silence between them.
The second act was just going to begin when the door of their box opened, and Chaverny appeared, bringing with him a pretty woman elegantly gowned, wearing magnificent pink feathers in her hair. He was followed by the Duc de H—-.
“My dear,,” he said to his wife, “I found my friends in a wretched box over at one side, where they couldn’t see the stage decorations at all. They have been so good as to accept a place in our box.”
Julie bowed coldly. She did not care for the Duc de H—-. The Duke and the lady with the pink feathers were profuse in their apologies and their expressions of fear that they were disturbing her. They all arose, and each urged the others to take the best places. In the confusion which followed Châteaufort leaned over Julie and whispered to her, very softly, and very quickly:
“In Heaven’s name, don’t sit in the front row.”
Julie was much astonished and kept her seat. When all were seated again she turned toward Châteaufort and asked him by a somewhat severe glance what this enigma meant. He was sitting with his head erect, and his lips compressed, while his whole attitude showed that he was deeply vexed. Julie put an unfavourable enough construction upon Châteaufort’s advice. She thought that he wished to hold a whispered conversation with her during the evening, and to continue his strange speeches; which would be impossible if she remained in the front row. When she looked over the house she noticed that several women were directing their glasses toward her box, but that is what always happens when a new face appears. People were whispering and smiling, but what was there so extraordinary in that? The opera is as gossipy as a little village.
The unknown lady leaned over Julie’s bouquet and said with a radiant smile:
“That’s a superb bouquet you have. I am sure it must have been very dear at this time of year. Ten francs at least; but I suppose it was given to you. No doubt it was a present; ladies never buy their own bouquets.”
Julie opened her eyes in astonishment, not knowing with what country guest she had to do.
“Duke,” said the lady, with a languishing air, “you didn’t give me a bouquet.”
Chaverny hastened toward the door. The Duke tried to stop him and the lady too. She no longer cared to have a bouquet. Julie exchanged a glance with Châteaufort. It seemed to say, “I thank you, but it is too late.” But even then she had not guessed the truth.
During the whole evening the lady with the feathers drummed her fingers, out of time, and indulged in the most absurd conversation about music. She asked Julie the cost of her dress, of her jewels, of her horses. Never had Julie had any experience of such manners. She concluded that the unknown woman must be a relative of the Duke’s who had recently come from Lower Brittany. When Chaverny at last came back with an immense bouquet, much more beautiful than that which he had given his wife, there was an outburst of thanks, admiration and endless excuses.
“M. de Chaverny, I am not ungrateful; to prove it, ‘remind me to promise you something,’ as Potier said. Truly, I will embroider you a purse, when I have finished the one I promised to the Duke.”
At last the opera finished, to the great satisfaction of Julie, who felt ill at ease beside her singular neighbour. The Duke gave her his arm, Chaverny offered his to the other lady. Châteaufort, sombre and ill-pleased looking, walked behind Julie, bowing stiffly to the acquaintances whom he met on the stairway.
Some women passed close by them. Julie knew them by sight. A young man was talking to them and grinning; they immediately looked at Chaverny and his wife with an air of keen curiosity and one of them cried: “Is it possible?”
The Duke’s carriage drove up. He bowed to Madame de Chaverny, and repeated with great warmth his thanks for her kindness. In the meantime Chaverny wished to conduct the unknown lady to the door of the Duke’s carriage, and Julie and Châteaufort remained alone for a moment.
“Who can that woman be?” Julie asked.
“I should not tell you, . . . for it is really very extraordinary.”
“What do you mean?”
“Besides, all the people who know you will know very well what to think of it. But Chaverny! I should never have thought it!”
“What is it then? In Heaven’s name, tell me who is this woman.”
Chaverny was coming back, Châteaufort answered in a low voice:
“Madame Mélanie R—-, the mistress of the Duc de H—-.”
“Good heavens,” cried Julie, looking at Châteaufort with a stupefied air, “it can’t be possible.”
Châteaufort shrugged his shoulders, and as he was taking her to her carriage he added:
“That is just what those ladies said whom we met on the stairway. As for that other woman, she is a proper enough sort of woman in her way. She must be treated with care and consideration. She has even a husband.”
“My dear,” said Chaverny joyously, “you don’t need me to take you home. Good night; I am going to the Duke’s for supper.”
Julie made no answer.
“Châteaufort,” continued Chaverny, “do you care to come with me to the Duke’s? There is an invitation for you. They have just told me they were interested in you. You made an impression, lucky dog.”
Châteaufort declined coolly with thanks. He bowed to Madame de Chaverny, who was gnawing her handkerchief with rage when her carriage started away.
“Ah, but the way, old fellow,” said Chaverny, at least you will take me in your carriage to the lady’s door.”
“With pleasure,” answered Châteaufort gaily, “but, by the way, do you know that your wife understood before the evening was over by whom she was sitting?”
“Oh, you can be sure of it, and it really wasn’t right of you.”
“Nonsense, she is very good form; and then she isn’t very generally known; besides, the Duke takes her everywhere.”
Madame de Chaverny spent a very restless and excited night. The conduct of her husband at the opera added the last straw to the burden of her wrongs, and required, so it seemed to her, an immediate separation. She would have an explanation with him the next day, and would declare to him her intention of no longer living under the same roof with a man who had so cruelly compromised her. Still, the prospect of this interview frightened her. Never had she had a really serious conversation with her husband. Up to that time she had expressed her vexation merely by seasons of injured silence, to which Chaverny had paid no attention; for, leaving his wife entirely free, it would never have occurred to him that she could refuse him the indulgence, which, if there were need of it, he would have shown her. She was especially afraid of weeping in the midst of this explanation, and of Chaverny’s attributing these tears to wounded love. Then it was that she bitterly regretted the absence of her mother, who would have been able to give her good advice, or to take upon herself the task of pronouncing sentence of separation. All of these considerations threw her into a state of the greatest uncertainty, and when at last she fell asleep she had decided to go for advice to one of her friends who had known her since she was a tiny child and to rely upon this friend’s prudence as to the course of conduct which she should pursue toward Chaverny.
While giving way to her indignation she had not been able to prevent herself from comparing her husband and Châteaufort. The unmitigated coarseness of the former contrasted strongly with the delicacy of feeling of the latter and, while still reproaching herself for it, she felt a certain pleasure in recognising the fact that her lover was more solicitous for her reputation than her husband. This comparison of character led her on, in spite of herself, to consider the elegance of Châteaufort’s manners and the very slightly distinguished bearing of Chaverny. She pictured to herself her husband with his thick girth making unwieldy efforts to play the gallant with the mistress of the Duc de H—-, while Châteaufort, with even more deference than usual in his manner, seemed to be trying to preserve for her that respect which her husband might cause her to lose. At last, as in spite of ourselves, our imagination often carries us very far, she thought more than once that she might become a widow and that then, young, and rich, there would be no obstacle in the way of her rewarding the constant love of the young officer. One unfortunate experiment proved nothing conclusively against marriage, and if Châteaufort’s attachment was really deep. . . . But she banished these thoughts at which she blushed, and she promised herself that she would be more reserved than ever in her relations with him.
She awoke the next morning with a severe headache, and as little resolved, as the evening before, to have a decisive interview with her husband. She did not wish to go down to breakfast for fear she would meet him, so she had tea brought to her room and ordered her carriage, to go to call on Madame Lambert, this friend whom she had wished to consult. Madame Lambert was then at her country house at P—-.
As she was breakfasting she opened a newspaper. The first item which met her eyes read as follows: “M. Darcy, first secretary of the French Embassy, Constantinople, reached Paris yesterday in charge of important despatches. The young diplomatist, directly after his arrival, had a long conference with His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs.”
“Darcy in Paris,” she cried; “how glad I shall be to see him! I wonder if he has grown very formal? The young diplomatist! Darcy a young diplomatist!” And she could not help laughing at the mere sound of the words. “A young diplomatist!”
This Darcy used to come with marked regularity to Madame de Lussan’s evenings; he was then an attaché at the office of the Minster of Foreign Affairs. He had left Paris some time before Julie’s marriage and she had not seen him since. All that she knew was that he travelled a great deal and that he had obtained rapid advancement.
She was still holding the paper in her hand when her husband entered. He seemed in the best of good-humour. As he appeared, she arose to go out, but as it would have been necessary to pass near him to go into her dressing-room, she remained standing in the same place, but so overcome with emotion that her hand which rested on the tea-table made the teacups distinctly rattle.
“My dear,” said Chaverny, “I have come to say good-bye to you for a few days. I am going to hunt with the Duc de H—-, and I must tell you that he was delighted by your hospitality yesterday evening. My little affair is getting on very well, and he has promised to recommend me to the King with all the warmth possible.”
Julie grew red and white in turn as she listened to him.
“The Duc de H—- owes you that, at least,” she said in a trembling voice. “He could not do less for one who so scandalously compromises his wife with the mistresses of his patron.”
Then, making a last and desperate effort, she crossed the room with a stately step and entered her dressing-room, slamming the door behind her.
Chaverny stood for a moment in confusion and hanging his head. “How the dickens does she know that?” he thought. “But what matter, after all? What is done is done.”
And as it was not his habit to dwell long upon a disagreeable thought, he whirled about, took a lump of sugar from the sugar-bowl, and with his mouth full called to the maid who was coming in: “Tell my wife that I will stay for four or five days with the Duc de H—-, and that I will send her home some game.”
And he left the room with not another thought in his mind but of the pheasants and deer which he was going to kill.
Julie set out for P—- with her anger for her husband considerably deepened, but this time it was on account of a rather slight cause. He had taken the new carriage to go to the château of the Duc de H—-, and had left for his wife another, which according to the coachman, was in need of repairs.
As she was driving along, Madame de Chaverny rehearsed the tale which she was to tell to Madame Lambert. In spite of her chagrin she was not insensible to the satisfaction which a well-told story gives to every narrator, and she prepared her tale, trying to think of a suitable introduction, and beginning sometimes in one way and sometimes in another. As a result she saw the delinquencies of her husband from every point of view and her resentment was proportionately increased.
As every one knows, it is four leagues from Paris to P—-, and however long might be Madame de Chaverny’s list of charges you can imagine that it is impossible, even with the most envenomed hate, to dwell upon the same idea for four successive leagues. To the violent anger, with which her husband’s wrongs had inspired her, succeeded sweet and sad memories by that strange faculty of the human mind which often associates a smiling picture with a painful sensation.
The clear, sharp air, the bright sunshine, and unconcerned faces of the passers-by all helped to turn away her mind from these bitter thoughts. She remembered scenes of her childhood, and the days when she used to take trips into the country with young people of her own age. She saw again her convent friends; she took part in their games, their meals. She tried to understand the mysterious confidences which she heard amongst the older girls, and she could not suppress a smile as she thought of a hundred little incidents which so early betrayed the instinct of coquetry in women.
Then she pictured to herself her entrance into society. Once more she danced at the most brilliant balls which she had seen the year after she left the convent. The other balls she had forgotten. Once grows blasé so quickly; but those balls brought back to her the memory of her husband. “Fool that I was,” she said to herself, “why couldn’t I see from the very first that I should be unhappy with him?” All the ill-timed remarks and all the platitudes with which poor Chaverny used to regale her with such assurance, one month before their marriage, she now found noted and carefully registered in her memory. At the same time she could not help thinking of the many admirers whom her marriage had reduced to despair, but who had nevertheless married or otherwise consoled themselves a few months later. “Should I have been happy with another?” she asked herself. “A—- is decidedly stupid, but he is not offensive. Amélie leads him around by the nose. One could always manage to live with a husband who was obedient. B—- has mistresses, and his wife is good enough to be deeply grieved by it. Otherwise he is very attentive to her, and I should ask for nothing more. The Comte de C—-, who is always reading pamphlets, and who takes so much trouble that he may some day become a good deputé, perhaps he would be a good husband. Yes, but all those people are tiresome, ugly, and stupid.” As she was thus passing in review all the young men whom she had known before her marriage the name of Darcy presented itself to her mind for the second time.
Darcy used to count in the society of Madame de Lussan as a person of no importance, that is to say, they knew . . . the mothers knew . . . that his fortune would not permit of his marrying their daughters. To them there was nothing about him that could turn their young heads. Moreover, he had a reputation for gallantry. He was somewhat misanthropic and caustic, and it amused him greatly when he was the only man in a group of young girls to make fun of the weaknesses and pretensions of other young men. When he held a whispered conversation with young girls, their mothers were in nowise alarmed, for their daughters laughed aloud and the mothers of those who had pretty teeth even said that M. Darcy was an exceedingly delightful young man.
A similarity of tastes and the fear which each had of the other’s sharp tongue had drawn Julie and Darcy together. After a few skirmishes they had signed a treaty of peace, an offensive and defensive alliance: they spared each other and they were always united in attacking their acquaintances.
One evening Julie had been asked to sing some song or other. She had a beautiful voice and she knew it. As she went to the piano she looked at the women with a proud air as if she wished to challenge them. Now this evening some slight indisposition, or unfortunate fatality, had almost completely deprived her of her accustomed power. The first note of her usually musical voice was decidedly a false one. She became confused, blundered and completely lost her bearings; in short, it was a flat and dismal failure. Confused and ready to burst into tears poor Julie left the piano, and as she went back to her seat she could not help seeing the malicious joy, which her companions scarcely took the pains to conceal, as they saw this humiliation of her pride. Even the men seemed to have difficulty in suppressing a mocking smile. She lowered her eyes in shame and anger and for some moments did not dare to raise them again. When she raised her head the first friendly face that she saw was that of Darcy. He was pale and his eyes were filled with tears; he seemed even more touched by her mishap than she had been herself. “He loves me,” she thought. “He truly loves me.” That night she had scarcely slept and the sad face of Darcy was always before her eyes.
For two days she thought only of him and the secret passion which he must cherish for her. The romance was already making progress, when Madame de Lussan found one day the card of M. Darcy with these three letters: “P. P. C.” “Where then is M. Darcy going?” Julie asked a young man whom she knew.
“Where is he going? Don’t you know? To Constantinople. He is leaving to-night.”
“Then he doesn’t love me,” she thought.
Eight days later Darcy was forgotten. Darcy, for his part, being in those days rather romantic, took eight months to forget Julie. In order to excuse the latter and to explain the difference in their constancy it must be remembered that Darcy was living in the midst of barbarians, while Julie was in Paris, surrounded by attentions and pleasures.
However that may be, six or seven years after the separation Julie, in her carriage on the way to P—-, remembered Darcy’s melancholy expression on the day when she sung so badly; and it must be confessed that she thought of the love which he probably had for her then, perhaps she even thought of the sentiment which he still might have for her. All of which kept her mind actively employed for half a league. Then for a third time M. Darcy was forgotten.
It was the cause of no small vexation to Julie, upon entering P—-, to see horses being unharnessed from a carriage in Madame Lambert’s court-yard, which announced a visit that was to be of some duration. Consequently it would be impossible to begin a discussion of her grievances against M. de Chaverny.
Madame Lambert, when Julie entered the salon, had with her a woman whom Julie had often met in society, but whom she scarcely knew by name. It was by an effort that she concealed displeasure which she felt when she found that she had made this trip to P—- in vain.
“Welcome, my dear,” cried Madame Lambert, kissing her. “How glad I am to see that you haven’t forgotten me! You couldn’t have come at a more fortunate moment, for I am expecting to-day, I can’t tell you how many people who are your devoted friends.”
Julie answered with a slightly constrained air that she had expected to find Madame Lambert quite alone.
“They will be delighted to see you,” continued Madame Lambert. “My house has been so dull since my daughter’s marriage that I am only too glad when my friends arrange to meet here. But, my dear child, what have you done with your rosy cheeks? It seems to me that you are very pale to-day.”
Julie invented some little excuse, the long trip, the dust, the sun.
“It just happens that one of your admirers is going to dine with me, and he will be agreeably surprised. M. de Châteaufort and his faithful Achates, Commandant Perrin.
“I had the pleasure of entertaining Commandant Perrin a short time ago,” said Julie with a slight blush, for she was thinking of Châteaufort.
“M. de Saint-Leger is coming, too. We must really arrange for an evening of charades next month and you must have a role, my dearest; you were our bright and particular star in charades two years ago.”
“Really it is so long since I played charades that I am sure I should never be able to regain my former assurance. I know I should be obliged to have recourse to . . . But I think I hear some one coming . . .”
“Ah, but Julie, my child, just guess whom else we are expecting. But if you are to remember his name, my dear, you will have to search your memory well.”
The name of Darcy at once presented itself to Julie’s mind.
“His name is really becoming an obsession,” she thought. “Search my memory, madame. That I can easily do.”
“But I mean you must go back six or seven years. Do you remember one of your gallants when you were a little girl and wore your hair in braids?”
“Really, I can’t guess at all.”
“For shame, my dear. The idea of forgetting in that way a delightful fellow, who unless I am greatly mistaken, found such favour with you once upon a time, that your mother almost took alarm. Come now, my dear, since you thus forget your admirers, I shall be obliged to remind you of their names: you are to see M. Darcy.”
“Yes, at last he has come back from Constantinople, only a few days ago. They day before yesterday he came to see me and I invited him for to-night. Do you know, ungrateful little wretch that you are, he asked for news of you with an interest that seemed to me quite significant?”
“M. Darcy?” said Julie hesitatingly, and with an assumed air of abstraction. “M. Darcy? Isn’t he the tall, fair young man . . . who is Secretary of the Embassy?”
“Yes, my dear, but you won’t recognise him; he is greatly changed. He is pale, or rather olive colour, his eyes have sunken, and he has lost a good deal of his hair on account of the heat, so he says. In two or three years, if he keeps on, he will be completely bald in front. And still he isn’t thirty yet.”
At this point the lady who was listening to the recital of the misfortune of Darcy strongly advised using kalydor, from which she had derived much benefit after an illness which had caused her hair to fall out. As she spoke she ran her fingers through the heavy curls of her beautiful chestnut hair.
“Has M. Darcy been staying in Constantinople all this time?” asked Madame de Chaverny.
“Not all the time, for he has travelled a great deal. He was in Russia and then he travelled all over Greece. You haven’t heard of his good luck? His uncle died and left him a fine fortune. He has also been in Asia Minor in–oh, what do you call it–Caramania. He is charming, my dear; he has the most entertaining stories, which will delight you, I know. Yesterday he told me such good ones that I kept saying to him, ‘Oh, do keep them for to-morrow, you will tell them then to all the ladies who are coming, instead of wasting them upon an old grandmother like me.'”
“Did he tell you the story of the Turkish woman whom he saved?” asked Madame Dumanoir, the patroness of kalydor.
“The Turkish woman whom he saved. Did he save a Turkish woman? He didn’t tell me a word about it.”
“Is it possible? The action in it is splendid! It is a real romance.”
“Oh, do tell us about it, please.”
“No, you must ask him to tell it himself. I heard the story only from my sister, whose husband, as you know, was Consul at Smyrna. But she heard it from an Englishman who witnessed the whole adventure. It is really wonderful.”
“Oh, do tell us the story. How do you suppose that we can wait until dinner-time to hear it? Nothing is so tantalising as to hear a story talked about when one doesn’t know what it is.”
“Very well, I shall be sure to spoil it for you, but here it is just as it was told to me: M. Darcy was in Turkey examining some ruins or other by the sea-shore, when he saw a very mournful procession approaching. Some mutes were carrying a sack and this sack he saw stirring as if there were something alive in it . . .”
“Good heavens,” cried Madame Lambert, who had read Le Giaour, “it must have been a woman whom they were going to throw into the sea!”
“Exactly,” continued Madame Dumanoir, slightly piqued at seeing the most dramatic point of her story taken away from her. “M. Darcy looked at the sack, he heard a low groan, and at once guessed what they were going to do, and by way of answer they drew out their daggers. Fortunately M. Darcy was well armed. He put the slaves to flight and at last drew out of this horrid sack a half-fainting woman of the most ravishing beauty. He brought her back to the town and placed her in a house where she would be perfectly safe.”
“Poor woman!” said Julie, who was beginning to be interested in the story.
“Do you suppose she was saved? Not at all. Her jealous husband, for it was her husband, threw the whole populace into an uproar. They came to M. Darcy’s house and wanted to burn him alive. I am not perfectly sure of the end of the whole affair; all that I know is that he was able to withstand the siege, and that in the end he put the woman into a place of safe-keeping. It seems even,” continued Madame Dumanoir, suddenly changing her expression, and assuming a nasal tone of piety, “it seems that M. Darcy saw to it that she was converted, and she was baptised.”
“And did M. Darcy marry her?” asked Julie with a smile.
“About that I can tell you nothing; but the Turkish woman–she had a singular name, she was called Eminech–conceived a violent passion for M. Darcy. My sister told me that she always called him Sotir, Sotir–that means ‘my saviour’ in Turkish and in Greek. Eulalie told me that she was the most beautiful creature imaginable.”
“We must declare war upon this fair Turk,” cried Madame Lambert, “mustn’t we, ladies? We must tease him a little. But this incident of Darcy’s doesn’t surprise me in the least. He is one of the noblest men I know of, and there are actions of his that bring the tears to my eyes whenever I tell about them. His uncle died, leaving a natural daughter whom he had never recognised. As he had not left a will, she had no claim upon the property. Darcy, who was the sole heir, wished her to have her share, and it is probably that this share is much larger than his uncle himself would ever have made it.”
“And is she pretty, this natural daughter?” asked Madame de Chaverny, with a rather malicious air, for she began to feel the need of saying something against this M. Darcy whom she could not drive out of her thoughts.
“Oh, my dear, how can you suppose? . . . But, moreover, M. Darcy was still in Constantinople when his uncle died and he had probably never seen the girl.”
The arrival of Châteaufort, of Commandant Perrin and some others put an end to this conversation. Châteaufort sat down beside Madame de Chaverny, and seizing upon a moment when all the others were talking loudly:
“You seem sad,” he said to her; “I should be very unhappy if what I said to you yesterday is the cause of it.”
Madame de Chaverny did not hear what he said, or rather did not wish to hear, so Châteaufort had the mortification of being obliged to repeat his sentence, a mortification which was increased by Julie’s rather dry answer. After which she took part in the general conversation; and changing her place, she left her unhappy admirer.
Not allowing himself to be discouraged, Châteaufort indulged in a considerable display of wit, all in vain. Madame de Chaverny, to whom alone he was trying to make himself pleasing, listened with an air of abstraction. She was thinking of the approaching arrival of M. Darcy, and asking herself why her mind so dwelt upon a man whom she should have forgotten and who in all probability had forgotten her long since. At last the sound of an approaching carriage was heard; the drawing-room was thrown open.
“Ah, there he is,” cried Madame Lambert.
Julie did not dare to turn her head, but grew deathly pale. She felt a sudden and sharp sensation of cold, and she felt the need of gathering together all her strength to recover her poise and to prevent Châteaufort’s seeing her change of expression.
Darcy kissed Madame Lambert’s hand, and stood talking to her for some moments. Then a profound silence fell upon the room. Madame Lambert seemed to be expecting and giving time for a scrutiny of her guest. Châteaufort and the men, with the exception of the worthy Commandant Perrin, were watching Darcy with a curiosity tinged with jealousy. Since he had just come from Constantinople, he had a great advantage over them, and this was sufficient reason to cause them to wrap themselves in that self-contained reserve which is usually assumed with strangers. Darcy, who had paid attention to no one, was the first to break silence. He spoke of the weather and of the roads, it mattered not what. His voice was soft and musical. Madame de Chaverny risked a glance at him, she saw him in profile. It seemed to her that he had grown thinner and his expression had changed. In short she approved of him.
“My dear Darcy,” said Madame Lambert, “look carefully about you and see if you can’t find here some ladies whom you used to know.”
Darcy turned his head and saw Julie, whose face till then had been hidden under the brim of her hat. He rose hurriedly with an exclamation of surprise, went to her, holding out his hand, then suddenly checking himself, as if repenting of his excessive familiarity, he bowed low to Julie, and expressed to her in very correct language the great pleasure which he felt at seeing her again. Julie stammered out a few conventional words and blushed deeply as she saw that Darcy still remained standing before her, looking fixedly at her.
Her presence of mind soon returned, and she in her turn looked at him with a gaze which is at the same time absent-minded and observant, and which people in society can assume at will. He was a tall, pale young man upon whose features was imprinted an expression of calm; but a calm which seemed to result less from some habitual state of the soul, than from the control which it had succeeded in gaining over his countenance. Deep lines already furrowed his brow. His eyes were sunken, the corners of his mouth had dropped, and the hair on his temples had already begun to grow thin. Yet he was not thirty years old. Darcy was very simply attired, but with that elegance which indicates familiarity with good society and an indifference to a subject which occupies the thoughts of so many young men. Julie observed all this with pleasure. She noticed, too, that he had on his brow a long scar, which he only partially covered with a lock of hair, and which seemed to come from a sabre-cut.
Julie was sitting beside Madame Lambert, there was a chair between her and Châteaufort; but as soon as Darcy arose Châteaufort put his hand upon the back of the chair, which he kept balanced upon one of its feet. It was evident that he intended to keep it, like a dog in the manger. Madame Lambert was sorry for Darcy, who still remained standing before Madame de Chaverny, made room upon the sofa beside her, and asked Darcy to sit down there; by which means he found himself near Julie. He hastened to profit by this advantageous position, and entered into conversation with her.
Still he had to submit to the usual list of questions about his travels from Madame Lambert and a few others, but he answered them briefly, and seized upon every occasion to begin again the almost private conversation which he was carrying on with Madame de Chaverny.
“Take Madame de Chaverny into dinner,” said Madame Lambert, when the castle bell announced dinner.
Châteaufort bit his lips with vexation, but he arranged to be seated near enough to Julie at table to follow all her movements.
After dinner, as it was a beautiful warm evening, they gathered in the garden around a rustic table for coffee.
Châteaufort had noticed with increasing vexation the attentions which Darcy lavished upon Madame de Chaverny. As he observed the interest which she seemed to be taking in the conversation of the new-comer, he himself grew less and less agreeable, and the jealousy which he felt, had merely the effect of depriving him of all power to make himself attractive to her. He walked up and down on the terrace where the others were seated, unable to remain in one place, as is usual with people who are uneasy, looking often at the great black clouds which were gathering and which announced a storm, and looking still oftener at his rival, who was conversing in low tones with Julie. Sometimes he saw her smile, sometimes she grew serious, sometimes she timidly lowered her eyes. In short, he saw that Darcy could not utter a single word without its producing a marked effect upon her; and what especially chagrined him was, that the varied expressions which passed over Julie’s face seemed to be but an image and reflection of Darcy’s mobile countenance. At last, being no longer able to endure this torture, he drew near her, and leaning over the back of her chair just as Darcy was giving some one information about the beard of the Sultan Mahmoud, “Madame,” he said in a bitter tone, “M. Darcy seems to be a very delightful gentleman.”
“Oh, yes,” answered Madame de Chaverny, with an expression of enthusiasm which she could not hide.
“So it seems,” continued Châteaufort, “for he makes you forget your old friends.”
“My old friends?” said Julie in somewhat dulcet tones, “I do not know what you mean.” Then she turned her back upon him. Then taking a corner of the handkerchief that Madame Lambert held in her hand:
“How exquisite the embroidery is in this handkerchief. It is a wonderful bit of work.”
“Do you think so, my dear? It is a present from M. Darcy, who has brought me back I can’t tell you how many handkerchiefs from Constantinople. By the way, Darcy, was it your fair Turk who embroidered them for you?”
“My fair Turk, what fair Turk?”
“Oh, the beautiful Sultana whose life you saved and who used to call you . . . oh, we know all about it . . . who used to call you her saviour, in fact. You must know the word for it in Turkish.”
Darcy smote his brow, laughing:
“Is it possible,” he cried, “that a report of my misadventure has already reached Paris?”
“But there is no misadventure about it, there may be perhaps for the Mamamouchi who lost his favourite.”
“Alas!” answered Darcy, “I see that you knew only half the story, for this adventure was as unfortunate for me as was that of the windmills for Don Quixote. And must I, after having been such a subject of laughter in the East, still be made sport of in Paris, for the one deed of knight-errantry of which I have ever been guilty?”
“What! we know nothing about this. Tell us about it,” cried all the ladies at once.
“I should leave you,” said Darcy, “with the tale which you already know and do away with the continuation, the recollection of which has nothing very agreeable for me; but one of my friends–I beg permission to present him to you some day, Madame Lambert–Sir John Tyrrel–and an actor too in this serio-comic scene, is going to come to Paris soon, and it is quite possible that he might take a malicious pleasure in representing me in a role still more ridiculous than that which I really played. Here are the facts in the case: This unfortunate woman, when she was once safely settled in the French Consulate . . .”
“Oh, but begin at the beginning,” cried Madame Lambert.
“But, you have heard that already.”
“We know nothing at all, and we wish you to tell us the whole story from beginning to end.”
“Well, you must know that I was at Larnaca in 18–. One day I went outside the city to sketch. With me was a very pleasant young Englishman, a jolly companion and a bon-vivant, one of these men who are invaluable when you are travelling, because they think of the dinner and never forget provisions and are always in good-humour. Moreover, he was travelling without any particular aim in view, and knew nothing of either geology or botany, sciences which are exceedingly disagreeable in travelling companions.
“I was sitting in the shadow of a stone wall, some two hundred paces from the sea, along which at this point runs a line of precipitous cliffs. I was very busy drawing all that remains of an ancient sarcophagus, while Sir John, stretched out on the grass, was making fun of my unfortunate passion for the fine arts, and smoking some delicious Turkish tobacco. Beside us a Turkish dragoman, whom we had taken into our service, was making coffee for us. He was the best coffee-maker and the worst coward of all the Turks whom I have ever known.
“Suddenly Sir John cried joyfully:
“‘Here are some people coming down the mountain with snow! we’ll buy some from them and then we can make orange sherbet.’
“I raised my eyes, and I saw coming toward us a donkey, upon which a great bundle had been laid crosswise; two slaves were steadying it on each side. The driver was walking in front, leading the donkey, and behind a venerable Turk, with a white beard, closed the procession, mounted upon a fairly good horse. All the procession advanced slowly and with much solemnity.
“Our Turk, as he sat blowing upon the fire, cast a sidelong glance at the donkey’s burden, and said to us with a singular smile, ‘It is not snow.’ Then he busied himself with our coffee with his usual stolidity. ‘What is it?’ asked Tyrrel. ‘Is it something to eat?’
“‘Yes, for the fishes,’ answered the Turk.
“At that moment the man on horseback started away at a gallop, and turning in the direction of the sea, he passed close to us, but not without casting upon us one of those scornful glances with which the Muslims so readily favour Christians. He urged his horse on, to the precipitous cliffs of which I have spoken, and stopped short at a point where they fell sheer away. He looked at the sea and seemed to be looking for the best place from which he might hurl himself down.
“We examined then more attentively the bundle which the donkey was carrying and we were struck then by its strange shape. All the stories we had ever heard of women drowned by their jealous husbands came back to our minds, and we told each other of what we were thinking.
“‘Ask those scamps,’ said Sir John to our Turk, ‘if it isn’t a woman they are carrying.’
“The Turk opened wide his frightened eyes but not his mouth. It was evident that he found our question altogether too much out of the way.
“At that moment, as the sack was near us, we distinctly saw it moving, and we even heard a sort of moan, or grumbling, which came out of it.
“Tyrrel, although he is somewhat of an epicure, is exceedingly chivalrous. He sprang to his feet like a madman, ran to the donkey driver, and asked him in English, so confused was he by his rage, what it was that he had there, and what he was intending to do with his sack. The donkey driver was careful not to make any answer. But the sack moved violently about, and the cries of a woman’s voice were heard, whereupon the two slaves began to beat the sack with heavy blows from the thongs which they used to urge on the donkey. Tyrrel was incensed beyond all self-control. With a vigorous, well-aimed blow he threw the donkey driver to the ground and then seized one of the slaves by the throat, whereupon the sack, being roughly jostled in the struggle, fell heavily upon the grass.
“I ran up. The other slave had taken upon himself to gather up stones, and the donkey driver was struggling to his feet. In spite of my aversion to interfering in the affairs of others, it was impossible for me not to come to the rescue of my companion. Having seized the picket which served to hold my umbrella in place when I was sketching, I brandished it about my head, threatening the slaves and the donkey driver with the most martial air which I could assume. All was going well when that infernal Turk on horseback, having finished his contemplation of the sea, turned around at the noise which we made and started off quick as an arrow and was upon us before we thought of it. In his hand he held a sort of ugly cutlass.”
“An ataghan,” said Châteaufort, who loved local colour.
“An ataghan,” continued Darcy, with an approving smile. “He passed close to me and gave me a blow on the head with that same ataghan which made me ‘see thirty-six candles,’ as my friend, the Marquis de Roseville, has so elegantly put it. I answered by planting a good picket blow in his side. Then I played windmill to the best of my ability, striking donkey driver, slaves, horse and Turk, having become myself ten times more furious than my friend Sir John Tyrrel. The affair would doubtless have ended very badly for us. Our dragomanobserved a strict neutrality, and we could not defend ourselves very long with a stick against three infantrymen, a cavalryman, and an ataghan. Fortunately Sir John remembered a pair of pistols we had brought with us; he seized them, threw one to me and aimed the other immediately at the horseman who was giving us so much trouble. The sight of these arms and the clicking of the trigger of the pistol produced a magnificent effect upon our enemies. They shamefully took to their heels, leaving us masters of the field of battle, of the sack and even of the donkey. In spite of our anger we had not fired, which was a fortunate thing, for you can not kill a good Muslim with impunity, and it cost dear enough to give him a beating.
“When we wiped off some of the dust, our first care was, as you can easily imagine, to go to the sack and open it. We found in it a rather pretty woman, a little too fat perhaps, with beautiful black hair, and wearing a single garment of blue wool, somewhat less transparent than Madame de Chaverny’s scarf.
“She drew herself nimbly out of the sack, and without seeming very embarrassed she addressed to us a long speech which no doubt was very pathetic, but of which we did not understand as single word. At the end of it she kissed my hand. It is the only time, ladies, that a lady has done me such honour.
“We had in the meantime regained our composure, and saw our dragoman tearing out his beard like a man distraught. I was busy wrapping up my head as best I could with a handkerchief. Tyrrel was saying: ‘What the deuce can we do with this woman? If we stay here the husband will come back with a force and attack us. If we return to Larnaca with her in this fine equipage, the mob will certainly stone us.”
“Tyrell, embarrassed by all these considerations, and having recovered his British stolidity, cried: ‘Why the deuce did you take it into your head to come sketching here to-day?’
“His exclamation made me laugh, and the woman, who had understood nothing of what was said, began to laugh, too.
“However, we had to decide upon some course of action. I thought the best thing we could do was to place ourselves under the protection of the French Consul; the difficulty was to get back into Larnaca. Night was falling, which was a fortunate thing for us. Our Turk took us by some long by-path and thanks to the cover of night and this precaution, we reached without any mishap the house of the Consul, which is outside of the town. I forgot to tell you that we composed for the woman a costume, which was almost seemly, out of the sack and the turban of our interpreter.
“The Consul, who was far from pleased at seeing us, told us that we were mad, and that one should respect the usages and customs of the country in which one is travelling, and that one should not try to ‘put the finger between the bark and the tree.’ In short, he accused us of self-importance, and he was quite right, for we had done enough to give rise to a violent riot and to cause a massacre of all the Europeans in the Island of Cyprus. His wife showed more humanity. She had read many novels and thought that ours was a most noble course of action. As a matter of fact, we had acted like heroes in a novel. This excellent woman was very pious. She thought that she would have no difficulty in converting the infidel whom we had brought to her, and that this conversion would be mentioned in the Moniteur and that her husband would be appointed Consul-General. This whole plan outlined itself in a moment in her mind. She kissed the Turkish woman, gave her a dress, put the Consul to shame for his cruelty, and sent him to the Pasha to patch up the matter.
“The Pasha was very angry. The jealous husband was a person of importance, and was breathing out threatenings and slaughter. It was a scandal, he said, that dogs of Christians should hinder a man like him from casting his slave into the sea. The Consul was in sore straits; he talked much of the King, his master, and still more of a frigate of sixty tons, which had just appeared in the waters of Larnaca, but the argument which produced the most effect was the proposal which he made in our name of paying a fair price for the slave.
“Alas! If you only knew what the fair price of a Turk is! We had to pay the husband, pay the Pasha, pay the donkey driver for whom Tyrrel had broken two teeth, pay for the scandal, pay for everything. How often did Tyrrel sadly cry: ‘Why the dickens did you have to go sketching by the sea-side?'”
“What an adventure, my poor Darcy,” cried Madame Lambert. “That is how you received that terrible wound then. Do please raise your hair for a moment. What a wonder that it didn’t lay your head open.”
Julie, during this whole recital, had not once taken her eyes off the brow of the narrator. At last she asked in a timid voice:
“What became of the woman?”
“That is just the part of the story that I don’t care very much to tell; the end was so unfortunate for me, that at the present moment people still make fun of our chivalrous adventure.”
“Was this woman pretty?” asked Madame de Chaverny, blushing a little.
“What was her name?” asked Madame Lambert.
“Her name was Emineh.”
“Yes, she was pretty enough, but too plump, and all smeared over with paint, according to the custom of her country. It takes a long time to grow to appreciate the charms of a Turkish beauty. So Emineh was installed in the Consul’s house. She was a Mingrelian and told Madame C—-, the Consul’s wife, that she was the daughter of a prince. In that country every rascal who commands ten other rascals is a prince. So she was treated like a princess. She dined at table with the Consul’s family, and ate enough for four. Then when they talked to her about religion she regularly fell asleep. So things went on for some time. At last the day was fixed for her baptism. Madame C—- appointed herself godmother, and wished me to stand as godfather, so there were sweets and gifts and all the rest of it. It had been decreed that this wretched Emineh should ruin me. Madame C—- said that Emineh liked me better than Tyrrel, because when she served me with coffee she always let some spill upon my clothes. I was preparing for this christening with a compunction that was truly evangelical, when the night before the ceremony the fair Emineh disappeared. Must I tell you the whole truth? The Consul had for a cook a Mingrelian, a great rascal certainly, but an adept in preparing pilaf. This Mingrelian had found favour in Emineh’s eyes, and she was without doubt a patriot in her own way. He carried her off, and with her a considerable sum of money belonging to M. C—-, who could never find him again. So the Consul was out of his money, his wife the outfit which she had given to Emineh, and I the gloves and sweets, not to mention the blows which I had received. The worst of it is that I was made responsible for the whole adventure. They maintained that it was I who freed this wretched woman, whom I would have been glad to know was at the bottom of the sea, and who had brought down so many misfortunes upon the heads of my friends. Tyrrel managed to squirm out of it. He posed as the victim, while in reality he was the cause of the whole fiasco, and I was left with a reputation of a Don Quixote, and the scar which you see, which greatly stands in the way of my popularity.”
When the story was finished they all went back into the salon. Darcy continued to chat for some time with Madame de Chaverny. Then he was obliged to leave her to have presented to him a young man who was a learned political economist, who was preparing himself to bedeputé and who wished to have some statistics on the Ottoman Empire.
Julie, after Darcy left her, looked often at the clock. She listened abstractedly to Châteaufort and her eyes turned involuntarily to Darcy, who was talking at the other end of the salon. Sometimes he looked at her as he continued to talk to his statistician and she could not meet his penetrating but calm glance. She felt that he had already taken an extraordinary hold upon her, and she no longer thought of making any effort to free herself.
At last she called for her carriage, and either by design or accident she looked at Darcy as she called for it, with a glance which seemed to say, ‘You have wasted a half-hour which we might have spent together.’ The carriage was ready, Darcy was still talking, but he seemed tired and bored by the questioner, who would not let him go. Julie rose slowly, pressed Madame Lambert’s hand, then went toward the door of the salon, surprised and almost piqued at seeing Darcy still remaining in the same place. Châteaufort was near her and offered her his arm, which she took mechanically, without listening to him and almost without noticing his presence. She crossed the hall, accompanied by Madame Lambert and two others, who went with her to her carriage. Darcy had stayed in the salon. When she was seated in her carriage Châteaufort asked her with a smile if she would not be afraid all alone on the road in the night, adding that he was going to follow close behind her in his gig, as soon as Commandant Perrin had finished his game of billiards. Julie, who seemed to be in a dram, was recalled to herself by the sound of his voice, but she had not understood what he had said. She did what any other woman would have done under similar circumstances–she smiled. Then with a nod she said good-night to those who were gathered in the doorway, and her horses set off at a rapid trot.
But just at the moment when her carriage was starting away she had seen Darcy come out of the salon, pale and said, with his eyes fixed upon her, as if he were begging her for a special adieu. She started away, carrying with her the regret that she had not been able to give him a bow for himself alone, and she even thought that he would be piqued by it. She had already forgotten that he had left it to another to accompany her to her carriage. Now the wrongs were all on her side, and she reproached herself with them as if she had been guilty of a great crime. The feeling which she had had for Darcy a few years before, when she had left him after the evening she had sung so badly, was much less deep than that which she carried away with her this time. As a matter of fact not only had the years deepened her impressions, but all the accumulated anger which she felt at her husband had helped to increase them. Perhaps even the inclination which she had had for Châteaufort, and which at this moment was completely forgotten, had prepared her to give place without too much remorse for the much deeper feeling which she felt for Darcy.
As for him, his thoughts were those of a much calmer nature. He had felt pleasure in meeting a pretty woman who recalled happy days and whose acquaintance would probably be very agreeable during the winter, which he was going to spend in Paris. But as soon as she was no longer before his eyes, all that remained with him was the memory of a few hours gaily spent together, a memory whose pleasantness was somewhat impaired by the prospect of getting to bed late and driving four leagues before reaching home. Let us leave him with his prosaic thoughts, carefully wrapping himself in his coat, and settling himself comfortably in his hired conveyance, roaming in his thoughts from Madame Lambert’s salon to Constantinople, from Constantinople to Corfu, and from Corfu to a slight doze.
Dear reader, we will now follow, if it may please you, Madame de Chaverny.
When Madame de Chaverny left Madame Lambert’s château the night was horribly black and the atmosphere heavy and oppressive. From time to time vivid flashes of lightning illuminated the country, and the black silhouettes of the trees stood out against a background of vivid orange. After each flash the darkness seemed blacker than before, and the coachman could not see the horses before him. A violent storm burst upon her. At first, a few occasional large drops of rain fell, but in a short time there was a heavy downpour. The heavens all around seemed to be aflame, and the roar of the celestial artillery soon became deafening. The terrified horses snorted and reared instead of going forward; but the coachman had eaten a good dinner and his thick coat and the copious draughts of wine which he had drunk took away from him all fear of rain or bad roads. He energetically belaboured the poor beasts, no less fearless than Caesar in the storm when he said to his pilot: “Thou art bearing Caesar and his fortune.”
As Madame de Chaverny had no fear of thunder she paid little attention to the storm. She said over to herself all that Darcy had told her, and she regretted that she had not said a hundred things that she might have said to him, when she was suddenly interrupted in her meditation by a sudden violent jolt. At the same time the windows of her carriage were shivered to pieces, an ominous crackling was heard and her carriage rolled over into the ditch. Julie was quite unharmed, but the rain continued to fall, one wheel was broken and the lamps were put out, and there was not a single house to be seen whither she might go for shelter. The coachman was swearing, the footman was fuming at the coachman, and cursing his awkwardness. Julie remained in her carriage, asking how they could get back to P—-, or what they would have to do. But each one of her questions received the discouraging answer: “It isn’t possible.” In the meantime the dull rumble of an approaching carriage was to be heard in the distance. Soon Madame de Chaverny’s coachman recognised, to his great satisfaction, one of his colleagues with whom he had laid the foundation of a tender friendship in Madame Lambert’s pantry. He called to him to stop.
The carriage stopped, and scarcely had the name of Madame de Chaverny been mentioned that a young man who was in the coupe opened the door himself, crying, “Is she hurt?” And with a single bound he reached Julie’s carriage. She had recognised Darcy. She was expecting him.
Their hands met in the darkness and it seemed to Darcy that Madame de Chaverny gave his a slight pressure, but that may have been a result of her fear. After the first questions, Darcy naturally offered her his carriage. At first Julie did not answer, for she was quite undecided as to what course she would pursue. On the one hand she thought of the three or four leagues that she would have to travel all alone with a young man, if she wished to go back to Paris; on the other hand, if she went back to the château to ask hospitality from Madame Lambert, she shuddered at the thought of being obliged to recount the romantic accident of the overturned carriage and the help that she would have received from Darcy. To reappear in the salon in the midst of a game of whist saved by Darcy, like the Turkish woman, she really couldn’t think of it! But then, too, the three long leagues to Paris! As she was thus hesitating and stammering awkwardly enough a few commonplaces on the inconvenience to which she had put him, Darcy, who seemed to read all that was going on in her mind, said to her coldly: “I beg you to take my carriage; I will stay in yours until some one passes on the way to Paris.”
Julie, who was afraid of showing too much prudery, hastened to accept the first offer, but not the second, and as her decision was very suddenly made, she had not time to decide the important question as to whether she should go to P—- or to Paris. She was already seated in Darcy’s carriage, wrapped up in the greatcoat, which he had hastened to offer her, and the horses were trotting briskly toward Paris, before it occurred to her to tell him where she wished to go. Her servant had chosen for her when he gave the coachman his mistress’s street and number.
The conversation began with a good deal of awkwardness on both sides. Darcy spoke briefly, and in a tone which seemed to indicate a slight displeasure. Julie thought that her lack of resolution had offended him and that he considered her a ridiculous prude. Already she was so completely under the influence of this man that she was violently reproaching herself, and her one thought was to drive away this displeasure for which she blamed herself. Darcy’s coat was damp, she noticed, and at once taking of the coat which he had lent her, she insisted upon his wrapping himself up in it. Thereupon ensued a discussion, the result of which was that they split the difference and each one had his share of the coat, a great imprudence which she would not have committed but for this one moment of hesitation which she wished to make him forget. They were seated so close to each other that Julie could feel Darcy’s breath upon her cheek, and sometimes a violent jolt from the carriage threw them even closer together.
“This cloak which wraps us both up reminds me of our charades in the old days. You remember being my Virginia when we both wrapped up in your grandmother’s mantle?”
“Yes, and do you remember the reproof she gave me upon that occasion?”
“Ah,” cried Darcy, “what happy times those were! How often have I thought with mingled sadness and pleasure of those glorious evenings in the Rue Bellechasse. Do you remember those splendid vulture’s wings that were fastened to your shoulders with pink ribbons, and the beak of gold paper that I manufactured for you with such skill.”
“Yes,” answered Julie; “you were Prometheus and I was the vulture. But what a memory you have! How can you remember all those trifles? And, what a long time it is since we last saw each other.”
“Are you asking for a compliment?” said Darcy, smiling, and leaning forward so as to look into her face. Then in a more serious tone, “Really,” he continued, “it is not so remarkable that I should remember the happiest days of my life.”
“What a talent you had for charades,” said Julie, who was afraid the conversation might take too sentimental a turn.
“Do you wish me to give you another proof of my memory,” interrupted Darcy. “Do you remember the compact that we made at Madame Lambert’s? We agreed to say ill of the whole universe, but we were to defend each other against all comers. But our treaty shared the fate of most treaties–it was not carried out.”
“How do you know?”
“I fancy that you have not often had a chance to defend me, for once away from Paris, what idle fellow would give me even a thought?”
“To defend you, no, but to speak of you to your friends.”
“Oh, my friends,” cried Darcy, with a smile tinged with sadness, “I had few enough in those days–with whom you were acquainted at least. The young men who frequented your father’s house hated me, I don’t know why, and the women gave small thought to the attaché of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.”
“The trouble was that you didn’t pay any attention to them.”
“That is quite true. I never could play the gallant to people for whom I didn’t care.”
If it had been possible in the darkness to see Julie’s face, Darcy might have observed that a deep blush overspread her countenance as she heard this last sentence, into which she had read a meaning that Darcy had never intended.
However that may be, laying aside these memories, which had been only too well kept by both of them, Julie wished to lead him back to the subject of his travels, hoping that by this means she herself might avoid talking. This plan of action almost always succeeded with travellers, especially with those who have visited some distant country.
“What a delightful journey you had,” she said, “and how sorry I am that I have never been able to take one like it.”
But Darcy was no longer in the mood to tell of his travels.
“Who is the young man with a moustache who was talking with you a little while ago?”
This time Julie blushed more deeply than ever. “He is a friend of my husband,” she answered, “one of the officers of his regiment. They say,” she continued, not wishing to abandon her Oriental theme, “that those who have once seen the blue sky of the Orient find it impossible to live elsewhere.”
“Singularly unpleasing, I don’t know just why, . . . I mean your husband’s friend, not the blue sky. As for this blue sky, Heaven save you from it! One comes to take so violent a dislike to it from always seeing it the same, unchanging, that a dirty Paris fog would seem the most beautiful sight in the world. Believe me, nothing gets on the nerves as does this blue sky, which was blue yesterday, and which will be blue to-morrow. If you only knew with what impatience, with what ever-renewed disappointment, we wait for and hope for a cloud.”
“And yet you stayed a long time under this blue sky.”
“Ah, you see, I should have found it rather difficult to do anything else. If I had been able to merely follow my own inclination, I should have come back quickly enough to the region of Rue Bellechasse, after having satisfied the curiosity which the strange sights of the Orient awake.”
“I believe that many travellers would say the same thing if they were as frank as you are. How do people spend their time in Constantinople and the other cities of the East?”
“There, as elsewhere, there are different ways of killing time; the English drink, the French play cards, the Germans smoke, and some clever people, in order to vary their pleasures, get themselves shot when they climb upon the house-tops to turn their opera-glasses on the native women.”
“Doubtless this last occupation was the one which you preferred.”
“Not at all. I studied Turkish and Greek, which made me seem very ridiculous. When I had finished my despatches at the Embassy I used to draw, I used to gallop out to the Eaux-Douces, and then I used to go to the sea-shore to see if some human face would not appear from France or elsewhere.”
“It must be a great pleasure for you to see a Frenchman at so great a distance from France.”
“Yes, but for an intelligent man, it seemed that there appeared so often merchants selling hardware, and cashmeres, or what is much worse, young poets, as soon as they saw somebody from the Embassy, crying: ‘Take me to see the ruins, take me to Saint Sophia, take me to the mountains, to the azure sea, I wish to see the spot where Hero sighed.’ Then when they had got a sunstroke they would shut themselves up in their rooms and not wish to see anything except the latest numbers of the Constitutionnel.”
“Oh, you are looking on the dark side of everything, an old habit of yours–you haven’t corrected it, you know; you are just as cynical as ever.”
“Tell me now, isn’t a condemned soul who is frying in the pan permitted to cheer himself a little at the expense of his frying companions? On my word, you don’t know how wretched life is over there; we secretaries of embassies are like the swallows that never alight. For us there are none of those intimate relations that make the happiness of life.” (He uttered these last words in a singularly strange tone, drawing closer to Julie.) “For six years I have found no one with whom I could exchange my thoughts.”
“Then you had no friends over there.”
“I have just been telling you that it is impossible to have any in a foreign country. I left two in France, one is dead, the other is in America, whence he will not return for some years, if the yellow fever does not keep him there for ever.”
“So you are alone?”
“And ladies’ society, what is it like in the East? Was there no satisfaction in it?”
“Oh, that was the worst of all. Turkish women were not to be thought of. As for the Greeks and Armenians, the best that one can say of them is that they are very pretty. When it comes to the wives of consuls and ambassadors, you must excuse me from discussing them. That is a diplomatic question, and if I said what I really think, I might harm my prospects in foreign affairs.”
“You don’t seem to care very much for your calling. In the old days you were so anxious to enter upon diplomatic life.”
“In those days I knew nothing about the profession. Now I’d rather be inspector of street cleaning in Paris.”
“Heavens, how can you say that? Paris, the most wretched hole in the world.”
“Don’t blaspheme. I should like to hear your palinode of Naples after two years’ sojourn in Italy.”
“To see Naples! There is nothing in the world I should like better,” she answered with a sigh, “provided my friends were with me.”
“Oh, under those conditions, I would take a trip around the world; travelling with one’s friends is like sitting comfortably in a salon while the world flies by before your windows, like a panorama that is unfolding itself.”
“Well, if that is asking too much, I should like to travel with one–with two friends only.”
“For my part I am not so ambitious. I should ask for only one man, or one woman,” he added with a smile, “but this is a good fortune which has never befallen me, and which will never befall me.” Then, more gaily, he continued, “As a matter of fact, luck has never come my way, I have really wished for only two things, and I have never been able to get them.”
“What were they?”
“Oh, nothing so very out of the way. For instance, I was wildly anxious to waltz with some one. I made a most careful study of the waltz, I practised for whole months alone with a chair to overcome the giddiness which never failed to seize upon me, and when at last I succeeded in freeing myself of these dizzy turns . . .”
“With whom did you wish to waltz?”
“What would you say if I should tell you that it was you? When, as a result of much toil, I had become a refined waltzer, your grandmother, who had just taken a Jansenist confessor, forbade waltzing by an order which has still left a scar on my heart.”
“And the second wish?” asked Julie, in deep confusion.
“My second wish I will confess to you. I should have liked . . . it was far too ambitious on my part . . . I should have liked to have been loved, really loved. It was before the waltz that I had formulated this wish–I am not following chronological order. I should have liked, I say, to have been loved by a woman who would have preferred me to a ball (the most dangerous of all rivals), by a woman whom I might have gone to see in muddy boots, just as she was preparing to enter a carriage on the way to a ball–she would have been in ball dress and she would have said to me: ‘Let us stay at home.’ But that was madness. We should ask only for what is possible.”
“Oh, how malicious you are; still your same old ironical remarks! You spare nothing, you are pitiless toward women.”
“I? Heaven forbid! It is rather myself that I am slandering. Am I saying ill of women when I say that they prefer a pleasant evening party to a tête-à-tête with me?”
“A ball, evening dress, ah, good heavens, who cares for balls now?” She thought little of justifying all her sex who were thus arraigned. She thought that she understood Darcy’s thought, and the poor woman understood nothing but her own heart.
“Oh, speaking about ball dress, what a pity that the carnival is over. I have brought back the costume of a Turkish woman, and it is really very pretty and it would be wonderfully becoming on you.”
“You must make a drawing of it for me.”
“Gladly, and you will see what progress I have made since the days when I used to scribble men’s heads on your mother’s tea-table. By the way, too, I must congratulate you. I was told this morning at the Minister’s office that M. de Chaverny was to be appointed gentleman-in-waiting. I was delighted to hear it.”
Julie involuntarily started. Darcy continued without noticing this movement: “Let me bespeak your patronage at once. But really I am not altogether pleased about your new dignity. I am afraid that you may be obliged to go to Saint Cloud for the summers. Then I shall not have the pleasure of seeing you so often.”
“I shall never go to Saint Cloud,” said Julie, in a voice choked with emotion.
“Ah, so much the better, for Paris, don’t you see, is a paradise which you should never leave, except occasionally to go to dine in the country at Madame Lambert’s, provided one comes home in the evening. How fortunate you are to live in Paris. You can’t imagine how happy I–who am here for perhaps a short time only–am in the little apartment that my aunt has given to me. And you, so I have been told, live in the Fauburg Saint-Honoré. Your house was pointed out to me. You must have a delightful garden if the mania for building has not already changed your arbours into shops.”
“No, my garden is still untouched, thank Heaven.”
“What day are you at home?”
“I am at home nearly every evening, and I shall be delighted if you will come to see me sometimes.”
“You see, I am acting as if our old contract still continued. I am inviting myself without ceremony and without being officially presented. You will forgive me, won’t you? You and Madame Lambert are the only two whom I know in Paris now; every one has forgotten me, but your two houses are the only ones I thought of with regret during my exile. Your salonespecially must be delightful. You used to choose your friends so well. Do you remember the plans you used to make for the time when you would be mistress of a house?–a salon that was inaccessible to bores, music sometimes, and always conversation, and all till very late hours. No pretentious people, and a small number of persons who were perfectly well acquainted, and who consequently never tried to tell what was not true, nor to seek effect, two or three witty women (and it is impossible that your friends should be otherwise), and your house is the most delightful in Paris. Yes, you are the happiest of women, and you make happy all those who come near you.”
Whilst Darcy was talking, Julie was thinking that this happiness which he so vividly described might have been attainable if she had been married to a different husband–to Darcy, for instance. Instead of this imaginary salon, so elegant and so delightful, she thought of the bores whom Chaverny had gathered about him; instead of these merry conversations, she recalled conjugal scenes such as that which had sent her to P—-. She saw herself, moreover, for ever unhappy, and bound for life to the destiny of a man whom she hated and scorned; whilst he, whom she found the most pleasant in the world, he to whom she would have been glad to trust her happiness, must for ever remain a stranger to her. It was her duty to avoid him, to separate herself from him, and he was so near her that his coat brushed against the sleeve of her gown.
Darcy continued for some time to depict the pleasures of a Parisian life with all the eloquence which long privation had given him. Julie in the meantime felt the tears streaming down her cheeks. She trembled lest Darcy should notice it, and the restraint under which she held herself gave added force to her emotion. She choked, she did not dare make the slightest movement. At last a sob escaped her and all was lost. She buried her face in her hands, half suffocated with tears and with shame.
Darcy, who was wholly unprepared for it, was greatly astonished; for a moment he was silent with surprise, but as her sobs increased he felt obliged to speak and to ask the cause of her sudden tears.
“What is wrong? In Heaven’s name, do tell me what has happened.”
And, as poor Julie, in answer to all these questions, merely covered her eyes more tightly with her handkerchief, he took her hands, and gently pushing aside the handkerchief:
“I beg you,” he said in a changed voice, which went to Julie’s heart, “I beg you to tell me what the trouble is. Have I unwittingly offended you? Your silence drives me to despair.”
“Ah,” cried Julie, unable to contain herself any longer, “I am very unhappy,” and she sobbed more violently than ever.
“Unhappy, why? What do you mean? Who could make you unhappy?”
And so speaking he pressed her hands, and his head almost touched that of Julie, who wept instead of answering. Darcy did not know what to think, but he was touched by her tears. He felt six years younger, and he began to have a vision of the future which had not yet presented itself to his imagination–that of the role of confidant, which he might possibly change to a more intimate one.
As she persisted in giving no reply, Darcy, fearing that she felt faint, lowered one of the windows in the carriage, untied the ribbons of Julie’s hat, and loosened her cloak and her shawl. Men are awkward in doing these little services. He wished to have the carriage stopped near a village, and he was already calling to the coachman, when Julie, seized him by the arm, begged him not to stop, and assured him that she felt much better. The coachman had heard nothing and continued to drive toward Paris.
“But I beg you, dear Madame de Chaverny,” said Darcy, again taking her hand, which he had for a moment given up, “I beg you to tell me what the trouble is. I am afraid . . . I don’t understand in what way I was so unfortunate as to hurt you.”
“Ah, you did not do it,” cried Julie, and she gave his hand a slight pressure.
“Well, tell me who it is who can make you weep. Speak to me with confidence; are we not old friends?” he added, smiling and in his turn pressing Julie’s hand.
“You were speaking of the happiness with which you believed I was surrounded, and this happiness is so far from me.”
“What, have you not every aid to happiness? You are young, rich, and beautiful; your husband occupies a prominent place in society.”
“I hate him,” cried Julie, beside herself; “I scorn him,” and she hid her face in her handkerchief, sobbing more bitterly than ever.
“Oh,” thought Darcy, “this is becoming serious.”
And skilfully taking advantage of one of the jolts of the carriage, he drew still closer to the unfortunate Julie.
“Why,” he said to her in the softest and most tender voice in the world, “why do you give way to grief? Is it possible that a being whom you scorn has so much influence on your life? Why do you allow him, him alone to embitter your life? Is it from him that you must seek happiness?” and he kissed her hand. She at once withdrew her hand in terror; he feared that he had gone too far, but, determined to carry out his adventure to the end, he said with a hypocritical sigh:
“How mistaken I was! When I heard of your marriage, I thought that you really loved M. de Chaverny.”
“Ah, M. Darcy, you never knew me.”
And her tone said distinctly, “I have always loved you, and you never would see it.” At that moment the poor woman believed in all good faith that she had loved Darcy the whole time, during the six years that had just passed, as deeply as she loved him at that moment.
“And you,” said Darcy, with increasing animation, “have you ever really understood me? Did you ever know what my real feeling was? Ah! If you had only known me better, doubtless we should both have been happy now.”
“Ah, how unhappy I am!” repeated Julie, with a fresh outburst of tears, and holding his hand tight.
“But even if you had understood me,” continued Darcy with that expression of ironical melancholy which was habitual with him, “what would the result have been? I was penniless and you had a considerable fortune. Your mother would have rejected my offer with scorn. I was condemned beforehand. You, yourself, yes, you, Julie, before a fatal experience had shown you where true happiness lies, you would doubtless have laughed at my presumption. A well-appointed carriage, with a count’s coronet on the door, would doubtless have been the best and surest means of being acceptable in your sight at that time.”
“Good heavens, you too! Will no one then have pity upon me?”
“Forgive me, then, dear Julie,” he cried, deeply touched himself; “forgive me, I beg you; forget these reproaches; I have no right to make them. I am guiltier than you, but I did not know your real worth. I thought that you were weak, like the women of the world amongst whom you lived; I doubted your courage, dear Julie, and I have been cruelly punished.”
He ardently kissed her hands, and she did not withdraw them. He was going to press her to his breast, but Julie thrust him back with a terrified expression and drew away from him as far as the width of the carriage would allow.
Whereupon Darcy in a voice whose very gentleness made it still more thrilling said:
“Forgive me, I was forgetting Paris. I remember now that people marry there, but they do not love.”
“Oh, yes, I love you,” she murmured between her sobs, and she let her head fall upon Darcy’s shoulder.
Darcy enfolded her in his arms in an ecstasy, trying to stop her tears with his kisses. Once more she tried to free herself from his embrace, but this was her last effort.
Darcy had been mistaken as to the nature of his emotion; it must be said at once that he was not in love. He had taken advantage of a bit of good fortune which had seemed to throw itself at his head, and which was too good to be allowed to let pass. Moreover, like all men, he was much more eloquent when pleading than when thanking. However, he was polite, and politeness often takes the place of more worthy sentiments. When the first moment of intoxication was passed he breathed into Julie’s ears tender sentiments, which he composed without any great difficulty, and which he accompanied with many kisses upon her hands, so saving himself from speech. He noticed without any great regret that the carriage had already reached the fortifications, and that in a few minutes he would be obliged to separate from himself from his conquest. The silence of Madame de Chaverny in the midst of his protestations, the dejection in which he seemed plunged, rendered difficult, even tiresome, if I may dare to say it, the position of her new lover.
She sat motionless in the corner of her carriage, mechanically drawing her shawl tight around her shoulders. She was no longer weeping, her eyes were fixed, and when Darcy took her hand to kiss it, this hand, as soon as he released his hold, fell back upon her knees inertly. She did not speak and she scarcely heard; but torturing thoughts crowded her brain, and if she essayed to express one of them, another instantly succeeded to seal her lips.
How can I describe the chaos of her thoughts, or rather of those images which succeeded one another as rapidly as the pulsations of her heart? She thought that she heard a ringing in her ears without rhyme or reason, but all with a terrible meaning. That morning she had accused her husband; he was vile in her eyes, now she was a hundred times more despicable. It seemed to her that her shame was public; the mistress of the Duc de H—- would scorn her in her turn. Madame Lambert and all her friends would refuse to see her, and Darcy, did he love her?
He scarcely knew her; he had forgotten her, he had not at once recognised her. Perhaps he had found her terribly changed. He was cold toward her; that was the coup de grâce. Her infatuation for a man who scarcely knew her, who had not shown for her any love, . . . but merely politeness. It was impossible that he should love her. She, herself, did she love him? No, since she had married almost as soon as he had gone away.
When the carriage entered Paris the clocks were striking one o’clock. At four o’clock she had seen Darcy for the first time. Notwithstanding their early acquaintance she had forgotten his features, his voice, he had been a stranger to her; nine hours later she had become his mistress, nine hours had sufficed for the singular fascination, had sufficed to dishonour her in her own eyes, in the eyes of Darcy himself. For what could he think of so weak a woman? How could he help scorning her?
Sometimes the gentleness of Darcy’s voice, the tender words which he uttered revived her a little. Then she tried to make herself believe that he really felt the love of which he spoke. She had not so lightly surrendered herself. Their love had lasted since the time when Darcy had left her. Darcy must know that she had married only because of the vexation which his departure had caused her. It was Darcy who had been to blame. Nevertheless he had always loved her during his long absence, and upon his return he had been happy to find her as faithful as he had been. Her frank avowal, her very weakness must be pleasing to Darcy, who hated dissimulation. But the absurdity of these arguments soon became apparent to her. These consoling thoughts vanished and she was left a prey to shame and despair.
At one moment she wished to give utterance to what she felt. She had just thought of herself as being outlawed by the world and abandoned by her family. After having so grievously given offence to her husband, her pride would not allow her to see him again. “Darcy loves me,” she told herself, “and I can love no one but him; without him I can never be happy. I shall be happy everywhere with him. Let us go together then, to some spot where I can never see a face that will bring a blush to my face. Let him take me to Constantinople with him.”
Darcy never for an instant dreamed what was going on in Julie’s heart. He had just noticed that they had turned into the street where Madame de Chaverny lived, and he was drawing on his kid gloves with great calm.
“By the way,” he said, “I must be officially presented to M. de Chaverny. I have no doubt that we shall soon be good friends, as I am presented by Madame Lambert. I shall be on a pleasant footing in your house. In the meantime, as he is in the country, I may come to see you?”
Speech entirely failed Julie. Every word that Darcy uttered cut her to the quick. How could she talk of flight, of elopement with this man who was so calm, so cool, and whose one thought was to arrange his liaison in the most convenient manner possible? In her rage she broke the necklace she wore, and twisted the chain between her fingers. The carriage stopped at the door of her house; Darcy was very attentive in wrapping her shawl around her and helping her to readjust her hat. When the carriage-door was opened, he very respectfully offered her his arm, but Julie stepped out without help from him.
“I shall beg permission,” he said with a deep bow, “to call to inquire for you.”
“Good-bye,” said Julie in a choked voice.
Darcy once more got into his carriage and drove home, whistling with the air of a man who is well pleased with his day’s work.
As soon as he found himself once more in his bachelor apartments Darcy got into a Turkish dressing-gown, put on slippers, and having filled with Turkish tobacco his long pipe with the brier-wood stem and amber mouthpiece, he settled himself down to enjoy it, leaning back in a great leather-covered arm-chair which was comfortably padded. To those persons who may be astonished at seeing him engaged in this vulgar occupation at a moment when he might perhaps be given to more poetical dreams, I will answer that a good pipe is a useful, not to say necessary, adjunct to reverie, and that the truest way of really enjoying a pleasure is to connect with some other pleasure. One of my friends, a very luxurious man, never used to open a letter from his mistress without having first taken off his necktie, stirred up the fire, if it were winter-time, and comfortably stretched himself out on the sofa.
“Really,” said Darcy to himself, “I should have been a great idiot if I had followed Tyrrel’s advice and bought a Greek slave to bring her back to Paris. On my word, that would have been, as my friend Haleb-Effendi used to say, bringing figs to Damascus. Thank fortune, civilisation has made great progress during my absence, and strictness does not seem to have been carried to excess. Poor Chaverny!–Ah! ah! If, however, I had been rich enough a few years ago, I should have married Julie, and perhaps it would have been Chaverny who would have brought her home to-night. If ever I marry, I shall have my wife’s carriage frequently overhauled, so that she will have no need of wandering knights to rescue her from ditches. Let us consider the matter. Taking it all in all, she is a very pretty woman; she is witty, and if I were not as old as I am, I should be inclined to think that it is owing to my own great merit. . . . Alas! In a month perhaps my merit will be on a level with that of the gentleman with the moustache. How I wish that that little Nastasia whom I liked so much had been able to read and write, and been able to talk about things with intelligent people; for I think she is the only woman who really loved me. Poor child!” His pipe went out and he soon fell asleep.
When Madame de Chaverny entered her own apartments, she made a powerful effort to control herself to tell her maid in a natural voice that she did not need her, and wished to be left alone. As soon as this servant had gone out she threw herself upon her bed and there she began to weep all the more bitterly, now that she was alone, since Darcy’s presence had obliged her to keep herself under control.
Night certainly has a great influence on moral as well as physical suffering. It gives a gloomy tinge to everything, and ideas, which in the daytime would seem harmless or even pleasant, trouble and torture us at night just like the spectres which have no power except in the darkness. It seems that in the night-time our thoughts increase in activity and that reason loses its sway, a sort of inner phantasmagoria disturbs and frightens us without our being able to cast aside the cause of our fear or to calmly examine its reality.
Picture then poor Julie stretched out upon her bed, half dressed, ceaselessly tossing about, sometimes a prey to burning heat, sometimes shivering with cold, starting at the slightest cracking of the woodwork, and hearing distinctly every heart-beat. All that she was aware of was an indescribable anguish, the cause of which she sought in vain. Then suddenly the memory of the fatal evening flashed into her mind as quick as lightning, and with it there came a sharp, fierce pain like that which a red-hot iron would produce if applied to a freshly healed wound.
Sometimes she looked at her lamp, noticing with dull attention all the flickerings of the flame until the tears which gathered in her eyes, she knew not why, dimmed the light before her.
“Why these tears?” she said to herself. “Ah! I have lost my honour!”
Sometimes she counted the balls of the fringe of her bed-curtains, but she could never remember the number. “What can this madness be?” she thought to herself. “Madness? Yes! For an hour ago I abandoned myself like a miserable courtesan to a man whom I do not know.” Then with the dull eye she followed the hands of her watch with the anxiety of a condemned man who sees the hour of his execution approaching. “Three hours ago,” she said to herself with a sudden start, “I was with him, and I have lost my honour.”
She spent the whole night in this feverish agitation. When day dawned she opened her window and the fresh, sharp morning air brought her a little relief. Leaning out of her window, which opened into her garden, she breathed in the cold air with a certain enjoyment. Little by little her ideas became less confused. To the vague torture and delirium which had agitated her there succeeded a concentrated despair which by comparison seemed a repose of spirit.
She must come to some decision, so she tried to think of what she must do, but not once did she think of seeing Darcy again. That seemed to her perfectly impossible. She would have died of shame upon seeing him. She must leave Paris, or in two days all the world would be pointing the finger of scorn at her. Her mother was at Nice; she would go to her, would confess all to her; then after having poured out her confession upon her breast, she would have only one thing to do, and that was to seek out some lonely spot in Italy, unknown to travellers, where she would go to live alone and ere long die. When once she had taken this resolution she felt quieter. She sat down before a little table in front of the window, and with her head in her hands she wept. This time without bitterness. But at last fatigue and exhaustion overcame her and she fell asleep, or rather for nearly an hour she ceased all thought. She wakened with a feverish shudder. The weather had changed. The sky was gray, and a fine, cold rain foretold a cold, wet day. Julie rang for her maid. “My mother is ill,” she said. “I must leave at once for Nice. Pack my trunk; I must leave in an hour.”
“Oh, my lady, what is wrong? Are you not ill? My lady did not go to bed!” cried the maid, surprised and alarmed at the change which she saw in her mistress.
“I wish to leave,” said Julie impatiently. “It is absolutely necessary that I leave. Pack a trunk for me.”
In our modern civilisation it is not sufficient simply to will it to go from one place to another; one has to pack, carry boxes, and busy oneself with a hundred tiresome preparations, which are enough to take away all desire to travel. But Julie’s impatience greatly shortened all these necessary delays. She went and came from room to room, helped herself in packing the trunks, crushing in hats and dresses that were usually so carefully handled. Nevertheless, all her activity served rather to delay her servants than to help them on.
“My lady has doubtless told M. de Chaverny?” the maid timidly asked.
Julie without answering took a sheet of paper. She wrote: “My mother is ill at Nice; I am going to her.” She folded the paper, but she could not make up her mind to write the address upon it.
While she was in the mists of preparing to depart a servant entered.
“M. de Châteaufort asks if my lady is receiving. There is also another gentleman who came at the same time, whom I do not know. Here is his card.”
She read: “E. Darcy, Secretary of the Embassy.” She could scarcely suppress a cry.
“I am not at home to any one,” she cried. “Say that I am ill; do not say that I am going away.”
She could not understand how Châteaufort and Darcy were coming at the same time to see her, in her confusion she did not for a moment doubt that Darcy had already chosen Châteaufort as his confidant. Nothing was more simple, however, than their simultaneous appearance. Led there by the same reason, they had met at the door, and after having exchanged exceedingly cool salutations, they had inwardly cursed each other will all their hearts.
Having received the servant’s message, they went down the stairway together, bowed once more, even more coldly than before, and separated, each going in an opposite direction.
Châteaufort had noticed the particular attention which Madame de Chaverny had shown Darcy, and from that moment he had been filled with hate for him. For his part, Darcy, who prided himself upon reading faces, had not noticed Châteaufort’s air of constraint and vexation without concluding that he was in love with Julie, and since as a diplomat he was inclined to put the worst construction upon things a priori, he had very lightly supposed that Julie was not cruel toward Châteaufort.
“That strange flirt,” he said to himself, “did not wish to receive us together for fear of having an interview like that in the ‘Misanthrope,’ but I should have been very dull indeed if I could not have found some excuse for out-staying this young fop. Certainly if I had just waited until he had had his back turned I should have been admitted to her presence, for I hold over him the unquestionable advantage of novelty.”
So thinking, he stopped, then he turned back, then he went again to Madame de Chaverny’s door. Châteaufort, who had also turned around several times to observe him, retraced his steps and stationed himself like a sentinel a short distance away to watch him.
Darcy said to the servant, who looked surprised at seeing him again, that he had forgotten to give him a line for his mistress, that it was an urgent matter, and had to do with a message which a lady had given to him for Madame de Chaverny. Remembering that Julie understood English, he wrote in pencil upon his card: “Begs leave to ask when he can show to Madame de Chaverny his Turkish album.” He handed his card to the servant and said he would wait for an answer.
This answer was a long time in coming. At last the servant came back and seemed much troubled. “My mistress,” he said, “fainted a few moments ago and is not well enough now to give you an answer.”
All this had lasted just about half an hour. Darcy had small belief in the account of Madame de Chaverny’s fainting, but it was perfectly evident that she did not wish to see him. He accepted his fate philosophically, and remembering that he had some visits to make in the neighbourhood, he left without being otherwise put out by this contretemps.
Châteaufort awaited him in furious anxiety, and seeing him pass he did not for a moment doubt that he was a successful rival, and he vowed that upon the first occasion he would avenge himself upon the faithless woman and her companion in guilt. Commandant Perrin, whom he very opportunely met, listened to his tale and consoled him as best he could, not without arguing with him the probable groundlessness of his suspicions.
Julie had really fainted when she received Darcy’s second card. Her swoon had been followed by a hemorrhage which had greatly weakened her. Her maid had sent for the doctor, but Julie obstinately refused to see him. About four o’clock the post-chaise came, her trunks had been strapped on, everything was ready for her departure. Julie stepped into her coach, coughing terribly, and in a pitiable state. During the whole evening and the whole night she spoke only to the servant who was on the box, and then merely to tell him to have the driver urge on the horses. She continued to cough and seemed to suffer great distress in her chest; she was so weak that she fainted when the door was opened. They took her into a wretched inn, where they put her to bed. The village doctor was called in. He found her in a raging fever and forbade her to continue her journey. Nevertheless, she was still anxious to go on. In the evening she became delirious and all her symptoms were more unfavourable. She talked incessantly and with great rapidity, so that it was difficult to understand her. The names of Darcy, Châteaufort and of Madame Lambert frequently recurred in her incoherent sentences. The maid wrote to M. de Chaverny to tell him of his wife’s illness, but she was nearly thirty leagues from Paris. Chaverny was hunting with the Duc de H—-, and her illness was making such progress that it was doubtful if he could arrive in time.
The man-servant in the meantime had gone on horseback to a neighbouring town and had brought back a doctor. The latter found fault with his confrère’s treatment, said that he had been called in very late and that her condition was very serious.
Her delirium disappeared toward daybreak, and she then fell into a deep sleep. When she awoke two or three days later, she seemed to have great difficulty in remembering by what series of events she found herself in bed in the wretched sleeping-room of the inn. Nevertheless, her memory soon returned. She said that she felt better and she even spoke of setting out again the next day. Then after having seemed to meditate for a long time, with her hand pressed to her forehead, she called for ink and paper and tried to write. Her maid saw her begin letters which she always tore up after she had written the first few words. At the same time she charged them to burn the scraps of paper. The maid noticed on several of the scraps this word: “Sir,” which seemed to her very extraordinary, she said, for she thought that her mistress was writing to her mother or to her husband. On another bit of paper she read: “You must indeed scorn me.” For nearly half an hour she made vain efforts to write this letter which seemed to be weighing upon her mind. At last, prevented by her extreme exhaustion from continuing, she pushed away the desk that they had placed upon her bed, and said with a bewildered air to her maid: “Write yourself to M. Darcy.”
“What must I write, my lady?” asked the maid, convinced that her delirium was returning. “Write to him that he does not know me and that I do not know him.”
And she fell back exhausted upon her pillow.
These were the last connected words that she spoke. Her delirium returned and did not leave her. She died the next day without any great apparent suffering.
Chaverny arrived three days after the burial. His grief seemed deep and real and all the villagers wept as they saw him standing in the graveyard looking down upon the freshly turned earth which covered his wife’s coffin. At first he wished to have her body taken up and carried to Paris, but as the Mayor had objected and the notary had warned him that there would be endless formalities, he contented himself with ordering a costly gravestone and making arrangements for the erection of a handsome but chaste monument.
Châteaufort was much touched by this sudden death. He declined several hall invitations and for some time he wore nothing but black.
Society gave several accounts of Madame de Chaverny’s death. According to some she had a vision, or, if you prefer it, a presentiment that her mother was ill. She had been so impressed by it that she had at once set out for Nice, in spite of a heavy cold which she had caught on the way home from Madame Lambert’s, and this cold had run on into pneumonia. Others who showed more penetration said, with a mysterious air, that Madame de Chaverny, not being able to conceal the love which she really felt for M. de Châteaufort, had wished to go to her mother to seek courage to resist her temptation, and that the cold and pneumonia were a result of her hurried departure. Upon this point all were agreed.
Darcy never spoke of her. Three or four months after her death he married well. When his marriage was announced to Madame Lambert, she said as she was congratulating him:
“Really, your wife is charming, and no one but my poor dear Julie could have been so well suited to you. What a pity that you were too poor for her when she married.”
Darcy smiled with his habitual ironical smile, but he made no answer.
These two hearts who had failed to understand each other were, perhaps, made one for the other.