So saying, she held out the letter to him.
At this moment Claude Vignon entered the room. At his unexpected apparition Calyste and Felicite were both silent for a moment,—she from surprise, he from a vague uneasiness. The vast forehead, broad and high, of the new-comer, who was bald at the age of thirty-seven, now seemed darkened by annoyance. His firm, judicial mouth expressed a habit of chilling sarcasm. Claude Vignon is imposing, in spite of the precocious deteriorations of a face once magnificent, and now grown haggard. Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five he strongly resembled the divine Raffaelle. But his nose, that feature of the human face that changes most, is growing to a point; the countenance is sinking into mysterious depressions, the outlines are thickening; leaden tones predominate in the complexion, giving tokens of weariness, although the fatigues of this young man are not apparent; perhaps some bitter solitude has aged him, or the abuse of his gift of comprehension. He scrutinizes the thought of every one, yet without definite aim or system. The pickaxe of his criticism demolishes, it never constructs. Thus his lassitude is that of a mechanic, not of an architect. The eyes, of a pale blue, once brilliant, are clouded now by some hidden pain, or dulled by gloomy sadness. Excesses have laid dark tints above the eyelids; the temples have lost their freshness. The chin, of incomparable distinction, is getting doubled, but without dignity. His voice, never sonorous, is weakening; without being either hoarse or extinct, it touches the confines of hoarseness and extinction. The impassibility of that fine head, the fixity of that glance, cover irresolution and weakness, which the keenly intelligent and sarcastic smile belies. The weakness lies wholly in action, not in thought; there are traces of an encyclopedic comprehension on that brow, and in the habitual movement of a face that is childlike and splendid both. The man is tall, slightly bent already, like all those who bear the weight of a world of thought. Such long, tall bodies are never remarkable for continuous effort or creative activity. Charlemagne, Belisarious, and Constantine are noted exceptions to this rule.
Certainly Claude Vignon presents a variety of mysteries to be solved. In the first place, he is very simple and very wily. Though he falls into excesses with the readiness of a courtesan, his powers of thought remain untouched. Yet his intellect, which is competent to criticise art, science, literature, and politics, is incompetent to guide his external life. Claude contemplates himself within the domain of his intellectual kingdom, and abandons his outer man with Diogenic indifference. Satisfied to penetrate all, to comprehend all by thought, he despises materialities; and yet, if it becomes a question of creating, doubt assails him; he sees obstacles, he is not inspired by beauties, and while he is debating means, he sits with his arms pendant, accomplishing nothing. He is the Turk of the intellect made somnolent by meditation. Criticism is his opium; his harem of books to read disgusts him with real work. Indifferent to small things as well as great things, he is sometimes compelled, by the very weight of his head, to fall into a debauch, and abdicate for a few hours the fatal power of omnipotent analysis. He is far too preoccupied with the wrong side of genius, and Camille Maupin's desire to put him back on the right side is easily conceivable. The task was an attractive one. Claude Vignon thinks himself a great politician as well as a great writer; but this unpublished Machiavelli laughs within himself at all ambitions; he knows what he can do; he has instinctively taken the measure of his future on his faculties; he sees his greatness, but he also sees obstacles, grows alarmed or disgusted, lets the time roll by, and does not go to work. Like Etienne Lousteau the feuilletonist, like Nathan the dramatic author, like Blondet, another journalist, he came from the ranks of the bourgeoisie, to which we owe the greater number of our writers.
"Which way did you come?" asked Mademoiselle des Touches, coloring with either pleasure or surprise.'
"By the door," replied Claude Vignon, dryly.
"Oh," she cried, shrugging her shoulders, "I am aware that you are not a man to climb in by a window."
"Scaling a window is a badge of honor for a beloved woman."
"Enough!" said Felicite.
"Am I in the way?" asked Claude.
"Monsieur," said Calyste, artlessly, "this letter—"
"Pray keep it; I ask no questions; at our age we understand such affairs," he answered, interrupting Calyste with a sardonic air.
"But, monsieur," began Calyste, much provoked.
"Calm yourself, young man; I have the utmost indulgence for sentiments."
"My dear Calyste," said Camille, wishing to speak.
"'Dear'?" said Vignon, interrupting her.
"Claude is joking," said Camille, continuing her remarks to Calyste. "He is wrong to do it with you, who know nothing of Parisian ways."
"I did not know that I was joking," said Claude Vignon, very gravely.
"Which way did you come?" asked Felicite again. "I have been watching the road to Croisic for the last two hours."
"Not all the time," replied Vignon.
"You are too bad to jest in this way."
"Am I jesting?"
"Why should you go so soon? You are certainly at your ease here," said Vignon.
"Quite the contrary," replied the angry young Breton, to whom Camille Maupin stretched out a hand, which he took and kissed, dropping a tear upon it, after which he took his leave.
"I should like to be that little young man," said the critic, sitting down, and taking one end of the hookah. "How he will love!"
"Too much; for then he will not be loved in return," replied Mademoiselle des Touches. "Madame de Rochefide is coming here," she added.
"You don't say so!" exclaimed Claude. "With Conti?"
"She will stay here alone, but he accompanies her."
"Have they quarrelled?"
"Play me a sonata of Beethoven's; I know nothing of the music he wrote for the piano."
Claude began to fill the tube of the hookah with Turkish tobacco, all the while examining Camille much more attentively than she observed. A dreadful thought oppressed him; he fancied he was being used for a blind by this woman. The situation was a novel one.
Calyste went home thinking no longer of Beatrix de Rochefide and her letter; he was furious against Claude Vignon for what he considered the utmost indelicacy, and he pitied poor Felicite. How was it possible to be beloved by that sublime creature and not adore her on his knees, not believe her on the faith of a glance or a smile? He felt a desire to turn and rend that cold, pale spectre of a man. Ignorant he might be, as Felicite had told him, of the tricks of thought of the jesters of the press, but one thing he knew—Love was the human religion.
When his mother saw him entering the court-yard she uttered an exclamation of joy, and Zephirine whistled for Mariotte.
"Mariotte, the boy is coming! cook the fish!"
"I see him, mademoiselle," replied the woman.
Fanny, uneasy at the sadness she saw on her son's brow, picked up her worsted-work; the old aunt took out her knitting. The baron gave his arm-chair to his son and walked about the room, as if to stretch his legs before going out to take a turn in the garden. No Flemish or Dutch picture ever presented an interior in tones more mellow, peopled with faces and forms so harmoniously blending. The handsome young man in his black velvet coat, the mother, still so beautiful, and the aged brother and sister framed by that ancient hall, were a moving domestic harmony.
Fanny would fain have questioned Calyste, but he had already pulled a letter from his pocket,—that letter of the Marquise Beatrix, which was, perhaps, destined to destroy the happiness of this noble family. As he unfolded it, Calyste's awakened imagination showed him the marquise dressed as Camille Maupin had fancifully depicted her.
From the Marquise de Rochefide to Mademoiselle des Touches.
Genoa, July 2.
I have not written to you since our stay in Florence, my dear friend, for Venice and Rome have absorbed my time, and, as you know, happiness occupies a large part of life; so far, we have neither of us dropped from its first level. I am a little fatigued; for when one has a soul not easy to blaser, the constant succession of enjoyments naturally causes lassitude.
Our friend has had a magnificent triumph at the Scala and the Fenice, and now at the San Carlo. Three Italian operas in two years! You cannot say that love has made him idle. We have been warmly received everywhere,—though I myself would have preferred solitude and silence. Surely that is the only suitable manner of life for women who have placed themselves in direct opposition to society? I expected such a life; but love, my dear friend, is a more exacting master than marriage,—however, it is sweet to obey him; though I did not think I should have to see the world again, even by snatches, and the attentions I receive are so many stabs. I am no longer on a footing of equality with the highest rank of women; and the more attentions are paid to me, the more my inferiority is made apparent.
Gennaro could not comprehend this sensitiveness; but he has been so happy that it would ill become me not to have sacrificed my petty vanity to that great and noble thing,—the life of an artist. We women live by love, whereas men live by love and action; otherwise they would not be men. Still, there are great disadvantages for a woman in the position in which I have put myself. You have escaped them; you continue to be a person in the eyes of the world, which has no rights over you; you have your own free will, and I have lost mine. I am speaking now of the things of the heart, not those of social life, which I have utterly renounced. You can be coquettish and self-willed, and have all the graces of a woman who loves, a woman who can give or refuse her love as she pleases; you have kept the right to have caprices, in the interests even of your love. In short, to-day you still possess your right of feeling, while I, I have no longer any liberty of heart, which I think precious to exercise in love, even though the love itself may be eternal. I have no right now to that privilege of quarrelling in jest to which so many women cling, and justly; for is it not the plummet line with which to sound the hearts of men? I have no threat at my command. I must draw my power henceforth from obedience, from unlimited gentleness; I must make myself imposing by the greatness of my love. I would rather die than leave Gennaro, and my pardon lies in the sanctity of my love. Between social dignity and my petty personal dignity, I did right not to hesitate. If at times I have a few melancholy feelings, like clouds that pass through a clear blue sky, and to which all women like to yield themselves, I keep silence about them; they might seem like regrets. Ah me! I have so fully understood the obligations of my position that I have armed myself with the utmost indulgence; but so far, Gennaro has not alarmed my susceptible jealousy. I don't as yet see where that dear great genius may fail.
Dear angel, I am like those pious souls who argue with their God, for are not you my Providence? do I not owe my happiness to you? You must never doubt, therefore, that you are constantly in my thoughts.
I have seen Italy at last; seen it as you saw it, and as it ought to be seen,—lighted to our souls by love, as it is by its own bright sun and its masterpieces. I pity those who, being moved to adoration at every step, have no hand to press, no heart in which to shed the exuberance of emotions which calm themselves when shared. These two years have been to me a lifetime, in which my memory has stored rich harvests. Have you made plans, as I do, to stay forever at Chiavari, to buy a palazzo in Venice, a summer-house at Sorrento, a villa in Florence? All loving women dread society; but I, who am cast forever outside of it, ought I not to bury myself in some beautiful landscape, on flowery slopes, facing the sea, or in a valley that equals a sea, like that of Fiesole?
But alas! we are only poor artists, and want of money is bringing these two bohemians back to Paris. Gennaro does not want me to feel that I have lost my luxury, and he wishes to put his new work, a grand opera, into rehearsal at once. You will understand, of course, my dearest, that I cannot set foot in Paris. I could not, I would not, even if it costs me my love, meet one of those glances of women, or of men, which would make me think of murder or suicide. Yes, I could hack in pieces whoever insulted me with pity; like Chateauneuf, who, in the time of Henri III., I think, rode his horse at the Provost of Paris for a wrong of that kind, and trampled him under hoof.
I write, therefore, to say that I shall soon pay you a visit at Les Touches. I want to stay there, in that Chartreuse, while awaiting the success of our Gennaro's opera. You will see that I am bold with my benefactress, my sister; but I prove, at any rate, that the greatness of obligations laid upon me has not led me, as it does so many people, to ingratitude. You have told me so much of the difficulties of the land journey that I shall go to Croisic by water. This idea came to me on finding that there is a little Danish vessel now here, laden with marble, which is to touch at Croisic for a cargo of salt on its way back to the Baltic. I shall thus escape the fatigue and the cost of the land journey. Dear Felicite, you are the only person with whom I could be alone without Conti. Will it not be some pleasure to have a woman with you who understands your heart as fully as you do hers?
Adieu, a bientot. The wind is favorable, and I set sail, wafting you a kiss.
"Ah! she loves, too!" thought Calyste, folding the letter sadly.
That sadness flowed to the heart of the mother as if some gleam had lighted up a gulf to her. The baron had gone out; Fanny went to the door of the tower and pushed the bolt, then she returned, and leaned upon the back of her boy's chair, like the sister of Dido in Guerin's picture, and said,—
"What is it, my Calyste? what makes you so sad? You promised to explain to me these visits to Les Touches; I am to bless its mistress,—at least, you said so."
"Yes, indeed you will, dear mother," he replied. "She has shown me the insufficiency of my education at an epoch when the nobles ought to possess a personal value in order to give life to their rank. I was as far from the age we live in as Guerande is from Paris. She has been, as it were, the mother of my intellect."
"I cannot bless her for that," said the baroness, with tears in her eyes.
"Mamma!" cried Calyste, on whose forehead those hot tears fell, two pearls of sorrowful motherhood, "mamma, don't weep! Just now, when I wanted to do her a service, and search the country round, she said, 'It will make your mother so uneasy.'"
"Did she say that? Then I can forgive her many things," replied Fanny.
"Felicite thinks only of my good," continued Calyste. "She often checks the lively, venturesome language of artists so as not to shake me in a faith which is, though she knows it not, unshakable. She has told me of the life in Paris of several young men of the highest nobility coming from their provinces, as I might do,—leaving families without fortune, but obtaining in Paris, by the power of their will and their intellect, a great career. I can do what the Baron de Rastignac, now a minister of State, has done. Felicite has taught me; I read with her; she gives me lessons on the piano; she is teaching me Italian; she has initiated me into a thousand social secrets, about which no one in Guerande knows anything at all. She could not give me the treasures of her love, but she has given me those of her vast intellect, her mind, her genius. She does not want to be a pleasure, but a light to me; she lessens not one of my faiths; she herself has faith in the nobility, she loves Brittany, she—"
"She has changed our Calyste," said his blind old aunt, interrupting him. "I do not understand one word he has been saying. You have a solid roof over your head, my good nephew; you have parents and relations who adore you, and faithful servants; you can marry some good little Breton girl, religious and accomplished, who will make you happy. Reserve your ambitions for your eldest son, who may be four times as rich as you, if you choose to live tranquilly, thriftily, in obscurity,—but in the peace of God,—in order to release the burdens on your estate. It is all as simple as a Breton heart. You will be, not so rapidly perhaps, but more solidly, a rich nobleman."
"Your aunt is right, my darling; she plans for your happiness with as much anxiety as I do myself. If I do not succeed in marrying you to my niece, Margaret, the daughter of your uncle, Lord Fitzwilliam, it is almost certain that Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel will leave her fortune to whichever of her nieces you may choose."
"And besides, there's a little gold to be found here," added the old aunt in a low voice, with a mysterious glance about her.
"Marry! at my age!" he said, casting on his mother one of those looks which melt the arguments of mothers. "Am I to live without my beautiful fond loves? Must I never tremble or throb or fear or gasp, or lie beneath implacable looks and soften them? Am I never to know beauty in its freedom, the fantasy of the soul, the clouds that course through the azure of happiness, which the breath of pleasure dissipates? Ah! shall I never wander in those sweet by-paths moist with dew; never stand beneath the drenching of a gutter and not know it rains, like those lovers seen by Diderot; never take, like the Duc de Lorraine, a live coal in my hand? Are there no silken ladders for me, no rotten trellises to cling to and not fall? Shall I know nothing of woman but conjugal submission; nothing of love but the flame of its lamp-wick? Are my longings to be satisfied before they are roused? Must I live out my days deprived of that madness of the heart that makes a man and his power? Would you make me a married monk? No! I have eaten of the fruit of Parisian civilization. Do you not see that you have, by the ignorant morals of this family, prepared the fire that consumes me, that will consume me utterly, unless I can adore the divineness I see everywhere,—in those sands gleaming in the sun, in the green foliage, in all the women, beautiful, noble, elegant, pictured in the books and in the poems I have read with Camille? Alas! there is but one such woman in Guerande, and it is you, my mother! The birds of my beautiful dream, they come from Paris, they fly from the pages of Scott, of Byron,—Parisina, Effie, Minna! yes, and that royal duchess, whom I saw on the moors among the furze and the ferns, whose very aspect sent the blood to my heart."
The baroness saw these thoughts flaming in the eyes of her son, clearer, more beautiful, more living than art can tell to those who read them. She grasped them rapidly, flung to her as they were in glances like arrows from an upset quiver. Without having read Beaumarchais, she felt, as other women would have felt, that it would be a crime to marry Calyste.
"Oh! my child!" she said, taking him in her arms, and kissing the beautiful hair that was still hers, "marry whom you will, and when you will, but be happy! My part in life is not to hamper you."
Mariotte came to lay the table. Gasselin was out exercising Calyste's horse, which the youth had not mounted for two months. The three women, mother, aunt, and Mariotte, shared in the tender feminine wiliness, which taught them to make much of Calyste when he dined at home. Breton plainness fought against Parisian luxury, now brought to the very doors of Guerande. Mariotte endeavored to wean her young master from the accomplished service of Camille Maupin's kitchen, just as his mother and aunt strove to hold him in the net of their tenderness and render all comparison impossible.
"There's a salmon-trout for dinner, Monsieur Calyste, and snipe, and pancakes such as I know you can't get anywhere but here," said Mariotte, with a sly, triumphant look as she smoothed the cloth, a cascade of snow.
After dinner, when the old aunt had taken up her knitting, and the rector and Monsieur du Halga had arrived, allured by their precious mouche, Calyste went back to Les Touches on the pretext of returning the letter.
Claude Vignon and Felicite were still at table. The great critic was something of a gourmand, and Felicite pampered the vice, knowing how indispensable a woman makes herself by such compliance. The dinner-table presented that rich and brilliant aspect which modern luxury, aided by the perfecting of handicrafts, now gives to its service. The poor and noble house of Guenic little knew with what an adversary it was attempting to compete, or what amount of fortune was necessary to enter the lists against the silverware, the delicate porcelain, the beautiful linen, the silver-gilt service brought from Paris by Mademoiselle des Touches, and the science of her cook. Calyste declined the liqueurs contained in one of those superb cases of precious woods, which are something like tabernacles.
"Here's the letter," he said, with innocent ostentation, looking at Claude, who was slowly sipping a glass of liqueur-des-iles.
"Well, what did you think of it?" asked Mademoiselle des Touches, throwing the letter across the table to Vignon, who began to read it, taking up and putting down at intervals his little glass.
"I thought—well, that Parisian women were very fortunate to have men of genius to adore who adore them."
"Ah! you are still in your village," said Felicite, laughing. "What! did you not see that she loves him less, and—"
"That is evident," said Claude Vignon, who had only read the first page. "Do people reason on their situation when they really love; are they as shrewd as the marquise, as observing, as discriminating? Your dear Beatrix is held to Conti now by pride only; she is condemned to love him quand meme."
"Poor woman!" said Camille.
Calyste's eyes were fixed on the table; he saw nothing about him. The beautiful woman in the fanciful dress described that morning by Felicite appeared to him crowned with light; she smiled to him, she waved her fan; the other hand, issuing from its ruffle of lace, fell white and pure on the heavy folds of her crimson velvet robe.
"She is just the thing for you," said Claude Vignon, smiling sardonically at Calyste.
The young man was deeply wounded by the words, and by the manner in which they were said.
"Don't put such ideas into Calyste's mind; you don't know how dangerous such jokes may prove to be," said Mademoiselle des Touches, hastily. "I know Beatrix, and there is something too grandiose in her nature to allow her to change. Besides, Conti will be here."
"Ha!" said Claude Vignon, satirically, "a slight touch of jealousy, eh?"
"Can you really think so?" said Camille, haughtily.
"You are more perspicacious than a mother," replied Claude Vignon, still sarcastically.
"But it would be impossible," said Camille, looking at Calyste.
"They are very well matched," remarked Vignon. "She is ten years older than he; and it is he who appears to be the girl—"
"A girl, monsieur," said Calyste, waking from his reverie, "who has been twice under fire in La Vendee! If the Cause had had twenty thousand more such girls—"
"I was giving you some well-deserved praise, and that is easier than to give you a beard," remarked Vignon.
"I have a sword for those who wear their beards too long," cried Calyste.
"And I am very good at an epigram," said the other, smiling. "We are Frenchmen; the affair can easily be arranged."
Mademoiselle des Touches cast a supplicating look on Calyste, which calmed him instantly.
"Why," said Felicite, as if to break up the discussion, "do young men like my Calyste, begin by loving women of a certain age?"
"I don't know any sentiment more artless or more generous," replied Vignon. "It is the natural consequence of the adorable qualities of youth. Besides, how would old women end if it were not for such love? You are young and beautiful, and will be for twenty years to come, so I can speak of this matter before you," he added, with a keen look at Mademoiselle des Touches. "In the first place the semi-dowagers, to whom young men pay their first court, know much better how to make love than younger women. An adolescent youth is too like a young woman himself for a young woman to please him. Such a passion trenches on the fable of Narcissus. Besides that feeling of repugnance, there is, as I think, a mutual sense of inexperience which separates them. The reason why the hearts of young women are only understood by mature men, who conceal their cleverness under a passion real or feigned, is precisely the same (allowing for the difference of minds) as that which renders a woman of a certain age more adroit in attracting youth. A young man feels that he is sure to succeed with her, and the vanities of the woman are flattered by his suit. Besides, isn't it natural for youth to fling itself on fruits? The autumn of a woman's life offers many that are very toothsome,—those looks, for instance, bold, and yet reserved, bathed with the last rays of love, so warm, so sweet; that all-wise elegance of speech, those magnificent shoulders, so nobly developed, the full and undulating outline, the dimpled hands, the hair so well arranged, so cared for, that charming nape of the neck, where all the resources of art are displayed to exhibit the contrast between the hair and the flesh-tones, and to set in full relief the exuberance of life and love. Brunettes themselves are fair at such times, with the amber colors of maturity. Besides, such women reveal in their smiles and display in their words a knowledge of the world; they know how to converse; they can call up the whole of social life to make a lover laugh; their dignity and their pride are stupendous; or, in other moods, they can utter despairing cries which touch his soul, farewells of love which they take care to render useless, and only make to intensify his passion. Their devotions are absolute; they listen to us; they love us; they catch, they cling to love as a man condemned to death clings to the veriest trifles of existence,—in short, love, absolute love, is known only through them. I think such women can never be forgotten by a man, any more than he can forget what is grand and sublime. A young woman has a thousand distractions; these women have none. No longer have they self-love, pettiness, or vanity; their love—it is the Loire at its mouth, it is vast, it is swelled by all the illusions, all the affluents of life, and this is why—but my muse is dumb," he added, observing the ecstatic attitude of Mademoiselle des Touches, who was pressing Calyste's hand with all her strength, perhaps to thank him for having been the occasion of such a moment, of such an eulogy, so lofty that she did not see the trap that it laid for her.
During the rest of the evening Claude Vignon and Felicite sparkled with wit and happy sayings; they told anecdotes, and described Parisian life to Calyste, who was charmed with Claude, for mind has immense seductions for persons who are all heart.
"I shouldn't be surprised to see the Marquise de Rochefide and Conti, who, of course, will accompany her, at the landing-place to-morrow," said Claude Vignon, as the evening ended. "When I was at Croisic this afternoon, the fishermen were saying that they had seen a little vessel, Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian, in the offing."
This speech brought a flush to the cheeks of the impassible Camille.
Again Madame du Guenic sat up till one o'clock that night, waiting for her son, unable to imagine why he should stay so late if Mademoiselle des Touches did not love him.
"He must be in their way," said this adorable mother. "What were you talking about?" she asked, when at last he came in.
"Oh, mother, I have never before spent such a delightful evening. Genius is a great, a sublime thing! Why didn't you give me genius? With genius we can make our lives, we can choose among all women the woman to love, and she must be ours."
"How handsome you are, my Calyste!"
"Claude Vignon is handsome. Men of genius have luminous foreheads and eyes, through which the lightnings flash—but I, alas! I know nothing—only to love."
"They say that suffices, my angel," she said, kissing him on the forehead.
"Do you believe it?"
"They say so, but I have never known it."
Calyste kissed his mother's hand as if it was a sacred thing.
"I will love you for all those that would have adored you," he said.
"Dear child! perhaps it is a little bit your duty to do so, for you inherit my nature. But, Calyste, do not be unwise, imprudent; try to love only noble women, if love you must."
IX. A FIRST MEETING
What young man full of abounding but restrained life and emotion would not have had the glorious idea of going to Croisic to see Madame de Rochefide land, and examine her incognito? Calyste greatly surprised his father and mother by going off in the morning without waiting for the mid-day breakfast. Heaven knows with what agility the young Breton's feet sped along. Some unknown vigor seemed lent to him; he walked on air, gliding along by the walls of Les Touches that he might not be seen from the house. The adorable boy was ashamed of his ardor, and afraid of being laughed at; Felicite and Vignon were so perspicacious! besides, in such cases young fellows fancy that their foreheads are transparent.
He reached the shore, strengthened by a stone embankment, at the foot of which is a house where travellers can take shelter in storms of wind or rain. It is not always possible to cross the little arm of the sea which separates the landing-place of Guerande from Croisic; the weather may be bad, or the boats not ready; and during this time of waiting, it is necessary to put not only the passengers but their horses, donkeys, baggages, and merchandise under cover.
Calyste presently saw two boats coming over from Croisic, laden with baggage,—trunks, packages, bags, and chests,—the shape and appearance of which proved to a native of these parts that such extraordinary articles must belong to travellers of distinction. In one of the boats was a young woman in a straw bonnet with a green veil, accompanied by a man. This boat was the first to arrive. Calyste trembled until on closer view he saw they were a maid and a man-servant.
"Are you going over to Croisic, Monsieur Calyste?" said one of the boatmen; to whom he replied with a shake of the head, annoyed at being called by his name.
He was captivated by the sight of a chest covered with tarred cloth on which were painted the words, MME. LA MARQUISE DE ROCHEFIDE. The name shone before him like a talisman; he fancied there was something fateful in it. He knew in some mysterious way, which he could not doubt, that he should love that woman. Why? In the burning desert of his new and infinite desires, still vague and without an object, his fancy fastened with all its strength on the first woman that presented herself. Beatrix necessarily inherited the love which Camille had rejected.
Calyste watched the landing of the luggage, casting from time to time a glance at Croisic, from which he hoped to see another boat put out to cross to the little promontory, and show him Beatrix, already to his eyes what Beatrice was to Dante, a marble statue on which to hang his garlands and his flowers. He stood with arms folded, lost in meditation. Here is a fact worthy of remark, which, nevertheless, has never been remarked: we often subject ourselves to sentiments by our own volition,—deliberately bind ourselves, and create our own fate; chance has not as much to do with it as we believe.
"I don't see any horses," said the maid, sitting on a trunk.
"And I don't see any road," said the footman.
"Horses have been here, though," replied the woman, pointing to the proofs of their presence. "Monsieur," she said, addressing Calyste, "is this really the way to Guerande?"
"Yes," he replied, "are you expecting some one to meet you?"
"We were told that they would fetch us from Les Touches. If they don't come," she added to the footman, "I don't know how Madame la marquise will manage to dress for dinner. You had better go and find Mademoiselle des Touches. Oh! what a land of savages!"
Calyste had a vague idea of having blundered.
"Is your mistress going to Les Touches?" he inquired.
"She is there; Mademoiselle came for her this morning at seven o'clock. Ah! here come the horses."
Calyste started toward Guerande with the lightness and agility of a chamois, doubling like a hare that he might not return upon his tracks or meet any of the servants of Les Touches. He did, however, meet two of them on the narrow causeway of the marsh along which he went.
"Shall I go in, or shall I not?" he thought when the pines of Les Touches came in sight. He was afraid; and continued his way rather sulkily to Guerande, where he finished his excursion on the mall and continued his reflections.
"She has no idea of my agitation," he said to himself.
His capricious thoughts were so many grapnels which fastened his heart to the marquise. He had known none of these mysterious terrors and joys in his intercourse with Camille. Such vague emotions rise like poems in the untutored soul. Warmed by the first fires of imagination, souls like his have been known to pass through all phases of preparation and to reach in silence and solitude the very heights of love, without having met the object of so many efforts.
Presently Calyste saw, coming toward him, the Chevalier du Halga and Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, who were walking together on the mall. He heard them say his name, and he slipped aside out of sight, but not out of hearing. The chevalier and the old maid, believing themselves alone, were talking aloud.
"If Charlotte de Kergarouet comes," said the chevalier, "keep her four or five months. How can you expect her to coquette with Calyste? She is never here long enough to undertake it. Whereas, if they see each other every day, those two children will fall in love, and you can marry them next winter. If you say two words about it to Charlotte she'll say four to Calyste, and a girl of sixteen can certainly carry off the prize from a woman of forty."
Here the old people turned to retrace their steps and Calyste heard no more. But remembering what his mother had told him, he saw Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's intention, and, in the mood in which he then was, nothing could have been more fatal. The mere idea of a girl thus imposed upon him sent him with greater ardor into his imaginary love. He had never had a fancy for Charlotte de Kergarouet, and he now felt repugnance at the very thought of her. Calyste was quite unaffected by questions of fortune; from infancy he had accustomed his life to the poverty and the restricted means of his father's house. A young man brought up as he had been, and now partially emancipated, was likely to consider sentiments only, and all his sentiments, all his thought now belonged to the marquise. In presence of the portrait which Camille had drawn for him of her friend, what was that little Charlotte? the companion of his childhood, whom he thought of as a sister.
He did not go home till five in the afternoon. As he entered the hall his mother gave him, with a rather sad smile, the following letter from Mademoiselle des Touches:—
My dear Calyste,—The beautiful marquise has come; we count on you to help us celebrate her arrival. Claude, always sarcastic, declares that you will play Bice and that she will be Dante. It is for our honor as Bretons, and yours as a du Guenic to welcome a Casteran. Come soon. Your friend, Camille Maupin.
Come as you are, without ceremony; otherwise you will put us to the blush.
Calyste gave the letter to his mother and departed.
"Who are the Casterans?" said Fanny to the baron.
"An old Norman family, allied to William the Conqueror," he replied. "They bear on a shield tierce fessed azure, gules and sable, a horse rearing argent, shod with gold. That beautiful creature for whom the Gars was killed at Fougeres in 1800 was the daughter of a Casteran who made herself a nun, and became an abbess after the Duc de Verneuil deserted her."
"And the Rochefides?"
"I don't know that name. I should have to see the blazon," he replied.
The baroness was somewhat reassured on hearing that the Marquise de Rochefide was born of a noble family, but she felt that her son was now exposed to new seductions.
Calyste as he walked along felt all sorts of violent and yet soft inward movements; his throat was tight, his heart swelled, his brain was full, a fever possessed him. He tried to walk slowly, but some superior power hurried him. This impetuosity of the several senses excited by vague expectation is known to all young men. A subtle fire flames within their breasts and darts outwardly about them, like the rays of a nimbus around the heads of divine personages in works of religious art; through it they see all Nature glorious, and woman radiant. Are they not then like those haloed saints, full of faith, hope, ardor, purity?
The young Breton found the company assembled in the little salon of Camille's suite of rooms. It was then about six o'clock; the sun, in setting, cast through the windows its ruddy light chequered by the trees; the air was still; twilight, beloved of women, was spreading through the room.
"Here comes the future deputy of Brittany," said Camille Maupin, smiling, as Calyste raised the tapestry portiere,—"punctual as a king."
"You recognized his step just now," said Claude to Felicite in a low voice.
Calyste bowed low to the marquise, who returned the salutation with an inclination of her head; he did not look at her; but he took the hand Claude Vignon held out to him and pressed it.
"This is the celebrated man of whom we have talked so much, Gennaro Conti," said Camille, not replying to Claude Vignon's remark.
She presented to Calyste a man of medium height, thin and slender, with chestnut hair, eyes that were almost red, and a white skin, freckled here and there, whose head was so precisely the well-known head of Lord Byron (though rather better carried on his shoulders) that description is superfluous. Conti was rather proud of this resemblance.
"I am fortunate," he said, "to meet Monsieur du Guenic during the one day that I spend at Les Touches."
"It was for me to say that to you," replied Calyste, with a certain ease.
"He is handsome as an angel," said the marquise in an under tone to Felicite.
Standing between the sofa and the two ladies, Calyste heard the words confusedly. He seated himself in an arm-chair and looked furtively toward the marquise. In the soft half-light he saw, reclining on a divan, as if a sculptor had placed it there, a white and serpentine shape which thrilled him. Without being aware of it, Felicite had done her friend a service; the marquise was much superior to the unflattered portrait Camille had drawn of her the night before. Was it to do honor to the guest that Beatrix had wound into her hair those tufts of blue-bells that gave value to the pale tints of her creped curls, so arranged as to fall around her face and play upon the cheeks? The circle of her eyes, which showed fatigue, was of the purest mother-of-pearl, her skin was as dazzling as the eyes, and beneath its whiteness, delicate as the satiny lining of an egg, life abounded in the beautiful blue veins. The delicacy of the features was extreme; the forehead seemed diaphanous. The head, so sweet and fragrant, admirably joined to a long neck of exquisite moulding, lent itself to many and most diverse expressions. The waist, which could be spanned by the hands, had a charming willowy ease; the bare shoulders sparkled in the twilight like a white camellia. The throat, visible to the eye though covered with a transparent fichu, allowed the graceful outlines of the bosom to be seen with charming roguishness. A gown of white muslin, strewn with blue flowers, made with very large sleeves, a pointed body and no belt, shoes with strings crossed on the instep over Scotch thread stockings, showed a charming knowledge of the art of dress. Ear-rings of silver filagree, miracles of Genoese jewelry, destined no doubt to become the fashion, were in perfect harmony with the delightful flow of the soft curls starred with blue-bells.
Calyste's eager eye took in these beauties at a glance, and carved them on his soul. The fair Beatrix and the dark Felicite might have sat for those contrasting portraits in "keepsakes" which English designers and engravers seek so persistently. Here were the force and the feebleness of womanhood in full development, a perfect antithesis. These two women could never be rivals; each had her own empire. Here was the delicate campanula, or the lily, beside the scarlet poppy; a turquoise near a ruby. In a moment, as it were,—at first sight, as the saying is,—Calyste was seized with a love which crowned the secret work of his hopes, his fears, his uncertainties. Mademoiselle des Touches had awakened his nature; Beatrix inflamed both his heart and thoughts. The young Breton suddenly felt within him a power to conquer all things, and yield to nothing that stood in his way. He looked at Conti with an envious, gloomy, savage rivalry he had never felt for Claude Vignon. He employed all his strength to control himself; but the inward tempest went down as soon as the eyes of Beatrix turned to him, and her soft voice sounded in his ear. Dinner was announced.
"Calyste, give your arm to the marquise," said Mademoiselle des Touches, taking Conti with her right hand, and Claude Vignon with her left, and drawing back to let the marquise pass.
The descent of that ancient staircase was to Calyste like the moment of going into battle for the first time. His heart failed him, he had nothing to say; a slight sweat pearled upon his forehead and wet his back; his arm trembled so much that as they reached the lowest step the marquise said to him: "Is anything the matter?"
"Oh!" he replied, in a muffled tone, "I have never seen any woman so beautiful as you, except my mother, and I am not master of my emotions."
"But you have Camille Maupin before your eyes."
"Ah! what a difference!" said Calyste, ingenuously.
"Calyste," whispered Felicite, who was just behind him, "did I not tell you that you would forget me as if I had never existed? Sit there," she said aloud, "beside the marquise, on her right, and you, Claude, on her left. As for you, Gennaro, I retain you by me; we will keep a mutual eye on their coquetries."
The peculiar accept which Camille gave to the last word struck Claude Vignon's ear, and he cast that sly but half-abstracted look upon Camille which always denoted in him the closest observation. He never ceased to examine Mademoiselle des Touches throughout the dinner.
"Coquetries!" replied the marquis, taking off her gloves, and showing her beautiful hands; "the opportunity is good, with a poet," and she motioned to Claude, "on one side, and poesy the other."
At these words Conti turned and gave Calyste a look that was full of flattery.
By artificial light, Beatrix seemed more beautiful than before. The white gleam of the candles laid a satiny lustre on her forehead, lighted the spangles of her eyes, and ran through her swaying curls, touching them here and there into gold. She threw back the thin gauze scarf she was wearing and disclosed her neck. Calyste then saw its beautiful nape, white as milk, and hollowed near the head, until its lines were lost toward the shoulders with soft and flowing symmetry. This neck, so dissimilar to that of Camille, was the sign of a totally different character in Beatrix.
Calyste found much trouble in pretending to eat; nervous motions within him deprived him of appetite. Like other young men, his nature was in the throes and convulsions which precede love, and carve it indelibly on the soul. At his age, the ardor of the heart, restrained by moral ardor, leads to an inward conflict, which explains the long and respectful hesitations, the tender debatings, the absence of all calculation, characteristic of young men whose hearts and lives are pure. Studying, though furtively, so as not to attract the notice of Conti, the various details which made the marquise so purely beautiful, Calyste became, before long, oppressed by a sense of her majesty; he felt himself dwarfed by the hauteur of certain of her glances, by the imposing expression of a face that was wholly aristocratic, by a sort of pride which women know how to express in slight motions, turns of the head, and slow gestures, effects less plastic and less studied than we think. The false situation in which Beatrix had placed herself compelled her to watch her own behavior, and to keep herself imposing without being ridiculously so. Women of the great world know how to succeed in this, which proves a fatal reef to vulgar women.
The expression of Felicite's eyes made Beatrix aware of the inward adoration she inspired in the youth beside her, and also that it would be most unworthy on her part to encourage it. She therefore took occasion now and then to give him a few repressive glances, which fell upon his heart like an avalanche of snow. The unfortunate young fellow turned on Felicite a look in which she could read the tears he was suppressing by superhuman efforts. She asked him in a friendly tone why he was eating nothing. The question piqued him, and he began to force himself to eat and to take part in the conversation.
But whatever he did, Madame de Rochefide paid little attention to him. Mademoiselle des Touches having started the topic of her journey to Italy she related, very wittily, many of its incidents, which made Claude Vignon, Conti, and Felicite laugh.
"Ah!" thought Calyste, "how far such a woman is from me! Will she ever deign to notice me?"
Mademoiselle des Touches was struck with the expression she now saw on Calyste's face, and tried to console him with a look of sympathy. Claude Vignon intercepted that look. From that moment the great critic expanded into gaiety that overflowed in sarcasm. He maintained to Beatrix that love existed only by desire; that most women deceived themselves in loving; that they loved for reasons unknown to men and to themselves; that they wanted to deceive themselves, and that the best among them were artful.
"Keep to books, and don't criticise our lives," said Camille, glancing at him imperiously.
The dinner ceased to be gay. Claude Vignon's sarcasm had made the two women pensive. Calyste was conscious of pain in the midst of the happiness he found in looking at Beatrix. Conti looked into the eyes of the marquise to guess her thoughts. When dinner was over Mademoiselle des Touches took Calyste's arm, gave the other two men to the marquise, and let them pass before her, that she might be alone with the young Breton for a moment.
"My dear Calyste," she said, "you are acting in a manner that embarrasses the marquise; she may be delighted with your admiration, but she cannot accept it. Pray control yourself."
"She was hard to me, she will never care for me," said Calyste, "and if she does not I shall die."
"Die! you! My dear Calyste, you are a child. Would you have died for me?"
"You have made yourself my friend," he answered.
After the talk that follows coffee, Vignon asked Conti to sing something. Mademoiselle des Touches sat down to the piano. Together she and Gennaro sang the Dunque il mio bene tu mia sarai, the last duet of Zingarelli's "Romeo e Giulietta," one of the most pathetic pages of modern music. The passage Di tanti palpiti expresses love in all its grandeur. Calyste, sitting in the same arm-chair in which Felicite had told him the history of the marquise, listened in rapt devotion. Beatrix and Vignon were on either side of the piano. Conti's sublime voice knew well how to blend with that of Felicite. Both had often sung this piece; they knew its resources, and they put their whole marvellous gift into bringing them out. The music was at this moment what its creator intended, a poem of divine melancholy, the farewell of two swans to life. When it was over, all present were under the influence of feelings such as cannot express themselves by vulgar applause.
"Ah! music is the first of arts!" exclaimed the marquise.
"Camille thinks youth and beauty the first of poesies," said Claude Vignon.
Mademoiselle des Touches looked at Claude with vague uneasiness. Beatrix, not seeing Calyste, turned her head as if to know what effect the music had produced upon him, less by way of interest in him than for the gratification of Conti; she saw a white face bathed in tears. At the sight, and as if some sudden pain had seized her, she turned back quickly and looked at Gennaro. Not only had Music arisen before the eyes of Calyste, touching him with her divine wand until he stood in presence of Creation from which she rent the veil, but he was dumfounded by Conti's genius. In spite of what Camille had told him of the musician's character, he now believed in the beauty of the soul, in the heart that expressed such love. How could he, Calyste, rival such as an artist? What woman could ever cease to adore such genius? That voice entered the soul like another soul. The poor lad was overwhelmed by poesy, and his own despair. He felt himself of no account. This ingenuous admission of his nothingness could be read upon his face mingled with his admiration. He did not observe the gesture with which Beatrix, attracted to Calyste by the contagion of a true feeling, called Felicite's attention to him.
"Oh! the adorable heart!" cried Camille. "Conti, you will never obtain applause of one-half the value of that child's homage. Let us sing this trio. Beatrix, my dear, come."
When the marquise, Camille, and Conti had arranged themselves at the piano, Calyste rose softly, without attracting their attention, and flung himself on one of the sofas in the bedroom, the door of which stood open, where he sat with his head in his hands, plunged in meditation.
"What is it, my child?" said Claude Vignon, who had slipped silently into the bedroom after Calyste, and now took him by the hand. "You love; you think you are disdained; but it is not so. The field will be free to you in a few days and you will reign—beloved by more than one."
"Loved!" cried Calyste, springing up, and beckoning Claude into the library, "Who loves me here?"
"Camille," replied Claude.
"Camille loves me? And you!—what of you?"
"I?" answered Claude, "I—" He stopped; sat down on a sofa and rested his head with weary sadness on a cushion. "I am tired of life, but I have not the courage to quit it," he went on, after a short silence. "I wish I were mistaken in what I have just told you; but for the last few days more than one vivid light has come into my mind. I did not wander about the marshes for my pleasure; no, upon my soul I did not! The bitterness of my words when I returned and found you with Camille were the result of wounded feeling. I intend to have an explanation with her soon. Two minds as clear-sighted as hers and mine cannot deceive each other. Between two such professional duellists the combat cannot last long. Therefore I may as well tell you now that I shall leave Les Touches; yes, to-morrow perhaps, with Conti. After we are gone strange things will happen here. I shall regret not witnessing conflicts of passion of a kind so rare in France, and so dramatic. You are very young to enter such dangerous lists; you interest me; were it not for the profound disgust I feel for women, I would stay and help you play this game. It is difficult; you may lose it; you have to do with two extraordinary women, and you feel too much for one to use the other judiciously. Beatrix is dogged by nature; Camille has grandeur. Probably you will be wrecked between those reefs, drawn upon them by the waves of passion. Beware!"
Calyste's stupefaction on hearing these words enabled Claude to say them without interruption and leave the young Breton, who remained like a traveller among the Alps to whom a guide has shown the depth of some abyss by flinging a stone into it. To hear from the lips of Claude himself that Camille loved him, at the very moment when he felt that he loved Beatrix for life, was a weight too heavy for his untried soul to bear. Goaded by an immense regret which now filled all the past, overwhelmed with a sight of his position between Beatrix whom he loved and Camille whom he had ceased to love, the poor boy sat despairing and undecided, lost in thought. He sought in vain for the reasons which had made Felicite reject his love and bring Claude Vignon from Paris to oppose it. Every now and then the voice of Beatrix came fresh and pure to his ears from the little salon; a savage desire to rush in and carry her off seized him at such moments. What would become of him? What must he do? Could he come to Les Touches? If Camille loved him how could he come there to adore Beatrix? He saw no solution to these difficulties.
Insensibly to him silence now reigned in the house; he heard, but without noticing, the opening and shutting of doors. Then suddenly midnight sounded on the clock of the adjoining bedroom, and the voices of Claude and Camille roused him fully from his torpid contemplation of the future. Before he could rise and show himself, he heard the following terrible words in the voice of Claude Vignon.
"You came to Paris last year desperately in love with Calyste," Claude was saying to Felicite, "but you were horrified at the thought of the consequences of such a passion at your age; it would lead you to a gulf, to hell, to suicide perhaps. Love cannot exist unless it thinks itself eternal, and you saw not far before you a horrible parting; old age you knew would end the glorious poem soon. You thought of 'Adolphe,' that dreadful finale of the loves of Madame de Stael and Benjamin Constant, who, however, were nearer of an age than you and Calyste. Then you took me, as soldiers use fascines to build entrenchments between the enemy and themselves. You brought me to Les Touches to mask your real feelings and leave you safe to follow your own secret adoration. The scheme was grand and ignoble both; but to carry it out you should have chosen either a common man or one so preoccupied by noble thoughts that you could easily deceive him. You thought me simple and easy to mislead as a man of genius. I am not a man of genius, I am a man of talent, and as such I have divined you. When I made that eulogy yesterday on women of your age, explaining to you why Calyste had loved you, do you suppose I took to myself your ravished, fascinated, fazzling glance? Had I not read into your soul? The eyes were turned on me, but the heart was throbbing for Calyste. You have never been loved, my poor Maupin, and you never will be after rejecting the beautiful fruit which chance has offered to you at the portals of that hell of woman, the lock of which is the numeral 50!"
"Why has love fled me?" she said in a low voice. "Tell me, you who know all."
"Because you are not lovable," he answered. "You do not bend to love; love must bend to you. You may perhaps have yielded to some follies of youth, but there was no youth in your heart; your mind has too much depth; you have never been naive and artless, and you cannot begin to be so now. Your charm comes from mystery; it is abstract, not active. Your strength repulses men of strength who fear a struggle. Your power may please young souls, like that of Calyste, which like to be protected; though, even them it wearies in the long run. You are grand, and you are sublime; bear with the consequence of those two qualities—they fatigue."
"What a sentence!" cried Camille. "Am I not a woman? Do you think me an anomaly?"
"Possibly," said Claude.
"We will see!" said the woman, stung to the quick.
"Farewell, my dear Camille; I leave to-morrow. I am not angry with you, my dear; I think you the greatest of women, but if I continued to serve you as a screen, or a shield," said Claude, with two significant inflections of his voice, "you would despise me. We can part now without pain or remorse; we have neither happiness to regret nor hopes betrayed. To you, as with some few but rare men of genius, love is not what Nature made it,—an imperious need, to the satisfaction of which she attaches great and passing joys, which die. You see love such as Christianity has created it,—an ideal kingdom, full of noble sentiments, of grand weaknesses, poesies, spiritual sensations, devotions of moral fragrance, entrancing harmonies, placed high above all vulgar coarseness, to which two creatures as one angel fly on the wings of pleasure. This is what I hoped to share; I thought I held in you a key to that door, closed to so many, by which we may advance toward the infinite. You were there already. In this you have misled me. I return to my misery,—to my vast prison of Paris. Such a deception as this, had it come to me earlier in life, would have made me flee from existence; to-day it puts into my soul a disenchantment which will plunge me forever into an awful solitude. I am without the faith which helped the Fathers to people theirs with sacred images. It is to this, my dear Camille, to this that the superiority of our mind has brought us; we may, both of us, sing that dreadful hymn which a poet has put into the mouth of Moses speaking to the Almighty: 'Lord God, Thou hast made me powerful and solitary.'"
At this moment Calyste appeared.
"I ought not to leave you ignorant that I am here," he said.
Mademoiselle des Touches showed the utmost fear; a sudden flush colored her impassible face with tints of fire. During this strange scene she was more beautiful than at any other moment of her life.
"We thought you gone, Calyste," said Claude. "But this involuntary discretion on both sides will do no harm; perhaps, indeed, you may be more at your ease at Les Touches by knowing Felicite as she is. Her silence shows me I am not mistaken as to the part she meant me to play. As I told you before, she loves you, but it is for yourself, not for herself,—a sentiment that few women are able to conceive and practise; few among them know the voluptuous pleasure of sufferings born of longing,—that is one of the magnificent passions reserved for man. But she is in some sense a man," he added, sardonically. "Your love for Beatrix will make her suffer and make her happy too."
Tears were in the eyes of Mademoiselle des Touches, who was unable to look either at the terrible Vignon or the ingenuous Calyste. She was frightened at being understood; she had supposed to impossible for a man, however keen his perception, to perceive a delicacy so self-immolating, a heroism so lofty as her own. Her evident humiliation at this unveiling of her grandeur made Calyste share the emotion of the woman he had held so high, and now beheld so stricken down. He threw himself, from an irresistible impulse, at her feet, and kissed her hands, laying his face, covered with tears, upon them.
"Claude," she said, "do not abandon me, or what will become of me?"
"What have you to fear?" replied the critic. "Calyste has fallen in love at first sight with the marquise; you cannot find a better barrier between you than that. This passion of his is worth more to you than I. Yesterday there might have been some danger for you and for him; to-day you can take a maternal interest in him," he said, with a mocking smile, "and be proud of his triumphs."
Mademoiselle des Touches looked at Calyste, who had raised his head abruptly at these words. Claude Vignon enjoyed, for his sole vengeance, the sight of their confusion.
"You yourself have driven him to Madame de Rochefide," continued Claude, "and he is now under the spell. You have dug your own grave. Had you confided in me, you would have escaped the sufferings that await you."
"Sufferings!" cried Camille Maupin, taking Calyste's head in her hands, and kissing his hair, on which her tears fell plentifully. "No, Calyste; forget what you have heard; I count for nothing in all this."
She rose and stood erect before the two men, subduing both with the lightning of her eyes, from which her soul shone out.
"While Claude was speaking," she said, "I conceived the beauty and the grandeur of love without hope; it is the sentiment that brings us nearest God. Do not love me, Calyste; but I will love you as no woman will!"
It was the cry of a wounded eagle seeking its eyrie. Claude himself knelt down, took Camille's hand, and kissed it.
"Leave us now, Calyste," she said, "it is late, and your mother will be uneasy."
Calyste returned to Guerande with lagging steps, turning again and again, to see the light from the windows of the room in which was Beatrix. He was surprised himself to find how little pity he felt for Camille. But presently he felt once more the agitations of that scene, the tears she had left upon his hair; he suffered with her suffering; he fancied he heard the moans of that noble woman, so beloved, so desired but a few short days before.
When he opened the door of his paternal home, where total silence reigned, he saw his mother through the window, as she sat sewing by the light of the curiously constructed lamp while she awaited him. Tears moistened the lad's eyes as he looked at her.
"What has happened?" cried Fanny, seeing his emotion, which filled her with horrible anxiety.
For all answer, Calyste took his mother in his arms, and kissed her on her cheeks, her forehead and hair, with one of those passionate effusions of feeling that comfort mothers, and fill them with the subtle flames of the life they have given.
"It is you I love, you!" cried Calyste,—"you, who live for me; you, whom I long to render happy!"
"But you are not yourself, my child," said the baroness, looking at him attentively. "What has happened to you?"
"Camille loves me, but I love her no longer," he answered.
The next day, Calyste told Gasselin to watch the road to Saint-Nazaire, and let him know if the carriage of Mademoiselle des Touches passed over it. Gasselin brought word that the carriage had passed.
"How many persons were in it?" asked Calyste.
"Four,—two ladies and two gentlemen."
"Then saddle my horse and my father's."
"My, nephew, what mischief is in you now?" said his Aunt Zephirine.
"Let the boy amuse himself, sister," cried the baron. "Yesterday he was dull as an owl; to-day he is gay as a lark."
"Did you tell him that our dear Charlotte was to arrive to-day?" said Zephirine, turning to her sister-in-law.
"No," replied the baroness.
"I thought perhaps he was going to meet her," said Mademoiselle du Guenic, slyly.
"If Charlotte is to stay three months with her aunt, he will have plenty of opportunities to see her," said his mother.
"Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel wants me to marry Charlotte, to save me from perdition," said Calyste, laughing. "I was on the mall when she and the Chevalier du Halga were talking about it. She can't see that it would be greater perdition for me to marry at my age—"
"It is written above," said the old maid, interrupting Calyste, "that I shall not die tranquil or happy. I wanted to see our family continued, and some, at least, of the estates brought back; but it is not to be. What can you, my fine nephew, put in the scale against such duties? Is it that actress at Les Touches?"
"What?" said the baron; "how can Mademoiselle des Touches hinder Calyste's marriage, when it becomes necessary for us to make it? I shall go and see her."
"I assure you, father," said Calyste, "that Felicite will never be an obstacle to my marriage."
Gasselin appeared with the horses.
"Where are you going, chevalier?" said his father.
"Ha, ha! and when is the marriage to be?" said the baron, believing that Calyste was really in a hurry to see Charlotte de Kergarouet. "It is high time I was a grandfather. Spare the horses," he continued, as he went on the portico with Fanny to see Calyste mount; "remember that they have more than thirty miles to go."
Calyste started with a tender farewell to his mother.
"Dear treasure!" she said, as she saw him lower his head to ride through the gateway.
"God keep him!" replied the baron; "for we cannot replace him."
The words made the baroness shudder.
"My nephew does not love Charlotte enough to ride to Saint-Nazaire after her," said the old blind woman to Mariotte, who was clearing the breakfast-table.
"No; but a fine lady, a marquise, has come to Les Touches, and I'll warrant he's after her; that's the way at his age," said Mariotte.
"They'll kill him," said Mademoiselle du Guenic.
"That won't kill him, mademoiselle; quite the contrary," replied Mariotte, who seemed to be pleased with Calyste's behavior.
The young fellow started at a great pace, until Gasselin asked him if he was trying to catch the boat, which, of course, was not at all his desire. He had no wish to see either Conti or Claude again; but he did expect to be invited to drive back with the ladies, leaving Gasselin to lead his horse. He was gay as a bird, thinking to himself,—
"She has just passed here; her eyes saw those trees!—What a lovely road!" he said to Gasselin.
"Ah! monsieur, Brittany is the most beautiful country in all the world," replied the Breton. "Where could you find such flowers in the hedges, and nice cool roads that wind about like these?"
"Tiens! here comes the coach from Nazaire," cried Gasselin presently.
"Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel and her niece will be in it. Let us hide," said Calyste.
"Hide! are you crazy, monsieur? Why, we are on the moor!"
The coach, which was coming up the sandy hill above Saint-Nazaire, was full, and, much to the astonishment of Calyste, there were no signs of Charlotte.
"We had to leave Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, her sister and niece; they are dreadfully worried; but all my seats were engaged by the custom-house," said the conductor to Gasselin.
"I am lost!" thought Calyste; "they will meet me down there."
When Calyste reached the little esplanade which surrounds the church of Saint-Nazaire, and from which is seen Paimboeuf and the magnificent Mouths of the Loire as they struggle with the sea, he found Camille and the marquise waving their handkerchiefs as a last adieu to two passengers on the deck of the departing steamer. Beatrix was charming as she stood there, her features softened by the shadow of a rice-straw hat, on which were tufts and knots of scarlet ribbon. She wore a muslin gown with a pattern of flowers, and was leaning with one well-gloved hand on a slender parasol. Nothing is finer to the eyes than a woman poised on a rock like a statue on its pedestal. Conti could see Calyste from the vessel as he approached Camille.
"I thought," said the young man, "that you would probably come back alone."
"You have done right, Calyste," she replied, pressing his hand.
Beatrix turned round, saw her young lover, and gave him the most imperious look in her repertory. A smile, which the marquise detected on the eloquent lips of Mademoiselle des Touches, made her aware of the vulgarity of such conduct, worthy only of a bourgeoise. She then said to Calyste, smiling,—
"Are you not guilty of a slight impertinence in supposing that I should bore Camille, if left alone with her?"
"My dear, one man to two widows is none too much," said Mademoiselle des Touches, taking Calyste's arm, and leaving Beatrix to watch the vessel till it disappeared.
At this moment Calyste heard the approaching voices of Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, the Vicomtesse de Kergarouet, Charlotte, and Gasselin, who were all talking at once, like so many magpies. The old maid was questioning Gasselin as to what had brought him and his master to Saint-Nazaire; the carriage of Mademoiselle des Touches had already caught her eye. Before the young Breton could get out of sight, Charlotte had seen him.
"Why, there's Calyste!" she exclaimed eagerly.
"Go and offer them seats in my carriage," said Camille to Calyste; "the maid can sit with the coachman. I saw those ladies lose their places in the mail-coach."
Calyste, who could not help himself, carried the message. As soon as Madame de Kergarouet learned that the offer came from the celebrated Camille Maupin, and that the Marquise de Rochefide was of the party, she was much surprised at the objections raised by her elder sister, who refused positively to profit by what she called the devil's carryall. At Nantes, which boasted of more civilization than Guerande, Camille was read and admired; she was thought to be the muse of Brittany and an honor to the region. The absolution granted to her in Paris by society, by fashion, was there justified by her great fortune and her early successes in Nantes, which claimed the honor of having been, if not her birthplace, at least her cradle. The viscountess, therefore, eager to see her, dragged her old sister forward, paying no attention to her jeremiads.
"Good-morning, Calyste," said Charlotte.
"Oh! good-morning, Charlotte," replied Calyste, not offering his arm.
Both were confused; she by his coldness, he by his cruelty, as they walked up the sort of ravine, which is called in Saint-Nazaire a street, following the two sisters in silence. In a moment the little girl of sixteen saw her castle in Spain, built and furnished with romantic hopes, a heap of ruins. She and Calyste had played together so much in childhood, she was so bound up with him, as it were, that she had quietly supposed her future unassailable; she arrived now, swept along by thoughtless happiness, like a circling bird darting down upon a wheat-field, and lo! she was stopped in her flight, unable to imagine the obstacle.
"What is the matter, Calyste?" she said, taking his hand.
"Nothing," replied the young man, releasing himself with cruel haste as he remembered the projects of his aunt and her friend.
Tears came into Charlotte's eyes. She looked at the handsome Calyste without ill-humor; but a first spasm of jealousy seized her, and she felt the dreadful madness of rivalry when she came in sight of the two Parisian women, and suspected the cause of his coldness.
Charlotte de Kergarouet was a girl of ordinary height, and commonplace coloring; she had a little round face, made lively by a pair of black eyes which sparkled with cleverness, abundant brown hair, a round waist, a flat back, thin arms, and the curt, decided manner of a provincial girl, who did not want to be taken for a little goose. She was the petted child of the family on account of the preference her aunt showed for her. At this moment she was wrapped in a mantle of Scotch merino in large plaids, lined with green silk, which she had worn on the boat. Her travelling-dress, of some common stuff, chastely made with a chemisette body and a pleated collar, was fated to appear, even to her own eyes, horrible in comparison with the fresh toilets of Beatrix and Camille. She was painfully aware of the stockings soiled among the rocks as she had jumped from the boat, of shabby leather shoes, chosen for the purpose of not spoiling better ones on the journey,—a fixed principle in the manners and customs of provincials.
As for the Vicomtesse de Kergarouet, she might stand as the type of a provincial woman. Tall, hard, withered, full of pretensions, which did not show themselves until they were mortified, talking much, and catching, by dint of talking (as one cannons at billiards), a few ideas, which gave her the reputation of wit, endeavoring to humiliate Parisians, whenever she met them, with an assumption of country wisdom and patronage, humbling herself to be exalted and furious at being left upon her knees; fishing, as the English say, for compliments, which she never caught; dressed in clothes that were exaggerated in style, and yet ill cared for; mistaking want of good manners for dignity, and trying to embarrass others by paying no attention to them; refusing what she desired in order to have it offered again, and to seem to yield only to entreaty; concerned about matters that others have done with, and surprised at not being in the fashion; and finally, unable to get through an hour without reference to Nantes, matters of social life in Nantes, complaints of Nantes, criticism of Nantes, and taking as personalities the remarks she forced out of absent-minded or wearied listeners.
Her manners, language, and ideas had, more or less, descended to her four daughters. To know Camille Maupin and Madame de Rochefide would be for her a future, and the topic of a hundred conversations. Consequently, she advanced toward the church as if she meant to take it by assault, waving her handkerchief, unfolded for the purpose of displaying the heavy corners of domestic embroidery, and trimmed with flimsy lace. Her gait was tolerably bold and cavalier, which, however, was of no consequence in a woman forty-seven years of age.
"Monsieur le chevalier," she said to Camille and Beatrix, pointing to Calyste, who was mournfully following with Charlotte, "has conveyed to me your friendly proposal, but we fear—my sister, my daughter, and myself—to inconvenience you."
"Sister, I shall not put these ladies to inconvenience," said Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, sharply; "I can very well find a horse in Saint-Nazaire to take me home."
Camille and Beatrix exchanged an oblique glance, which Calyste intercepted, and that glance sufficed to annihilate all the memories of his childhood, all his beliefs in the Kergarouets and Pen-Hoels, and to put an end forever to the projects of the three families.
"We can very well put five in the carriage," replied Mademoiselle des Touches, on whom Jacqueline turned her back, "even if we were inconvenienced, which cannot be the case, with your slender figures. Besides, I should enjoy the pleasure of doing a little service to Calyste's friends. Your maid, madame, will find a seat by the coachman, and your luggage, if you have any, can go behind the carriage; I have no footman with me."
The viscountess was overwhelming in thanks, and complained that her sister Jacqueline had been in such a hurry to see her niece that she would not give her time to come properly in her own carriage with post-horses, though, to be sure, the post-road was not only longer, but more expensive; she herself was obliged to return almost immediately to Nantes, where she had left three other little kittens, who were anxiously awaiting her. Here she put her arm round Charlotte's neck. Charlotte, in reply, raised her eyes to her mother with the air of a little victim, which gave an impression to onlookers that the viscountess bored her four daughters prodigiously by dragging them on the scene very much as Corporal Trim produces his cap in "Tristram Shandy."
"You are a fortunate mother and—" began Camille, stopping short as she remembered that Beatrix must have parted from her son when she left her husband's house.
"Oh, yes!" said the viscountess; "if I have the misfortune of spending my life in the country, and, above all, at Nantes, I have at least the consolation of being adored by my children. Have you children?" she said to Camille.
"I am Mademoiselle des Touches," replied Camille. "Madame is the Marquise de Rochefide."
"Then I must pity you for not knowing the greatest happiness that there is for us poor, simple women—is not that so, madame?" said the viscountess, turning to Beatrix. "But you, mademoiselle, have so many compensations."
The tears came into Madame de Rochefide's eyes, and she turned away toward the parapet to hide them. Calyste followed her.
"Madame," said Camille, in a low voice to the viscountess, "are you not aware that the marquise is separated from her husband? She has not seen her son for two years, and does not know when she will see him."
"You don't say so!" said Madame de Kergarouet. "Poor lady! is she legally separated?"
"No, by mutual consent," replied Camille.
"Ah, well! I understand that," said the viscountess boldly.
Old Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, furious at being thus dragged into the enemy's camp, had retreated to a short distance with her dear Charlotte. Calyste, after looking about him to make sure that no one could see him, seized the hand of the marquise, kissed it, and left a tear upon it. Beatrix turned round, her tears dried by anger; she was about to utter some terrible word, but it died upon her lips as she saw the grief on the angelic face of the youth, as deeply touched by her present sorrow as she was herself.
"Good heavens, Calyste!" said Camille in his ear, as he returned with Madame de Rochefide, "are you to have that for a mother-in-law, and the little one for a wife?"
"Because her aunt is rich," replied Calyste, sarcastically.
The whole party now moved toward the inn, and the viscountess felt herself obliged to make Camille a speech on the savages of Saint-Nazaire.
"I love Brittany, madame," replied Camille, gravely. "I was born at Guerande."
Calyste could not help admiring Mademoiselle des Touches, who, by the tone of her voice, the tranquillity of her look, and her quiet manner, put him at his ease, in spite of the terrible declarations of the preceding night. She seemed, however, a little fatigued; her eyes were enlarged by dark circles round them, showing that he had not slept; but the brow dominated the inward storm with cold placidity.
"What queens!" he said to Charlotte, calling her attention to the marquise and Camille as he gave the girl his arm, to Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's great satisfaction.
"What an idea your mother has had," said the old maid, taking her niece's other arm, "to put herself in the company of that reprobate woman!"
"Oh, aunt, a woman who is the glory of Brittany!"
"The shame, my dear. Mind that you don't fawn upon her in that way."
"Mademoiselle Charlotte is right," said Calyste; "you are not just."
"Oh, you!" replied Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, "she has bewitched you."
"I regard her," said Calyste, "with the same friendship that I feel for you."
"Since when have the du Guenics taken to telling lies?" asked the old maid.
"Since the Pen-Hoels have grown deaf," replied Calyste.
"Are you not in love with her?" demanded the old maid.
"I have been, but I am so no longer," he said.
"Bad boy! then why have you given us such anxiety? I know very well that love is only foolishness; there is nothing solid but marriage," she remarked, looking at Charlotte.
Charlotte, somewhat reassured, hoped to recover her advantages by recalling the memories of childhood. She leaned affectionately on Calyste's arm, who resolved in his own mind to have a clear explanation with the little heiress.
"Ah! what fun we shall have at mouche, Calyste!" she said; "what good laughs we used to have over it!"
The horses were now put in; Camille placed Madame de Kergarouet and Charlotte on the back seat. Jacqueline having disappeared, she herself, with the marquise, sat forward. Calyste was, of course, obliged to relinquish the pleasure on which he had counted, of driving back with Camille and Beatrix, but he rode beside the carriage all the way; the horses, being tired with the journey, went slowly enough to allow him to keep his eyes on Beatrix.
History must lose the curious conversations that went on between these four persons whom accident had so strangely united in this carriage, for it is impossible to report the hundred and more versions which went the round of Nantes on the remarks, replies, and witticisms which the viscountess heard from the lips of the celebrated Camille Maupin herself. She was, however, very careful not to repeat, not even to comprehend, the actual replies made by Mademoiselle des Touches to her absurd questions about Camille's authorship,—a penance to which all authors are subjected, and which often make them expiate the few and rare pleasures that they win.
"How do you write your books?" she began.
"Much as you do your worsted-work or knitting," replied Camille.
"But where do you find those deep reflections, those seductive pictures?"
"Where you find the witty things you say, madame; there is nothing so easy as to write books, provided you will—"
"Ah! does it depend wholly on the will? I shouldn't have thought it. Which of your compositions do you prefer?"
"I find it difficult to prefer any of my little kittens."
"I see you are blasee on compliments; there is really nothing new that one can say."
"I assure you, madame, that I am very sensible to the form which you give to yours."
The viscountess, anxious not to seem to neglect the marquise, remarked, looking at Beatrix with a meaning air,—
"I shall never forget this journey made between Wit and Beauty."
"You flatter me, madame," said the marquise, laughing. "I assure you that my wit is but a small matter, not to be mentioned by the side of genius; besides, I think I have not said much as yet."
Charlotte, who keenly felt her mother's absurdity, looked at her, endeavoring to stop its course; but Madame de Kergarouet went bravely on in her tilt with the satirical Parisians.
Calyste, who was trotting slowly beside the carriage, could only see the faces of the two ladies on the front seat, and his eyes expressed, from time to time, rather painful thoughts. Forced, by her position, to let herself be looked at, Beatrix constantly avoided meeting the young man's eyes, and practised a manoeuvre most exasperating to lovers; she held her shawl crossed and her hands crossed over it, apparently plunged in the deepest meditation.
At a part of the road which is shaded, dewy, and verdant as a forest glade, where the wheels of the carriage scarcely sounded, and the breeze brought down balsamic odors and waved the branches above their heads, Camille called Madame de Rochefide's attention to the harmonies of the place, and pressed her knee to make her look at Calyste.
"How well he rides!" she said.
"Oh! Calyste does everything well," said Charlotte.
"He rides like an Englishman," said the marquise, indifferently.
"His mother is Irish,—an O'Brien," continued Charlotte, who thought herself insulted by such indifference.
Camille and the marquise drove through Guerande with the viscountess and her daughter, to the great astonishment of the inhabitants of the town. They left the mother and daughter at the end of the lane leading to the Guenic mansion, where a crowd came near gathering, attracted by so unusual a sight. Calyste had ridden on to announce the arrival of the company to his mother and aunt, who expected them to dinner, that meal having been postponed till four o'clock. Then he returned to the gate to give his arm to the two ladies, and bid Camille and Beatrix adieu.
He kissed the hand of Felicite, hoping thereby to be able to do the same to that of the marquise; but she still kept her arms crossed resolutely, and he cast moist glances of entreaty at her uselessly.
"You little ninny!" whispered Camille, lightly touching his ear with a kiss that was full of friendship.
"Quite true," thought Calyste to himself as the carriage drove away. "I am forgetting her advice—but I shall always forget it, I'm afraid."
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel (who had intrepidly returned to Guerande on the back of a hired horse), the Vicomtesse de Kergarouet, and Charlotte found dinner ready, and were treated with the utmost cordiality, if luxury were lacking, by the du Guenics. Mademoiselle Zephirine had ordered the best wine to be brought from the cellar, and Mariotte had surpassed herself in her Breton dishes.
The viscountess, proud of her trip with the illustrious Camille Maupin, endeavored to explain to the assembled company the present condition of modern literature, and Camille's place in it. But the literary topic met the fate of whist; neither the du Guenics, nor the abbe, nor the Chevalier du Halga understood one word of it. The rector and the chevalier had arrived in time for the liqueurs at dessert.
As soon as Mariotte, assisted by Gasselin and Madame de Kergarouet's maid, had cleared the table, there was a general and enthusiastic cry for mouche. Joy appeared to reign in the household. All supposed Calyste to be free of his late entanglement, and almost as good as married to the little Charlotte. The young man alone kept silence. For the first time in his life he had instituted comparisons between his life-long friends and the two elegant women, witty, accomplished, and tasteful, who, at the present moment, must be laughing heartily at the provincial mother and daughter, judging by the look he intercepted between them.
He was seeking in vain for some excuse to leave his family on this occasion, and go up as usual to Les Touches, when Madame de Kergarouet mentioned that she regretted not having accepted Mademoiselle des Touches' offer of her carriage for the return journey to Saint-Nazaire, which for the sake of her three other "dear kittens," she felt compelled to make on the following day.
Fanny, who alone saw her son's uneasiness, and the little hold which Charlotte's coquetries and her mother's attentions were gaining on him, came to his aid.
"Madame," she said to the viscountess, "you will, I think, be very uncomfortable in the carrier's vehicle, and especially at having to start so early in the morning. You would certainly have done better to take the offer made to you by Mademoiselle des Touches. But it is not too late to do so now. Calyste, go up to Les Touches and arrange the matter; but don't be long; return to us soon."
"It won't take me ten minutes," cried Calyste, kissing his mother violently as she followed him to the door.
XI. FEMALE DIPLOMACY
Calyste ran with the lightness of a young fawn to Les Touches and reached the portico just as Camille and Beatrix were leaving the grand salon after their dinner. He had the sense to offer his arm to Felicite.
"So you have abandoned your viscountess and her daughter for us," she said, pressing his arm; "we are able now to understand the full merit of that sacrifice."
"Are these Kergarouets related to the Portendueres, and to old Admiral de Kergarouet, whose widow married Charles de Vandenesse?" asked Madame de Rochefide.
"The viscountess is the admiral's great-niece," replied Camille.
"Well, she's a charming girl," said Beatrix, placing herself gracefully in a Gothic chair. "She will just do for you, Monsieur du Guenic."
"The marriage will never take place," said Camille hastily.
Mortified by the cold, calm air with which the marquise seemed to consider the Breton girl as the only creature fit to mate him, Calyste remained speechless and even mindless.
"Why so, Camille?" asked Madame de Rochefide.
"Really, my dear," said Camille, seeing Calyste's despair, "you are not generous; did I advise Conti to marry?"
Beatrix looked at her friend with a surprise that was mingled with indefinable suspicions.
Calyste, unable to understand Camille's motive, but feeling that she came to his assistance and seeing in her cheeks that faint spot of color which he knew to mean the presence of some violent emotion, went up to her rather awkwardly and took her hand. But she left him and seated herself carelessly at the piano, like a woman so sure of her friend and lover that she can afford to leave him with another woman. She played variations, improvising them as she played, on certain themes chosen, unconsciously to herself, by the impulse of her mind; they were melancholy in the extreme.
Beatrix seemed to listen to the music, but she was really observing Calyste, who, much too young and artless for the part which Camille was intending him to play, remained in rapt adoration before his real idol.
After about an hour, during which time Camille continued to play, Beatrix rose and retired to her apartments. Camille at once took Calyste into her chamber and closed the door, fearing to be overheard; for women have an amazing instinct of distrust.
"My child," she said, "if you want to succeed with Beatrix, you must seem to love me still, or you will fail. You are a child; you know nothing of women; all you know is how to love. Now loving and making one's self beloved are two very different things. If you go your own way you will fall into horrible suffering, and I wish to see you happy. If you rouse, not the pride, but the self-will, the obstinacy which is a strong feature in her character, she is capable of going off at any moment to Paris and rejoining Conti; and what will you do then?"
"I shall love her."
"You won't see her again."
"Oh! yes, I shall," he said.
"I shall follow her."
"Why, you are as poor as Job, my dear boy."
"My father, Gasselin, and I lived for three months in Vendee on one hundred and fifty francs, marching night and day."
"Calyste," said Mademoiselle des Touches, "now listen to me. I know that you have too much candor to play a part, too much honesty to deceive; and I don't want to corrupt such a nature as yours. Yet deception is the only way by which you can win Beatrix; I take it therefore upon myself. In a week from now she shall love you."
"Is it possible?" he said clasping his hands.
"Yes," replied Camille, "but it will be necessary to overcome certain pledges which she has made to herself. I will do that for you. You must not interfere in the rather arduous task I shall undertake. The marquise has a true aristocratic delicacy of perception; she is keenly distrustful; no hunter could meet with game more wary or more difficult to capture. You are wholly unable to cope with her; will you promise me a blind obedience?"
"What must I do?" replied the youth.
"Very little," said Camille. "Come here every day and devote yourself to me. Come to my rooms; avoid Beatrix if you meet her. We will stay together till four o'clock; you shall employ the time in study, and I in smoking. It will be hard for you not to see her, but I will find you a number of interesting books. You have read nothing as yet of George Sand. I will send one of my people this very evening to Nantes to buy her works and those of other authors whom you ought to know. The evenings we will spend together, and I permit you to make love to me if you can—it will be for the best."
"I know, Camille, that your affection for me is great and so rare that it makes me wish I had never met Beatrix," he replied with simple good faith; "but I don't see what you hope from all this."
"I hope to make her love you."
"Good heavens! it cannot be possible!" he cried, again clasping his hands toward Camille, who was greatly moved on seeing the joy that she gave him at her own expense.
"Now listen to me carefully," she said. "If you break the agreement between us, if you have—not a long conversation—but a mere exchange of words with the marquise in private, if you let her question you, if you fail in the silent part I ask you to play, which is certainly not a very difficult one, I do assure you," she said in a serious tone, "you will lose her forever."
"I don't understand the meaning of what you are saying to me," cried Calyste, looking at Camille with adorable naivete.
"If you did understand it, you wouldn't be the noble and beautiful Calyste that you are," she replied, taking his hand and kissing it.
Calyste then did what he had never before done; he took Camille round the waist and kissed her gently, not with love but with tenderness, as he kissed his mother. Mademoiselle des Touches did not restrain her tears.
"Go now," she said, "my child; and tell your viscountess that my carriage is at her command."
Calyste wanted to stay longer, but he was forced to obey her imperious and imperative gesture.
He went home gaily; he believed that in a week the beautiful Beatrix would love him. The players at mouche found him once more the Calyste they had missed for the last two months. Charlotte attributed this change to herself. Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel was charming to him. The Abbe Grimont endeavored to make out what was passing in the mother's mind. The Chevalier du Halga rubbed his hands. The two old maids were as lively as lizards. The viscountess lost one hundred sous by accumulated mouches, which so excited the cupidity of Zephirine that she regretted not being able to see the cards, and even spoke sharply to her sister-in-law, who acted as the proxy of her eyes.
The party lasted till eleven o'clock. There were two defections, the baron and the chevalier, who went to sleep in their respective chairs. Mariotte had made galettes of buckwheat, the baroness produced a tea-caddy. The illustrious house of du Guenic served a little supper before the departure of its guests, consisting of fresh butter, fruits, and cream, in addition to Mariotte's cakes; for which festal event issued from their wrappings a silver teapot and some beautiful old English china sent to the baroness by her aunts. This appearance of modern splendor in the ancient hall, together with the exquisite grace of its mistress, brought up like a true Irish lady to make and pour out tea (that mighty affair to Englishwomen), had something charming about them. The most exquisite luxury could never have attained to the simple, modest, noble effect produced by this sentiment of joyful hospitality.
A few moments after Calyste's departure from Les Touches, Beatrix, who had heard him go, returned to Camille, whom she found with humid eyes lying back on her sofa.
"What is it, Felicite?" asked the marquise.
"I am forty years old, and I love him!" said Mademoiselle des Touches, with dreadful tones of agony in her voice, her eyes becoming hard and brilliant. "If you knew, Beatrix, the tears I have shed over the lost years of my youth! To be loved out of pity! to know that one owes one's happiness only to perpetual care, to the slyness of cats, to traps laid for innocence and all the youthful virtues—oh, it is infamous! If it were not that one finds absolution in the magnitude of love, in the power of happiness, in the certainty of being forever above all other women in his memory, the first to carve on that young heart the ineffaceable happiness of an absolute devotion, I would—yes, if he asked it,—I would fling myself into the sea. Sometimes I find myself wishing that he would ask it; it would then be an oblation, not a suicide. Ah, Beatrix, by coming here you have, unconsciously, set me a hard task. I know it will be difficult to keep him against you; but you love Conti, you are noble and generous, you will not deceive me; on the contrary, you will help me to retain my Calyste's love. I expected the impression you would make upon him, but I have not committed the mistake of seeming jealous; that would only have added fuel to the flame. On the contrary, before you came, I described you in such glowing colors that you hardly realize the portrait, although you are, it seems to me, more beautiful than ever."
This vehement elegy, in which truth was mingled with deception, completely duped the marquise. Claude Vignon had told Conti the reasons for his departure, and Beatrix was, of course, informed of them. She determined therefore to behave with generosity and give the cold shoulder to Calyste; but at the same instant there came into her soul that quiver of joy which vibrates in the heart of every woman when she finds herself beloved. The love a woman inspires in any man's heart is flattery without hypocrisy, and it is impossible for some women to forego it; but when that man belongs to a friend, his homage gives more than pleasure,—it gives delight. Beatrix sat down beside her friend and began to coax her prettily.
"You have not a white hair," she said; "you haven't even a wrinkle; your temples are just as fresh as ever; whereas I know more than one woman of thirty who is obliged to cover hers. Look, dear," she added, lifting her curls, "see what that journey to Italy has cost me."
Her temples showed an almost imperceptible withering of the texture of the delicate skin. She raised her sleeves and showed Camille the same slight withering of the wrists, where the transparent tissue suffered the blue network of swollen veins to be visible, and three deep lines made a bracelet of wrinkles.
"There, my dear, are two spots which—as a certain writer ferreting for the miseries of women, has said—never lie," she continued. "One must needs have suffered to know the truth of his observation. Happily for us, most men know nothing about it; they don't read us like that dreadful author."
"Your letter told me all," replied Camille; "happiness ignores everything but itself. You boasted too much of yours to be really happy. Truth is deaf, dumb, and blind where love really is. Consequently, seeing very plainly that you have your reasons for abandoning Conti, I have feared to have you here. My dear, Calyste is an angel; he is as good as he is beautiful; his innocent heart will not resist your eyes; already he admires you too much not to love you at the first encouragement; your coldness can alone preserve him to me. I confess to you, with the cowardice of true passion, that if he were taken from me I should die. That dreadful book of Benjamin Constant, 'Adolphe,' tells us only of Adolphe's sorrows; but what about those of the woman, hey? The man did not observe them enough to describe them; and what woman would have dared to reveal them? They would dishonor her sex, humiliate its virtues, and pass into vice. Ah! I measure the abyss before me by my fears, by these sufferings that are those of hell. But, Beatrix, I will tell you this: in case I am abandoned, my choice is made."