A word more exchanged with the valet, and Andras would have felt humiliated himself. But he had gained from the conversation the idea that Menko had not wished to insult him in his happiness, but to reveal all to him before the ceremony had yet been celebrated. It was as atrocious, but not so cowardly. Menko had wished to attack Marsa, rather than Andras; this was visible in the express commands given to his valet. And upon what a trifle had it depended, whether the name of Zilah should be borne by this woman! Upon what? Upon a servant's feast! Life is full of strange chances. The hands of that low-born valet had held for hours his happiness and his honor—his honor, Andras Zilah's—the honor of all his race!
The Prince returned to his hotel, which he had left that morning thinking that he would soon bring there the woman he then adored, but whom he now despised and hated. Oh! he would know where Menko had gone; him he could punish; as for Marsa, she was now dead to him.
But where, in the whirlpool of the New World, would this Michel Menko disappear? and how could he find him?
The days passed; and Zilah had acquired almost the certainty that Menko had not embarked at Havre. Perhaps he had not quitted Europe. He might, some day or another, in spite of what the valet had said, reappear in Paris; and then—
Meanwhile, the Prince led the life of a man wounded to the heart; seeking solitude, and shutting himself in his hotel, in the Rue Balzac, like a wolf in his den; receiving no one but Varhely, and sometimes treating even old Yanski coldly; then, suddenly emerging from his retirement, and trying to take up his life again; appearing at the meetings of the Hungarian aid society, of which he was president; showing himself at the races, at the theatre, or even at Baroness Dinati's; longing to break the dull monotony of his now ruined life; and, with a sort of bravado, looking society and opinion full in the face, as if to surprise a smile or a sneer at his expense, and punish it.
He had, however, no right to complain of the sentiment which was felt for him, for every one respected and admired him. At first, it is true, society, and in particular that society of Parisian foreigners in which Prince Andras mingled, had tried to find out why he had broken so suddenly with the woman he had certainly married for love. Public curiosity, aroused and excited, had sought to divine the secret of the romance. "If it does not get into the newspapers," they said, "it will be fortunate." And society was even astonished that the journals had not already discovered the key to this Parisian mystery.
But society, after all as fickle as it is curious (one of its little vices chasing away the other), turned suddenly to another subject; forgot the rupture of Marsa and Andras, and saw in Zilah only a superior being, whose lofty soul forced respect from the frivolous set accustomed to laugh at everything.
A lofty soul, yes, but a soul in torment. Varhely alone, among them all, knew anything of the suffering which Andras endured. He was no longer the same man. His handsome face, with its kindly eyes and grave smile, was now constantly overshadowed. He spoke less, and thought more. On the subject of his sadness and his grief, Andras never uttered a word to any one, not even to his old friend; and Yanski, silent from the day when he had been an unconscious messenger of ill, had not once made any allusion to the past.
Although he knew nothing, Varhely had, nevertheless, guessed everything, and at once. The blow was too direct and too cruelly simple for the old Hungarian not to have immediately exclaimed, with rage:
"Those were love-letters, and I gave them to him! Idiot that I was! I held those letters in my hand; I might have destroyed them, or crammed them one by one down Menko's throat! But who could have suspected such an infamy? Menko! A man of honor! Ah, yes; what does honor amount to when there is a woman in question? Imbecile! And it is irreparable now, irreparable!"
Varhely also was anxious to know where Menko had gone. They did not know at the Austro-Hungarian embassy. It was a complete disappearance, perhaps a suicide. If the old Hungarian had met the young man, he would at least have gotten rid of part of his bile. But the angry thought that he, Varhely, had been associated in a vile revenge which had touched Andras, was, for the old soldier, a constant cause for ill-humor with himself, and a thing which, in a measure, poisoned his life.
Varhely had long been a misanthrope himself; but he tried to struggle against his own temperament when he saw Andras wrapping himself up in bitterness and gloomy thoughts.
Little by little, Zilah allowed himself to sink into that state where not only everything becomes indifferent to us, but where we long for another suffering, further pain, that we may utter more bitter cries, more irritated complaints against fate. It seems then that everything is dark about us, and our endless night is traversed by morbid visions, and peopled with phantoms. The sick man—for the one who suffers such torture is sick—would willingly seek a new sorrow, like those wounded men who, seized with frenzy, open their wounds themselves, and irritate them with the point of a knife. Then, misanthropy and disgust of life assume a phase in which pain is not without a certain charm. There is a species of voluptuousness in this appetite for suffering, and the sufferer becomes, as it were, enamored of his own agony.
With Zilah, this sad state was due to a sort of insurrection of his loyalty against the many infamies to be met with in this world, which he had believed to be only too full of virtues.
He now considered himself an idiot, a fool, for having all his life adored chimeras, and followed, as children do passing music, the fanfares of poetic chivalry. Yes, faith, enthusiasm, love, were so many cheats, so many lies. All beings who, like himself, were worshippers of the ideal, all dreamers of better things, all lovers of love, were inevitably doomed to deception, treason, and the stupid ironies of fate. And, full of anger against himself, his pessimism of to-day sneering at his confidence of yesterday, he abandoned himself with delight to his bitterness, and he took keen joy in repeating to himself that the secret of happiness in this life was to believe in nothing except treachery, and to defend oneself against men as against wolves.
Very rarely, his real frank, true nature would come to the fore, and he would say:
"After all, are the cowardice of one man, and the lie of one woman, to be considered the crime of entire humanity?"
Why should he curse, he would think, other beings than Marsa and Menko? He had no right to hate any one else; he had no enemy that he knew of, and he was honored in Paris, his new country.
No enemy? No, not one. And yet, one morning, with his letters, his valet brought him a journal addressed to "Prince Zilah," and, on unfolding it, Andras's attention was attracted to two paragraphs in the column headed "Echoes of Paris," which were marked with a red-lead pencil.
It was a number of 'L'Actualite', sent through the post by an unknown hand, and the red marks were evidently intended to point out to the Prince something of interest to himself.
Andras received few journals. A sudden desire seized him, as if he had a presentiment of what it contained, to cast this one into the fire without reading it. For a moment he held it in his fingers ready to throw it into the grate. Then a few words read by accident invincibly prevented him.
He read, at first with poignant sorrow, and then with a dull rage, the two paragraphs, one of which followed the other in the paper.
"A sad piece of news has come to our ears," ran the first paragraph, "a piece of news which has afflicted all the foreign colony of Paris, and especially the Hungarians. The lovely and charming Princess Z., whose beauty was recently crowned with a glorious coronet, has been taken, after a consultation of the princes of science (there are princes in all grades), to the establishment of Dr. Sims, at Vaugirard, the rival of the celebrated asylum of Dr. Luys, at Ivry. Together with the numerous friends of Prince A. Z., we hope that the sudden malady of the Princess Z. will be of short duration."
So Marsa was now the patient, almost the prisoner, of Dr. Sims! The orders of Dr. Fargeas had been executed. She was in an insane asylum, and Andras, despite himself, felt filled with pity as he thought of it.
But the red mark surrounded both this first "Echo of Paris," and the one which followed it; and Zilah, impelled now by eager curiosity, proceeded with his reading.
But he uttered a cry of rage when he saw, printed at full length, given over to common curiosity, to the eagerness of the public for scandal, and to the malignity of blockheads, a direct allusion to his marriage—worse than that, the very history of his marriage placed in an outrageous manner next to the paragraph in which his name was almost openly written. The editor of the society journal passed directly from the information in regard to the illness of Princess Z. to an allegorical tale in which Andras saw the secret of his life and the wounds of his heart laid bare.
A LITTLE PARISIAN ROMANCE
Like most of the Parisian romances of to-day, the little romance in question is an exotic one. Paris belongs to foreigners. When the Parisians, whose names appear in the chronicles of fashion, are not Americans, Russians, Roumanians, Portuguese, English, Chinese, or Hungarians, they do not count; they are no longer Parisians. The Parisians of the day are Parisians of the Prater, of the Newski Perspective or of Fifth Avenue; they are no longer pureblooded Parisians. Within ten years from now the boulevards will be situated in Chicago, and one will go to pass his evenings at the Eden Theatre of Pekin. So, this is the latest Parisian romance: Once upon a time there was in Paris a great lord, a Moldavian, or a Wallachian, or a Moldo-Wallachian (in a word, a Parisian—a Parisian of the Danube, if you like), who fell in love with a young Greek, or Turk, or Armenian (also of Paris), as dark-browed as the night, as beautiful as the day. The great lord was of a certain age, that is, an uncertain age. The beautiful Athenian or Georgian, or Circassian, was young. The great lord was generally considered to be imprudent. But what is to be done when one loves? Marry or don't marry, says Rabelais or Moliere. Perhaps they both said it. Well, at all events, the great lord married. It appears, if well- informed people are to be believed, that the great Wallachian lord and the beautiful Georgian did not pass two hours after their marriage beneath the same roof. The very day of their wedding, quietly, and without scandal, they separated, and the reason of this rupture has for a long time puzzled Parisian high-life. It was remarked, however, that the separation of the newly-married pair was coincident with the disappearance of a very fashionable attache who, some years ago, was often seen riding in the Bois, and who was then considered to be the most graceful waltzer of the Viennese, or Muscovite, or Castilian colony of Paris. We might, if we were indiscreet, construct a whole drama with these three people for our dramatis personae; but we wish to prove that reporters (different in this from women) sometimes know how to keep a secret. For those ladies who are, perhaps, still interested in the silky moustaches of the fugitive ex-diplomat, we can add, however, that he was seen at Brussels a short time ago. He passed through there like a shooting star. Some one who saw him noticed that he was rather pale, and that he seemed to be still suffering from the wounds received not long ago. As for the beautiful Georgian, they say she is in despair at the departure of her husband, the great Wallachian lord, who, in spite of his ill-luck, is really a Prince Charming.
Andras Zilah turned rapidly to the signature of this article. The "Echoes of Paris" were signed Puck. Puck? Who was this Puck? How could an unknown, an anonymous writer, a retailer of scandals, be possessed of his secret? For Andras believed that his suffering was a secret; he had never had an idea that any one could expose it to the curiosity of the crowd, as this editor of L'Actualite had done. He felt an increased rage against the invisible Michel Menko, who had disappeared after his infamy; and it seemed to him that this Puck, this unknown journalist, was an accomplice or a friend of Michel Menko, and that, behind the pseudonym of the writer, he perceived the handsome face, twisted moustache and haughty smile of the young Count.
"After all," he said to himself, "we shall soon find out. Monsieur Puck must be less difficult to unearth than Michel Menko."
He rang for his valet, and was about to go out, when Yanski Varhely was announced.
The old Hungarian looked troubled, and his brows were contracted in a frown. He could not repress a movement of anger when he perceived, upon the Prince's table, the marked number of L'Actualite.
Varhely, when he had an afternoon to get rid of, usually went to the Palais-Royal. He had lived for twenty years not far from there, in a little apartment near Saint-Roch. Drinking in the fresh air, under the striped awning of the Cafe de la Rotunde, he read the journals, one after the other, or watched the sparrows fly about and peck up the grains in the sand. Children ran here and there, playing at ball; and, above the noise of the promenaders, arose the music of the brass band.
It was chiefly the political news he sought for in the French or foreign journals. He ran through them all with his nose in the sheets, which he held straight out by the wooden file, like a flag. With a rapid glance, he fell straight upon the Hungarian names which interested him—Deak sometimes, sometimes Andrassy; and from a German paper he passed to an English, Spanish, or Italian one, making, as he said, a tour of Europe, acquainted as he was with almost all European languages.
An hour before he appeared at the Prince's house, he was seated in the shade of the trees, scanning 'L'Actualite', when he suddenly uttered an oath of anger (an Hungarian 'teremtete!') as he came across the two paragraphs alluding to Prince Andras.
Varhely read the lines over twice, to convince himself that he was not mistaken, and that it was Prince Zilah who was designated with the skilfully veiled innuendo of an expert journalist. There was no chance for doubt; the indistinct nationality of the great lord spoken of thinly veiled the Magyar characteristics of Andras, and the paragraph which preceded the "Little Parisian Romance" was very skilfully arranged to let the public guess the name of the hero of the adventure, while giving to the anecdote related the piquancy of the anonymous, that velvet mask of scandal-mongers.
Then Varhely had only one idea.
"Andras must not know of this article. He scarcely ever reads the journals; but some one may have sent this paper to him."
And the old misanthrope hurried to the Prince's hotel, thinking this: that there always exist people ready to forward paragraphs of this kind.
When he perceived 'L'Actualite' upon the Prince's table, he saw that his surmise was only too correct, and he was furious with himself for arriving too late.
"Where are you going?" he asked Andras, who was putting on his gloves.
The Prince took up the marked paper, folded it slowly, and replied:
"I am going out."
"Have you read that paper?"
"The marked part of it, yes."
"You know that that sheet is never read, it has no circulation whatever, it lives from its advertisements. There is no use in taking any notice of it."
"If there were question only of myself, I should not take any notice of it. But they have mixed up in this scandal the name of the woman to whom I have given my name. I wish to know who did it, and why he did it."
"Oh! for nothing, for fun! Because this Monsieur—how does he sign himself?—Puck had nothing else to write about."
"It is certainly absurd," remarked Zilah, "to imagine that a man can live in the ideal. At every step the reality splashes you with mud."
As he spoke, he moved toward the door.
"Where are you going?" asked Varhely again.
"To the office of this journal."
"Do not commit such an imprudence. The article, which has made no stir as yet, will be read and talked of by all Paris if you take any notice of it, and it will be immediately commented upon by the correspondents of the Austrian and Hungarian journals."
"That matters little to me!" said the Prince, resolutely. "Those people will only do what their trade obliges them to. But, before everything, I am resolved to do my duty. That is my part in this matter."
"Then I will accompany you."
"No," replied Andras, "I ask you not to do that; but it is probable that to-morrow I shall request you to serve as my second."
"With whoever insults me. The name is perfectly immaterial. But since he escapes me and she is irresponsible—and punished—I regard as an accomplice of their infamy any man who makes allusion to it with either tongue or pen. And, my dear Varhely, I wish to act alone. Don't be angry; I know that in your hands my honor would be as faithfully guarded as in my own."
"Without any doubt," said Varhely, in an odd tone, pulling his rough moustache, "and I hope to prove it to you some day."
CHAPTER XXV. THE HOME OF "PUCK"
Prince Zilah did not observe at all the marked significance old Yanski gave to this last speech. He shook Varhely's hand, entered a cab, and, casting a glance at the journal in his hands, he ordered the coachman to drive to the office of 'L'Actualite', Rue Halevy, near the Opera.
The society journal, whose aim was represented by its title, had its quarters on the third floor in that semi-English section where bars, excursion agencies, steamboat offices, and manufacturers of travelling-bags give to the streets a sort of Britannic aspect. The office of 'L'Actualite' had only recently been established there. Prince Zilch read the number of the room upon a brass sign and went up.
In the outer office there were only two or three clerks at work behind the grating. None of these had the right to reveal the names hidden under pseudonyms; they did not even know them. Zilch perceived, through an open door, the reporters' room, furnished with a long table covered with pens, ink, and pads of white paper. This room was empty; the journal was made up in the evening, and the reporters were absent.
"Is there any one who can answer me?" asked the Prince.
"Probably the secretary can," replied a clerk. "Have you a card, Monsieur? or, if you will write your name upon a bit of paper, it will do."
Andras did so; the clerk opened a door in the corridor and disappeared. After a minute or two he reappeared, and said to the Prince:
"If you will follow me, Monsieur Freminwill see you."
Andras found himself in the presence of a pleasant-looking middle-aged man, who was writing at a modest desk when the Hungarian entered, and who bowed politely, motioning him to be seated.
As Zilch sat down upon the sofa, there appeared upon the threshold of a door, opposite the one by which he had entered, a small, dark, elegantly dressed young man, whom Andras vaguely remembered to have seen somewhere, he could not tell where. The newcomer was irreproachable in his appearance, with his clothes built in the latest fashion, snowy linen, pale gray gloves, silver-headed cane, and a single eyeglass, dangling from a silken cord.
He bowed to Zilch, and, going up to the secretary, he said, rapidly:
"Well! since Tourillon is away, I will report the Enghien races. I am going there now. Enghien isn't highly diverting, though. The swells and the pretty women so rarely go there; they don't affect Enghien any more. But duty before everything, eh, Fremin?"
"You will have to hurry," said Fremin, looking at his watch, "or you will miss your train."
"Oh! I have a carriage below."
He clapped his confrere on the shoulder, bowed again to Zilah, and hurried away, while Fremin, turning to the Prince, said:
"I am at your service, Monsieur," and waited for him to open the conversation.
Zilah drew from his pocket the copy of L'Actualite, and said, very quietly:
"I should like to know, Monsieur, who is meant in this article here."
And, folding the paper, with the passage which concerned him uppermost, he handed it to the secretary.
Fremin glanced at the article.
"Yes, I have seen this paragraph," he said; "but I am entirely ignorant to whom it alludes. I am not even certain that it is not a fabrication, invented out of whole cloth."
"Ah!" said Zilah. "The author of the article would know, I suppose?"
"It is highly probable," replied Fremin, with a smile.
"Will you tell me, then, the name of the person who wrote this?"
"Isn't the article signed?"
"It is signed Puck. That is not a name."
"A pseudonym is a name in literature," said Fremin. "I am of the opinion, however, that one has always the right to demand to see a face which is covered by a mask. But the person who makes this demand should be personally interested. Does this story, to which you have called my attention, concern you, Monsieur?"
"Suppose, Monsieur," answered Zilah, a little disconcerted, for he perceived that he had to do with a courteous, well-bred man, "suppose that the man who is mentioned, or rather insulted, here, were my best friend. I wish to demand an explanation of the person who wrote this article, and to know, also, if it was really a journalist who composed those lines."
"I mean that there may be people interested in having such an article published, and I wish to know who they are."
"You are perfectly justified, Monsieur; but only one person can tell you that—the writer of the article."
"It is for that reason, Monsieur, that I desire to know his name."
"He does not conceal it," said Fremin. "The pseudonym is only designed as a stimulant to curiosity; but Puck is a corporeal being."
"I am glad to hear it," said Zilah. "Now, will you be kind enough to give me his name?"
Zilah knew the name well, having seen it at the end of a report of his river fete; but he hardly thought Jacquemin could be so well informed. Since he had lived in France, the Hungarian exile had not been accustomed to regard Paris as a sort of gossiping village, where everything is found out, talked over, and commented upon with eager curiosity, and where every one's aim is to appear to have the best and most correct information.
"I must ask you now, Monsieur, where Monsieur Paul Jacquemin lives?"
"Rue Rochechouart, at the corner of the Rue de la Tour d'Auvergne."
"Thank you, Monsieur," said Andras, rising, the object of his call having been accomplished.
"One moment," said Fremin, "if you intend to go at once to Monsieur Jacquemin's house, you will not find him at home just now."
"Because you saw him here a few minutes ago, and he is now on his way to Enghien."
"Indeed!" said the Prince. "Very well, I will wait."
He bade farewell to Fremin, who accompanied him to the door; and, when seated in his carriage, he read again the paragraph of Puck—that Puck, who, in the course of the same article, referred many times to the brilliancy of "our colleague Jacquemin," and complacently cited the witticisms of "our clever friend Jacquemin."
Zilah remembered this Jacquemin now. It was he whom he had seen taking notes upon the parapet of the quay, and afterward at the wedding, where he had been brought by the Baroness Dinati. It was Jacquemin who was such a favorite with the little Baroness; who was one of the licensed distributors of celebrity and quasi-celebrity for all those who live upon gossip and for gossip-great ladies who love to see their names in print, and actresses wild over a new role; who was one of the chroniclers of fashion, received everywhere, flattered, caressed, petted; whom the Prince had just seen, very elegant with his stick and eyeglass, and his careless, disdainful air; and who had said, like a man accustomed to every magnificence, fatigued with luxury, blase with pleasure, and caring only for what is truly pschutt (to use the latest slang): "Pretty women so rarely go there!"
Zilah thought that, as the Baroness had a particular predilection for Jacquemin, it was perhaps she, who, in her gay chatter, had related the story to the reporter, and who, without knowing it probably, assuredly without wishing it, had furnished an article for 'L'Actualite'. In all honor, Jacquemin was really the spoiled child of the Baroness, the director of the entertainments at her house. With a little more conceit, Jacquemin, who was by no means lacking in that quality, however, might have believed that the pretty little woman was in love with him. The truth is, the Baroness Dinati was only in love with the reporter's articles, those society articles in which he never forgot her, but paid, with a string of printed compliments, for his champagne and truffles.
"And yet," thought Zilah, "no, upon reflection, I am certain that the Baroness had nothing to do with this outrage. Neither with intention nor through imprudence would she have given any of these details to this man."
Now that the Prince knew his real name, he might have sent to Monsieur Puck, Varhely, and another of his friends. Jacquemin would then give an explanation; for of reparation Zilah thought little. And yet, full of anger, and not having Menko before him, he longed to punish some one; he wished, that, having been made to suffer so himself, some one should expiate his pain. He would chastise this butterfly reporter, who had dared to interfere with his affairs, and wreak his vengeance upon him as if he were the coward who had fled. And, besides, who knew, after all, if this Jacquemin were not the confidant of Menko? Varhely would not have recognized in the Prince the generous Zilah of former times, full of pity, and ready to forgive an injury.
Andras could not meet Jacquemin that day, unless he waited for him at the office of 'L'Actualite' until the races were over, and he therefore postponed his intended interview until the next day.
About eleven o'clock in the morning, after a sleepless night, he sought-the Rue Rochechouart, and the house Fremin had described to him. It was there: an old weather-beaten house, with a narrow entrance and a corridor, in the middle of which flowed a dirty, foul-smelling stream of water; the room of the concierge looked like a black hole at the foot of the staircase, the balusters and walls of which were wet with moisture and streaked with dirt; a house of poor working-people, many stories high, and built in the time when this quarter of Paris was almost a suburb.
Andras hesitated at first to enter, thinking that he must be mistaken. He thought of little Jacquemin, dainty and neat as if he had just stepped out of a bandbox, and his disdainful remarks upon the races of Enghien, where the swells no longer went. It was not possible that he lived here in this wretched, shabby place.
The concierge replied to the Prince, however, when he asked for Jacquemin: "Yes, Monsieur, on the fifth floor, the door to the right;" and Zilah mounted the dark stairs.
When he reached the fifth floor, he did not yet believe it possible that the Jacquemin who lived there was the one he had seen the day before, the one whom Baroness Dinati petted, "our witty colleague Jacquemin."
He knocked, however, at the door on the right, as he had been directed. No one came to open it; but he could hear within footsteps and indistinct cries. He then perceived that there was a bell-rope, and he pulled it. Immediately he heard some one approaching from within.
He felt a singular sensation of concentrated anger, united to a fear that the Jacquemin he was in search of was not there.
The door opened, and a woman appeared, young, rather pale, with pretty blond hair, somewhat disheveled, and dressed in a black skirt, with a white dressing-sack thrown over her shoulders.
She smiled mechanically as she opened the door, and, as she saw a strange face, she blushed crimson, and pulled her sack together beneath her chin, fastening it with a pin.
"Monsieur Jacquemin?" said Andras, taking off his hat.
"Yes, Monsieur, he lives here," replied the young woman, a little astonished.
"Monsieur Jacquemin, the journalist?" asked Andras.
"Yes, yes, Monsieur," she answered with a proud little smile, which Zilah was not slow to notice. She now opened the door wide, and said, stepping aside to let the visitor pass:
"Will you take the trouble to come in, Monsieur?" She was not accustomed to receive calls (Jacquemin always making his appointments at the office); but, as the stranger might be some one who brought her husband work, as she called it, she was anxious not to let him go away before she knew what his errand was.
"Please come in, Monsieur!"
The Prince entered, and, crossing the entry in two steps, found himself in a small dining-room opening directly out of the kitchen, where three tiny little children were playing, the youngest, who could not have been more than eighteen months, crawling about on the floor. Upon the ragged oilcloth which covered the table, Zilah noticed two pairs of men's gloves, one gray, the other yellow, and a heap of soiled white cravats. Upon a wooden chair, by the open door of the kitchen, was a tub full of shirts, which the young woman had doubtless been washing when the bell rang.
The cries Zilah had heard came from the children, who were now silent, staring at the tall gentleman, who looked at them in surprise.
The young woman was small and very pretty, but with the pallor of fatigue and overwork; her lips were beautifully chiselled, but almost colorless; and she was so thin that her figure had the frail appearance of an unformed girl.
"Will you sit down, Monsieur?" she asked, timidly, advancing a cane-bottomed chair.
Everything in these poor lodgings was of the most shabby description. In a cracked mirror with a broken frame were stuck cards of invitation, theatre checks, and race tickets admitting to the grand stand. Upon a cheap little table with broken corners was a heap of New Year's cards, bonbon boxes, and novels with soiled edges. Upon the floor, near the children, were some remnants of toys; and the cradle in which the baby slept at night was pushed into a corner with a child's chair, the arms of which were gone.
Zilah was both astonished and pained. He had not expected to encounter this wretched place, the poorly clad children, and the woman's timid smile.
"Is Monsieur Jacquemin at home?" he asked abruptly, desiring to leave at once if the man whom he sought was not there.
"No, Monsieur; but he will not be long away. Sit down, Monsieur, please!"
She entreated so gently, with such an uneasy air at the threatened departure of this man who had doubtless brought some good news for her husband, that the Prince mechanically obeyed, thinking again that there was evidently some mistake, and that it was not, it could not be, here that Jacquemin lived.
"Is it really your husband, Madame, who writes under the signature of Puck in 'L'Actualite'?" he asked. The same proud smile appeared again upon her thin, wan face.
"Yes, Monsieur, yes, it is really he!" she replied. She was so happy whenever any one spoke to her of her Paul. She was in the habit of taking copies of L'Actualite to the concierge, the grocer, and the butcher; and she was so proud to show how well Paul wrote, and what fine connections he had—her Paul, whom she loved so much, and for whom she sat up late at night when it was necessary to prepare his linen for some great dinner or supper he was invited to.
"Oh! it is indeed he, Monsieur," she said again, while Zilah watched her and listened in silence. "I don't like to have him use pseudonyms, as he calls them. It gives me so much pleasure to see his real name, which is mine too, printed in full. Only it seems that it is better sometimes. Puck makes people curious, and they say, Who can it be? He also signed himself Gavroche in the Rabelais, you know, which did not last very long. You are perhaps a journalist also, Monsieur?"
"No," said Zilah.
"Ah! I thought you were! But, after all, perhaps you are right. It is a hard profession, I sometimes think. You have to be out so late. If you only knew, Monsieur, how poor Paul is forced to work even at night! It tires him so, and then it costs so much. I beg your pardon for leaving those gloves like that before you. I was cleaning them. He does not like cleaned gloves, though; he says it always shows. Well, I am a woman, and I don't notice it. And then I take so much care of all that. It is necessary, and everything costs so dear. You see I—Gustave, don't slap your little sister! you naughty boy!"
And going to the children, her sweet, frank eyes becoming sad at a quarrel between her little ones, she gently took the baby away from the oldest child, who cried, and went into a corner to pout, regarding his mother with the same impudent air which Zilah had perceived in the curl of Jacquemin's lips when the reporter complained of the dearth of pretty women.
"It is certainly very astonishing that he does not come home," continued the young wife, excusing to Zilah the absence of her Paul. "He often breakfasts, however, in the city, at Brebant's. It seems that it is necessary for him to do so. You see, at the restaurant he talks and hears news. He couldn't learn all that he knows here very well, could he? I don't know much of things that must be put in a newspaper."
And she smiled a little sad smile, making even of her humility a pedestal for the husband so deeply loved and admired.
Zilah was beginning to feel ill at ease. He had come with anger, expecting to encounter the little fop whom he had seen, and he found this humble and devoted woman, who spoke of her Paul as if she were speaking of her religion, and who, knowing nothing of the life of her husband, only loving him, sacrificed herself to him in this almost cruel poverty (a strange contrast to the life of luxury Jacquemin led elsewhere), with the holy trust of her unselfish love.
"Do you never accompany your husband anywhere?" asked Andras.
"I? Oh, never!" she replied, with a sort of fright. "He does not wish it—and he is right. You see, Monsieur, when he married me, five years ago, he was not what he is now; he was a railway clerk. I was a working-girl; yes, I was a seamstress. Then it was all right; we used to walk together, and we went to the theatre; he did not know any one. It is different now. You see, if the Baroness Dinati should see me on his arm, she would not bow to him, perhaps."
"You are mistaken, Madame," said the Hungarian, gently. "You are the one who should be bowed to first."
She did not understand, but she felt that a compliment was intended, and she blushed very red, not daring to say any more, and wondering if she had not chatted too much, as Jacquemin reproached her with doing almost every day.
"Does Monsieur Jacquemin go often to the theatre?" asked Andras, after a moment's pause.
"Yes; he is obliged to do so."
"Sometimes. Not to the first nights, of course. One has to dress handsomely for them. But Paul gives me tickets, oh, as many as I want! When the plays are no longer drawing money, I go with the neighbors. But I prefer to stay at home and see to my babies; when I am sitting in the theatre, and they are left in charge of the concierge, I think, Suppose anything should happen to them! And that idea takes away all my pleasure. Still, if Paul stayed here—but he can not; he has his writing to do in the evenings. Poor fellow, he works so hard! Well!" with a sigh, "I don't think that he will be back to-day. The children will eat his beefsteak, that's all; it won't do them any harm."
As she spoke, she took some pieces of meat from an almost empty cupboard, and placed them on the table, excusing herself for doing so before Zilah.
And he contemplated, with an emotion which every word of the little woman increased, this poor, miserable apartment, where the wife lived, taking care of her children, while the husband, Monsieur Puck or Monsieur Gavroche, paraded at the fancy fairs or at the theatres; figured at the races; tasted the Baroness Dinati's wines, caring only for Johannisberg with the blue and gold seal of 1862; and gave to Potel and Chabot, in his articles, lessons in gastronomy.
Then Madame Jacquemin, feeling instinctively that she had the sympathy of this sad-faced man who spoke to her in such a gentle voice, related her life to him with the easy confidence which poor people, who never see the great world, possess. She told him, with a tender smile, the entirely Parisian idyl of the love of the working-girl for the little clerk who loved her so much and who married her; and of the excursions they used to take together to Saint-Germain, going third-class, and eating their dinner upon the green grass under the trees, and then enjoying the funny doings of the painted clowns, the illuminations, the music, and the dancing. Oh! they danced and danced and danced, until she was so tired that she slept all the way home with her head on his shoulder, dreaming of the happy day they had had.
"That was the best time of my life, Monsieur. We were no richer than we are now; but we were more free. He was with me more, too: now, he certainly makes me very proud with his beautiful articles; but I don't see him; I don't see him any more, and it makes me very sad. Oh! if it were not for that, although we are not millionaires, I should be very happy; yes, entirely, entirely happy."
There was, in the simple, gentle resignation of this poor girl, sacrificed without knowing it, such devoted love for the man who, in reality, abandoned her, that Prince Andras felt deeply moved and touched. He thought of the one leading a life of pleasure, and the other a life of fatigue; of this household touching on one side poverty, and, on the other, wealth and fashion; and he divined, from the innocent words of this young wife, the hardships of this home, half deserted by the husband, and the nervousness and peevishness of Jacquemin returning to this poor place after a night at the restaurants or a ball at Baroness Dinati's. He heard the cutting voice of the elegant little man whom his humble wife contemplated with the eyes of a Hindoo adoring an idol; he was present, in imagination, at those tragically sorrowful scenes which the wife bore with her tender smile, poor woman, knowing of the life of her Paul only those duties of luxury which she herself imagined, remaining a seamstress still to sew the buttons on the shirts and gloves of her husband, and absolutely ignorant of all the entertainments where, in an evening, would sometimes be lost, at a game of cards, the whole monthly salary of Monsieur Puck! And Zilah said to himself, that this was, perhaps, the first time that this woman had ever been brought in contact with anything pertaining to her husband's fashionable life—and in what shape?—that of a man who had come to demand satisfaction for an injury, and to say to Jacquemin: "I shall probably kill you, Monsieur!"
And gradually, before the spectacle of this profound love, of this humble and holy devotion of the unselfish martyr with timid, wistful eyes, who leaned over her children, and said to them, sweetly, "Yes, you are hungry, I know, but you shall have papa's beefsteak," while she herself breakfasted off a little coffee and a crust of bread, Andras Zilah felt all his anger die away; and an immense pity filled his breast, as he saw, as in a vision of what the future might have brought forth, a terrible scene in this poor little household: the pale fair-haired wife, already wasted and worn with constant labor, leaning out of the window yonder, or running to the stairs and seeing, covered with blood, wounded, wounded to death perhaps, her Paul, whom he, Andras, had come to provoke to a duel.
Ah! poor woman! Never would he cause her such anguish and sorrow. Between his sword and Jacquemin's impertinent little person, were now this sad-eyed creature, and those poor little children, who played there, forgotten, half deserted, by their father, and who would grow up, Heaven knows how!
"I see that Monsieur Jacquemin will not return," he said, rising hurriedly, "and I will leave you to your breakfast, Madame."
"Oh! you don't trouble me at all, Monsieur. I beg your pardon again for having given my children their breakfast before you."
"Farewell, Madame," said Andras, bowing with the deepest respect.
"Then, you are really going, Monsieur? Indeed, I am afraid he won't come back. But please tell me what I shall say to him your errand was. If it is some good news, I should be so glad, so glad, to be the first to tell it to him. You are, perhaps, although you say not, the editor of some paper which is about to be started. He spoke to me, the other day, of a new paper. He would like to be a dramatic critic. That is his dream, he says. Is it that, Monsieur?"
"No, Madame; and, to tell you the truth, there is no longer any need for me to see your husband. But I do not regret my visit; on the contrary—I have met a noble woman, and I offer her my deepest respect."
Poor, unhappy girl! She was not used to such words; she blushingly faltered her thanks, and seemed quite grieved at the departure of this man, from whom she had expected some good luck for her husband.
"The life of Paris has its secrets!" thought Zilah, as he slowly descended the stairs, which he had mounted in such a different frame of mind, so short a time before.
When he reached the lower landing, he looked up, and saw the blond head of the young woman, leaning over above, and the little hands of the children clutching the damp railing.
Then Prince Andras Zilah took off his hat, and again bowed low.
On his way from the Rue Rochechouart to his hotel he thought of the thin, pale face of the Parisian grisette, who would slowly pine away, deceived and disdained by the man whose name she bore. Such a fine name! Puck or Gavroche!
"And she would die rather than soil that name. This Jacquemin has found this pearl of great price, and hid it away under the gutters of Paris! And I—I have encountered—what? A miserable woman who betrayed me! Ah! men and women are decidedly the victims of chance; puppets destined to bruise one another!"
On entering his hotel, he found Yanski Varhely there, with an anxious look upon his rugged old face.
And Zilah told his friend what he had seen.
"A droll city, this Paris!" he said, in conclusion. "I see that it is necessary to go up into the garrets to know it well."
He took a sheet of paper, sat down, and wrote as follows:
MONSIEUR:—You have published an article in regard to Prince Andras Zilah, which is an outrage. A devoted friend of the Prince had resolved to make you pay dearly for it; but there is some one who has disarmed him. That some one is the admirable woman who bears so honorably the name which you have given her, and lives so bravely the life you have doomed her to. Madame Jacquemin has redeemed the infamy of Monsieur Puck. But when, in the future, you have to speak of the misfortunes of others, think a little of your own existence, and profit by the moral lesson given you by—AN UNKNOWN.
"Now," said Zilah, "be so kind, my dear Varhely, as to have this note sent to Monsieur Puck, at the office of 'L'Actualite' and ask your domestic to purchase some toys, whatever he likes—here is the money—and take them to Madame Jacquemin, No. 25 Rue Rochechouart. Three toys, because there are three children. The poor little things will have gained so much, at all events, from this occurrence."
CHAPTER XXVI. "AM I AVENGED?"
After this episode, the Prince lived a more solitary existence than before, and troubled himself no further about the outside world. Why should he care, that some penny-aliner had slipped those odious lines into a newspaper? His sorrow was not the publishing of the treachery, it was the treachery itself; and his hourly suffering caused him to long for death to end his torture.
"And yet I must live," he thought, "if to exist with a dagger through one's heart is to live."
Then, to escape from the present, he plunged into the memories of the war, as into a bath of oblivion, a strange oblivion, where he found all his patriotic regrets of other days. He read, with spasmodic eagerness, the books in which Georgei and Klapka, the actors of the drama, presented their excuses, or poured forth their complaints; and it seemed to him that his country would make him forget his love.
In the magnificent picture-gallery, where he spent most of his time, his eyes rested upon the battle-scenes of Matejks, the Polish artist, and the landscapes of Munkacsy, that painter of his own country, who took his name from the town of Munkacs, where tradition says that the Magyars settled when they came from the Orient, ages ago. Then a bitter longing took possession of him to breathe a different air, to fly from Paris, and place a wide distance between himself and Marsa; to take a trip around the world, where new scenes might soften his grief, or, better still, some accident put an end to his life; and, besides, chance might bring him in contact with Menko.
But, just as he was ready to depart, a sort of lassitude overpowered him; he felt the inert sensation of a wounded man who has not the strength to move, and he remained where he was, sadly and bitterly wondering at times if he should not appeal to the courts, dissolve his marriage, and demand back his name from the one who had stolen it.
Appeal to the courts? The idea of doing that was repugnant to him. What! to hear the proud and stainless name of the Zilahs resound, no longer above the clash of sabres and the neighing of furious horses, but within the walls of a courtroom, and in presence of a gaping crowd of sensation seekers? No! silence was better than that; anything was better than publicity and scandal. Divorce! He could obtain that, since Marsa, her mind destroyed, was like one dead. And what would a divorce give him? His freedom? He had it already. But what nothing could give back, was his ruined faith, his shattered hopes, his happiness lost forever.
At times he had a wild desire to see Marsa again, and vent once more upon her his anger and contempt. When he happened to see the name of Maisons-Lafitte, his body tingled from head to foot, as by an electric shock. Maisons! The sunlit garden, the shaded alleys, the glowing parterres of flowers, the old oaks, the white-walled villa, all appeared before him, brutally distinct, like a lost, or rather poisoned, Eden! And, besides, she, Marsa, was no longer there; and the thought that the woman whom he had so passionately loved, with her exquisite, flower-like face, was shut up among maniacs at Vaugirard, caused him the acutest agony. The asylum which was Marsa's prison was so constantly in his mind that he felt the necessity of flight, in order not to allow his weakness to get the bettor of him, lest he should attempt to see Marsa again.
"What a coward I am!" he thought.
One evening he announced to Varhely that he was going to the lonely villa of Sainte-Adresse, where they had so many times together watched the sea and talked of their country.
"I am going there to be alone, my dear Yanski," he said, "but to be with you is to be with myself. I hope that you will accompany me."
"Most certainly," replied Varhely.
The Prince took only one domestic, wishing to live as quietly and primitively as possible; but Varhely, really alarmed at the rapid change in the Prince, and the terrible pallor of his face, followed him, hoping at least to distract him and arouse him from his morbidness by talking over with him the great days of the past, and even, if possible, to interest him in the humble lives of the fishermen about him.
Zilah and his friend, therefore, passed long hours upon the terrace of the villa, watching the sun set at their feet, while the grayish-blue sea was enveloped in a luminous mist, and the fading light was reflected upon the red walls and white blinds of the houses, and tinged with glowing purple the distant hills of Ingouville.
This calm, quiet spot gradually produced upon Andras the salutary effect of a bath after a night of feverish excitement. His reflections became less bitter, and, strange to relate, it was rough old Yanski Varhely, who, by his tenderness and thoughtfulness, led his friend to a more resigned frame of mind.
Very often, after nightfall, would Zilah descend with him to the shore below. The sea lay at their feet a plain of silver, and the moonbeams danced over the waves in broken lines of luminous atoms; boats passed to and fro, their red lights flashing like glowworms; and it seemed to Andras and Varhely, as they approached the sea, receding over the wet, gleaming sands, that they were walking upon quicksilver.
As they strolled and talked together here, it seemed to Andras that this grief was, for the moment, carried away by the fresh, salt breeze; and these two men, in a different manner buffeted by fate, resembled two wounded soldiers who mutually aid one another to advance, and not to fall by the way before the combat is over. Yanski made special efforts to rouse in Andras the old memories of his fatherland, and to inspire in him again his love for Hungary.
"Ah! I used to have so many hopes and dreams for her future," said Andras; "but idealists have no chance in the world of to-day; so now I am a man who expects nothing of life except its ending. And yet I would like to see once again that old stone castle where I grew up, full of hopes! Hopes? Bah! pretty bubbles, that is all!"
One morning they walked along the cliffs, past the low shanties of the fishermen, as far as Havre; and, as they were sauntering through the streets of the city, Varhely grasped the Prince's arm, and pointed to an announcement of a series of concerts to be given at Frascati by a band of Hungarian gipsies.
"There," he said, "you will certainly emerge from your retreat to hear those airs once more."
"Yes," replied Andras, after a moment's hesitation.
That evening found him at the casino; but his wound seemed to open again, and his heart to be grasped as in an iron hand, as he listened to the plaintive cries and moans of the Tzigani music. Had the strings of the bows played these czardas upon his own sinews, laid bare, he would not have trembled more violently. Every note of the well-known airs fell upon his heart like a corrosive tear, and Marsa, in all her dark, tawny beauty, rose before him. The Tzigani played now the waltzes which Marsa used to play; then the slow, sorrowful plaint of the "Song of Plevna;" and then the air of Janos Nemeth's, the heart-breaking melody, to the Prince like the lament of his life: 'The World holds but One Fair Maiden'. And at every note he saw again Marsa, the one love of his existence.
"Let us go!" he said suddenly to Yanski.
But, as they were about to leave the building, they almost ran into a laughing, merry group, led by the little Baroness Dinati, who uttered a cry of delight as she perceived Andras.
"What, you, my dear Prince! Oh, how glad I am to see you!"
And she took his arm, all the clan which accompanied her stopping to greet Prince Zilah.
"We have come from Etretat, and we are going back there immediately. There was a fair at Havre in the Quartier Saint-Francois, and we have eaten up all we could lay our hands on, broken all Aunt Sally's pipes, and purchased all the china horrors and hideous pincushions we could find. They are all over there in the break. We are going to raffle them at Etretat for the poor."
The Prince tried to excuse himself and move on, but the little Baroness held him tight.
"Why don't you come to Etretat? It is charming there. We don't do anything but eat and drink and talk scandal—Oh, yes! Yamada sometimes gives us some music. Come here, Yamada!"
The Japanese approached, in obedience to her call, with his eternal grin upon his queer little face.
"My dear Prince," rattled on the Baroness, "you don't know, perhaps, that Yamada is the most Parisian of Parisians? Upon my word, these Japanese are the Parisians of Asia! Just fancy what he has been doing at Etretat! He has been writing a French operetta!"
"Japanese!" corrected Yamada, with an apologetic bow.
"Oh, Japanese! Parisian Japanese, then! At all events, it is very funny, and the title is Little Moo-Moo! There is a scene on board a flower-decked boat! Oh, it is so amusing, so original, so natural! and a delightful song for Little Moo-Moo!"
Then, as Zilah glanced at Varhely, uneasy, and anxious to get away, the Baroness puckered up her rosy lips and sang the stanzas of the Japanese maestro.
Why, sung by Judic or Theo, it would create a furore! All Paris would be singing.
"Oh, by the way," she cried, suddenly interrupting herself, "what have you done to Jacquemin? Yes, my friend Jacquemin?"
"Jacquemin?" repeated Zilah; and he thought of the garret in the Rue Rochechouart, and the gentle, fairhaired woman, who was probably at this very moment leaning over the cribs of her little children—the children of Monsieur Puck, society reporter of 'L'Actualite'
"Yes! Why, Jacquemin has become a savage; oh, indeed! a regular savage! I wanted to bring him to Etretat; but no, he wouldn't come. It seems that he is married. Jacquemin married! Isn't it funny? He didn't seem like a married man! Poor fellow! Well, when I invited him, he refused; and the other day, when I wanted to know the reason, he answered me (that is why I speak to you about it), 'Ask Prince Zilah'! So, tell me now, what have you done to poor Jacquemin?"
"Nothing," said the Prince.
"Oh, yes, you have; you have changed him! He, who used to go everywhere and be so jolly, now hides himself in his den, and is never seen at all. Just see how disagreeable it is! If he had come with us, he would have written an account in 'L'Actualite' of Little Moo-Moo, and Yamada's operetta would already be celebrated."
"So," continued the Baroness, "when I return to Paris, I am going to hunt him up. A reporter has no right to make a bear of himself!"
"Don't disturb him, if he cares for his home now," said Zilah, gravely. "Nothing can compensate for one's own fireside, if one loves and is loved."
At the first words of the Prince, the Baroness suddenly became serious.
"I beg your pardon," she said, dropping his arm and holding out her tiny hand: "please forgive me for having annoyed you. Oh, yes, I see it! I have annoyed you. But be consoled; we are going at once, and then, you know, that if there is a creature who loves you, respects you, and is devoted to you, it is this little idiot of a Baroness! Goodnight!"
"Good-night'." said Andras, bowing to the Baroness's friends, Yamada and the other Parisian exotics.
Glad to escape, Varhely and the Prince returned home along the seashore. Fragments of the czardas from the illuminated casino reached their ears above the swish of the waves. Andras felt irritated and nervous. Everything recalled to him Marsa, and she seemed to be once more taking possession of his heart, as a vine puts forth fresh tendrils and clings again to the oak after it has been torn away.
"She also suffers!" he said aloud, after they had walked some distance in silence.
"Fortunately!" growled Varhely; and then, as if he wished to efface his harshness, he added, in a voice which trembled a little: "And for that reason she is, perhaps, not unworthy of pardon."
This cry escaped from Zilah in accents of pain which struck Varhely like a knife.
"Pardon before punishing—the other!" exclaimed the Prince, angrily.
The other! Yanski Varhely instinctively clinched his fist, thinking, with rage, of that package of letters which he had held in his hands, and which he might have destroyed if he had known.
It was true: how was pardon possible while Menko lived?
No word more was spoken by either until they reached the villa; then Prince Zilah shook Yanski's hand and retired to his chamber. Lighting his lamp, he took out and read and reread, for the hundredth time perhaps, certain letters—letters not addressed to him—those letters which Varhely had handed him, and with which Michel Menko had practically struck him the day of his marriage.
Andras had kept them, reading them over at times with an eager desire for further suffering, drinking in this species of poison to irritate his mental pain as he would have injected morphine to soothe a physical one. These letters caused him a sensation analogous to that which gives repose to opium-eaters, a cruel shock at first, sharp as the prick of a knife, then, the pain slowly dying away, a heavy stupor.
The whole story was revived in these letters of Marsa to Menko:—all the ignorant, credulous love of the young girl for Michel, then her enthusiasm for love itself, rather than for the object of her love, and then, again—for Menko had reserved nothing, but sent all together—the bitter contempt of Marsa, deceived, for the man who had lied to her.
There were, in these notes, a freshness of sentiment and a youthful credulity which produced the impression of a clear morning in early spring, all the frankness and faith of a mind ignorant of evil and destitute of guile; then, in the later ones, the spontaneous outburst of a heart which believes it has given itself forever, because it thinks it has encountered incorruptible loyalty and undying devotion.
As he read them over, Andras shook with anger against the two who had deceived him; and also, and involuntarily, he felt an indefined, timid pity for the woman who had trusted and been deceived—a pity he immediately drove away, as if he were afraid of himself, afraid of forgiving.
"What did Varhely mean by speaking to me of pardon?" he thought. "Am I yet avenged?"
It was this constant hope that the day would come when justice would be meted out to Menko's treachery. The letters proved conclusively that Menko had been Marsa's lover; but they proved, at the same time, that Michel had taken advantage of her innocence and ignorance, and lied outrageously in representing himself as free, when he was already bound to another woman.
All night long Andras Zilah sat there, inflicting torture upon himself, and taking a bitter delight in his own suffering; engraving upon his memory every word of love written by Marsa to Michel, as if he felt the need of fresh pain to give new strength to his hatred.
The next morning at breakfast, Varhely astonished him by announcing that he was going away.
"No, to Vienna," replied Yanski, who looked somewhat paler than usual.
"What an idea! What are you going to do there, Varhely?"
"Angelo Valla arrived yesterday at Havre. He sent for me to come to his hotel this morning. I have just been there. Valla has given me some information in regard to a matter of interest to myself, which will require my presence at Vienna. So I am going there."
Prince Zilah was intimately acquainted with the Valla of whom Varhely spoke; he had been one of the witnesses of his marriage. Valla was a former minister of Manin; and, since the siege of Venice, he had lived partly in Paris and partly in Florence. He was a man for whom Andras Zilah had the greatest regard.
"When do you go?" asked the Prince of Varhely.
"In an hour. I wish to take the fast mail from Paris this evening."
"Is it so very pressing, then?"
"Very pressing," replied Varhely. "There is another to whose ears the affair may possibly come, and I wish to get the start of him."
"Farewell, then," said Andras, considerably surprised; "come back as soon as you can."
He was astonished at the almost violent pressure of the hand which Varhely gave him, as if he were departing for a very long journey.
"Why didn't Valla come to see me?" he asked. "He is one of the few I am always glad to see."
"He had no time. He had to be away again at once, and he asked me to excuse him to you."
The Prince did not make any further attempt to find out what was the reason of his friend's sudden flight, for Varhely was already descending the steps of the villa.
Andras then felt a profound sensation of loneliness, and he thought again of the woman whom his imagination pictured haggard and wan in the asylum of Vaugirard.
CHAPTER XXVII. "WHAT MATTERS IT HOW MUCH WE SUFFER?"
Two hours after Varhely had gone, a sort of feverish attraction drew Prince Andras to the spot where, the night before, he had listened to the Tzigana airs.
Again, but alone this time, he drank in the accents of the music of his country, and sought to remember the impression produced upon him when Marsa had played this air or that one, this sad song or that czardas. He saw her again as she stood on the deck of the steamer, watching the children on the barge as they threw her kisses of farewell. More troubled than ever, nervous and suffering, Zilah returned home late in the afternoon, opened the desk where he kept Marsa's letters, and one by one, impelled by some inexplicable sentiment, he burned them, the flame of the candle devouring the paper, whose subtle perfume mounted to his nostrils for the last time like a dying sigh, while the wind carried off, through the window into the infinite, the black dust of those fateful letters, those remnants of dead passion and of love betrayed—and the past was swept away.
The sun was slowly descending in an atmosphere of fire, while toward Havre a silvery mist over the hills and shore heralded the approach of chaste Dian's reign. The reflections of the sunset tinged with red and orange the fishing boats floating over the calm sea, while a long fiery streak marked the water on the horizon, growing narrower and narrower, and changing to orange and then to pale yellow as the disk of the sun gradually disappeared, and the night came on, enveloping the now inactive city, and the man who watched the disappearance of the last fragments of a detested love, of the love of another, of a love which had torn and bruised his heart. And, strange to say, for some inexplicable reason, Prince Andras Zilah now regretted the destruction of those odious letters. It seemed to him, with a singular displacement of his personality, that it was something of himself, since it was something of her, that he had destroyed. He had hushed that voice which said to another, "I love you," but which caused him the same thrill as if she had murmured the words for him. They were letters received by his rival which the wind carried out, an impalpable dust, over the sea; and he felt—such folly is the human heart capable of—the bitter regret of a man who has destroyed a little of his past.
The shadows crept over him at the same time that they crept over the sea.
"What matters it how much we suffer, or how much suffering we cause," he murmured, "when, of all our loves, our hearts, ourselves, there remains, after a short lapse of time—what? That!" And he watched the last atom of burned paper float away in the deepening twilight.
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE STRICKEN SOUL
His loneliness now weighed heavily upon Andras. His nerves were shaken by the memories which the czardas of the Tzigani musicians had evoked; and it seemed to him that the place was deserted now that they had departed, and Varhely had gone with them. In the eternal symphony of the sea, the lapping of the waves upon the shingle at the foot of the terrace, one note was now lacking, the resonant note of the czimbalom yonder in the gardens of Frascati. The vibration of the czimbalom was like a call summoning up the image of Marsa, and this image took invincible possession of the Prince, who, with a sort of sorrowful anger which he regarded as hatred, tried in vain to drive it away.
What was the use of remaining at Sainte-Adresse, when the memories he sought to flee came to find him there, and since Marsa's presence haunted it as if she had lived there by his side?
He quitted Havre, and returned to Paris; but the very evening of his return, in the bustle and movement of the Champs-Elysees, the long avenue dotted with lights, the flaming gas-jets of the cafe concerts, the bursts of music, he found again, as if the Tzigana were continually pursuing him, the same phantom; despite the noise of people and carriages upon the asphalt, the echoes of the "Song of Plevna," played quite near him by some Hungarian orchestra, reached him as upon the seashore at Havre; and he hastened back to his hotel, to shut himself up, to hear nothing, see nothing, and escape from the fantastic, haunting pursuit of this inevitable vision.
He could not sleep; fever burned in his blood. He rose, and tried to read; but before the printed page he saw continually Marsa Laszlo, like the spectre of his happiness.
"How cowardly human nature is!" he exclaimed, hurling away the book. "Is it possible that I love her still? Shall I love her forever?"
And he felt intense self-contempt at the temptation which took possession of him to see once more Maisons-Lafitte, where he had experienced the most terrible grief of his life. What was the use of struggling? He had not forgotten, and he never could forget.
If he had been sincere with himself, he would have confessed that he was impelled by his ever-living, ever-present love toward everything which would recall Marsa to him, and that a violent, almost superhuman effort was necessary not to yield to the temptation.
About a week after the Prince's return to Paris, his valet appeared one day with the card of General Vogotzine. It was on Andras's lips to refuse to see him; but, in reality, the General's visit caused him a delight which he would not acknowledge to himself. He was about to hear of hey. He told the valet to admit Vogotzine, hypocritically saying to himself that it was impossible, discourteous, not to receive him.
The old Russian entered, timid and embarrassed, and was not much reassured by Zilah's polite but cold greeting.
The General, who for some extraordinary reason had not had recourse to alcohol to give him courage, took the chair offered him by the Prince. He was a little flushed, not knowing exactly how to begin what he had to say; and, being sober, he was terribly afraid of appearing, like an idiot.
"This is what is the matter," he said, plunging at once in medias res. "Doctor Fargeas, who sent me, might have come himself; but he thought that I, being her uncle, should—"
"You have come to consult me about Marsa," said Andras, unconsciously glad to pronounce her name.
"Yes," began the General, becoming suddenly intimidated, "of—of Marsa. She is very ill-Marsa is. Very ill. Stupor, Fargeas says. She does not say a word-nothing. A regular automaton! It is terrible to see her—terrible—terrible."
He raised his round, uneasy eyes to Andras, who was striving to appear calm, but whose lips twitched nervously.
"It is impossible to rouse her," continued Vogotzine. "The doctors can do nothing. There is no hope except in an—an—an experiment."
"Yes, exactly, exactly—an experiment. You see he—he wanted to know if—(you must pardon me for what I am about to propose; it is Doctor Fargeas's idea)—You see—if—if—she should see—(I suppose—these are not my words)—if she should see you again at Doctor Sims's establishment—the emotion—the—the—Well, I don't know exactly what Doctor Fargeas does hope; but I have repeated to you his words—I am simply, quite simply, his messenger."
"The doctor," said Andras, calmly, "would like—your niece to see me again?"
"Yes, yes; and speak to you. You see, you are the only one for whom—"
The Prince interrupted the General, who instantly became as mute as if he were in the presence of the Czar.
"It is well. But what Doctor Fargeas asks of me will cause me intense suffering."
Vogotzine did not open his lips.
"See her again? He wishes to revive all my sorrow, then!"
Vogotzine waited, motionless as if on parade.
After a moment or two, Andras saying no more, the General thought that he might speak.
"I understand. I knew very well what your answer would be. I told the doctor so; but he replied, 'It is a question of humanity. The Prince will not refuse.'"
Fargeas must have known Prince Zilah's character well when he used the word humanity. The Prince would not have refused his pity to the lowest of human beings; and so, never mind what his sufferings might be, if his presence could do any good, he must obey the doctor.
"When does Doctor Fargeas wish me to go?"
"Whenever you choose. The doctor is just now at Vaugirard, on a visit to his colleague, and—"
"Do not let us keep him waiting!"
Vogotzine's eyes brightened.
"Then you consent? You will go?"
He tried to utter some word of thanks, but Andras cut him short, saying:
"I will order the carriage."
"I have a carriage," said Vogotzine, joyously. "We can go at once."
Zilah was silent during the drive; and Vogotzine gazed steadily out of the window, without saying a word, as the Prince showed no desire to converse.
They stopped before a high house, evidently built in the last century, and which was probably formerly a convent. The General descended heavily from the coupe, rang the bell, and stood aside to let Zilah pass before him.
The Prince's emotion was betrayed in a certain stiffness of demeanor, and in his slow walk, as if every movement cost him an effort. He stroked his moustache mechanically, and glanced about the garden they were crossing, as if he expected to see Marsa at once.
Dr. Fargeas appeared very much pleased to see the Prince, and he thanked him warmly for having come. A thin, light-haired man, with a pensive look and superb eyes, accompanied Fargeas, and the physician introduced him to the Prince as Dr. Sims.
Dr. Sims shared the opinion of his colleague. Having taken the invalid away, and separated her from every thing that could recall the past, the physicians thought, that, by suddenly confronting her with a person so dear to her as Prince Zilah, the shock and emotion might rouse her from her morbid state.
Fargeas explained to the Prince why he had thought it best to transport the invalid from Maisons-Lafitte to Vaugirard, and he thanked him for having approved of his determination.
Zilah noticed that Fargeas, in speaking of Marsa, gave her no name or title. With his usual tact, the doctor had divined the separation; and he did not call Marsa the Princess, but, in tones full of pity, spoke of her as the invalid.
"She is in the garden," said Dr. Sims, when Fargeas had finished speaking. "Will you see her now?"
"Yes," said the Prince, in a voice that trembled slightly, despite his efforts to control it.
"We will take a look at her first; and then, if you will be so kind, show yourself to her suddenly. It is only an experiment we are making. If she does not recognize you, her condition is graver than I think. If she does recognize you, well, I hope that we shall be able to cure her. Come!"
Dr. Sims motioned the Prince to precede them.
"Shall I accompany you, gentlemen?" asked Vogotzine.
"You see, I don't like lunatics; they produce a singular effect upon me; they don't interest me at all. But still, after all, she is my niece!"
And he gave a sharp pull to his frock-coat, as he would have tightened his belt before an assault.
They descended a short flight of steps, and found themselves in a large garden, with trees a century old, beneath which were several men and women walking about or sitting in chairs.
A large, new building, one story high, appeared at one end of the garden; in this were the dormitories of Dr. Sims's patients.
"Are those people insane?" asked Zilah, pointing to the peaceful groups.
"Yes," said Dr. Sims; "it requires a stretch of the imagination to believe it, does it not? You can speak to them as we pass by. All these here are harmless."
"Shall we cross the garden?"
"Our invalid is below there, in another garden, behind that house."
As he passed by, Zilah glanced curiously at these poor beings, who bowed, or exchanged a few words with the two physicians. It seemed to him that they had the happy look of people who had reached the desired goal. Vogotzine, coughing nervously, kept close to the Prince and felt very ill at ease. Andras, on the contrary, found great difficulty in realizing that he was really among lunatics.
"See," said Dr. Sims, pointing out an old gentleman, dressed in the style of 1840, like an old-fashioned lithograph of a beau of the time of Gavarni, "that man has been more than thirty-five years in the institution. He will not change the cut of his garments, and he is very careful to have his tailor make his clothes in the same style he dressed when he was young. He is very happy. He thinks that he is the enchanter Merlin, and he listens to Vivian, who makes appointments with him under the trees."
As they passed the old man, his neck imprisoned in a high stock, his surtout cut long and very tight in the waist, and his trousers very full about the hips and very close about the ankles, he bowed politely.
"Good-morning, Doctor Sims! Good-morning, Doctor Fargeas!"
Then, as the director of the establishment approached to speak, he placed a finger upon his lips:
"Hush," he said. "She is there! Don't speak, or she will go away." And he pointed with a sort of passionate veneration to an elm where Vivian was shut up, and whence she would shortly emerge.
"Poor devil!" murmured Vogotzine.
This was not what Zilah thought, however. He wondered if this happy hallucination which had lasted so many years, these eternal love-scenes with Vivian, love-scenes which never grew stale, despite the years and the wrinkles, were not the ideal form of happiness for a being condemned to this earth. This poetical monomaniac lived with his dreams realized, finding, in an asylum of Vaugirard, all the fascinations and chimeras of the Breton land of golden blossoms and pink heather, all the intoxicating, languorous charm of the forest of Broceliande.
"He has within his grasp what Shakespeare was content only to dream of. Insanity is, perhaps, simply the ideal realized:"
"Ah!" replied Dr. Fargeas, "but the real never loses its grip. Why does this monomaniac preserve both the garments of his youth, which prevent him from feeling his age, and the dream of his life, which consoles him for his lost reason? Because he is rich. He can pay the tailor who dresses him, the rent of the pavilion he inhabits by himself, and the special servants who serve him. If he were poor, he would suffer."
"Then," said Zilah, "the question of bread comes up everywhere, even in insanity."
"And money is perhaps happiness, since it allows of the purchase of happiness."
"Oh!" said the Prince, "for me, happiness would be—"
And he followed with his eyes Vivian's lover, who now had his ear glued to the trunk of the tree, and was listening to the voice which spoke only to him.
"That man yonder," said Dr. Sims, indicating a man, still young, who was coming toward them, "is a talented writer whose novels you have doubtless read, and who has lost all idea of his own personality. Once a great reader, he now holds all literature in intense disgust; from having written so much, he has grown to have a perfect horror of words and letters, and he never opens either a book or a newspaper. He drinks in the fresh air, cultivates flowers, and watches the trains pass at the foot of the garden."
"Is he happy?" asked Andras.
"Yes, he has drunk of the waters of Lethe," rejoined the Prince.
"I will not tell you his name," whispered Dr. Sims, as the man, a thin, dark-haired, delicate-featured fellow, approached them; "but, if you should speak to him and chance to mention his name, he would respond 'Ah! yes, I knew him. He was a man of talent, much talent.' There is nothing left to him of his former life."
And Zilah thought again that it was a fortunate lot to be attacked by one of these cerebral maladies where the entire being, with its burden of sorrows, is plunged into the deep, dark gulf of oblivion.
The novelist stopped before the two physicians.
"The mid-day train was three minutes and a half late," he said, quietly: "I mention the fact to you, doctor, that you may have it attended to. It is a very serious thing; for I am in the habit of setting my watch by that train."
"I will see to it," replied Dr. Sims. "By the way, do you want any books?"
In the same quiet tone the other responded:
"What is the use of that?"
"Or any newspapers? To know—"
"To know what?" he interrupted, speaking with extreme volubility. "No, indeed! It is so good to know nothing, nothing, nothing! Do the newspapers announce that there are no more wars, no more poverty, illness, murders, envy, hatred or jealousy? No! The newspapers do not announce that. Then, why should I read the newspapers? Good-day, gentlemen."
The Prince shuddered at the bitter logic of this madman, speaking with the shrill distinctness of the insane. But Vogotzine smiled.
"Why, these idiots have rather good sense, after all," he remarked.
When they reached the end of the garden, Dr. Sims opened a gate which separated the male from the female patients, and Andras perceived several women walking about in the alleys, some of them alone, and some accompanied by attendants. In the distance, separated from the garden by a ditch and a high wall, was the railway.
Zilah caught his breath as he entered the enclosure, where doubtless among the female forms before him was that of the one he had loved. He turned to Dr. Sims with anxious eyes, and asked:
"Is she here?"
"She is here," replied the doctor.
The Prince hesitated to advance. He had not seen her since the day he had felt tempted to kill her as she lay in her white robes at his feet. He wondered if it were not better to retrace his steps and depart hastily without seeing her.
"This way," said Fargeas. "We can see through the bushes without being seen, can we not, Sims?"
Zilah resigned himself to his fate; and followed the physicians without saying a word; he could hear the panting respiration of Vogotzine trudging along behind him. All at once the Prince felt a sensation as of a heavy hand resting upon his heart. Fargeas had exclaimed:
"There she is!"
He pointed, through the branches of the lilac-bushes, to two women who were approaching with slow steps, one a light-haired woman in a nurse's dress, and the other in black garments, as if in mourning for her own life, Marsa herself.
Marsa! She was coming toward Zilah; in a moment, he would be able to touch her, if he wished, through the leaves! Even Vogotzine held his breath.
Zilah eagerly questioned Marsa's face, as if to read thereon a secret, to decipher a name—Menko's or his own. Her exquisite, delicate features had the rigidity of marble; her dark eyes were staring straight ahead, like two spots of light, where nothing, nothing was reflected. Zilah shuddered again; she alarmed him.
Alarm and pity! He longed to thrust aside the bushes, and hasten with extended arms toward the pale vision before him. It was as if the moving spectre of his love were passing by. But, with a strong effort of will, he remained motionless where he was.
Old Vogotzine seemed very ill at ease. Dr. Fargeas was very calm; and, after a questioning glance at his colleague, he said distinctly to the Prince:
"Now you must show yourself!"
The physician's order, far from displeasing Zilah, was like music in his ears. He was beginning to doubt, if, after all, Fargeas intended to attempt the experiment. He longed, with keen desire, to speak to Marsa; to know if his look, his breath, like a puff of wind over dying ashes, would not rekindle a spark of life in those dull, glassy eyes.
What was she thinking of, if she thought at all? What memory vacillated to and fro in that vacant brain? The memory of himself, or of—the other? He must know, he must know!
"This way," said Dr. Sims. "We will go to the end of the alley, and meet her face to face."
"Courage!" whispered Fargeas.
Zilah followed; and, in a few steps, they reached the end of the alley, and stood beneath a clump of leafy trees. The Prince saw, coming to him, with a slow but not heavy step, Marsa—no, another Marsa, the spectre or statue of Marsa.
Fargeas made a sign to Vogotzine, and the Russian and the two doctors concealed themselves behind the trees.
Zilah, trembling with emotion, remained alone in the middle of the walk.
The nurse who attended Marsa, had doubtless received instructions from Dr. Sims; for, as she perceived the Prince, she fell back two or three paces, and allowed Marsa to go on alone.
Lost in her stupor, the Tzigana advanced, her dark hair ruffled by the wind; and, still beautiful although so thin, she moved on, without seeing anything, her lips closed as if sealed by death, until she was not three feet from Zilah.
He stood waiting, his blue eyes devouring her with a look, in which there were mingled love, pity, and anger. When the Tzigana reached him, and nearly ran into him in her slow walk, she stopped suddenly, like an automaton. The instinct of an obstacle before her arrested her, and she stood still, neither recoiling nor advancing.
A few steps away, Dr. Fargeas and Dr. Sims studied her stony look, in which there was as yet neither thought nor vision.
Still enveloped in her stupor, she stood there, her eyes riveted upon Andras. Suddenly, as if an invisible knife had been plunged into her heart, she started back. Her pale marble face became transfigured, and an expression of wild terror swept across her features; shaking with a nervous trembling, she tried to call out, and a shrill cry, which rent the air, burst from her lips, half open, like those of a tragic mask. Her two arms were stretched out with the hands clasped; and, falling upon her knees, she—whose light of reason had been extinguished, who for so many days had only murmured the sad, singing refrain: "I do not know; I do not know!"—faltered, in a voice broken with sobs: "Forgive! Forgive!"
Then her face became livid, and she would have fallen back unconscious if Zilah had not stooped over and caught her in his arms.
Dr. Sims hastened forward, and, aided by the nurse, relieved him of his burden.
Poor Vogotzine was as purple as if he had had a stroke of apoplexy.
"But, gentlemen," said the Prince, his eyes burning with hot tears, "it will be horrible if we have killed her!"
"No, no," responded Fargeas; "we have only killed her stupor. Now leave her to us. Am I not right, my dear Sims? She can and must be cured!"
CHAPTER XXIX. "LET THE DEAD PAST BURY ITS DEAD"
Prince Andras had heard no news of Varhely for a long time. He only knew that the Count was in Vienna.
Yanski had told the truth when he said that he had been summoned away by his friend, Angelo Valla.
They were very much astonished, at the Austrian ministry of foreign affairs, to see Count Yanski Varhely, who, doubtless, had come from Paris to ask some favor of the minister. The Austrian diplomats smiled as they heard the name of the old soldier of '48 and '49. So, the famous fusion of parties proclaimed in 1875 continued! Every day some sulker of former times rallied to the standard. Here was this Varhely, who, at one time, if he had set foot in Austria-Hungary, would have been speedily cast into the Charles barracks, the jail of political prisoners, now sending in his card to the minister of the Emperor; and doubtless the minister and the old commander of hussars would, some evening, together pledge the new star of Hungary, in a beaker of rosy Crement!
"These are queer days we live in!" thought the Austrian diplomats.
The minister, of whom Yanski Varhely demanded an audience, his Excellency Count Josef Ladany, had formerly commanded a legion of Magyar students, greatly feared by the grenadiers of Paskiewisch, in Hungary. The soldiers of Josef Ladany, after threatening to march upon Vienna, had many times held in check the grenadiers and Cossacks of the field-marshal. Spirited and enthusiastic, his fair hair floating above his youthful forehead like an aureole, Ladany made war like a patriot and a poet, reciting the verses of Petoefi about the camp-fires, and setting out for battle as for a ball. He was magnificent (Varhely remembered him well) at the head of his students, and his floating, yellow moustaches had caused the heart of more than one little Hungarian patriot to beat more quickly.
Varhely would experience real pleasure in meeting once more his old companion in arms. He remembered one afternoon in the vineyards, when his hussars, despite the obstacles of the vines and the irregular ground, had extricated Ladany's legion from the attack of two regiments of Russian infantry. Joseph Ladany was standing erect upon one of his cannon for which the gunners had no more ammunition, and, with drawn sabre, was rallying his companions, who were beginning to give way before the enemy. Ah, brave Ladany! With what pleasure would Varhely grasp his hand!
The former leader had doubtless aged terribly—he must be a man of fifty-five or fifty-six, to-day; but Varhely was sure that Joseph Ladany, now become minister, had preserved his generous, ardent nature of other days.
As he crossed the antechambers and lofty halls which led to the minister's office, Varhely still saw, in his mind's eye, Ladany, sabre in hand, astride of the smoking cannon.
An usher introduced him into a large, severe-looking room, with a lofty chimney-piece, above which hung a picture of the Emperor-King in full military uniform. Varhely at first perceived only some large armchairs, and an enormous desk covered with books; but, in a moment, from behind the mass of volumes, a man emerged, smiling, and with outstretched hand: the old hussar was amazed to find himself in the presence of a species of English diplomat, bald, with long, gray side-whiskers and shaven lip and chin, and scrupulously well dressed.
Yanski's astonishment was so evident that Josef Ladany said, still smiling:
"Well, don't you recognize me, my dear Count?" His voice was pleasant, and his manner charming; but there was something cold and politic in his whole appearance which absolutely stupefied Varhely. If he had seen him pass in the street, he would never have recognized, in this elegant personage, the young man, with yellow hair and long moustaches, who sang war songs as he sabred the enemy.
And yet it was indeed Ladany; it was the same clear eye which had once commanded his legion with a single look; but the eye was often veiled now beneath a lowered eyelid, and only now and then did a glance shoot forth which seemed to penetrate a man's most secret thoughts. The soldier had become the diplomat.
"I had forgotten that thirty years have passed!" thought Varhely, a little saddened.
Count Ladany made his old comrade sit down in one of the armchairs, and questioned him smilingly as to his life, his friendships, Paris, Prince Zilah, and led him gradually and gracefully to confide what he, Varhely, had come to ask of the minister of the Emperor of Austria.
Varhely felt more reassured. Josef Ladany seemed to him to have remained morally the same. The moustache had been cut off, the yellow hair had fallen; but the heart was still young and without doubt Hungarian.
"You can," he said, abruptly, "render me a service, a great service. I have never before asked anything of anybody; but I have taken this journey expressly to see you, and to ask you, to beg you rather, to—"
"Go on, my dear Count. What you desire will be realized, I hope."
But his tone had already become colder, or perhaps simply more official.
"Well," continued Varhely, "what I have come to ask of you is; in memory of the time when we were brothers in arms" (the minister started slightly, and stroked his whiskers a little nervously), "the liberty of a certain man, of a man whom you know."
"Ah! indeed!" said Count Josef.
He leaned back in his chair, crossed one leg over the other, and, through his half-opened eyelids, examined Varhely, who looked him boldly in the face.
The contrast between these two men was striking; the soldier with his hair and moustache whitened in the harness, and the elegant government official with his polished manners; two old-time companions who had heard the whistling of the same balls.
"This is my errand," said Varhely. "I have the greatest desire that one of our compatriots, now a prisoner in Warsaw, I think—at all events, arrested at Warsaw a short time ago—should be set at liberty. It is of the utmost importance to me," he added, his lips turning almost as white as his moustache.
"Oh!" said the minister. "I fancy I know whom you mean."
"Exactly! Menko was arrested by the Russian police on his arrival at the house of a certain Labanoff, or Ladanoff—almost my name in Russian. This Labanoff, who had lately arrived from Paris, is suspected of a plot against the Czar. He is not a nihilist, but simply a malcontent; and, besides that, his brain is not altogether right. In short, Count Menko is connected in some way, I don't know how, with this Labanoff. He went to Poland to join him, and the Russian police seized him. I think myself that they were quite right in their action."
"Possibly," said Varhely; "but I do not care to discuss the right of the Russian police to defend themselves or the Czar. What I have come for is to ask you to use your influence with the Russian Government to obtain Menko's release."