So simple and so true was he in his regrets and in his pain, she found him worthy of sympathy. She said to him, softly:
"My friend, I never had reason to complain of you."
"All I have said to you is true. I understood this when I was alone in my boat. I have spent hours on it to which I would not condemn my worst enemy. Often I felt like throwing myself into the water. I did not do it. Was it because I have religious principles or family sentiments, or because I have no courage? I do not know. The reason is, perhaps, that from a distance you held me to life. I was attracted by you, since I am here. For two days I have been watching you. I did not wish to reappear at your house. I should not have found you alone; I should not have been able to talk to you. And then you would have been forced to receive me. I thought it better to speak to you in the street. The idea came to me on the boat. I said to myself: 'In the street she will listen to me only if she wishes, as she wished four years ago in the park of Joinville, you know, under the statues, near the crown.'"
He continued, with a sigh:
"Yes, as at Joinville, since all is to be begun again. For two days I have been watching you. Yesterday it was raining; you went out in a carriage. I might have followed you and learned where you were going if I wished to do it. I did not do it. I do not wish to do what would displease you."
She extended her hand to him.
"I thank you. I knew I should not regret the trust I have placed in you."
Alarmed, impatient, fearing what more he might say, she tried to escape him.
"Farewell! You have all life before you. You should be happy. Appreciate it, and do not torment yourself about things that are not worth the trouble."
He stopped her with a look. His face had changed to the violent and resolute expression which she knew.
"I have told you I must speak to you. Listen to me for a minute."
She was thinking of Jacques, who was waiting for her. An occasional passer-by looked at her and went on his way. She stopped under the black branches of a tree, and waited with pity and fright in her soul.
"I forgive you and forget everything. Take me back. I will promise never to say a word of the past."
She shuddered, and made a movement of surprise and distaste so natural that he stopped. Then, after a moment of reflection:
"My proposition to you is not an ordinary one, I know it well. But I have reflected. I have thought of everything. It is the only possible thing. Think of it, Therese, and do not reply at once."
"It would be wrong to deceive you. I can not, I will not do what you say; and you know the reason why."
A cab was passing slowly near them. She made a sign to the coachman to stop. Le Menil kept her a moment longer.
"I knew you would say this to me, and that is the reason why I say to you, do not reply at once."
Her fingers on the handle of the door, she turned on him the glance of her gray eyes.
It was a painful moment for him. He recalled the time when he saw those charming gray eyes gleam under half-closed lids. He smothered a sob, and murmured:
"Listen; I can not live without you. I love you. It is now that I love you. Formerly I did not know."
And while she gave to the coachman, haphazard, the address of a tailor, Le Menil went away.
The meeting gave her much uneasiness and anxiety. Since she was forced to meet him again, she would have preferred to see him violent and brutal, as he had been at Florence. At the corner of the avenue she said to the coachman:
"To the Ternes."
CHAPTER XXXII. THE RED LILY
It was Friday, at the opera. The curtain had fallen on Faust's laboratory. From the orchestra, opera-glasses were raised in a surveying of the gold and purple theatre. The sombre drapery of the boxes framed the dazzling heads and bare shoulders of women. The amphitheatre bent above the parquette its garland of diamonds, hair, gauze, and satin. In the proscenium boxes were the wife of the Austrian Ambassador and the Duchess Gladwin; in the amphitheatre Berthe d'Osigny and Jane Tulle, the latter made famous the day before by the suicide of one of her lovers; in the boxes, Madame Berard de La Malle, her eyes lowered, her long eyelashes shading her pure cheeks; Princess Seniavine, who, looking superb, concealed under her fan panther—like yawnings; Madame de Morlaine, between two young women whom she was training in the elegances of the mind; Madame Meillan, resting assured on thirty years of sovereign beauty; Madame Berthier d'Eyzelles, erect under iron-gray hair sparkling with diamonds. The bloom of her cheeks heightened the austere dignity of her attitude. She was attracting much notice. It had been learned in the morning that, after the failure of Garain's latest combination, M. Berthier-d'Eyzelles had, undertaken the task of forming a Ministry. The papers published lists with the name of Martin-Belleme for the treasury, and the opera-glasses were turned toward the still empty box of the Countess Martin.
A murmur of voices filled the hall. In the third rank of the parquette, General Lariviere, standing at his place, was talking with General de La Briche.
"I will do as you do, my old comrade, I will go and plant cabbages in Touraine."
He was in one of his moments of melancholy, when nothingness appeared to him to be the end of life. He had flattered Garain, and Garain, thinking him too clever, had preferred for Minister of War a shortsighted and national artillery general. At least, the General relished the pleasure of seeing Garain abandoned, betrayed by his friends Berthier-d'Eyzelles and Martin-Belleme. It made him laugh even to the wrinkles of his small eyes. He laughed in profile. Weary of a long life of dissimulation, he gave to himself suddenly the joy of expressing his thoughts.
"You see, my good La Briche, they make fools of us with their civil army, which costs a great deal, and is worth nothing. Small armies are the only good ones. This was the opinion of Napoleon I, who knew."
"It is true, it is very true," sighed General de La Briche, with tears in his eyes.
Montessuy passed before them; Lariviere extended his hand to him.
"They say, Montessuy, that you are the one who checked Garain. Accept my compliments."
Montessuy denied that he had exercised any political influence. He was not a senator nor a deputy, nor a councillor-general. And, looking through his glasses at the hall:
"See, Lariviere, in that box at the right, a very beautiful woman, a brunette."
And he took his seat quietly, relishing the sweets of power.
However, in the hall, in the corridors, the names of the new Ministers went from mouth to mouth in the midst of profound indifference: President of the Council and Minister of the Interior, Berthier-d'Eyzelles; justice and Religions, Loyer; Treasury, Martin-Belleme. All the ministers were known except those of Commerce, War, and the Navy, who were not yet designated.
The curtain was raised on the wine-shop of Bacchus. The students were singing their second chorus when Madame Martin appeared in her box. Her white gown had sleeves like wings, and on the drapery of her corsage, at the left breast, shone a large ruby lily.
Miss Bell sat near her, in a green velvet Queen Anne gown. Betrothed to Prince Eusebio Albertinelli della Spina, she had come to Paris to order her trousseau.
In the movement and the noise of the kermess she said:
"Darling, you have left at Florence a friend who retains the charm of your memory. It is Professor Arrighi. He reserves for you the praise-which he says is the most beautiful. He says you are a musical creature. But how could Professor Arrighi forget you, darling, since the trees in the garden have not forgotten you? Their unleaved branches lament your absence. Even they regret you, darling."
"Tell them," said Therese, "that I have of Fiesole a delightful reminiscence, which I shall always keep."
In the rear of the opera-box M. Martin-Belleme was explaining in a low voice his ideas to Joseph Springer and to Duviquet. He was saying: "France's signature is the best in the world." He was inclined to prudence in financial matters.
And Miss Bell said:
"Darling, I will tell the trees of Fiesole that you regret them and that you will soon come to visit them on their hills. But I ask you, do you see Monsieur Dechartre in Paris? I should like to see him very much. I like him because his mind is graceful. Darling, the mind of Monsieur Dechartre is full of grace and elegance."
Therese replied M. Jacques Dechartre was doubtless in the theatre, and that he would not fail to come and salute Miss Bell.
The curtain fell on the gayety of the waltz scene. Visitors crowded the foyers. Financiers, artists, deputies met in the anteroom adjoining the box. They surrounded M. Martin-Belleme, murmured polite congratulations, made graceful gestures to him, and crowded one another in order to shake his hand. Joseph Schmoll, coughing, complaining, blind and deaf, made his way through the throng and reached Madame Martin. He took her hand and said:
"They say your husband is appointed Minister. Is it true?"
She knew they were talking of it, but she did not think he had been appointed yet. Her husband was there, why not ask him?
Sensitive to literal truths only, Schmoll said:
"Your husband is not yet a Minister? When he is appointed, I will ask you for an interview. It is an affair of the highest importance."
He paused, throwing from his gold spectacles the glances of a blind man and of a visionary, which kept him, despite the brutal exactitude of his temperament, in a sort of mystical state of mind. He asked, brusquely:
"Were you in Italy this year, Madame?"
And, without giving her time to answer:
"I know, I know. You went to Rome. You have looked at the arch of the infamous Titus, that execrable monument, where one may see the seven-branched candlestick among the spoils of the Jews. Well, Madame, it is a shame to the world that that monument remains standing in the city of Rome, where the Popes have subsisted only through the art of the Jews, financiers and money-changers. The Jews brought to Italy the science of Greece and of the Orient. The Renaissance, Madame, is the work of Israel. That is the truth, certain but misunderstood."
And he went through the crowd of visitors, crushing hats as he passed.
Princess Seniavine looked at her friend from her box with the curiosity that the beauty of women at times excited in her. She made a sign to Paul Vence who was near her:
"Do you not think Madame Martin is extraordinarily beautiful this year?"
In the lobby, full of light and gold, General de La Briche asked Lariviere:
"Did you see my nephew?"
"Your nephew, Le Menil?"
"Yes—Robert. He was in the theatre a moment ago."
La Briche remained pensive for a moment. Then he said:
"He came this summer to Semanville. I thought him odd. A charming fellow, frank and intelligent. But he ought to have some occupation, some aim in life."
The bell which announced the end of an intermission between the acts had hushed. In the foyer the two old men were walking alone.
"An aim in life," repeated La Briche, tall, thin, and bent, while his companion, lightened and rejuvenated, hastened within, fearing to miss a scene.
Marguerite, in the garden, was spinning and singing. When she had finished, Miss Bell said to Madame Martin:
"Darling, Monsieur Choulette has written me a perfectly beautiful letter. He has told me that he is very celebrated. And I am glad to know it. He said also: 'The glory of other poets reposes in myrrh and aromatic plants. Mine bleeds and moans under a rain of stones and of oyster-shells.' Do the French, my love, really throw stones at Monsieur Choulette?"
While Therese reassured Miss Bell, Loyer, imperious and somewhat noisy, caused the door of the box to be opened. He appeared wet and spattered with mud.
"I come from the Elysee," he said.
He had the gallantry to announce to Madame Martin, first, the good news he was bringing:
"The decrees are signed. Your husband has the Finances. It is a good portfolio."
"The President of the Republic," inquired M. Martin—Belleme, "made no objection when my name was pronounced?"
"No; Berthier praised the hereditary property of the Martins, your caution, and the links with which you are attached to certain personalities in the financial world whose concurrence may be useful to the government. And the President, in accordance with Garain's happy expression, was inspired by the necessities of the situation. He has signed."
On Count Martin's yellowed face two or three wrinkles appeared. He was smiling.
"The decree," continued Loyer, "will be published tomorrow. I accompanied myself the clerk who took it to the printer. It was surer. In Grevy's time, and Grevy was not an idiot, decrees were intercepted in the journey from the Elysee to the Quai Voltaire."
And Loyer threw himself on a chair. There, enjoying the view of Madame Martin, he continued:
"People will not say, as they did in the time of my poor friend Gambetta, that the republic is lacking in women. You will give us fine festivals, Madame, in the salons of the Ministry."
Marguerite, looking at herself in the mirror, with her necklace and earrings, was singing the jewel song.
"We shall have to compose the declaration," said Count Martin. "I have thought of it. For my department I have found, I think, a fine formula."
Loyer shrugged his shoulders.
"My dear Martin, we have nothing essential to change in the declaration of the preceding Cabinet; the situation is unchanged."
He struck his forehead with his hand.
"Oh, I had forgotten. We have made your friend, old Lariviere, Minister of War, without consulting him. I have to warn him."
He thought he could find him in the boulevard cafe, where military men go. But Count Martin knew the General was in the theatre.
"I must find him," said Loyer.
Bowing to Therese, he said:
"You permit me, Countess, to take your husband?"
They had just gone out when Jacques Dechartre and Paul Vence came into the box.
"I congratulate you, Madame," said Paul Vence.
But she turned toward Dechartre:
"I hope you have not come to congratulate me, too."
Paul Vence asked her if she would move into the apartments of the Ministry.
"Oh, no," she replied.
"At least, Madame," said Paul Vence, "you will go to the balls at the Elysees, and we shall admire the art with which you retain your mysterious charm."
"Changes in cabinets," said Madame Martin, "inspire you, Monsieur Vence, with very frivolous reflections."
"Madame," continued Paul Vence, "I shall not say like Renan, my beloved master: 'What does Sirius care?' because somebody would reply with reason 'What does little Earth care for big Sirius?' But I am always surprised when people who are adult, and even old, let themselves be deluded by the illusion of power, as if hunger, love, and death, all the ignoble or sublime necessities of life, did not exercise on men an empire too sovereign to leave them anything other than power written on paper and an empire of words. And, what is still more marvellous, people imagine they have other chiefs of state and other ministers than their miseries, their desires, and their imbecility. He was a wise man who said: 'Let us give to men irony and pity as witnesses and judges.'"
"But, Monsieur Vence," said Madame Martin, laughingly, "you are the man who wrote that. I read it."
The two Ministers looked vainly in the theatre and in the corridors for the General. On the advice of the ushers, they went behind the scenes.
Two ballet-dancers were standing sadly, with a foot on the bar placed against the wall. Here and there men in evening dress and women in gauze formed groups almost silent.
Loyer and Martin-Belleme, when they entered, took off their hats. They saw, in the rear of the hall, Lariviere with a pretty girl whose pink tunic, held by a gold belt, was open at the hips.
She held in her hand a gilt pasteboard cup. When they were near her, they heard her say to the General:
"You are old, to be sure, but I think you do as much as he does."
And she was pointing disdainfully to a grinning young man, with a gardenia in his button-hole, who stood near them.
Loyer motioned to the General that he wished to speak to him, and, pushing him against the bar, said:
"I have the pleasure to announce to you that you have been appointed Minister of War."
Lariviere, distrustful, said nothing. That badly dressed man with long hair, who, under his dusty coat, resembled a clown, inspired so little confidence in him that he suspected a snare, perhaps a bad joke.
"Monsieur Loyer is Keeper of the Seals," said Count Martin.
"General, you cannot refuse," Loyer said. "I have said you will accept. If you hesitate, it will be favoring the offensive return of Garain. He is a traitor."
"My dear colleague, you exaggerate," said Count Martin; "but Garain, perhaps, is lacking a little in frankness. And the General's support is urgent."
"The Fatherland before everything," replied Lariviere with emotion.
"You know, General," continued Loyer, "the existing laws are to be applied with moderation."
He looked at the two dancers who were extending their short and muscular legs on the bar.
"The army's patriotism is excellent; the good-will of the chiefs is at the height of the most critical circumstances."
Loyer tapped his shoulder.
"My dear colleague, there is some use in having big armies."
"I believe as you do," replied Lariviere; "the present army fills the superior necessities of national defence."
"The use of big armies," continued Loyer, "is to make war impossible. One would be crazy to engage in a war these immeasurable forces, the management of which surpasses all human faculty. Is not this your opinion, General?"
General Lariviere winked.
"The situation," he said, "exacts circumspection. We are facing a perilous unknown."
Then Loyer, looking at his war colleague with cynical contempt, said:
"In the very improbable case of a war, don't you think, my dear colleague, that the real generals would be the station-masters?"
The three Ministers went out by the private stairway. The President of the Council was waiting for them.
The last act had begun; Madame Martin had in her box only Dechartre and Miss Bell. Miss Bell was saying:
"I rejoice, darling, I am exalted, at the thought that you wear on your heart the red lily of Florence. Monsieur Dechartre, whose soul is artistic, must be very glad, too, to see at your corsage that charming jewel.
"I should like to know the jeweller that made it, darling. This lily is lithe and supple like an iris. Oh, it is elegant, magnificent, and cruel. Have you noticed, my love, that beautiful jewels have an air of magnificent cruelty?"
"My jeweller," said Therese, "is here, and you have named him; it is Monsieur Dechartre who designed this jewel."
The door of the box was opened. Therese half turned her head and saw in the shadow Le Menil, who was bowing to her with his brusque suppleness.
"Transmit, I pray you, Madame, my congratulations to your husband."
He complimented her on her fine appearance. He spoke to Miss Bell a few courteous and precise words.
Therese listened anxiously, her mouth half open in the painful effort to say insignificant things in reply. He asked her whether she had had a good season at Joinville. He would have liked to go in the hunting time, but could not. He had gone to the Mediterranean, then he had hunted at Semanville.
"Oh, Monsieur Le Menil," said Miss Bell, "you have wandered on the blue sea. Have you seen sirens?"
No, he had not seen sirens, but for three days a dolphin had swum in the yacht's wake.
Miss Bell asked him if that dolphin liked music.
He thought not.
"Dolphins," he said, "are very ordinary fish that sailors call sea-geese, because they have goose-shaped heads."
But Miss Bell would not believe that the monster which had earned the poet Arion had a goose-shaped head.
"Monsieur Le Menil, if next year a dolphin comes to swim near your boat, I pray you play to him on the flute the Delphic Hymn to Apollo. Do you like the sea, Monsieur Le Menil?"
"I prefer the woods."
Self-contained, simple, he talked quietly.
"Oh, Monsieur Le Menil, I know you like woods where the hares dance in the moonlight."
Dechartre, pale, rose and went out.
The church scene was on. Marguerite, kneeling, was wringing her hands, and her head drooped with the weight of her long tresses. The voices of the organ and the chorus sang the death-song.
"Oh, darling, do you know that that death-song, which is sung only in the Catholic churches, comes from a Franciscan hermitage? It sounds like the wind which blows in winter in the trees on the summit of the Alverno."
Therese did not hear. Her soul had followed Dechartre through the door of her box.
In the anteroom was a noise of overthrown chairs. It was Schmoll coming back. He had learned that M. Martin-Belleme had recently been appointed Minister. At once he claimed the cross of Commander of the Legion of Honor and a larger apartment at the Institute. His apartment was small, narrow, insufficient for his wife and his five daughters. He had been forced to put his workshop under the roof. He made long complaints, and consented to go only after Madame Martin had promised that she would speak to her husband.
"Monsieur Le Menil," asked Miss Bell, "shall you go yachting next year?"
Le Menil thought not. He did not intend to keep the Rosebud. The water was tiresome.
And calm, energetic, determined, he looked at Therese.
On the stage, in Marguerite's prison, Mephistopheles sang, and the orchestra imitated the gallop of horses. Therese murmured:
"I have a headache. It is too warm here."
Le Menil opened the door.
The clear phrase of Marguerite calling the angels ascended to heaven in white sparks.
"Darling, I will tell you that poor Marguerite does not wish to be saved according to the flesh, and for that reason she is saved in spirit and in truth. I believe one thing, darling, I believe firmly we shall all be saved. Oh, yes, I believe in the final purification of sinners."
Therese rose, tall and white, with the red flower at her breast. Miss Bell, immovable, listened to the music. Le Menil, in the anteroom, took Madame Martin's cloak, and, while he held it unfolded, she traversed the box, the anteroom, and stopped before the mirror of the half-open door. He placed on her bare shoulders the cape of red velvet embroidered with gold and lined with ermine, and said, in a low tone, but distinctly:
"Therese, I love you. Remember what I asked you the day before yesterday. I shall be every day, at three o'clock, at our home, in the Rue Spontini."
At this moment, as she made a motion with her head to receive the cloak, she saw Dechartre with his hand on the knob of the door. He had heard. He looked at her with all the reproach and suffering that human eyes can contain. Then he went into the dim corridor. She felt hammers of fire beating in her chest and remained immovable on the threshold.
"You were waiting for me?" said Montessuy. "You are left alone to-day. I will escort you and Miss Bell."
CHAPTER XXXIII. A WHITE NIGHT
In the carriage, and in her room, she saw again the look of her lover, that cruel and dolorous look. She knew with what facility he fell into despair, the promptness of his will not to will. She had seen him run away thus on the shore of the Arno. Happy then in her sadness and in her anguish, she could run after him and say, "Come." Now, again surrounded, watched, she should have found something to say, and not have let him go from her dumb and desolate. She had remained surprised, stunned. The accident had been so absurd and so rapid! She had against Le Menil the sentiment of simple anger which malicious things cause. She reproached herself bitterly for having permitted her lover to go without a word, without a glance, wherein she could have placed her soul.
While Pauline waited to undress her, Therese walked to and fro impatiently. Then she stopped suddenly. In the obscure mirrors, wherein the reflections of the candles were drowned, she saw the corridor of the playhouse, and her beloved flying from her through it.
Where was he now? What was he saying to himself alone? It was torture for her not to be able to rejoin him and see him again at once.
She pressed her heart with her hands; she was smothering.
Pauline uttered a cry. She saw drops of blood on the white corsage of her mistress.
Therese, without knowing it, had pricked her hand with the red lily.
She detached the emblematic jewel which she had worn before all as the dazzling secret of her heart, and, holding it in her fingers, contemplated it for a long time. Then she saw again the days of Florence—the cell of San Marco, where her lover's kiss weighed delicately on her mouth, while, through her lowered lashes, she vaguely perceived again the angels and the sky painted on the wall, and the dazzling fountain of the ice-vender against the bright cloth; the pavilion of the Via Alfieri, its nymphs, its goats, and the room where the shepherds and the masks on the screens listened to her sighs and noted her long silences.
No, all these things were not shadows of the past, spectres of ancient hours. They were the present reality of her love. And a word stupidly cast by a stranger would destroy these beautiful things! Happily, it was not possible. Her love, her lover, did not depend on such insignificant matters. If only she could run to his house! She would find him before the fire, his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands, sad. Then she would run her fingers through his hair, force him to lift his head, to see that she loved him, that she was his treasure, palpitating with joy and love.
She had dismissed her maid. In her bed she thought of only one thing.
It was an accident, an absurd accident. He would understand it; he would know that their love had nothing to do with anything so stupid. What folly for him to care about another! As if there were other men in the world!
M. Martin-Belleme half opened the bedroom door. Seeing a light he went in.
"You are not asleep, Therese?"
He had been at a conference with his colleagues. He wanted advice from his wife on certain points. He needed to hear sincere words.
"It is done," he said. "You will help me, I am sure, in my situation, which is much envied, but very difficult and even perilous. I owe it to you somewhat, since it came to me through the powerful influence of your father."
He consulted her on the choice of a Chief of Cabinet.
She advised him as best she could. She thought he was sensible, calm, and not sillier than many others.
He lost himself in reflections.
"I have to defend before the Senate the budget voted by the Chamber of Deputies. The budget contains innovations which I did not approve. When I was a deputy I fought against them. Now that I am a minister I must support them. I saw things from the outside formerly. I see them from the inside now, and their aspect is changed. And, then, I am free no longer."
"Ah, if the people only knew the little that we can do when we are powerful!"
He told her his impressions. Berthier was reserved. The others were impenetrable. Loyer alone was excessively authoritative.
She listened to him without attention and without impatience. His pale face and voice marked for her like a clock the minutes that passed with intolerable slowness.
Loyer had odd sallies of wit. Immediately after he had declared his strict adhesion to the Concordat, he said: "Bishops are spiritual prefects. I will protect them since they belong to me. And through them I shall hold the guardians of souls, curates."
He recalled to her that she would have to meet people who were not of her class and who would shock her by their vulgarity. But his situation demanded that he should not disdain anybody. At all events, he counted on her tact and on her devotion.
She looked at him, a little astonished.
"There is no hurry, my dear. We shall see later."
He was tired. He said good-night and advised her to sleep. She was ruining her health by reading all night. He left her.
She heard the noise of his footsteps, heavier than usual, while he traversed the library, encumbered with blue books and journals, to reach his room, where he would perhaps sleep. Then she felt the weight on her of the night's silence. She looked at her watch. It was half-past one.
She said to herself: "He, too, is suffering. He looked at me with so much despair and anger."
She was courageous and ardent. She was impatient at being a prisoner. When daylight came, she would go, she would see him, she would explain everything to him. It was so clear! In the painful monotony of her thought, she listened to the rolling of wagons which at long intervals passed on the quay. That noise preoccupied, almost interested her. She listened to the rumble, at first faint and distant, then louder, in which she could distinguish the rolling of the wheels, the creaking of the axles, the shock of horses' shoes, which, decreasing little by little, ended in an imperceptible murmur.
And when silence returned, she fell again into her reverie.
He would understand that she loved him, that she had never loved any one except him. It was unfortunate that the night was so long. She did not dare to look at her watch for fear of seeing in it the immobility of time.
She rose, went to the window, and drew the curtains. There was a pale light in the clouded sky. She thought it might be the beginning of dawn. She looked at her watch. It was half-past three.
She returned to the window. The sombre infinity outdoors attracted her. She looked. The sidewalks shone under the gas-jets. A gentle rain was falling. Suddenly a voice ascended in the silence; acute, and then grave, it seemed to be made of several voices replying to one another. It—was a drunkard disputing with the beings of his dream, to whom he generously gave utterance, and whom he confounded afterward with great gestures and in furious sentences. Therese could see the poor man walk along the parapet in his white blouse, and she could hear words recurring incessantly: "That is what I say to the government."
Chilled, she returned to her bed. She thought, "He is jealous, he is madly jealous. It is a question of nerves and of blood. But his love, too, is an affair of blood and of nerves. His love and his jealousy are one and the same thing. Another would understand. It would be sufficient to please his self-love." But he was jealous from the depth of his soul. She knew this; she knew that in him jealousy was a physical torture, a wound enlarged by imagination. She knew how profound the evil was. She had seen him grow pale before the bronze St. Mark when she had thrown the letter in the box on the wall of the old Florentine house at a time when she was his only in dreams.
She recalled his smothered complaints, his sudden fits of sadness, and the painful mystery of the words which he repeated frequently: "I can forget you only when I am with you." She saw again the Dinard letter and his furious despair at a word overheard at a wine-shop table. She felt that the blow had been struck accidentally at the most sensitive point, at the bleeding wound. But she did not lose courage. She would tell everything, she would confess everything, and all her avowals would say to him: "I love you. I have never loved any one except you!" She had not betrayed him. She would tell him nothing that he had not guessed. She had lied so little, as little as possible, and then only not to give him pain. How could he not understand? It was better he should know everything, since everything meant nothing. She represented to herself incessantly the same ideas, repeated to herself the same words.
Her lamp gave only a smoky light. She lighted candles. It was six o'clock. She realized that she had slept. She ran to the window. The sky was black, and mingled with the earth in a chaos of thick darkness. Then she was curious to know exactly at what hour the sun would rise. She had had no idea of this. She thought only that nights were long in December. She did not think of looking at the calendar. The heavy step of workmen walking in squads, the noise of wagons of milkmen and marketmen, came to her ear like sounds of good augury. She shuddered at this first awakening of the city.
CHAPTER XXXIV. "I SEE THE OTHER WITH YOU ALWAYS!"
At nine o'clock, in the yard of the little house, she observed M. Fusellier sweeping, in the rain, while smoking his pipe. Madame Fusellier came out of her box. Both looked embarrassed. Madame Fusellier was the first to speak:
"Monsieur Jacques is not at home." And, as Therese remained silent, immovable, Fusellier came near her with his broom, hiding with his left hand his pipe behind his back—
"Monsieur Jacques has not yet come home."
"I will wait for him," said Therese.
Madame Fusellier led her to the parlor, where she lighted the fire. As the wood smoked and would not flame, she remained bent, with her hands on her knees.
"It is the rain," she said, "which causes the smoke."
Madame Martin said it was not worth while to make a fire, that she did not feel cold.
She saw herself in the glass.
She was livid, with glowing spots on her cheeks. Then only she felt that her feet were frozen. She approached the fire. Madame Fusellier, seeing her anxious, spoke softly to her:
"Monsieur Jacques will come soon. Let Madame warm herself while waiting for him."
A dim light fell with the rain on the glass ceiling.
Upon the wall, the lady with the unicorn was not beautiful among the cavaliers in a forest full of flowers and birds. Therese was repeating to herself the words: "He has not yet come home." And by dint of saying this she lost the meaning of it. With burning eyes she looked at the door.
She remained thus without a movement, without a thought, for a time the duration of which she did not know; perhaps half an hour. The noise of a footstep came to her, the door was opened. He came in. She saw that he was wet with rain and mud, and burning with fever.
She fixed on him a look so sincere and so frank that it struck him. But almost at once he recalled within himself all his sufferings.
He said to her:
"What do you want of me? You have done me all the harm you could do me."
Fatigue gave him an air of gentleness. It frightened her.
"Jacques, listen to me!"
He motioned to her that he wished to hear nothing from her.
"Jacques, listen to me. I have not deceived you. Oh, no, I have not deceived you. Was it possible? Was it—"
He interrupted her:
"Have some pity for me. Do not make me suffer again. Leave me, I pray you. If you knew the night I have passed, you would not have the courage to torment me again."
He let himself fall on the divan. He had walked all night. Not to suffer too much, he had tried to find diversions. On the Bercy Quay he had looked at the moon floating in the clouds. For an hour he had seen it veil itself and reappear. Then he had counted the windows of houses with minute care. The rain began to fall. He had gone to the market and had drunk whiskey in a wine-room. A big girl who squinted had said to him, "You don't look happy." He had fallen half asleep on the leather bench. It had been a moment of oblivion. The images of that painful night passed before his eyes. He said: "I recalled the night of the Arno. You have spoiled for me all the joy and beauty in the world." He asked her to leave him alone. In his lassitude he had a great pity for himself. He would have liked to sleep—not to die; he held death in horror—but to sleep and never to wake again. Yet, before him, as desirable as formerly, despite the painful fixity of her dry eyes, and more mysterious than ever, he saw her. His hatred was vivified by suffering.
She extended her arms to him. "Listen to me, Jacques." He motioned to her that it was useless for her to speak. Yet he wished to listen to her, and already he was listening with avidity. He detested and rejected in advance what she would say, but nothing else in the world interested him.
"You may have believed I was betraying you, that I was not living for you alone. But can you not understand anything? You do not see that if that man were my lover it would not have been necessary for him to talk to me at the play-house in that box; he would have a thousand other ways of meeting me. Oh, no, my friend, I assure you that since the day when I had the happiness to meet you, I have been yours entirely. Could I have been another's? What you imagine is monstrous. But I love you, I love you! I love only you. I never have loved any one except you."
He replied slowly, with cruel heaviness:
"'I shall be every day, at three o'clock, at our home, in the Rue Spontini.' It was not a lover, your lover, who said these things? No! it was a stranger, an unknown person."
She straightened herself, and with painful gravity said:
"Yes, I had been his. You knew it. I have denied it, I have told an untruth, not to irritate or grieve you. I saw you so anxious. But I lied so little and so badly. You knew. Do not reproach me for it. You knew; you often spoke to me of the past, and then one day somebody told you at the restaurant—and you imagined much more than ever happened. While telling an untruth, I was not deceiving you. If you knew the little that he was in my life! There! I did not know you. I did not know you were to come. I was lonely."
She fell on her knees.
"I was wrong. I should have waited for you. But if you knew how slight a matter that was in my life!"
And with her voice modulated to a soft and singing complaint she said:
"Why did you not come sooner, why?"
She dragged herself to him, tried to take his hands. He repelled her.
"I was stupid. I did not think. I did not know. I did not wish to know."
He rose and exclaimed, in an explosion of hatred:
"I did not wish him to be that man."
She sat in the place which he had left, and there, plaintively, in a low voice, she explained the past. In that time she lived in a world horribly commonplace. She had yielded, but she had regretted at once. If he but knew the sadness of her life he would not be jealous. He would pity her. She shook her head and said, looking at him through the falling locks of her hair:
"I am talking to you of another woman. There is nothing in common between that woman and me. I exist only since I have known you, since I have belonged to you."
He walked about the room madly. He laughed painfully.
"Yes; but while you loved me, the other woman—the one who was not you?"
She looked at him indignantly:
"Can you believe—"
"Did you not see him again at Florence? Did you not accompany him to the station?"
She told him that he had come to Italy to find her; that she had seen him; that she had broken with him; that he had gone, irritated, and that since then he was trying to win her back; but that she had not even paid any attention to him.
"My beloved, I see, I know, only you in the world." He shook his head.
"I do not believe you."
"I have told you everything. Accuse me, condemn me, but do not offend me in my love for you."
He shook his head.
"Leave me. You have harmed me too much. I have loved you so much that all the pain which you could have given me I would have taken, kept, loved; but this is too hideous. I hate it. Leave me. I am suffering too much. Farewell!"
She stood erect.
"I have come. It is my happiness, it is my life, I am fighting for. I will not go."
And she said again all that she had already said. Violent and sincere, sure of herself, she explained how she had broken the tie which was already loose and irritated her; how since the day when she had loved him she had been his only, without regret, without a wandering look or thought. But in speaking to him of another she irritated him. And he shouted at her:
"I do not believe you."
She only repeated her declarations.
And suddenly, instinctively, she looked at her watch:
"Oh, it is noon!"
She had often given that cry of alarm when the farewell hour had surprised them. And Jacques shuddered at the phrase which was so familiar, so painful, and was this time so desperate. For a few minutes more she said ardent words and shed tears. Then she left him; she had gained nothing.
At her house she found in the waiting-room the marketwoman, who had come to present a bouquet to her. She remembered that her husband was a State minister. There were telegrams, visiting-cards and letters, congratulations and solicitations. Madame Marmet wrote to recommend her nephew to General Lariviere.
She went into the dining-room and fell in a chair. M. Martin-Belleme was just finishing his breakfast. He was expected at the Cabinet Council and at the former Finance Minister's, to whom he owed a call.
"Do not forget, my dear friend, to call on Madame Berthier d'Eyzelles. You know how sensitive she is."
She made no answer. While he was dipping his fingers in the glass bowl, he saw she was so tired that he dared not say any more. He found himself in the presence of a secret which he did not wish to know; in presence of an intimate suffering which one word would reveal. He felt anxiety, fear, and a certain respect.
He threw down his napkin.
"Excuse me, dear."
He went out.
She tried to eat, but could swallow nothing.
At two o'clock she returned to the little house of the Ternes. She found Jacques in his room. He was smoking a wooden pipe. A cup of coffee almost empty was on the table. He looked at her with a harshness that chilled her. She dared not talk, feeling that everything that she could say would offend and irritate him, and yet she knew that in remaining discreet and dumb she intensified his anger. He knew that she would return; he had waited for her with impatience. A sudden light came to her, and she saw that she had done wrong to come; that if she had been absent he would have desired, wanted, called for her, perhaps. But it was too late; and, at all events, she was not trying to be crafty.
She said to him:
"You see I have returned. I could not do otherwise. And then it was natural, since I love you. And you know it."
She knew very well that all she could say would only irritate him. He asked her whether that was the way she spoke in the Rue Spontini.
She looked at him with sadness.
"Jacques, you have often told me that there were hatred and anger in your heart against me. You like to make me suffer. I can see it."
With ardent patience, at length, she told him her entire life, the little that she had put into it; the sadness of the past; and how, since he had known her, she had lived only through him and in him.
The words fell as limpid as her look. She sat near him. He listened to her with bitter avidity. Cruel with himself, he wished to know everything about her last meetings with the other. She reported faithfully the events of the Great Britain Hotel; but she changed the scene to the outside, in an alley of the Casino, from fear that the image of their sad interview in a closed room should irritate her lover. Then she explained the meeting at the station. She had not wished to cause despair to a suffering man who was so violent. But since then she had had no news from him until the day when he spoke to her on the street. She repeated what she had replied to him. Two days later she had seen him at the opera, in her box. Certainly, she had not encouraged him to come. It was the truth.
It was the truth. But the old poison, slowly accumulating in his mind, burned him. She made the past, the irreparable past, present to him, by her avowals. He saw images of it which tortured him. He said:
"I do not believe you."
And he added:
"And if I believed you, I could not see you again, because of the idea that you have loved that man. I have told you, I have written to you, you remember, that I did not wish him to be that man. And since—"
"You know very well that since then nothing has happened."
He replied, with violence:
"Since then I have seen him."
They remained silent for a long time. Then she said, surprised and plaintive:
"But, my friend, you should have thought that a woman such as I, married as I was—every day one sees women bring to their lovers a past darker than mine and yet they inspire love. Ah, my past—if you knew how insignificant it was!"
"I know what you can give. One can not forgive to you what one may forgive to another."
"But, my friend, I am like others."
"No, you are not like others. To you one can not forgive anything."
He talked with set teeth. His eyes, which she had seen so large, glowing with tenderness, were now dry, harsh, narrowed between wrinkled lids and cast a new glance at her. He frightened her. She went to the rear of the room, sat on a chair, and there she remained, trembling, for a long time, smothered by her sobs. Then she broke into tears.
"Why did I ever know you?"
She replied, weeping:
"I do not regret having known you. I am dying of it, and I do not regret it. I have loved."
He stubbornly continued to make her suffer. He felt that he was playing an odious part, but he could not stop.
"It is possible, after all, that you have loved me too."
She answered, with soft bitterness:
"But I have loved only you. I have loved you too much. And it is for that you are punishing me. Oh, can you think that I was to another what I have been to you?"
She looked at him without force and without courage.
"It is true that you do not believe me."
She added softly:
"If I killed myself would you believe me?"
"No, I would not believe you."
She wiped her cheeks with her handkerchief; then, lifting her eyes, shining through her tears, she said:
"Then, all is at an end!"
She rose, saw again in the room the thousand things with which she had lived in laughing intimacy, which she had regarded as hers, now suddenly become nothing to her, and confronting her as a stranger and an enemy. She saw again the nude woman who made, while running, the gesture which had not been explained to her; the Florentine models which recalled to her Fiesole and the enchanted hours of Italy; the profile sketch by Dechartre of the girl who laughed in her pretty pathetic thinness. She stopped a moment sympathetically in front of that little newspaper girl who had come there too, and had disappeared, carried away in the irresistible current of life and of events.
"Then all is at an end?"
He remained silent.
The twilight made the room dim.
"What will become of me?" she asked.
"And what will become of me?" he replied.
They looked at each other with sympathy, because each was moved with self-pity.
Therese said again:
"And I, who feared to grow old in your eyes, for fear our beautiful love should end! It would have been better if it had never come. Yes, it would be better if I had not been born. What a presentiment was that which came to me, when a child, under the lindens of Joinville, before the marble nymphs! I wished to die then."
Her arms fell, and clasping her hands she lifted her eyes; her wet glance threw a light in the shadows.
"Is there not a way of my making you feel that what I am saying to you is true? That never since I have been yours, never—But how could I? The very idea of it seems horrible, absurd. Do you know me so little?"
He shook his head sadly. "I do not know you."
She questioned once more with her eyes all the objects in the room.
"But then, what we have been to each other was vain, useless. Men and women break themselves against one another; they do not mingle."
She revolted. It was not possible that he should not feel what he was to her. And, in the ardor of her love, she threw herself on him and smothered him with kisses and tears. He forgot everything, and took her in his arms—sobbing, weak, yet happy—and clasped her close with the fierceness of desire. With her head leaning back against the pillow, she smiled through her tears. Then, brusquely he disengaged himself.
"I do not see you alone. I see the other with you always." She looked at him, dumb, indignant, desperate. Then, feeling that all was indeed at an end, she cast around her a surprised glance of her unseeing eyes, and went slowly away.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A woman is frank when she does not lie uselessly A hero must be human. Napoleon was human Anti-Semitism is making fearful progress everywhere Brilliancy of a fortune too new Curious to know her face of that day Disappointed her to escape the danger she had feared Do you think that people have not talked about us? Does not wish one to treat it with either timidity or brutality Does one ever possess what one loves? Each had regained freedom, but he did not like to be alone Each was moved with self-pity Everybody knows about that Fringe which makes an unlovely border to the city Gave value to her affability by not squandering it He could not imagine that often words are the same as actions He studied until the last moment He is not intelligent enough to doubt He does not bear ill-will to those whom he persecutes He knew now the divine malady of love Her husband had become quite bearable His habit of pleasing had prolonged his youth (Housemaid) is trained to respect my disorder I love myself because you love me I can forget you only when I am with you I wished to spoil our past I feel in them (churches) the grandeur of nothingness I have to pay for the happiness you give me I gave myself to him because he loved me I haven't a taste, I have tastes I have known things which I know no more I do not desire your friendship Ideas they think superior to love—faith, habits, interests Immobility of time Impatient at praise which was not destined for himself Incapable of conceiving that one might talk without an object It was torture for her not to be able to rejoin him It is an error to be in the right too soon It was too late: she did not wish to win Jealous without having the right to be jealous Kisses and caresses are the effort of a delightful despair Knew that life is not worth so much anxiety nor so much hope Laughing in every wrinkle of his face Learn to live without desire Let us give to men irony and pity as witnesses and judges Life as a whole is too vast and too remote Life is made up of just such trifles Life is not a great thing Little that we can do when we are powerful Love is a soft and terrible force, more powerful than beauty Love was only a brief intoxication Lovers never separate kindly Made life give all it could yield Magnificent air of those beggars of whom small towns are proud Miserable beings who contribute to the grandeur of the past Nobody troubled himself about that originality None but fools resisted the current Not everything is known, but everything is said Nothing is so legitimate, so human, as to deceive pain One would think that the wind would put them out: the stars One who first thought of pasting a canvas on a panel One is never kind when one is in love One should never leave the one whom one loves Picturesquely ugly Recesses of her mind which she preferred not to open Relatives whom she did not know and who irritated her Seemed to him that men were grains in a coffee-mill She pleased society by appearing to find pleasure in it She is happy, since she likes to remember Should like better to do an immoral thing than a cruel one Simple people who doubt neither themselves nor others Since she was in love, she had lost prudence So well satisfied with his reply that he repeated it twice Superior men sometimes lack cleverness That sort of cold charity which is called altruism That if we live the reason is that we hope That absurd and generous fury for ownership The most radical breviary of scepticism since Montaigne The door of one's room opens on the infinite The past is the only human reality—Everything that is, is past The one whom you will love and who will love you will harm you The violent pleasure of losing The discouragement which the irreparable gives The real support of a government is the Opposition The politician never should be in advance of circumstances There is nothing good except to ignore and to forget There are many grand and strong things which you do not feel They are the coffin saying: 'I am the cradle' To be beautiful, must a woman have that thin form Trying to make Therese admire what she did not know Umbrellas, like black turtles under the watery skies Unfortunate creature who is the plaything of life Was I not warned enough of the sadness of everything? We are too happy; we are robbing life What will be the use of having tormented ourselves in this world Whether they know or do not know, they talk Women do not always confess it, but it is always their fault You must take me with my own soul!