Part 2 out of 2
making his proposals, and he was also aware that young girls in our day
are less sought for in marriage than they used to be. His friend
Wermant, rich as he was, had had some trouble in capturing for Berthe a
fellow of no account in the Faubourg St. Germain, and the prize was not
much to be envied. He was a young man without brains and without a sou,
who enjoyed so little consideration among his own people that his wife
had not been received as she expected, and no one spoke of Madame de
Belvan without adding: "You know, that little Wermant, daughter of the
'agent de change'."
Of course, Jacqueline had the advantage of good birth over Berthe, but
how great was her inferiority in point of fortune! M. de Nailles
sometimes confided these perplexities to his wife, without, however,
receiving much comfort from her. Nor did the Baroness confess to her
husband all her own fears. In secret she often asked herself, with the
keen insight of a woman of the world well trained in artifice and who
possessed a thorough knowledge of mankind, whether there might not be
women capable of using a young girl so as to put the world on a wrong
scent; whether, in other words, Madame de Villegry did not talk
everywhere about M. de Cymier's attentions to Mademoiselle de Nailles in
order to conceal his relations to herself? Madame de Villegry indeed
cared little about standing well in public opinion, but rather the
contrary; she would not, however, for the world have been willing, by too
openly favoring one man among her admirers, to run the risk of putting
the rest to flight. No doubt M. de Cymier was most assiduous in his
attendance on the receptions and dances at Madame de Nailles's, but he
was there always at the same time as Madame de Villegry herself. They
would hold whispered conferences in corners, which might possibly have
been about Jacqueline, but there was no proof that they were so, except
what Madame de Villegry herself said. "At any rate," thought Madame de
Nailles, "if Fred comes forward as a suitor it may stimulate Monsieur de
Cymier. There are men who put off taking a decisive step till the last
moment, and are only to be spurred up by competition."
So every opportunity was given to Fred to talk freely with Jacqueline
when he returned to Paris. By this time he wore two gold-lace stripes
upon his sleeve. But Jacqueline avoided any tete-a-tete with him as if
she understood the danger that awaited her. She gave him no chance of
speaking alone with her. She was friendly--nay, sometimes affectionate
when other people were near them, but more commonly she teased him,
bewildered him, excited him. After an hour or two spent in her society
he would go home sometimes savage, sometimes desponding, to ponder in his
own room, and in his own heart, what interpretation he ought to put upon
the things that she had said to him.
The more he thought, the less he understood. He would not have confided
in his mother for the world; she might have cast blame on Jacqueline.
Besides her, he had no one who could receive his confidences, who would
bear with his perplexities, who could assist in delivering him from the
network of hopes and fears in which, after every interview with
Jacqueline, he seemed to himself to become more and more entangled.
At last, however, at one of the soirees given every fortnight by Madame
de Nailles, he succeeded in gaining her attention.
"Give me this quadrille," he said to her.
And, as she could not well refuse, he added, as soon as she had taken his
arm: "We will not dance, and I defy you to escape me."
"This is treason!" she cried, somewhat angrily. "We are not here to
talk; I can almost guess beforehand what you have to say, and--"
But he had made her sit down in the recess of that bow-window which had
been called the young girls' corner years ago. He stood before her,
preventing her escape, and half-laughing, though he was deeply moved.
"Since you have guessed what I wanted to say, answer me quickly."
"Must I? Must I, really? Why didn't you ask my father to do your
commission? It is so horribly disagreeable to do these things for one's
"That depends upon what the things may be that have to be said. I should
think it ought to be very agreeable to pronounce the word on which the
happiness of a whole life is to depend."
"Oh! what a grand phrase! As if I could be essential to anybody's
happiness? You can't make me believe that!"
"You are mistaken. You are indispensable to mine."
"There! my declaration has been made," thought Fred, much relieved that
it was over, for he had been afraid to pronounce the decisive words.
"Well, if I thought that were true, I should be very sorry," said
Jacqueline, no longer smiling, but looking down fixedly at the pointed
toe of her little slipper; "because--"
She stopped suddenly. Her face flushed red.
"I don't know how to explain to you;" she said.
"Explain nothing," pleaded Fred; "all I ask is Yes, nothing more. There
is nothing else I care for."
She raised her head coldly and haughtily, yet her voice trembled as she
"You will force me to say it? Then, no! No!" she repeated, as if to
reaffirm her refusal.
Then, alarmed by Fred's silence, and above all by his looks, he who had
seemed so gay shortly before and whose face now showed an anguish such as
she had never yet seen on the face of man, she added:
"Oh, forgive me!--Forgive me," she repeated in a lower voice, holding out
her hand. He did not take it.
"You love some one else?" he asked, through his clenched teeth.
She opened her fan and affected to examine attentively the pink landscape
painted on it to match her dress.
"Why should you think so? I wish to be free."
"Free? Are you free? Is a woman ever free?"
Jacqueline shook her head, as if expressing vague dissent.
"Free at least to see a little of the world," she said, "to choose, to
use my wings, in short--"
And she moved her slender arms with an audacious gesture which had
nothing in common with the flight of that mystic dove upon which she had
meditated when holding the card given her by Giselle.
"Free to prefer some other man," said Fred, who held fast to his idea
with the tenacity of jealousy.
"Ah! that is different. Supposing there were anyone whom I liked--not
more, but differently from the way I like you--it is possible. But you
spoke of loving!"
"Your distinctions are too subtle," said Fred.
"Because, much as it seems to astonish you, I am quite capable of seeing
the difference," said Jacqueline, with the look and the accent of a
person who has had large experience. "I have loved once--a long time
ago, a very long time ago, a thousand years and more. Yes, I loved some
one, as perhaps you love me, and I suffered more than you will ever
suffer. It is ended; it is over--I think it is over forever."
"How foolish! At your age!"
"Yes, that kind of love is ended for me. Others may please me, others do
please me, as you said, but it is not the same thing. Would you like to
see the man I once loved?" asked Jacqueline, impelled by a juvenile
desire to exhibit her experience, and also aware instinctively that to
cast a scrap of past history to the curious sometimes turns off their
attention on another track. "He is near us now," she added.
And while Fred's angry eyes, under his frowning brows, were wandering all
round the salon, she pointed to Hubert Marien with a movement of her fan.
Marien was looking on at the dancing, with his old smile, not so
brilliant now as it had been. He now only smiled at beauty collectively,
which was well represented that evening in Madame de Nailles's salon.
Young girls 'en masse' continued to delight him, but his admiration as an
artist became less and less personal.
He had grown stout, his hair and beard were getting gray; he was
interested no longer in Savonarola, having obtained, thanks to his
picture, the medal of honor, and the Institute some months since had
opened its doors to him.
"Marien? You are laughing at me!" cried Fred.
"It is simply the truth."
Some magnetic influence at that moment caused the painter to turn his
eyes toward the spot where they were talking.
"We were speaking of you," said Jacqueline.
And her tone was so singular that he dared not ask what they were saying.
With humility which had in it a certain touch of bitterness he said,
"You might find something better to do than to talk good or evil of a
poor fellow who counts now for nothing."
"Counts for nothing! A fellow to be pitied!" cried Fred, "a man who has
just been elected to the Institute--you are hard to satisfy!"
Jacqueline sat looking at him like a young sorceress engaged in sticking
pins into the heart of a waxen figure of her enemy. She never missed an
opportunity of showing her implacable dislike of him.
She turned to Fred: "What I was telling you," she said, "I am quite
willing to repeat in his presence. The thing has lost its importance now
that he has become more indifferent to me than any other man in the
She stopped, hoping that Marien had understood what she was saying and
that he resented the humiliating avowal from her own lips that her
childish love was now only a memory.
"If that is the only confession you have to make to me," said Fred, who
had almost recovered his composure, "I can put up with my former rival,
and I pass a sponge over all that has happened in your long past of
seventeen years and a half, Jacqueline. Tell me only that at present you
like no one better than me."
She smiled a half-smile, but he did not see it. She made no answer.
"Is he here, too--like the other!" he asked, sternly.
And she saw his restless eyes turn for an instant to the conservatory,
where Madame de Villegry, leaning back in her armchair, and Gerard de
Cymier, on a low seat almost at her feet, were carrying on their platonic
"Oh! you must not think of quarrelling with him," cried Jacqueline,
frightened at the look Fred fastened on De Cymier.
"No, it would be of no use. I shall go out to Tonquin, that's all."
"Fred! You are not serious."
"You will see whether I am not serious. At this very moment I know a man
who will be glad to exchange with me."
"What! go and get yourself killed at Tonquin for a foolish little girl
like me, who is very, very fond of you, but hardly knows her own mind.
It would be absurd!"
"People are not always killed at Tonquin, but I must have new interests,
something to divert my mind from--"
"Fred! my dear Fred"--Jacqueline had suddenly become almost tender,
almost suppliant. "Your mother! Think of your mother! What would she
say? Oh, my God!"
"My mother must be allowed to think that I love my profession better than
all else. But, Jacqueline," continued the poor fellow, clinging in
despair to the very smallest hope, as a drowning man catches at a straw,
"if you do not, as you said, know exactly your own mind--if you would
like to question your own heart--I would wait--"
Jacqueline was biting the end of her fan--a conflict was taking place
within her breast. But to certain temperaments there is pleasure in
breaking a chain or in leaping a barrier; she said:
"Fred, I am too much your friend to deceive you."
At that moment M. de Cymier came toward them with his air of assurance:
"Mademoiselle, you forget that you promised me this waltz," he said.
"No, I never forget anything," she answered, rising.
Fred detained her an instant, saying, in a low voice:
"Forgive me. This moment, Jacqueline, is decisive. I must have an
answer. I never shall speak to you again of my sorrow. But decide now--
on the spot. Is all ended between us?"
"Not our old friendship, Fred," said Jacqueline, tears rising in her
"So be it, then, if you so will it. But our friendship never will show
itself unless you are in need of friendship, and then only with the
discretion that your present attitude toward me has imposed."
"Are you ready, Mademoiselle," said Gerard, who, to allow them to end
their conversation, had obligingly turned his attention to some madrigals
that Colette Odinska was laughing over.
Jacqueline shook her head resolutely, though at that moment her heart
felt as if it were in a vise, and the moisture in her eyes looked like
anything but a refusal. Then, without giving herself time for further
thought, she whirled away into the dance with M. de Cymier. It was over,
she had flung to the winds her chance for happiness, and wounded a heart
more cruelly than Hubert Marien had ever wounded hers. The most horrible
thing in this unending warfare we call love is that we too often repay to
those who love us the harm that has been done us by those whom we have
loved. The seeds of mistrust and perversity sown by one man or by one
woman bear fruit to be gathered by some one else.
A COMEDY AND A TRAGEDY
The departure of Frederic d'Argy for Tonquin occasioned a break in the
intercourse between his mother and the family of De Nailles. The wails
of Hecuba were nothing to the lamentations of poor Madame d'Argy; the
unreasonableness of her wrath and the exaggeration in her reproaches
hindered even Jacqueline from feeling all the remorse she might otherwise
have felt for her share in Fred's departure. She told her father, who
the first time in her life addressed her with some severity, that she
could not be expected to love all the young men who might threaten to go
to the wars, or to fling themselves from fourth-story windows, for her
"It was very indelicate and inconsiderate of Fred to tell any one that it
was my fault that he was doing anything so foolish," she said, with true
feminine deceit, "but he has taken the very worst possible means to make
me care for him. Everybody has too much to say about this matter which
concerns only him and me. Even Giselle thought proper to write me a
And she gave vent to her feelings in an exclamation of three syllables
that she had learned from the Odinskas, which meant: "I don't care!"
(je m'en moque).
But this was not true. She cared very much for Giselle's good opinion,
and for Madame d'Argy's friendship. She suffered much in her secret
heart at the thought of having given so much pain to Fred. She guessed
how deep it was by the step to which it had driven him. But there was in
her secret soul something more than all the rest, it was a puerile, but
delicious satisfaction in feeling her own importance, in having been able
to exercise an influence over one heart which might possibly extend to
that of M. de Cymier. She thought he might be gratified by knowing that
she had driven a young man to despair, if he guessed for whose sake she
had been so cruel. He knew it, of course. Madame de Nailles took care
that he should not be ignorant of it, and the pleasure he took in such a
proof of his power over a young heart was not unlike that pleasure
Jacqueline experienced in her coquetry--which crushed her better
feelings. He felt proud of the sacrifice this beautiful girl had made
for his sake, though he did not consider himself thereby committed to any
decision, only he felt more attached to her than ever. Ever since the
day when Madame de Villegry had first introduced him at the house of
Madame de Nailles, he had had great pleasure in going there. The
daughter of the house was more and more to his taste, but his liking for
her was not such as to carry him beyond prudence. "If I chose," he would
say to himself after every time he met her, "if I chose I could own that
jewel. I have only to stretch out my hand and have it given me." And
the next morning, after going to sleep full of that pleasant thought, he
would awake glad to find that he was still as free as ever, and able to
carry on a flirtation with a woman of the world, which imposed no
obligations upon him, and yet at the same time make love to a young girl
whom he would gladly have married but for certain reports which were
beginning to circulate among men of business concerning the financial
position of M. de Nailles.
They said that he was withdrawing money from secure investments to repair
(or to increase) considerable losses made by speculation, and that he
operated recklessly on the Bourse. These rumors had already withdrawn
Marcel d'Etaples from the list of his daughter's suitors. The young
fellow was a captain of Hussars, who had no scruple in declaring the
reason of his giving up his interest in the young lady. Gerard de
Cymier, more prudent, waited and watched, thinking it would be quite time
enough to go to the bottom of things when he found himself called upon to
make a decision, and greatly interested meantime in the daily increase of
Jacqueline's beauty. It was evident she cared for him. After all, it
was doing the little thing no harm to let her live on in the intoxication
of vanity and hope, and to give her something to dwell upon in her
innocent dreams. Never did Gerard allow himself to overstep the line he
had marked out for himself; a glance, a slight pressure of the hand,
which might have been intentional, or have meant nothing, a few ambiguous
words in which an active imagination might find something to dream about,
a certain way of passing his arm round her slight waist which would have
meant much had it not been done in public to the sound of music, were all
the proofs the young diplomatist had ever given of an attraction that was
real so far as consisted with his complete selfishness, joined to his
professional prudence, and that systematic habit of taking up fancies at
any time for anything, which prevents each fancy as it occurs from
ripening into passion.
He alluded indirectly to Fred's departure in a way that turned it into
ridicule. While playing a game of 'boston' he whispered into
Jacqueline's ear something about the old-fashionedness and stupidity of
Paul and Virginia, and his opinion of "calf-love," as the English call an
early attachment, and something about the right of every girl to know a
suitor long before she consents to marry him. He said he thought that
the days of courtship must be the most delightful in the life of a woman,
and that a man who wished to cut them short was a fellow without delicacy
From this Jacqueline drew the conclusion that he was not willing to
resemble such a fellow, and was more and more persuaded that there was
tenderness in the way he pressed her waist, and that his voice had the
softness of a caress when he spoke to her. He made many inquiries as to
what she liked and what she wished for in the future, as if his great
object in all things was to anticipate her wishes. As for his intimacy
with Madame de Villegry, Jacqueline thought nothing of it,
notwithstanding her habitual mistrust of those she called old women.
In the first place, Madame de Villegry was her own mistress, nothing
hindered them from having been married long ago had they wished it;
besides, had not Madame de Villegry brought the young man to their house
and let every one see, even Jacqueline herself, what was her object in
doing so? In this matter she was their ally, a most zealous and kind
ally, for she was continually advising her young friend as to what was
most becoming to her and how she might make herself most attractive to
men in general, with little covert allusions to the particular tastes of
Gerard, which she said she knew as well as if he had been her brother.
All this was lightly insinuated, but never insisted upon, with the tact
which stood Madame de Villegry in stead of talent, and which had enabled
her to perform some marvellous feats upon the tight-rope without losing
her balance completely. She, too, made fun of the tragic determination
of Fred, which all those who composed the society of the De Nailles had
been made aware of by the indiscreet lamentations of Madame d'Argy.
"Is not Jacqueline fortunate?" cried. Colette Odinska, who, herself
always on a high horse, looked on love in its tragic aspect, and would
have liked to resemble Marie Stuart as much as she could, "is she not
fortunate? She has had a man who has gone abroad to get himself killed
--and all for her!"
Colette imagined herself under the same circumstances, making the most of
a slain lover, with a crape veil covering her fair hair, her mourning
copied from that of her divorced sister, who wore her weeds so
charmingly, but who was getting rather tired of a single life.
As for Miss Kate Sparks and Miss Nora, they could not understand why the
breaking of half-a-dozen hearts should not be the prelude to every
marriage. That, they said with much conviction, was always the case in
America, and a girl was thought all the more of who had done so.
Jacqueline, however, thought more than was reasonable about the dangers
that the friend of her childhood was going to encounter through her
fault. Fred's departure would have lent him a certain prestige, had not
a powerful new interest stepped in to divert her thoughts. Madame
d'Avrigny was getting up her annual private theatricals, and wanted
Jacqueline to take the principal part in the play, saying that she ought
to put her lessons in elocution to some use. The piece chosen was to
illustrate a proverb, and was entirely new. It was as unexceptionable as
it was amusing; the most severe critic could have found no fault with its
morality or with its moral, which turned on the eagerness displayed by
young girls nowadays to obtain diplomas. Scylla and Charybdis was its
name. Its story was that of a young bride, who, thinking to please a
husband, a stupid and ignorant man, was trying to obtain in secret a high
place in the examination at the Sorbonne--'un brevet superieur'. The
husband, disquieted by the mystery, is at first suspicious, then jealous,
and then is overwhelmed with humiliation when he discovers that his wife
knows more of everything than himself. He ends by imploring her to give
up her higher education if she wishes to please him. The little play had
all the modern loveliness and grace which Octave Feuillet alone can give,
and it contained a lesson from which any one might profit; which was by
no means always the case with Madame d'Avrigny's plays, which too often
were full of risky allusions, of critical situations, and the like;
likely, in short, to "sail too close to the wind," as Fred had once
described them. But Madame d'Avrigny's prime object was the amusement of
society, and society finds pleasure in things which, if innocence
understood them, would put her to the blush. This play, however, was an
exception. There had been very little to cut out this time. Madame de
Nailles had been asked to take the mother's part, but she declined, not
caring to act such a character in a house where years before in all her
glory she had made a sensation as a young coquette. So Madame d'Avrigny
had to take the part herself, not sorry to be able to superintend
everything on the stage, and to prompt Dolly, if necessary--Dolly, who
had but four words to say, which she always forgot, but who looked lovely
in a little cap as a femme de chambre.
People had been surprised that M. de Cymier should have asked for the
part of the husband, a local magistrate, stiff and self-important, whom
everybody laughed at. Jacqueline alone knew why he had chosen it: it
would give him the opportunity of giving her two kisses. Of course those
kisses were to be reserved for the representation, but whether
intentionally or otherwise, the young husband ventured upon them at every
rehearsal, in spite of the general outcry--not, however, very much in
earnest, for it is well understood that in private theatricals certain
liberties may be allowed, and M. de Cymier had never been remarkable for
reserve when he acted at the clubs, where the female parts were taken by
ladies from the smaller theatres. In this school he had acquired some
reputation as an amateur actor. "Besides," as he remarked on making his
apology, "we shall do it very awkwardly upon the stage if we are not
allowed to practise it beforehand." Jacqueline burst out laughing, and
did not make much show of opposition. To play the part of his wife, to
hear him say to her, to respond with the affectionate and familiar 'toi',
was so amusing! It was droll to see her cut out her husband in
chemistry, history, and grammar, and make him confound La Fontaine with
Corneille. She had such a little air while doing it! And at the close,
when he said to her: "If I give you a pony to-morrow, and a good hearty
kiss this very minute, shall you be willing to give up getting that
degree?" she responded, with such gusto: "Indeed, I shall!" and her
manner was so eager, so boyish, so full of fun, that she was wildly
applauded, while Gerard embraced her as heartily as he liked, to make up
to himself for her having had, as his wife, the upper hand.
All this kissing threw him rather off his balance, and he might soon have
sealed his fate, had not a very sad event occurred, which restored his
The dress rehearsal was to take place one bright spring day at about four
o'clock in the afternoon. A large number of guests was assembled at the
house of Madame d'Avrigny. The performance had been much talked about
beforehand in society. The beauty, the singing, and the histrionic
powers of the principal actress had been everywhere extolled. Fully
conscious of what was expected of her, and eager to do herself credit in
every way, Jacqueline took advantage of Madame Strahlberg's presence to
run over a little song, which she was to--sing between the acts and in
which she could see no meaning whatever. This little song, which, to
most of the ladies present, seemed simply idiotic, made the men in the
audience cry "Oh!" as if half-shocked, and then "Encore! Encore!" in a
sort of frenzy. It was a so-called pastoral effusion, in which Colinette
rhymed with herbette, and in which the false innocence of the eighteenth
century was a cloak for much indelicate allusion.
"I never," said Jacqueline in self-defense, before she began the song,
"sang anything so stupid. And that is saying much when one thinks of all
the nonsensical words that people set to music! It's a marvel how any
one can like this stuff. Do tell me what there is in it?" she added,
turning to Gerard, who was charmed by her ignorance.
Standing beside the grand piano, with her arms waving as she sang,
repeating, by the expression of her eyes, the question she had asked and
to which she had received no answer, she was singing the verses she
considered nonsense with as much point as if she had understood them,
thanks to the hints given her by Madame Strahlberg, who was playing her
accompaniment, when the entrance of a servant, who pronounced her name
aloud, made a sudden interruption. "Mademoiselle de Nailles is wanted at
home at once. Modeste has come for her."
Madame d'Avrigny went out to say to the old servant: "She can not
possibly go home with you! It is only half an hour since she came.
The rehearsal is just beginning."
But something Modeste said in answer made her give a little cry, full of
consternation. She came quickly back, and going up to Jacqueline:
"My dear," she said, "you must go home at once--there is bad news, your
father is ill."
The solemnity of Madame d'Avrigny's voice, the pity in her expression,
the affection with which she spoke and above all her total indifference
to the fate of her rehearsal, frightened Jacqueline. She rushed away,
not waiting to say good-by, leaving behind her a general murmur of "Poor
thing!" while Madame d'Avrigny, recovering from her first shock, was
already beginning to wonder--her instincts as an impresario coming once
more to the front--whether the leading part might not be taken by
Isabelle Ray. She would have to send out two hundred cards, at least,
and put off her play for another fortnight. What a pity! It seemed as
if misfortunes always happened just so as to interfere with pleasures.
The fiacre which had brought Modeste was at the door. The old nurse
helped her young lady into it.
"What has happened to papa?" cried Jacqueline, impetuously.
There was something horrible in this sudden transition from gay
excitement to the sharpest anxiety.
"Nothing--that is to say--he is very sick. Don't tremble like that, my
darling-courage!" stammered Modeste, who was frightened by her
"He was taken sick, you say. Where? How happened it?"
"In his study. Pierre had just brought him his letters. We thought we
heard a noise as if a chair had been thrown down, and a sort of cry.
I ran in to see. He was lying at full length on the floor."
"And now? How is he now?"
"We did what we could for him. Madame came back. He is lying on his
Modeste covered her face with her hands.
"You have not told me all. What else?"
"Mon Dieu! you knew your poor father had heart disease. The last time
the doctor saw him he thought his legs had swelled--"
"Had!" Jacqueline heard only that one word. It meant that the life of
her father was a thing of the past. Hardly waiting till the fiacre could
be stopped, she sprang out, rushed into the house, opened the door of her
father's chamber, pushing aside a servant who tried to stop her, and fell
upon her knees beside the bed where lay the body of her father, white and
"Papa! My poor dear--dear papa!"
The hand she pressed to her lips was as cold as ice. She raised her
frightened eyes to the face over which the great change from life to
death had passed. "What does it mean?" Jacqueline had never looked on
death before, but she knew this was not sleep.
"Oh, speak to me, papa! It is I--it is Jacqueline!"
Her stepmother tried to raise her--tried to fold her in her arms.
"Let me alone!" she cried with horror.
It seemed to her as if her father, where he was now, so far from her, so
far from everything, might have the power to look into human hearts, and
know the perfidy he had known nothing of when he was living. He might
see in her own heart, too, her great despair. All else seemed small and
of no consequence when death was present.
Oh! why had she not been a better daughter, more loving, more devoted?
why had she ever cared for anything but to make him happy?
She sobbed aloud, while Madame de Nailles, pressing her handkerchief to
her eyes, stood at the foot of the bed, and the doctor, too, was near,
whispering to some one whom Jacqueline at first had not perceived--the
friend of the family, Hubert Marien.
Marien there? Was it not natural that, so intimate as he had always been
with the dead man, he should have hastened to offer his services to the
Jacqueline flung herself upon her father's corpse, as if to protect it
from profanation. She had an impulse to bear it away with her to some
desert spot where she alone could have wept over it.
She lay thus a long time, beside herself with grief.
The flowers which covered the bed and lay scattered on the floor, gave a
festal appearance to the death-chamber. They had been purchased for a
fete, but circumstances had changed their destination. That evening
there was to have been a reception in the house of M. de Nailles, but the
unexpected guest that comes without an invitation had arrived before the
music and the dancers.
THE STORM BREAKS
Monsieur de Nailles was dead, struck down suddenly by what is called
indefinitely heart-failure. The trouble in that organ from which he had
long suffered had brought on what might have been long foreseen, and yet
every one seemed, stupefied by the event. It came upon them like a
thunderbolt. It often happens so when people who are really ill persist
in doing all that may be done with safety by other persons. They
persuaded themselves, and those about them are easily persuaded, that
small remedies will prolong indefinitely a state of things which is
precarious to the last degree. Friends are ready to believe, when the
sufferer complains that his work is too hard for him, that he thinks too
much of his ailments and that he exaggerates trifles to which they are
well accustomed, but which are best known to him alone. When M. de
Nailles, several weeks before his death, had asked to be excused and to
stay at home instead of attending some large gathering, his wife, and
even Jacqueline, would try to convince him that a little amusement would
be good for him; they were unwilling to leave him to the repose he
needed, prescribed for him by the doctors, who had been unanimous that he
must "put down the brakes," give less attention to business, avoid late
hours and over-exertion of all kinds. "And, above all," said one of the
lights of science whom he had consulted recently about certain feelings
of faintness which were a bad symptom, "above all, you must keep yourself
from mental anxiety."
How could he, when his fortune, already much impaired, hung on chances as
uncertain as those in a game of roulette? What nonsense! The failure of
a great financial company had brought about a crisis on the Bourse. The
news of the inability of Wermant, the 'agent de change', to meet his
engagements, had completed the downfall of M. de Nailles. Not only
death, but ruin, had entered that house, where, a few hours before,
luxury and opulence had seemed to reign.
"We don't know whether there will be anything left for us to live upon,"
cried Madame de Nailles, with anguish, even while her husband's body lay
in the chamber of death, and Jacqueline, kneeling beside it, wept,
unwilling to receive comfort or consolation.
She turned angrily upon her stepmother and cried:
"What matter? I have no father--there is nothing else I care for."
But from that moment a dreadful thought, a thought she was ashamed of,
which made her feel a monster of selfishness, rose in her mind, do what
she would to hinder it. Jacqueline was sensible that she cared for
something else; great as was her sense of loss, a sort of reckless
curiosity seemed haunting her, while all the time she felt that her great
grief ought not to give place to anything besides. "How would Gerard de
Cymier behave in these circumstances?" She thought about it all one
dreadful night as she and Modeste, who was telling her beads softly,
sat in the faint light of the death-chamber. She thought of it at dawn,
when, after one of those brief sleeps which come to the young under all
conditions, she resumed with a sigh a sense of surrounding realities.
Almost in the same instant she thought: "My dear father will never wake
again," and "Does he love me?--does he now wish me to be his wife?--
will he take me away?" The devil, which put this thought into her heart,
made her eager to know the answer to these questions. He suggested how
dreadful life with her stepmother would be if no means of escape were
offered her. He made her foresee that her stepmother would marry again--
would marry Marien. "But I shall not be there!" she cried, "I will not
countenance such an infamy!" Oh, how she hoped Gerard de Cymier loved
her! The hypocritical tears of Madame de Nailles disgusted her. She
could not bear to have such false grief associated with her own.
Men in black, with solemn faces, came and bore away the body, no longer
like the form of the father she had loved. He had gone from her forever.
Pompous funeral rites, little in accordance with the crash that soon
succeeded them, were superintended by Marien, who, in the absence of near
relatives, took charge of everything. He seemed to be deeply affected,
and behaved with all possible kindness and consideration to Jacqueline,
who could not, however, bring herself to thank him, or even to look at
him. She hated him with an increase of resentment, as if the soul of her
dead father, who now knew the truth, had passed into her own.
Meantime, M. de Cymier took care to inform himself of the state of
things. It was easy enough to do so. All Paris was talking of the
shipwreck in which life and fortune had been lost by a man whose
kindliness as a host at his wife's parties every one had appreciated.
That was what came, people said, of striving after big dividends! The
house was to be sold, with the horses, the pictures, and the furniture.
What a change for his poor wife and daughter! There were others who
suffered by the Wermant crash, but those were less interesting than the
De Nailles. M. de Belvan found himself left by his father-in-law's
failure with a wife on his hands who not only had not a sou, but who was
the daughter of an 'agent de change' who had behaved dishonorably.
This was a text for dissertations on the disgrace of marrying for money;
those who had done the same thing, minus the same consequences, being
loudest in reprobating alliances of that kind. M. de Cymier listened
attentively to such talk, looking and saying the right things, and as he
heard more and more about the deplorable condition of M. de Nailles's
affairs, he congratulated himself that a prudent presentiment had kept
him from asking the hand of Jacqueline. He had had vague doubts as to
the firm foundation of the opulence which made so charming a frame for
her young beauty; it seemed to him as if she were now less beautiful than
he had imagined her; the enchantment she had exercised upon him was
thrown off by simple considerations of good sense. And yet he gave a
long sigh of regret when he thought she was unattainable except by
marriage. He, however, thanked heaven that he had not gone far enough
to have compromised himself with her. The most his conscience could
reproach him with was an occasional imprudence in moments of
forgetfulness; no court of honor could hold him bound to declare himself
her suitor. The evening that he made up his mind to this he wrote two
letters, very nearly alike; one was to Madame d'Avrigny, the other to
Madame de Nailles, announcing that, having received orders to join the
Embassy to which he was attached at Vienna, he was about to depart at
once, with great regret that he should not be able to take leave of any
one. To Madame d'Avrigny he made apologies for having to give up his
part in her theatricals; he entreated Madame de Nailles to accept both
for herself and for Mademoiselle Jacqueline his deepest condolences and
the assurance of his sympathy. The manner in which this was said was all
it ought to have been, except that it might have been rather more brief.
M. de Cymier said more than was necessary about his participation in
their grief, because he was conscious of a total lack of sympathy. He
begged the ladies would forgive him if, from feelings of delicacy and a
sense of the respect due to a great sorrow, he did not, before leaving
Paris, which he was about do to probably for a long time, personally
present to them 'ses hommages attristes'. Then followed a few lines in
which he spoke of the pleasant recollections he should always retain of
the hospitality he had enjoyed under M. de Nailles's roof, in a way that
gave them clearly to understand that he had no expectation of ever
entering their family on a more intimate footing.
Madame de Nailles received this letter just as she had had a conversation
with a man of business, who had shown her how complete was the ruin for
which in a great measure she herself was responsible. She had no longer
any illusions as to her position. When the estate had been settled there
would be nothing left but poverty, not only for herself, who, having
brought her husband no dot, had no right to consider herself wronged by
the bankruptcy, but for Jacqueline, whose fortune, derived from her
mother, had suffered under her father's management (there are such men--
unfaithful guardians of a child's property, but yet good fathers) in
every way in which it was possible to evade the provisions of the Code
intended to protect the rights of minor children. In the little salon
so charmingly furnished, where never before had sorrow or sadness been
discussed, Madame de Nailles poured out her complaints to her
stepdaughter and insisted upon plans of strict economy, when M. de
Cymier's letter was brought in.
"Read!" said the Baroness, handing the strange document to Jacqueline,
after she had read it through.
Then she leaned back in her chair with a gesture which signified: "This
is the last straw!" and remained motionless, apparently overwhelmed,
with her face covered by one hand, but furtively watching the face of the
girl so cruelly forsaken.
That face told nothing, for pride supplies some sufferers with necessary
courage. Jacqueline sat for some time with her eyes fixed on the
decisive adieu which swept away what might have been her secret hope.
The paper did not tremble in her hand, a half-smile of contempt passed
over her mouth. The answer to the restless question that had intruded
itself upon her in the first moments of her grief was now before her.
Its promptness, its polished brutality, had given her a shock, but not
the pain she had expected. Perhaps her great grief--the real, the true,
the grief death brings--recovered its place in her heart, and prevented
her from feeling keenly any secondary emotion. Perhaps this man, who
could pay court to her in her days of happiness and disappear when the
first trouble came, seemed to her not worth caring for.
She silently handed back the letter to her stepmother.
"No more than I expected," said the Baroness.
"Indeed?" replied Jacqueline with complete indifference. She wished to
give no opening to any expressions of sympathy on the part of Madame de
"Poor Madame d'Avrigny," she added, "has bad luck; all her actors seem to
be leaving her."
This speech was the vain bravado of a young soldier going into action.
The poor child betrayed herself to the experienced woman, trained either
to detect or to practise artifice, and who found bitter amusement in
watching the girl's assumed 'sang-froid'. But the mask fell off at the
first touch of genuine sympathy. When Giselle, forgetful of a certain
coolness between them ever since Fred's departure, came to clasp her in
her arms, she showed only her true self, a girl suffering all the
bitterness of a cruel, humiliating desertion. Long talks ensued between
the friends, in which Jacqueline poured into Giselle's ear her sad
discoveries in the past, her sorrows and anxieties in the present, and
her vague plans for the future. "I must go away," she said; "I must
escape somewhere; I can not go on living with Madame de Nailles--I should
go mad, I should be tempted every day to upbraid her with her conduct."
Giselle made no attempt to curb an excitement which she knew would resist
all she could say to calm it. She feigned agreement, hoping thereby to
increase her future influence, and advised her friend to seek in a
convent the refuge that she needed. But she must do nothing rashly; she
should only consider it a temporary retreat whose motive was a wish to
remain for a while within reach of religious consolation. In that way
she would give people nothing to talk about, and her step mother could
not be offended. It was never of any use to get out of a difficulty by
breaking all the glass windows with a great noise, and good resolutions
are made firmer by being matured in quietness. Such were the lessons
Giselle herself had been taught by the Benedictine nuns, who, however
deficient they might be in the higher education of women, knew at least
how to bring up young girls with a view to making them good wives.
Giselle illustrated this day by day in her relations to a husband as
disagreeable as a husband well could be, a man of small intelligence,
who was not even faithful to her. But she did not cite herself as an
example. She never talked about herself, or her own difficulties.
"You are an angel of sense and goodness," sobbed Jacqueline. "I will do
whatever you wish me to do."
"Count upon me--count upon all your friends," said Madame de Talbrun,
And then, enumerating the oldest and the truest of these friends, she
unluckily named Madame d'Argy. Jacqueline drew herself back at once:
"Oh, for pity's sake!" she cried, "don't mention them to me!"
Already a comparison between Fred's faithful affection and Gerard de
Cymier's desertion had come into her mind, but she had refused to
entertain it, declaring resolutely to herself that she never should
repent her refusal. She was sore, she was angry with all men, she wished
all were like Cymier or like Marien, that she might hate every one of
them; she came to the conclusion in her heart of hearts that all of them,
even the best, if put to the proof, would turn out selfish. She liked to
think so--to believe in none of them. Thus it happened that an
unexpected visit from Fred's mother, among those that she received
in her first days of orphanhood, was particularly agreeable to her.
Madame d'Argy, on hearing of the death and of the ruin of M. de Nailles,
was divided by two contradictory feelings. She clearly saw the hand of
Providence in what had happened: her son was in the squadron on its way
to attack Formosa; he was in peril from the climate, in peril from
Chinese bullets, and assuredly those who had brought him into peril could
not be punished too severely; on the other hand, the last mail from
Tonquin had brought her one of those great joys which always incline us
to be merciful. Fred had so greatly distinguished himself in a series of
fights upon the river Min that he had been offered his choice between the
Cross of the Legion of Honor or promotion. He told his mother now that
he had quite recovered from a wound he had received which had brought him
some glory, but which he assured her had done him no bodily harm, and he
repeated to her what he would not tell her at first, some words of praise
from Admiral Courbet of more value in his eyes than any reward.
Triumphant herself, and much moved by pity for Jacqueline, Madame d'Argy
felt as if she must put an end to a rupture which could not be kept up
when a great sorrow had fallen on her old friends, besides which she
longed to tell every one, those who had been blind and ungrateful in
particular, that Fred had proved himself a hero. So Jacqueline and her
stepmother saw her arrive as if nothing had ever come between them.
There were kisses and tears, and a torrent of kindly meant questions,
affectionate explanations, and offers of service. But Fred's mother
could not help showing her own pride and happiness to those in sorrow.
They congratulated her with sadness. Madame d'Argy would have liked to
think that the value of what she had lost was now made plain to
Jacqueline. And if it caused her one more pang--what did it matter?
He and his mother had suffered too. It was the turn of others. God was
just. Resentment, and kindness, and a strange mixed feeling of
forgiveness and revenge contended together in the really generous heart
of Madame d'Argy, but that heart was still sore within her. Pity,
however, carried the day, and had it not been for the irritating coldness
of "that little hard-hearted thing," as she called Jacqueline, she would
have entirely forgiven her. She never suspected that the exaggerated
reserve of manner that offended her was owing to Jacqueline's dread
(commendable in itself) of appearing to wish in her days of misfortune
for the return of one she had rejected in the time of prosperity.
In spite of the received opinion that society abandons those who are
overtaken by misfortune, all the friends of the De Nailles flocked to
offer their condolences to the widow and the orphan with warm
demonstrations of interest. Curiosity, a liking to witness, or to
experience, emotion, the pleasure of being able to tell what has been
seen and heard, to find out new facts and repeat them again to others,
joined to a sort of vague, commonplace, almost intrusive pity, are
sentiments, which sometimes in hours of great disaster, produce what
appears to wear the look of sympathy. A fortnight after M. de Nailles's
death, between the acts of Scylla and Charybdis, the principal parts in
which were taken by young d'Etaples and Isabelle Ray, the company, as it
ate ices, was glibly discussing the real drama which had produced in
their own elegant circle much of the effect a blow has upon an ant-hill--
fear, agitation, and a tumultuous rush to the scene of the disaster.
Great indignation was expressed against the man who had risked the
fortune of his family in speculation. Oh! the thing had been going on
for a long while. His fortune had been gradually melting away;
Grandchaux was loaded down with mortgages and would bring almost nothing
at a forced sale.
Everybody forgot that had M. de Nailles's speculations been successful
they would have been called matters of business, conducted with great
ability on a large scale. When a performer falls from the tightrope, who
remembers all the times he has not failed? It is simply said that he
fell from his own carelessness.
"The poor Baroness is touchingly resigned," said Madame de Villegry, with
a deep sigh; "and heaven knows how many other cares she has besides the
loss of money! I don't mean only the death of her husband--and you know
how much they were attached to each other--I am speaking of that
unaccountable resolution of Jacqueline's."
Madame d'Avrigny here came forward with her usual equanimity which
nothing disturbed, unless it were something which interfered with the
success of her salon.
She was of course very sorry for her friends in trouble, but the
vicissitudes that had happened to her theatricals she had more at heart.
"After all," she said, "the first act did not go off badly, did it? The
musical part made up for the rest. That divine Strahlberg is ready for
any emergency. How well she sang that air of 'La Petite Mariee!' It was
exquisite, but I regretted Jacqueline. She was so charming in that
lively little part. What a catastrophe!
What a terrible catastrophe! Were you speaking of the retreat she wishes
to make in a convent? Well, I quite understand how she feels about it!
I should feel the same myself. In the bewilderment of a first grief one
does not care to see anything of the world. 'Mon Dieu'! youth always
has these exaggerated notions. She will come back to us. Poor little
thing! Of course it was no fault of hers, and I should not think of
blaming Monsieur de Cymier. The exigencies of his career--but you all
must own that unexpected things happen so suddenly in this life that it
is enough to discourage any one who likes to open her house and provide
amusement for her friends."
Every one present pitied her for the contretemps over which she had
triumphed so successfully. Then she resumed, serenely:
"Don't you think that Isabelle played the part almost as well as
Jacqueline? Up to the last moment I was afraid that something would go
wrong. When one gets into a streak of ill-luck--but all went off to
perfection, thank heaven!"
Meantime Madame Odinska was whispering to one of those who sat near her
her belief that Jacqueline would never get over her father's loss.
"It would not astonish me," she said, "to hear that the child, who has
a noble nature, would remain in the convent and take the veil."
Any kind of heroic deed seemed natural to this foolish enthusiast, who,
as a matter of fact, in her own life, had never shown any tendency to
heroic virtues; her mission in life had seemed to be to spoil her
daughters in every possible way, and to fling away more money than
belonged to her.
"Really? Was she so very fond of her father!" asked Madame Ray,
incredulously. "When he was alive, they did not seem to make much of
him in his own house. Maybe this retreat is a good way of getting over
a little wound to her 'amour-propre'."
"The proper thing, I think," said Madame d'Etaples, "would be for the
mother and daughter to keep together, to bear the troubles before them
hand in hand. Jacqueline does not seem to think much of the last wishes
of the father she pretends to be so fond of. The Baroness showed me,
with many tears, a letter he left joined to his will, which was written
some years ago, and which now, of course, is of no value. He told mother
and daughter to take care of each other and hoped they would always
remain friends, loving each other for love of him. Jacqueline's conduct
amazes me; it looks like ingratitude."
"Oh! she is a hard-hearted little thing! I always thought so!" said
Madame de Villegry, carelessly.
Here the rising of the curtain stopped short these discussions, which
displayed so much good-nature and perspicacity. But some laid the blame
on the influence of that little bigot of a Talbrun, who had secretly
blown up the fire of religious enthusiasm in Jacqueline, when Madame
d'Avrigny's energetic "Hush!" put an end to the discussion. It was time
to come back to more immediate interests, to the play which went on in
spite of wind and tide.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A mother's geese are always swans
Bathers, who exhibited themselves in all degrees of ugliness
Fred's verses were not good, but they were full of dejection
Hang out the bush, but keep no tavern
A familiarity which, had he known it, was not flattering
His sleeplessness was not the insomnia of genius
Importance in this world are as easily swept away as the sand
Natural longing, that we all have, to know the worst
Notion of her husband's having an opinion of his own
Pride supplies some sufferers with necessary courage
Seemed to enjoy themselves, or made believe they did
This unending warfare we call love
Unwilling to leave him to the repose he needed