AN EXCURSION TO CROISIC
It was now the end of August, and the sky was magnificently clear. Near the horizon the sea had taken, as it is wont to do in southern climes, a tint of molten silver; on the shore it rippled in tiny waves. A sort of glowing vapor, an effect of the rays of the sun falling plumb upon the sands, produced an atmosphere like that of the tropics. The salt shone up like bunches of white violets on the surface of the marsh. The patient paludiers, dressed in white to resist the action of the sun, had been from early morning at their posts, armed with long rakes. Some were leaning on the low mud-walls that divided the different holdings, whence they watched the process of this natural chemistry, known to them from childhood. Others were playing with their wives and children. Those green dragons, otherwise called custom-house officers, were tranquilly smoking their pipes.
There was something foreign, perhaps oriental, about the scene; at any rate a Parisian suddenly transported thither would never have supposed himself in France. The baron and baroness, who had made a pretext of coming to see how the salt harvest throve, were on the jetty, admiring the silent landscape, where the sea alone sounded the moan of her waves at regular intervals, where boats and vessels tracked a vast expanse, and the girdle of green earth richly cultivated, produced an effect that was all the more charming because so rare on the desolate shores of ocean.
"Well, my friends, I wanted to see the marshes of Guerande once more before I die," said the baron to the paludiers, who had gathered about the entrance of the marshes to salute him.
"Can a Guenic die?" said one of them.
Just then the party from Les Touches arrived through the narrow pathway. The marquise walked first alone; Calyste and Camille followed arm-in-arm. Gasselin brought up the rear.
"There are my father and mother," said the young man to Camille.
The marquise stopped short. Madame du Guenic felt the most violent repulsion at the appearance of Beatrix, although the latter was dressed to much advantage. A Leghorn hat with wide brims and a wreath of blue-bells, her crimped hair fluffy beneath it, a gown of some gray woollen stuff, and a blue sash with floating ends gave her the air of a princess disguised as a milkmaid.
"She has no heart," thought the baroness.
"Mademoiselle," said Calyste to Camille, "this is Madame du Guenic, and this is my father." Then he said turning to the baron and baroness, "Mademoiselle des Touches, and Madame la Marquise de Rochefide, nee de Casteran, father."
The baron bowed to Mademoiselle des Touches, who made a respectful bow, full of gratitude, to the baroness.
"That one," thought Fanny, "really loves my boy; she seems to thank me for bringing him into the world."
"I suppose you have come to see, as I have, whether the harvest is a good one. But I believe you have better reasons for doing so than I," said the baron to Camille. "You have property here, I think, mademoiselle."
"Mademoiselle is the largest of all the owners," said one of the paludiers who were grouped about them, "and may God preserve her to us, for she's a good lady."
The two parties bowed and separated.
"No one would suppose Mademoiselle des Touches to be more than thirty," said the baron to his wife. "She is very handsome. And Calyste prefers that haggard Parisian marquise to a sound Breton girl!"
"I fear he does," replied the baroness.
A boat was waiting at the steps of the jetty, where the party embarked without a smile. The marquise was cold and dignified. Camille had lectured Calyste on his disobedience, explaining to him clearly how matters stood. Calyste, a prey to black despair, was casting glances at Beatrix in which anger and love struggled for the mastery. Not a word was said by any of them during the short passage from the jetty of Guerande to the extreme end of the port of Croisic, the point where the boats discharge the salt, which the peasant-women then bear away on their heads in huge earthen jars after the fashion of caryatides. These women go barefooted with very short petticoats. Many of them let the kerchiefs which cover their bosoms fly carelessly open. Some wear only shifts, and are the more dignified; for the less clothing a woman wears, the more nobly modest is her bearing.
The little Danish vessel had just finished lading, therefore the landing of the two handsome ladies excited much curiosity among the female salt-carriers; and as much to avoid their remarks as to serve Calyste, Camille sprang forward toward the rocks, leaving him to follow with Beatrix, while Gasselin put a distance of some two hundred steps between himself and his master.
The peninsula of Croisic is flanked on the sea side by granite rocks the shapes of which are so strangely fantastic that they can only be appreciated by travellers who are in a position to compare them with other great spectacles of primeval Nature. Perhaps the rocks of Croisic have the same advantage over sights of that kind as that accorded to the road to the Grande Chartreuse over all other narrow valleys. Neither the coasts of Croisic, where the granite bulwark is split into strange reefs, nor those of Sardinia, where Nature is dedicated to grandiose and terrible effects, nor even the basaltic rocks of the northern seas can show a character so unique and so complete. Fancy has here amused itself by composing interminable arabesques where the most fantastic figures wind and twine. All forms are here. The imagination is at last fatigued by this vast gallery of abnormal shapes, where in stormy weather the sea makes rough assaults which have ended in polishing all ruggedness.
You will find under a naturally vaulted roof, of a boldness imitated from afar by Brunelleschi (for the greatest efforts of art are always the timid copying of effects of nature), a rocky hollow polished like a marble bath-tub and floored with fine white sand, in which is four feet of tepid water where you can bathe without danger. You walk on, admiring the cool little covers sheltered by great portals; roughly carved, it is true, but majestic, like the Pitti palace, that other imitation of the whims of Nature. Curious features are innumerable; nothing is lacking that the wildest imagination could invent or desire.
There even exists a thing so rare on the rocky shores of ocean that this may be the solitary instance of it,—a large bush of box. This bush, the greatest curiosity of Croisic, where trees have never grown, is three miles distant from the harbor, on the point of rocks that runs farthest into the sea. On this granite promontory, which rises to a height that neither the waves nor the spray can touch, even in the wildest weather, and faces southerly, diluvian caprice has constructed a hollow basin, which projects about four feet. Into this basin, or cleft, chance, possibly man, has conveyed enough vegetable earth for the growth of a box-plant, compact, well-nourished, and sown, no doubt, by birds. The shape of the roots would indicate to a botanist an existence of at least three hundred years. Above it the rock has been broken off abruptly. The natural convulsion which did this, the traces of which are ineffaceably written here, must have carried away the broken fragments of the granite I know not where.
The sea rushes in, meeting no reefs, to the foot of this cliff, which rises to a height of some four or five hundred feet; at its base lie several scattered rocks, just reaching the surface at high water, and describing a semi-circle. It requires some nerve and resolution to climb to the summit of this little Gibraltar, the shape of which is nearly round, and from which a sudden gust of wind might precipitate the rash gazer into the sea, or, still more to be feared, upon the rocks.
This gigantic sentinel resembles the look-out towers of old castles, from which the inhabitants could look the country over and foresee attacks. Thence we see the clock towers and the arid fields of Croisic, with the sandy dunes, which injure cultivation, and stretch as far as Batz. A few old men declare that in days long past a fortress occupied the spot. The sardine-fishers have given the rock, which can be seen far out at sea, a name; but it is useless to write it here, its Breton consonants being as difficult to pronounce as to remember.
Calyste led Beatrix to this point, whence the view is magnificent, and where the natural sculpture of the granite is even more imposing to the spectator than the mass of the huge breastwork when seen from the sandy road which skirts the shore.
Is it necessary to explain why Camille had rushed away alone? Like some wounded wild animal, she longed for solitude, and went on and on, threading her way among the fissures and caves and little peaks of nature's fortress. Not to be hampered in climbing by women's clothing, she wore trousers with frilled edges, a short blouse, a peaked cap, and, by way of staff, she carried a riding-whip, for Camille has always had a certain vanity in her strength and her agility. Thus arrayed, she looked far handsomer than Beatrix. She wore also a little shawl of crimson China crape, crossed on her bosom and tied behind, as they dress a child. For some time Beatrix and Calyste saw her flitting before them over the peaks and chasms like a ghost or vision; she was trying to still her inward sufferings by confronting some imaginary peril.
She was the first to reach the rock in which the box-bush grew. There she sat down in the shade of a granite projection, and was lost in thought. What could a woman like herself do with old age, having already drunk the cup of fame which all great talents, too eager to sip slowly the stupid pleasures of vanity, quaff at a single draught? She has since admitted that it was here—at this moment, and on this spot—that one of those singular reflections suggested by a mere nothing, by one of those chance accidents that seem nonsense to common minds, but which, to noble souls, do sometimes open vast depths of thought, decided her to take the extraordinary step by which she was to part forever from social life.
She drew from her pocket a little box, in which she had put, in case of thirst, some strawberry lozenges; she now ate several; and as she did so, the thought crossed her mind that the strawberries, which existed no longer, lived nevertheless in their qualities. Was it not so with ourselves? The ocean before her was an image of the infinite. No great spirit can face the infinite, admitting the immortality of the soul, without the conviction of a future of holiness. The thought filled her mind. How petty then seemed the part that she was playing! there was no real greatness in giving Beatrix to Calyste! So thinking, she felt the earthly woman die within her, and the true woman, the noble and angelic being, veiled until now by flesh, arose in her place. Her great mind, her knowledge, her attainments, her false loves had brought her face to face with what? Ah! who would have thought it?—with the bounteous mother, the comforter of troubled spirits, with the Roman Church, ever kind to repentance, poetic to poets, childlike with children, and yet so profound, so full of mystery to anxious, restless minds that they can burrow there and satisfy all longings, all questionings, all hopes. She cast her eyes, as it were, upon the strangely devious way—like the tortuous rocky path before her—over which her love for Calyste had led her. Ah! Calyste was indeed a messenger from heaven, her divine conductor! She had stifled earthly love, and a divine love had come from it.
After walking for some distance in silence, Calyste could not refrain, on a remark of Beatrix about the grandeur of the ocean, so unlike the smiling beauty of the Mediterranean, from comparing in depth, purity, extent, unchanging and eternal duration, that ocean with his love.
"It is met by a rock!" said Beatrix, laughing.
"When you speak thus," he answered, with a sublime look, "I hear you, I see you, and I can summon to my aid the patience of the angels; but when I am alone, you would pity me if you could see me then. My mother weeps for my suffering."
"Listen to me, Calyste; we must put an end to all this," said the marquise, gazing down upon the sandy road. "Perhaps we have now reached the only propitious place to say these things, for never in my life did I see nature more in keeping with my thoughts. I have seen Italy, where all things tell of love; I have seen Switzerland, where all is cool and fresh, and tells of happiness,—the happiness of labor; where the verdure, the tranquil waters, the smiling slopes, are oppressed by the snow-topped Alps; but I have never seen anything that so depicts the burning barrenness of my life as that little arid plain down there, dried by the salt sea winds, corroded by the spray, where a fruitless agriculture tries to struggle against the will of that great ocean. There, Calyste, you have an image of this Beatrix. Don't cling to it. I love you, but I will never be yours in any way whatever, for I have the sense of my inward desolation. Ah! you do not know how cruel I am to myself in speaking thus to you. No, you shall never see your idol diminished; she shall never fall from the height at which you have placed her. I now have a horror of any love which disregards the world and religion. I shall remain in my present bonds; I shall be that sandy plain we see before us, without fruit or flowers or verdure."
"But if you are abandoned?" said Calyste.
"Then I should beg my pardon of the man I have offended. I will never run the risk of taking a happiness I know would quickly end."
"End!" cried Calyste.
The marquise stopped the passionate speech into which her lover was about to launch, by repeating the word "End!" in a tone that silenced him.
This opposition roused in the young man one of those mute inward furies known only to those who love without hope. They walked on several hundred steps in total silence, looking neither at the sea, nor the rocks, nor the plain of Croisic.
"I would make you happy," said Calyste.
"All men begin by promising that," she answered, "and they end by abandonment and disgust. I have no reproach to cast on him to whom I shall be faithful. He made me no promises; I went to him; but my only means of lessening my fault is to make it eternal."
"Say rather, madame, that you feel no love for me. I, who love you, I know that love cannot argue; it is itself; it sees nothing else. There is no sacrifice I will not make to you; command it, and I will do the impossible. He who despised his mistress for flinging her glove among the lions, and ordering him to bring it back to her, did not love! He denied your right to test our hearts, and to yield yourselves only to our utmost devotion. I will sacrifice to you my family, my name, my future."
"But what an insult in that word 'sacrifice'!" she said, in reproachful tones, which made poor Calyste feel the folly of his speech.
None but women who truly love, or inborn coquettes, know how to use a word as a point from which to make a spring.
"You are right," said Calyste, letting fall a tear; "that word can only be said of the cruel struggles which you ask of me."
"Hush!" said Beatrix, struck by an answer in which, for the first time, Calyste had really made her feel his love. "I have done wrong enough; tempt me no more."
At this moment they had reached the base of the rock on which grew the plant of box. Calyste felt a thrill of delight as he helped the marquise to climb the steep ascent to the summit, which she wished to reach. To the poor lad it was a precious privilege to hold her up, to make her lean upon him, to feel her tremble; she had need of him. This unlooked-for pleasure turned his head; he saw nought else but Beatrix, and he clasped her round the waist.
"What!" she said, with an imposing air.
"Will you never be mine?" he demanded, in a voice that was choked by the tumult of his blood.
"Never, my friend," she replied. "I can only be to you a Beatrix,—a dream. But is not that a sweet and tender thing? We shall have no bitterness, no grief, no repentance."
"Will you return to Conti?"
"You shall never belong to any man!" cried Calyste, pushing her from him with frenzied violence.
He listened for her fall, intending to spring after her, but he heard only a muffled sound, the tearing of some stuff, and then the thud of a body falling on the ground. Instead of being flung head foremost down the precipice, Beatrix had only slipped some eight or ten feet into the cavity where the box-bush grew; but she might from there have rolled down into the sea if her gown had not caught upon a point of rock, and by tearing slowly lowered the weight of her body upon the bush.
Mademoiselle des Touches, who saw the scene, was unable in her horror to cry out, but she signed to Gasselin to come. Calyste was leaning forward with an expression of savage curiosity; he saw the position in which Beatrix lay, and he shuddered. Her lips moved,—she seemed to be praying; in fact, she thought she was about to die, for she felt the bush beginning to give way. With the agility which danger gives to youth, Calyste slid down to the ledge below the bush, where he was able to grasp the marquise and hold her, although at the risk of their both sliding down into the sea. As he held her, he saw that she had fainted; but in that aerial spot he could fancy her all his, and his first emotion was that of pleasure.
"Open your eyes," he said, "and forgive me; we will die together."
"Die?" she said, opening her eyes and unclosing her pallid lips.
Calyste welcomed that word with a kiss, and felt the marquise tremble under it convulsively, with passionate joy. At that instant Gasselin's hob-nailed shoes sounded on the rock above them. The old Breton was followed by Camille, and together they sought for some means of saving the lovers.
"There's but one way, mademoiselle," said Gasselin. "I must slide down there, and they can climb on my shoulders, and you must pull them up."
"And you?" said Camille.
The man seemed surprised that he should be considered in presence of the danger to his young master.
"You must go to Croisic and fetch a ladder," said Camille.
Beatrix asked in a feeble voice to be laid down, and Calyste placed her on the narrow space between the bush and its background of rock.
"I saw you, Calyste," said Camille from above. "Whether Beatrix lives or dies, remember that this must be an accident."
"She will hate me," he said, with moistened eyes.
"She will adore you," replied Camille. "But this puts an end to our excursion. We must get her back to Les Touches. Had she been killed, Calyste, what would have become of you?"
"I should have followed her."
"And your mother?" Then, after a pause, she added, feebly, "and me?"
Calyste was deadly pale; he stood with his back against the granite motionless and silent. Gasselin soon returned from one of the little farms scattered through the neighborhood, bearing a ladder which he had borrowed. By this time Beatrix had recovered a little strength. The ladder being placed, she was able, by the help of Gasselin, who lowered Camille's red shawl till he could grasp it, to reach the round top of the rock, where the Breton took her in his arms and carried her to the shore as though she were an infant.
"I should not have said no to death—but suffering!" she murmured to Felicite, in a feeble voice.
The weakness, in fact the complete prostration, of the marquise obliged Camille to have her taken to the farmhouse from which the ladder had been borrowed. Calyste, Gasselin, and Camille took off what clothes they could spare and laid them on the ladder, making a sort of litter on which they carried Beatrix. The farmers gave her a bed. Gasselin then went to the place where the carriage was awaiting them, and, taking one of the horses, rode to Croisic to obtain a doctor, telling the boatman to row to the landing-place that was nearest to the farmhouse.
Calyste, sitting on a stool, answered only by motions of the head, and rare monosyllables when spoken to; Camille's uneasiness, roused for Beatrix, was still further excited by Calyste's unnatural condition. When the physician arrived, and Beatrix was bled, she felt better, began to talk, and consented to embark; so that by five o'clock they reached the jetty at Guerande, whence she was carried to Les Touches. The news of the accident had already spread through that lonely and almost uninhabited region with incredible rapidity.
Calyste passed the night at Les Touches, sitting at the foot of Beatrix's bed, in company with Camille. The doctor from Guerande had assured them that on the following day a little stiffness would be all that remained of the accident. Across the despair of Calyste's heart there came a gleam of joy. He was there, at her feet; he could watch her sleeping or waking; he might study her pallid face and all its expressions. Camille smiled bitterly as her keen mind recognized in Calyste the symptoms of a passion such as man can feel but once,—a passion which dyes his soul and his faculties by mingling with the fountain of his life at a period when neither thoughts nor cares distract or oppose the inward working of this emotion. She saw that Calyste would never, could never see the real woman that was in Beatrix.
And with what guileless innocence the young Breton allowed his thoughts to be read! When he saw the beautiful green eyes of the sick woman turned to him, expressing a mixture of love, confusion, and even mischief, he colored, and turned away his head.
"Did I not say truly, Calyste, that you men promised happiness, and ended by flinging us down a precipice?"
When he heard this little jest, said in sweet, caressing tones which betrayed a change of heart in Beatrix, Calyste knelt down, took her moist hand which she yielded to him, and kissed it humbly.
"You have the right to reject my love forever," he said, "and I, I have no right to say one word to you."
"Ah!" cried Camille, seeing the expression on Beatrix's face and comparing it with that obtained by her diplomacy, "love has a wit of its own, wiser than that of all the world! Take your composing-draught, my dear friend, and go to sleep."
That night, spent by Calyste beside Mademoiselle des Touches, who read a book of theological mysticism while Calyste read "Indiana,"—the first work of Camille's celebrated rival, in which is the captivating image of a young man loving with idolatry and devotion, with mysterious tranquillity and for all his life, a woman placed in the same false position as Beatrix (a book which had a fatal influence upon him),—that night left ineffaceable marks upon the heart of the poor young fellow, whom Felicite soothed with the assurance that unless a woman were a monster she must be flattered in all her vanities by being the object of such a crime.
"You would never have flung me into the water," said Camille, brushing away a tear.
Toward morning, Calyste, worn-out with emotion, fell asleep in his arm-chair; and the marquise in her turn, watched his charming face, paled by his feelings and his vigil of love. She heard him murmur her name as he slept.
"He loves while sleeping," she said to Camille.
"We must send him home," said Felicite, waking him.
No one was anxious at the hotel du Guenic, for Mademoiselle des Touches had written a line to the baroness telling her of the accident.
Calyste returned to dinner at Les Touches and found Beatrix up and dressed, but pale, feeble, and languid. No longer was there any harshness in her words or any coldness in her looks. After this evening, filled with music by Camille, who went to her piano to leave Calyste free to take and press the hands of Beatrix (though both were unable to speak), no storms occurred at Les Touches. Felicite completely effaced herself.
Cold, fragile, thin, hard women like Madame de Rochefide, women whose necks turn in a manner to give them a vague resemblance to the feline race, have souls of the same pale tint as their light eyes, green or gray; and to melt them, to fuse those blocks of stone it needs a thunderbolt. To Beatrix, Calyste's fury of love and his mad action came as the thunderbolt that nought resists, which changes all natures, even the most stubborn. She felt herself inwardly humbled; a true, pure love bathed her heart with its soft and limpid warmth. She breathed a sweet and genial atmosphere of feelings hitherto unknown to her, by which she felt herself magnified, elevated; in fact, she rose into that heaven where Bretons throughout all time have placed the Woman. She relished with delight the respectful adoration of the youth, whose happiness cost her little, for a gesture, a look, a word was enough to satisfy him. The value which Calyste's heart gave to these trifles touched her exceedingly; to hold her gloved hand was more to that young angel than the possession of her whole person to the man who ought to have been faithful to her. What a contrast between them!
Few women could resist such constant deification. Beatrix felt herself sure of being obeyed and understood. She might have asked Calyste to risk his life for the slightest of her caprices, and he would never have reflected for a moment. This consciousness gave her a certain noble and imposing air. She saw love on the side of its grandeur; and her heart sought for some foothold on which she might remain forever the loftiest of women in the eyes of her young lover, over whom she now wished her power to be eternal.
Her coquetries became the more persistent because she felt within herself a certain weakness. She played the invalid for a whole week with charming hypocrisy. Again and again she walked about the velvet turf which lay between the house and garden leaning on Calyste's arm in languid dependence.
"Ah! my dear, you are taking him a long journey in a small space," said Mademoiselle des Touches one day.
Before the excursion to Croisic, the two women were discoursing one evening about love, and laughing at the different ways that men adopted to declare it; admitting to themselves that the cleverest men, and naturally the least loving, did not like to wander in the labyrinths of sentimentality and went straight to the point,—in which perhaps they were right; for the result was that those who loved most deeply and reservedly were, for a time at least, ill-treated.
"They go to work like La Fontaine, when he wanted to enter the Academy," said Camille.
Madame de Rochefide had unbounded power to restrain Calyste within the limits where she meant to keep him; it sufficed her to remind him by a look or gesture of his horrible violence on the rocks. The eyes of her poor victim would fill with tears, he was silent, swallowing down his prayers, his arguments, his sufferings with a heroism that would certainly have touched any other woman. She finally brought him by her infernal coquetry to such a pass that he went one day to Camille imploring her advice.
Beatrix, armed with Calyste's own letter, quoted the passage in which he said that to love was the first happiness, that of being loved came later; and she used that axiom to restrain his passion to the limits of respectful idolatry, which pleased her well. She liked to feel her soul caressed by those sweet hymns of praise and adoration which nature suggests to youth; in them is so much artless art; such innocent seduction is in their cries, their prayers, their exclamations, their pledges of themselves in the promissory notes which they offer on the future; to all of which Beatrix was very careful to give no definite answer. Yes, she heard him; but she doubted! Love was not yet the question; what he asked of her was permission to love. In fact, that was all the poor lad really asked for; his mind still clung to the strongest side of love, the spiritual side. But the woman who is firmest in words is often the feeblest in action. It is strange that Calyste, having seen the progress his suit had made by pushing Beatrix into the sea, did not continue to urge it violently. But love in young men is so ecstatic and religious that their inmost desire is to win its fruition through moral conviction. In that is the sublimity of their love.
Nevertheless the day came when the Breton, driven to desperation, complained to Camille of Beatrix's conduct.
"I meant to cure you by making you quickly understand her," replied Mademoiselle des Touches; "but you have spoiled all. Ten days ago you were her master; to-day, my poor boy, you are her slave. You will never have the strength now to do as I advise."
"What ought I to do?"
"Quarrel with her on the ground of her hardness. A woman is always over-excited when she discusses; let her be angry and ill-treat you, and then stay away; do not return to Les Touches till she herself recalls you."
In all extreme illness there is a moment when the patient is willing to accept the cruellest remedy and submits to the most horrible operation. Calyste had reached that point. He listened to Camille's advice and stayed at home two whole days; but on the third he was scratching at Beatrix's door to let her know that he and Camille were waiting breakfast for her.
"Another chance lost!" Camille said to him when she saw him re-appear so weakly.
During his two days' absence, Beatrix had frequently looked through the window which opens on the road to Guerande. When Camille found her doing so, she talked of the effect produced by the gorse along the roadway, the golden blooms of which were dazzling in the September sunshine.
The marquise kept Camille and Calyste waiting long for breakfast; and the delay would have been significant to any eyes but those of Calyste, for when she did appear, her dress showed an evident intention to fascinate him and prevent another absence. After breakfast she went to walk with him in the garden and filled his simple heart with joy by expressing a wish to go again to that rock where she had so nearly perished.
"Will you go with me alone?" asked Calyste, in a troubled voice.
"If I refused to do so," she replied, "I should give you reason to suppose I thought you dangerous. Alas! as I have told you again and again I belong to another, and I must be his only; I chose him knowing nothing of love. The fault was great, and bitter is my punishment."
When she talked thus, her eyes moist with the scanty tears shed by that class of woman, Calyste was filled with a compassion that reduced his fiery ardor; he adored her then as he did a Madonna. We have no more right to require different characters to be alike in the expression of feelings than we have to expect the same fruits from different trees. Beatrix was at this moment undergoing an inward struggle; she hesitated between herself and Calyste,—between the world she still hoped to re-enter, and the young happiness offered to her; between a second and an unpardonable love, and social rehabilitation. She began, therefore, to listen, without even acted displeasure, to the talk of the youth's blind passion; she allowed his soft pity to soothe her. Several times she had been moved to tears as she listened to Calyste's promises; and she suffered him to commiserate her for being bound to an evil genius, a man as false as Conti. More than once she related to him the misery and anguish she had gone through in Italy, when she first became aware that she was not alone in Conti's heart. On this subject Camille had fully informed Calyste and given him several lectures on it, by which he profited.
"I," he said, "will love you only, you absolutely. I have no triumphs of art, no applause of crowds stirred by my genius to offer you; my only talent is to love you; my honor, my pride are in your perfections. No other woman can have merit in my eyes; you have no odious rivalry to fear. You are misconceived and wronged, but I know you, and for every misconception, for every wrong, I will make you feel my comprehension day by day."
She listened to such speeches with bowed head, allowing him to kiss her hands, and admitting silently but gracefully that she was indeed an angel misunderstood.
"I am too humiliated," she would say; "my past has robbed the future of all security."
It was a glorious day for Calyste when, arriving at Les Touches at seven in the morning, he saw from afar Beatrix at a window watching for him, and wearing the same straw hat she had worn on the memorable day of their first excursion. For a moment he was dazzled and giddy. These little things of passion magnify the world itself. It may be that only Frenchwomen possess the art of such scenic effects; they owe it to the grace of their minds; they know how to put into sentiment as much of the picturesque as the particular sentiment can bear without a loss of vigor or of force.
Ah! how lightly she rested on Calyste's arm! Together they left Les Touches by the garden-gate which opens on the dunes. Beatrix thought the sands delightful; she spied the hardy little plants with rose-colored flowers that grew there, and she gathered a quantity to mix with the Chartreux pansies which also grow in that arid desert, dividing them significantly with Calyste, to whom those flowers and their foliage were to be henceforth an eternal and dreadful relic.
"We'll add a bit of box," she said smiling.
They sat some time together on the jetty, and Calyste, while waiting for the boat to come over, told her of his juvenile act on the day of her arrival.
"I knew of your little escapade," she said, "and it was the cause of my sternness to you that first night."
During their walk Madame de Rochefide had the lightly jesting tone of a woman who loves, together with a certain tenderness and abandonment of manner. Calyste had reason to think himself beloved. But when, wandering along the shore beneath the rocks, they came upon one of those charming creeks where the waves deposit the most extraordinary mosaic of brilliant pebbles, and they played there like children gathering the prettiest, when Calyste at the summit of happiness asked her plainly to fly with him to Ireland, she resumed her dignified and distant air, asked for his arm, and continued their walk in silence to what she called her Tarpeian rock.
"My friend," she said, mounting with slow steps the magnificent block of granite of which she was making for herself a pedestal, "I have not the courage to conceal what you are to me. For ten years I have had no happiness comparable to that which we have just enjoyed together, searching for shells among those rocks, exchanging pebbles of which I shall make a necklace more precious far to me than if it were made of the finest diamonds. I have been once more a little girl, a child, such as I was at fourteen or sixteen—when I was worthy of you. The love I have had the happiness to inspire in your heart has raised me in my own eyes. Understand these words to their magical extent. You have made me the proudest and happiest of my sex, and you will live longer in my remembrance, perhaps, than I in yours."
At this moment they reached the summit of the rock, whence they saw the vast ocean on one side and Brittany on the other, with its golden isles, its feudal towers, and its gorse. Never did any woman stand on a finer scene to make a great avowal.
"But," she continued, "I do not belong to myself; I am more bound by my own will than I was by the law. You must be punished for my misdeed, but be satisfied to know that we suffer together. Dante never saw his Beatrice again; Petrarch never possessed his Laura. Such disasters fall on none but noble souls. But, if I should be abandoned, if I fall lower yet into shame and ignominy, if your Beatrix is cruelly misjudged by the world she loathes, if indeed she is the lowest of women,—then, my child, my adored child," she said, taking his hand, "to you she will still be first of all; you will know that she rises to heaven as she leans on you; but then, my friend," she added, giving him an intoxicating look, "then if you wish to cast her down do not fail of your blow; after your love, death!"
Calyste clasped her round the waist and pressed her to his heart. As if to confirm her words Madame de Rochefide laid a tender, timid kiss upon his brow. When they turned and walked slowly back; talking together like those who have a perfect comprehension of each other,—she, thinking she had gained a truce, he not doubting of his happiness; and both deceived. Calyste, from what Camille had told him, was confident that Conti would be enchanted to find an opportunity to part from Beatrix; Beatrix, yielding herself up to the vagueness of her position, looked to chance to arrange the future.
They reached Les Touches in the most delightful of all states of mind, entering by the garden gate, the key of which Calyste had taken with him. It was nearly six o'clock. The luscious odors, the warm atmosphere, the burnished rays of the evening sun were all in harmony with their feelings and their tender talk. Their steps were taken in unison,—the gait of all lovers,—their movements told of the union of their thoughts. The silence that reigned about Les Touches was so profound that the noise which Calyste made in opening and shutting the gate must have echoed through the garden. As the two had said all to each other that could be said, and as their day's excursion, so filled with emotion, had physically tired them, they walked slowly, saying nothing.
Suddenly, at the turn of a path, Beatrix was seized with a horrible trembling, with that contagious horror which is caused by the sight of a snake, and which Calyste felt before he saw the cause of it. On a bench, beneath the branches of a weeping ash, sat Conti, talking with Camille Maupin.