DISILLUSIONS—IN ALL BUT LA FONTAINE'S FABLES
The next day Calyste seemed to Beatrix just what he was: a perfect and loyal gentleman without imagination or cleverness. In Paris, a man called clever must have spontaneous brilliancy, as the fountains have water; men of the world and Parisians in general are in that way very clever. But Calyste loved too deeply, he was too much absorbed in his own sentiments to perceive the change in Beatrix, and to satisfy her need by displaying new resources. To her, he seemed pale indeed, after the brilliancy of the night before, and he caused not the faintest emotion to the hungry Beatrix. A great love is a credit opened to a power so voracious that bankruptcy is sure to come sooner or later.
In spite of the fatigue of this day (the day when a woman is bored by a lover) Beatrix trembled with fear at the thought of a possible meeting between La Palferine and Calyste, a man of courage without assertion. She hesitated to see the count again; but the knot of her hesitation was cut by a decisive event.
Beatrix had taken the third of a box at the Opera, obscurely situated on the lower tier for the purpose of not being much in sight. For the last few days Calyste, grown bolder, had escorted the marquise to her box, placing himself behind her, and timing their arrival at a late hour so as to meet no one in the corridors. Beatrix, on these occasions, left the box alone before the end of the last act, and Calyste followed at a distance to watch over her, although old Antoine was always there to attend his mistress. Maxime and La Palferine had studied this strategy, which was prompted by respect for the proprieties, also by that desire for concealment which characterizes the idolators of the little god, and also, again, by the fear which oppresses all women who have been constellations in the world and whom love has caused to fall from their zodiacal eminence. Public humiliation is dreaded as an agony more cruel than death itself. But, by a manoeuvre of Maxime's, that blow to her pride, that outrage which women secure of their rank in Olympus cast upon others who have fallen from their midst, was now to descend on Beatrix.
At a performance of "Lucia," which ends, as every one knows, with one of the finest triumphs of Rubini, Madame de Rochefide, whom Antoine had not yet come to fetch, reached the peristyle of the opera-house by the lower corridor just as the staircase was crowded by fashionable women ranged on the stairs or standing in groups below it, awaiting the announcement of their carriages. Beatrix was instantly recognized; whispers which soon became a murmur arose in every group. In a moment the crowd dispersed; the marquise was left alone like a leper. Calyste dared not, seeing his wife on the staircase, advance to accompany her, though twice she vainly cast him a tearful glance, a prayer, that he would come to her. At that moment, La Palferine, elegant, superb, charming, left two ladies with whom he had been talking, and came down to the marquise.
"Take my arm," he said, bowing, "and walk proudly out. I will find your carriage."
"Will you come home with me and finish the evening?" she answered, getting into her carriage and making room for him.
La Palferine said to his groom, "Follow the carriage of madame," and then he jumped into it beside her to the utter stupefaction of Calyste, who stood for a moment planted on his two legs as if they were lead. It was the sight of him standing thus, pale and livid, that caused Beatrix to make the sign to La Palferine to enter her carriage. Doves can be Robespierres in spite of their white wings. Three carriages reached the rue de Chartres with thundering rapidity,—that of Calyste, that of the marquise, and that of La Palferine.
"Oh! you here?" said Beatrix, entering her salon on the arm of the young count, and finding Calyste, whose horse had outstripped those of the other carriages.
"Then you know monsieur?" said Calyste, furiously.
"Monsieur le Comte de la Palferine was presented to me ten days ago by Nathan," she replied; "but you, monsieur, you have known me four years!—"
"And I am ready, madame," said Charles-Edouard, "to make the Marquise d'Espard repent to her third generation for being the first to turn away from you."
"Ah! it was she, was it?" cried Beatrix; "I will make her rue it."
"To revenge yourself thoroughly," said the young man in her ear, "you ought to recover your husband; and I am capable of bringing him back to you."
The conversation, thus begun, went on till two in the morning, without allowing Calyste, whose anger was again and again repressed by a look from Beatrix, to say one word to her in private. La Palferine, though he did not like Beatrix, showed a superiority of grace, good taste, and cleverness equal to the evident inferiority of Calyste, who wriggled in his chair like a worm cut in two, and actually rose three times as if to box the ears of La Palferine. The third time that he made a dart forward, the young count said to him, "Are you in pain, monsieur?" in a manner which sent Calyste back to his chair, where he sat as rigid as a mile-stone.
The marquise conversed with the ease of a Celimene, pretending to ignore that Calyste was there. La Palferine had the cleverness to depart after a brilliant witticism, leaving the two lovers to a quarrel.
Thus, by Maxime's machinations, the fire of discord flamed in the separate households of Monsieur and of Madame de Rochefide. The next day, learning the success of this last scene from La Palferine at the Jockey Club, where the young count was playing whist, Maxime went to the hotel Schontz to ascertain with what success Aurelie was rowing her boat.
"My dear," said Madame Schontz, laughing at Maxime's expression, "I am at an end of my expedients. Rochefide is incurable. I end my career of gallantry by perceiving that cleverness is a misfortune."
"Explain to me that remark."
"In the first place, my dear friend, I have kept Arthur for the last week to a regimen of kicks on the shin and perpetual wrangling and jarring; in short, all we have that is most disagreeable in our business. 'You are ill,' he says to me with paternal sweetness, 'for I have been good to you always and I love you to adoration.' 'You are to blame for one thing, my dear,' I answered; 'you bore me.' 'Well, if I do, haven't you the wittiest and handsomest young man in Paris to amuse you?' said the poor man. I was caught. I actually felt I loved him."
"Ah!" said Maxime.
"How could I help it? Feeling is stronger than we; one can't resist such things. So I changed pedals. I began to entice my judicial wild-boar, now turned like Arthur to a sheep; I gave him Arthur's sofa. Heavens! how he bored me. But, you understand, I had to have Fabien there to let Arthur surprise us."
"Well," cried Maxime, "go on; what happened? Was Arthur furious?"
"You know nothing about it, my old fellow. When Arthur came in and 'surprised' us, Fabien and me, he retreated on the tips of his toes to the dining-room, where he began to clear his throat, 'broum, broum!' and cough, and knock the chairs about. That great fool of a Fabien, to whom, of course, I can't explain the whole matter, was frightened. There, my dear Maxime, is the point we have reached."
Maxime nodded his head, and played for a few moments with his cane.
"I have known such natures," he said. "And the only way for you to do is to pitch Arthur out of the window and lock the door upon him. This is how you must manage it. Play that scene over again with Fabien; when Arthur surprises you, give Fabien a glance Arthur can't mistake; if he gets angry, that will end the matter; if he still says, 'broum, broum!' it is just as good; you can end it a better way."
"Why, get angry, and say: 'I believed you loved me, respected me; but I see you've no feeling at all, not even jealousy,'—you know the tirade. 'In a case like this, Maxime' (bring me in) 'would kill his man on the spot' (then weep). 'And Fabien, he' (mortify him by comparing him with that fellow), 'Fabien whom I love, Fabien would have drawn a dagger and stabbed you to the heart. Ah, that's what it is to love! Farewell, monsieur; take back your house and all your property; I shall marry Fabien; he gives me his name; he marries me in spite of his old mother—but you—'"
"I see! I see!" cried Madame Schontz. "I'll be superb! Ah! Maxime, there will never be but one Maxime, just as there's only one de Marsay."
"La Palferine is better than I," replied the Comte de Trailles, modestly. "He'll make his mark."
"La Palferine has tongue, but you have fist and loins. What weights you've carried! what cuffs you've given!"
"La Palferine has all that, too; he is deep and he is educated, whereas I am ignorant," replied Maxime. "I have seen Rastignac, who has made an arrangement with the Keeper of the Seals. Fabien is to be appointed chief-justice at once, and officer of the Legion of honor after one year's service."
"I shall make myself devote," said Madame Schontz, accenting that speech in a manner which obtained a nod of approbation from Maxime.
"Priests can do more than even we," he replied sententiously.
"Ah! can they?" said Madame Schontz. "Then I may still find some one in the provinces fit to talk to. I've already begun my role. Fabien has written to his mother that grace has enlightened me; and he has fascinated the good woman with my million and the chief-justiceship. She consents that we shall live with her, and sends me her portrait, and wants mine. If Cupid looked at hers he would die on the spot. Come, go away, Maxime. I must put an end to my poor Arthur to-night, and it breaks my heart."
Two days later, as they met on the threshold of the Jockey Club, Charles-Edouard said to Maxime, "It is done."
The words, which contained a drama accomplished in part by vengeance, made Maxime smile.
"Now come in and listen to Rochefide bemoaning himself; for you and Aurelie have both touched goal together. Aurelie has just turned Arthur out of doors, and now it is our business to get him a home. He must give Madame du Ronceret three hundred thousand francs and take back his wife; you and I must prove to him that Beatrix is superior to Aurelie."
"We have ten days before us to do it in," said Charles-Edouard, "and in all conscience that's not too much."
"What will you do when the shell bursts?"
"A man has always mind enough, give him time to collect it; I'm superb at that sort of preparation."
The two conspirators entered the salon together, and found Rochefide aged by two years; he had not even put on his corset, his beard had sprouted, and all his elegance was gone.
"Well, my dear marquis?" said Maxime.
"Ah, my dear fellow, my life is wrecked."
Arthur talked for ten minutes, and Maxime listened gravely, thinking all the while of his own marriage, which was now to take place within a week.
"My dear Arthur," he replied at last; "I told you the only means I knew to keep Aurelie, but you wouldn't—"
"What was it?"
"Didn't I advise you to go and sup with Antonia?"
"Yes, you did. But how could I? I love, and you, you only make love—"
"Listen to me, Arthur; give Aurelie three hundred thousand francs for that little house, and I'll promise to find some one to suit you better. I'll talk to you about it later, for there's d'Ajuda making signs that he wants to speak to me."
And Maxime left the inconsolable man for the representative of a family in need of consolation.
"My dear fellow," said d'Ajuda in his ear, "the duchess is in despair. Calyste is having his trunks packed secretly, and he has taken out a passport. Sabine wants to follow them, surprise Beatrix, and maul her. She is pregnant, and it takes the turn of murderous ideas; she has actually and openly bought pistols."
"Tell the duchess that Madame de Rochefide will not leave Paris, but within a fortnight she will have left Calyste. Now, d'Ajuda, shake hands. Neither you nor I have ever said, or known, or done anything about this; we admire the chances of life, that's all."
"The duchess has already made me swear on the holy Gospels to hold my tongue."
"Will you receive my wife a month hence?"
"Then every one, all round, will be satisfied," said Maxime. "Only remind the duchess that she must make that journey to Italy with the du Guenics, and the sooner the better."
For ten days Calyste was made to bear the weight of an anger all the more invincible because it was in part the effect of a real passion. Beatrix now experienced the love so brutally but faithfully described to the Duchesse de Grandlieu by Maxime de Trailles. Perhaps no well-organized beings exist who do not experience that terrible passion once in the course of their lives. The marquise felt herself mastered by a superior force,—by a young man on whom her rank and quality did not impose, who, as noble as herself, regarded her with an eye both powerful and calm, and from whom her greatest feminine arts and efforts could with difficulty obtain even a smile of approval. In short, she was oppressed by a tyrant who never left her that she did not fall to weeping, bruised and wounded, yet believing herself to blame. Charles-Edouard played upon Madame de Rochefide the same comedy Madame de Rochefide had played on Calyste for the last six months.
Since her public humiliation at the Opera, Beatrix had never ceased to treat Monsieur du Guenic on the basis of the following proposition:—
"You have preferred your wife and the opinion of the world to me. If you wish to prove that you love me, sacrifice your wife and the world to me. Abandon Sabine, and let us live in Switzerland, Italy, or Germany."
Entrenched in that hard ultimatum, she established the blockade which women declare by frigid glances, disdainful gestures, and a certain fortress-like demeanor, if we may so call it. She thought herself delivered from Calyste, supposing that he would never dare to break openly with the Grandlieus. To desert Sabine, to whom Mademoiselle des Touches had left her fortune, would doom him to penury.
But Calyste, half-mad with despair, had secretly obtained a passport, and had written to his mother begging her to send him at once a considerable sum of money. While awaiting the arrival of these funds he set himself to watch Beatrix, consumed by the fury of Breton jealousy. At last, nine days after the communication made by La Palferine to Maxime at the club, Calyste, to whom his mother had forwarded thirty thousand francs, went to Madame de Rochefide's house with the firm intention of forcing the blockade, driving away La Palferine, and leaving Paris with his pacified angel. It was one of those horrible alternatives in which women who have hitherto retained some little respect for themselves plunge at once and forever into the degradations of vice,—though it is possible to return thence to virtue. Until this moment Madame de Rochefide had regarded herself as a virtuous woman in heart, upon whom two passions had fallen; but to adore Charles-Edouard and still let Calyste adore her, would be to lose her self-esteem,—for where deception begins, infamy begins. She had given rights to Calyste, and no human power could prevent the Breton from falling at her feet and watering them with the tears of an absolute repentance. Many persons are surprised at the glacial insensibility under which women extinguish their loves. But if they did not thus efface their past, their lives could have no dignity, they could never maintain themselves against the fatal familiarity to which they had once submitted. In the entirely new situation in which Beatrix found herself, she might have evaded the alternatives presented to her by Calyste had La Palferine entered the room; but the vigilance of her old footman, Antoine, defeated her.
Hearing a carriage stop before the door, she said to Calyste, "Here come visitors!" and she rushed forward to prevent a scene.
Antoine, however, as a prudent man, had told La Palferine that Madame la marquise was out.
When Beatrix heard from the old servant who had called and the answer he had given, she replied, "Very good," and returned to the salon, thinking: "I will escape into a convent; I will make myself a nun."
Calyste, meantime, had opened the window and seen his rival.
"Who came?" he said to Beatrix on her return.
"I don't know; Antoine is still below."
"It was La Palferine."
"You love him, and that is why you are blaming and reproaching me; I saw him!"
"You saw him?"
"I opened the window."
Beatrix fell half fainting on the sofa. Then she negotiated in order to gain time; she asked to have the journey postponed for a week, under pretence of making preparations; inwardly resolving to turn Calyste off in a way that she could satisfy La Palferine,—for such are the wretched calculations and the fiery anguish concealed with these lives which have left the rails along which the great social train rolls on.
When Calyste had left her, Beatrix felt so wretched, so profoundly humiliated, that she went to bed; she was really ill; the violent struggle which wrung her heart seemed to reach a physical reaction, and she sent for the doctor; but at the same time she despatched to La Palferine the following letter, in which she revenged herself on Calyste with a sort of rage:—
To Monsieur le Comte de la Palferine.
My Friend,—Come and see me; I am in despair. Antoine sent you away when your arrival would have put an end to one of the most horrible nightmares of my life and delivered me from a man I hate, and whom I trust never to see again. I love you only in this world, and I can never again love any one but you, though I have the misfortune not to please you as I fain would—
She wrote four pages which, beginning thus, ended in an exaltation too poetic for typography, in which she compromised herself so completely that the letter closed with these words: "Am I sufficiently at your mercy? Ah! nothing will cost me anything if it only proves to you how much you are loved." And she signed the letter, a thing she had never done for Conti or Calyste.
The next day, at the hour when La Palferine called, Beatrix was in her bath, and Antoine begged him to wait. He, in his turn, saw Calyste sent away; for du Guenic, hungry for love, came early. La Palferine was standing at the window, watching his rival's departure, when Beatrix entered the salon.
"Ah! Charles," she cried, expecting what had happened, "you have ruined me!"
"I know it, madame," replied La Palferine, tranquilly. "You have sworn to love me alone; you have offered to give me a letter in which you will write your motives for destroying yourself, so that, in case of infidelity, I may poison you without fear of human justice,—as if superior men needed to have recourse to poison for revenge! You have written to me: 'Nothing will cost me anything if it only proves to you how much you are loved.' Well, after that, I find a contradiction between those words and your present remark that I have ruined you. I must know now if you have had the courage to break with du Guenic."
"Ah! you have your revenge upon him in advance," she cried, throwing her arms around his neck. "Henceforth, you and I are forever bound together."
"Madame," said the prince of Bohemia, coldly, "if you wish me for your friend, I consent; but on one condition only."
"Condition!" she exclaimed.
"Yes; the following condition. You must be reconciled to Monsieur de Rochefide; you must recover the honor of your position; you must return to your handsome house in the due d'Anjou and be once more one of the queens of Paris. You can do this by making Rochefide play a part in politics, and putting into your own conduct the persistency which Madame d'Espard has displayed. That is the situation necessary for the woman to whom I do the honor to give myself."
"But you forget that Monsieur de Rochefide's consent is necessary."
"Oh, my dear child," said La Palferine, "we have arranged all that; I have given my word of honor as a gentleman that you are worth all the Schontzes of the quartier Saint-Georges, and you must fulfil my pledge."
For the next week Calyste went every day to Madame de Rochefide's door, only to be refused by Antoine, who said with a studied face, "Madame is ill."
From there Calyste hurried to La Palferine's lodging, where the valet answered, "Monsieur le comte is away, hunting." Each time this happened the Breton baron left a letter for La Palferine.
On the ninth day Calyste received a line from La Palferine, making an appointment to receive him. He hurried to his lodgings and found the count, but in company with Maxime de Trailles, to whom the young roue no doubt wished to give proof of his savoir-faire by making him a witness of this scene.
"Monsieur le baron," began Charles-Edouard, tranquilly, "here are the six letters you have done me the honor to write to me. They are, as you see, safe and sound; they have not been unsealed. I knew in advance what they were likely to contain, having learned that you have been seeking me since the day when I looked at you from the window of a house from which you had looked at me on the previous day. I thought I had better ignore all mistaken provocations. Between ourselves, I am sure you have too much good taste to be angry with a woman for no longer loving you. It is always a bad means of recovering her to seek a quarrel with the one preferred. But, in the present case, your letters have a radical fault, a nullity, as the lawyers say. You have too much good sense, I am sure, to complain of a husband who takes back his wife. Monsieur de Rochefide has felt that the position of the marquise was undignified. You will, therefore, no longer find Madame de Rochefide in the rue de Chartres, but—six months hence, next winter—in the hotel de Rochefide. You flung yourself rather heedlessly into the midst of a reconciliation between husband and wife,—which you provoked yourself by not saving Madame de Rochefide from the humiliation to which she was subjected at the Opera. On coming away, the marquise, to whom I had already carried certain amicable proposals from her husband, took me up in her carriage, and her first words were, 'Bring Arthur back to me!'"
"Ah! yes," cried Calyste, "she was right; I was wanting in true devotion."
"Unhappily, monsieur, Rochefide was living with one of those atrocious women, Madame Schontz, who had long been expecting him to leave her. She had counted on Madame de Rochefide's failure in health, and expected some day to see herself marquise; finding her castles in the air thus scattered, she determined to revenge herself on husband and wife. Such women, monsieur, will put out one of their own eyes to put out two of their enemy. La Schontz, who has just left Paris, has put out six! If I had had the imprudence to love the marquise, Madame Schontz would have put out eight. You see now that you are in need of an oculist."
Maxime could not help smiling at the change that came over Calyste's face; which turned deadly pale as his eyes were opened to his situation.
"Would you believe, Monsieur le baron, that that unworthy woman has given her hand to the man who furnished the means for her revenge? Ah! these women! You can understand now why Arthur and his wife should have retired for a time to their delightful little country-house at Nogent-sur-Marne. They'll recover their eyesight there. During their stay in the country the hotel de Rochefide is to be renovated, and the marquise intends to display on her return a princely splendor. When a woman so noble, the victim of conjugal love, finds courage to return to her duty, the part of a man who adores her as you do, and admires her as I admire her, is to remain her friend although we can do nothing more. You will excuse me, I know, for having made Monsieur le Comte de Trailles a witness of this explanation; but I have been most anxious to make myself perfectly clear throughout. As for my own sentiments, I am, above all, desirous to say to you, that although I admire Madame de Rochefide for her intellect, she is supremely displeasing to me as a woman."
"And so end our noblest dreams, our celestial loves!" said Calyste, dumfounded by so many revelations and disillusionments.
"Yes, in the serpent's tail," said Maxime, "or, worse still, in the vial of an apothecary. I never knew a first love that did not end foolishly. Ah! Monsieur le baron, all that man has of the divine within him finds its food in heaven only. That is what justifies the lives of us roues. For myself, I have pondered this question deeply; and, as you know, I was married yesterday. I shall be faithful to my wife, and I advise you to return to Madame du Guenic,—but not for three months. Don't regret Beatrix; she is the model of a vain and empty nature, without strength, coquettish for self-glorification only, a Madame d'Espard without her profound political capacity, a woman without heart and without head, floundering in evil. Madame de Rochefide loves Madame de Rochefide only. She would have parted you from Madame du Guenic without the possibility of return, and then she would have left you in the lurch without remorse. In short, that woman is as incomplete for vice as she is for virtue."
"I don't agree with you, Maxime," said La Palferine. "I think she will make the most delightful mistress of a salon in all Paris."
Calyste went away, after shaking hands with Charles-Edouard and Maxime and thanking them for having pricked his illusions.
Three days later, the Duchesse de Grandlieu, who had not seen her daughter Sabine since the morning when this conference took place, went to the hotel du Guenic early in the day and found Calyste in his bath, with Sabine beside him working at some adornment for the future layette.
"What has happened to you, my children?" asked the excellent duchess.
"Nothing but good, dear mamma," replied Sabine, raising her eyes, radiant with happiness, to her mother; "we have been playing the fable of 'The Two Pigeons,' that is all."
Calyste held out his hand to his wife, and pressed hers so tenderly with a look so eloquent, that she said in a whisper to the duchess,—
"I am loved, mother, and forever!"