By Paul Bourget
With a Preface by JULES LEMAITRE, of the French academy,
Born in Amiens, September 2, 1852, Paul Bourget was a pupil at the Lycee Louis le Grand, and then followed a course at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, intending to devote himself to Greek philology. He, however, soon gave up linguistics for poetry, literary criticism, and fiction. When yet a very young man, he became a contributor to various journals and reviews, among others to the 'Revue des deux Mondes, La Renaissance, Le Parlement, La Nouvelle Revue', etc. He has since given himself up almost exclusively to novels and fiction, but it is necessary to mention here that he also wrote poetry. His poetical works comprise: 'Poesies (1872-876), La Vie Inquiete (1875), Edel (1878), and Les Aveux (1882)'.
With riper mind and to far better advantage, he appeared a few years later in literary essays on the writers who had most influenced his own development—the philosophers Renan, Taine, and Amiel, the poets Baudelaire and Leconte de Lisle; the dramatist Dumas fils, and the novelists Turgenieff, the Goncourts, and Stendhal. Brunetiere says of Bourget that "no one knows more, has read more, read better, or meditated, more profoundly upon what he has read, or assimilated it more completely." So much "reading" and so much "meditation," even when accompanied by strong assimilative powers, are not, perhaps, the most desirable and necessary tendencies in a writer of verse or of fiction. To the philosophic critic, however, they must evidently be invaluable; and thus it is that in a certain self-allotted domain of literary appreciation allied to semi-scientific thought, Bourget stands to-day without a rival. His 'Essais de Psychologie Contemporaine (1883), Nouveaux Essais (1885), and Etudes et Portraits (1888)' are certainly not the work of a week, but rather the outcome of years of self-culture and of protracted determined endeavor upon the sternest lines. In fact, for a long time, Bourget rose at 3 a.m. and elaborated anxiously study after study, and sketch after sketch, well satisfied when he sometimes noticed his articles in the theatrical 'feuilleton' of the 'Globe' and the 'Parlement', until he finally contributed to the great 'Debats' itself. A period of long, hard, and painful probation must always be laid down, so to speak, as the foundation of subsequent literary fame. But France, fortunately for Bourget, is not one of those places where the foundation is likely to be laid in vain, or the period of probation to endure for ever and ever.
In fiction, Bourget carries realistic observation beyond the externals (which fixed the attention of Zola and Maupassant) to states of the mind: he unites the method of Stendhal to that of Balzac. He is always interesting and amusing. He takes himself seriously and persists in regarding the art of writing fiction as a science. He has wit, humor, charm, and lightness of touch, and ardently strives after philosophy and intellectuality—qualities that are rarely found in fiction. It may well be said of M. Bourget that he is innocent of the creation of a single stupid character. The men and women we read of in Bourget's novels are so intellectual that their wills never interfere with their hearts.
The list of his novels and romances is a long one, considering the fact that his first novel, 'L'Irreparable,' appeared as late as 1884. It was followed by 'Cruelle Enigme (1885); Un Crime d'Amour (1886); Andre Cornelis and Mensonges (1887); Le Disciple (1889); La Terre promise; Cosmopolis (1892), crowned by the Academy; Drames de Famille (1899); Monique (1902)'; his romances are 'Une Idylle tragique (1896); La Duchesse Bleue (1898); Le Fantome (1901); and L'Etape (1902)'.
'Le Disciple' and 'Cosmopolis' are certainly notable books. The latter marks the cardinal point in Bourget's fiction. Up to that time he had seen environment more than characters; here the dominant interest is psychic, and, from this point on, his characters become more and more like Stendhal's, "different from normal clay." Cosmopolis is perfectly charming. Bourget is, indeed, the past-master of "psychological" fiction.
To sum up: Bourget is in the realm of fiction what Frederic Amiel is in the realm of thinkers and philosophers—a subtle, ingenious, highly gifted student of his time. With a wonderful dexterity of pen, a very acute, almost womanly intuition, and a rare diffusion of grace about all his writings, it is probable that Bourget will remain less known as a critic than as a romancer. Though he neither feels like Loti nor sees like Maupassant—he reflects.
JULES LEMAITRE de l'Academie Francaise.
I send you, my dear Primoli, from beyond the Alps, the romance of international life, begun in Italy almost under your eyes, to which I have given for a frame that ancient and noble Rome of which you are so ardent an admirer.
To be sure, the drama of passion which this book depicts has no particularly Roman features, and nothing was farther from my thoughts than to trace a picture of the society so local, so traditional, which exists between the Quirinal and the Vatican. The drama is not even Italian, for the scene might have been laid, with as much truth, at Venice, Florence, Nice, St. Moritz, even Paris or London, the various cities which are like quarters scattered over Europe of the fluctuating 'Cosmopolis,' christened by Beyle: 'Vengo adesso da Cosmopoli'. It is the contrast between the rather incoherent ways of the rovers of high life and the character of perennity impressed everywhere in the great city of the Caesars and of the Popes which has caused me to choose the spot where even the corners speak of a secular past, there to evoke some representatives of the most modern, as well as the most arbitrary and the most momentary, life. You, who know better than any one the motley world of cosmopolites, understand why I have confined myself to painting here only a fragment of it. That world, indeed, does not exist, it can have neither defined customs nor a general character. It is composed of exceptions and of singularities. We are so naturally creatures of custom, our continual mobility has such a need of gravitating around one fixed axis, that motives of a personal order alone can determine us upon an habitual and voluntary exile from our native land. It is so, now in the case of an artist, a person seeking for instruction and change; now in the case of a business man who desires to escape the consequences of some scandalous error; now in the case of a man of pleasure in search of new adventures; in the case of another, who cherishes prejudices from birth, it is the longing to find the "happy mean;" in the case of another, flight from distasteful memories. The life of the cosmopolite can conceal all beneath the vulgarity of its whims, from snobbery in quest of higher connections to swindling in quest of easier prey, submitting to the brilliant frivolities of the sport, the sombre intrigues of policy, or the sadness of a life which has been a failure. Such a variety of causes renders at once very attractive and almost impracticable the task of the author who takes as a model that ever-changing society so like unto itself in the exterior rites and fashions, so really, so intimately complex and composite in its fundamental elements. The writer is compelled to take from it a series of leading facts, as I have done, essaying to deduce a law which governs them. That law, in the present instance, is the permanence of race. Contradictory as may appear this result, the more one studies the cosmopolites, the more one ascertains that the most irreducible idea within them is that special strength of heredity which slumbers beneath the monotonous uniform of superficial relations, ready to reawaken as soon as love stirs the depths of the temperament. But there again a difficulty, almost insurmountable, is met with. Obliged to concentrate his action to a limited number of personages, the novelist can not pretend to incarnate in them the confused whole of characters which the vague word race sums up. Again, taking this book as an example, you and I, my dear Primoli, know a number of Venetians and of English women, of Poles and of Romans, of Americans and of French who have nothing in common with Madame Steno, Maud and Boleslas Gorka, Prince d'Ardea, Marquis Cibo, Lincoln Maitland, his brother-in-law, and the Marquis de Montfanon, while Justus Hafner only represents one phase out of twenty of the European adventurer, of whom one knows neither his religion, his family, his education, his point of setting out, nor his point of arriving, for he has been through various ways and means. My ambition would be satisfied were I to succeed in creating here a group of individuals not representative of the entire race to which they belong, but only as possibly existing in that race—or those races. For several of them, Justus Hafner and his daughter Fanny, Alba Steno, Florent Chapron, Lydia Maitland, have mixed blood in their veins. May these personages interest you, my dear friend, and become to you as real as they have been to me for some time, and may you receive them in your palace of Tor di Nona as faithful messengers of the grateful affection felt for you by your companion of last winter.
PARIS, November 16, 1892.
CHAPTER I. A DILETTANTE AND A BELIEVER
Although the narrow stall, flooded with heaped-up books and papers, left the visitor just room enough to stir, and although that visitor was one of his regular customers, the old bookseller did not deign to move from the stool upon which he was seated, while writing on an unsteady desk. His odd head, with its long, white hair, peeping from beneath a once black felt hat with a broad brim, was hardly raised at the sound of the opening and shutting of the door. The newcomer saw an emaciated, shriveled face, in which, from behind spectacles, two brown eyes twinkled slyly. Then the hat again shaded the paper, which the knotty fingers, with their dirty nails, covered with uneven lines traced in a handwriting belonging to another age, and from the thin, tall form, enveloped in a greenish, worn-out coat, came a faint voice, the voice of a man afflicted with chronic laryngitis, uttering as an apology, with a strong Italian accent, this phrase in French:
"One moment, Marquis, the muse will not wait."
"Very well, I will; I am no muse. Listen to your inspiration comfortably, Ribalta," replied, with a laugh, he whom the vendor of old books received with such original unconstraint. He was evidently accustomed to the eccentricities of the strange merchant. In Rome—for this scene took place in a shop at the end of one of the most ancient streets of the Eternal City, a few paces from the Place d'Espagne, so well known to tourists—in the city which serves as a confluent for so many from all points of the world, has not that sense of the odd been obliterated by the multiplicity of singular and anomalous types stranded and sheltering there? You will find there revolutionists like boorish Ribalta, who is ending in a curiosity-shop a life more eventful than the most eventful of the sixteenth century.
Descended from a Corsican family, this personage came to Rome when very young, about 1835, and at first became a seminarist. On the point of being ordained a priest, he disappeared only to return, in 1849, so rabid a republican that he was outlawed at the time of the reestablishment of the pontifical government. He then served as secretary to Mazzini, with whom he disagreed for reasons which clashed with Ribalta's honor. Would passion for a woman have involved him in such extravagance? In 1870 Ribalta returned to Rome, where he opened, if one may apply such a term to such a hole, a book-shop. But he is an amateur bookseller, and will refuse you admission if you displease him. Having inherited a small income, he sells or he does not, following his fancy or the requirements of his own purchases, to-day asking you twenty francs for a wretched engraving for which he paid ten sous, to-morrow giving you at a low price a costly book, the value of which he knows. Rabid Gallophobe, he never pardoned his old general the campaign of Dijon any more than he forgave Victor Emmanuel for having left the Vatican to Pius IX. "The house of Savoy and the papacy," said he, when he was confidential, "are two eggs which we must not eat on the same dish." And he would tell of a certain pillar of St. Peter's hollowed into a staircase by Bernin, where a cartouch of dynamite was placed. If you were to ask him why he became a book collector, he would bid you step over a pile of papers, of boarding and of folios. Then he would show you an immense chamber, or rather a shed, where thousands of pamphlets were piled up along the walls: "These are the rules of all the convents suppressed by Italy. I shall write their history." Then he would stare at you, for he would fear that you might be a spy sent by the king with the sole object of learning the plans of his most dangerous enemy—one of those spies of whom he has been so much in awe that for twenty years no one has known where he slept, where he ate, where he hid when the shutters of his shop in the Rue Borgognona were closed. He expected, on account of his past, and his secret manner, to be arrested at the time of the outrage of Passanante as one of the members of those Circoli Barsanti, to whom a refractory corporal gave his name.
But, on examining the dusty cartoons of the old book-stall, the police discovered nothing except a prodigious quantity of grotesque verses directed against the Piedmontese and the French, against the Germans and the Triple Alliance, against the Italian republicans and the ministers, against Cavour and Signor Crispi, against the University of Rome and the Inquisition, against the monks and the capitalists! It was, no doubt, one of those pasquinades which his customers watched him at work upon, thinking, as he did so, how Rome abounded in paradoxical meetings.
For, in 1867, that same old Garibaldian exchanged shots at Mentana with the Pope's Zouaves, among whom was Marquis de Montfanon, for so was called the visitor awaiting Ribalta's pleasure. Twenty-three years had sufficed to make of the two impassioned soldiers of former days two inoffensive men, one of whom sold old volumes to the other! And there is a figure such as you will not find anywhere else—the French nobleman who has come to die near St. Peter's.
Would you believe, to see him with his coarse boots, dressed in a simple coat somewhat threadbare, a round hat covering his gray head, that you have before you one of the famous Parisian dandies of 1864? Listen to this other history. Scruples of devoutness coming in the wake of a serious illness cast at one blow the frequenter of the 'Cafe Anglais' and gay suppers into the ranks of the pontifical zouaves. A first sojourn in Rome during the last four years of the government of Pius IX, in that incomparable city to which the presentiment of the approaching termination of a secular rule, the advent of the Council, and the French occupation gave a still more peculiar character, was enchantment. All the germs of piety instilled in the nobleman by the education of the Jesuits of Brughetti ended by reviving a harvest of noble virtues, in the days of trial which came only too quickly. Montfanon made the campaign of France with the other zouaves, and the empty sleeve which was turned up in place of his left arm attested with what courage he fought at Patay, at the time of that sublime charge when the heroic General de Sonis unfurled the banner of the Sacred Heart. He had been a duelist, sportsman, gambler, lover, but to those of his old companions of pleasure whom chance brought to Rome he was only a devotee who lived economically, notwithstanding the fact that he had saved the remnants of a large fortune for alms, for reading and for collecting.
Every one has that vice, more or less, in Rome, which is in itself the most surprising museum of history and of art. Montfanon is collecting documents in order to write the history of the French nobility and of the Church. His mistresses of the time when he was the rival of the Gramont-Caderousses and the Demidoffs would surely not recognize him any more than he would them. But are they as happy as he seems to have remained through his life of sacrifice? There is laughter in his blue eyes, which attest his pure Germanic origin, and which light up his face, one of those feudal faces such as one sees in the portraits hung upon the walls of the priories of Malta, where plainness has race. A thick, white moustache, in which glimmers a vague reflection of gold, partly hides a scar which would give to that red face a terrible look were it not for the expression of those eyes, in which there is fervor mingled with merriment. For Montfanon is as fanatical on certain subjects as he is genial and jovial on others. If he had the power he would undoubtedly have Ribalta arrested, tried, and condemned within twenty-four hours for the crime of free-thinking. Not having it, he amused himself with him, so much the more so as the vanquished Catholic and the discontented Socialists have several common hatreds. Even on this particular morning we have seen with what indulgence he bore the brusqueness of the old bookseller, at whom he gazed for ten minutes without disconcerting him in the least. At length the revolutionist seemed to have finished his epigram, for with a quiet smile he carefully folded the sheet of paper, put it in a wooden box which he locked. Then he turned around.
"What do you desire, Marquis?" he asked, without any further preliminary.
"First of all, you will have to read me your poem, old redshirt," said Montfanon, "which will only be my recompense for having awaited your good pleasure more patiently than an ambassador. Let us see whom are you abusing in those verses? Is it Don Ciccio or His Majesty? You will not reply? Are you afraid that I shall denounce you at the Quirinal?"
"No flies enter a closed mouth," replied the old conspirator, justifying the proverb by the manner in which he shut his toothless mouth, into which, indeed, at that moment, neither a fly nor the tiniest grain of dust could enter.
"An excellent saying," returned the Marquis, with a laugh, "and one I should like to see engraved on the facade of all the modern parliaments. But between your poetry and your adages have you taken the time to write for me to that bookseller at Vienna, who owns the last copy of the pamphlet on the trial of the bandit Hafner?"
"Patience," said the merchant. "I will write."
"And my document on the siege of Rome, by Bourbon, those three notarial deeds which you promised me, have you dislodged them?"
"Patience, patience," repeated the merchant, adding, as he pointed with a comical mixture of irony and of despair to the disorder in his shop, "How can you expect me to know where I am in the midst of all this?"
"Patience, patience," repeated Montfanon. "For a month you have been singing that old refrain. If, instead of composing wretched verses, you would attend to your correspondence, and, if, instead of buying continually, you would classify this confused mass.... But," said he, more seriously, with a brusque gesture, "I am wrong to reproach you for your purchases, since I have come to speak to you of one of the last. Cardinal Guerillot told me that you showed him, the other day, an interesting prayer-book, although in very bad condition, which you found in Tuscany. Where is it?"
"Here it is," said Ribalta, who, leaping over several piles of volumes and thrusting aside with his foot an enormous heap of cartoons, opened the drawer of a tottering press. In that drawer he rummaged among an accumulation of odd, incongruous objects: old medals and old nails, bookbindings and discolored engravings, a large leather box gnawed by insects, on the outside of which could be distinguished a partly effaced coat-of-arms. He opened that box and extended toward Montfanon a volume covered with leather and studded. One of the clasps was broken, and when the Marquis began to turn over the pages, he could see that the interior had not been better taken care of than the exterior. Colored prints had originally ornamented the precious work; they were almost effaced. The yellow parchment had been torn in places. Indeed, it was a shapeless ruin which the curious nobleman examined, however, with the greatest care, while Ribalta made up his mind to speak.
"A widow of Montalcino, in Tuscany, sold it to me. She asked me an enormous price, and it is worth it, although it is slightly damaged. For those are miniatures by Matteo da Siena, who made them for Pope Pius II Piccolomini. Look at the one which represents Saint Blaise, who is blessing the lions and panthers. It is the best preserved. Is it not fine?"
"Why try to deceive me, Ribalta?" interrupted Montfanon, with a gesture of impatience. "You know as well as I that these miniatures are very mediocre, and that they do not in the least resemble Matteo's compact work; and another proof is that the prayerbook is dated 1554. See!" and, with his remaining hand, very adroitly he showed the merchant the figures; "and as I have quite a memory for dates, and as I am interested in Siena, I have not forgotten that Matteo died before 1500. I did not go to college with Machiavelli," continued he, with some brusqueness, "but I will tell you that which the Cardinal would have told you if you had not deceived him by your finesse, as you tried to deceive me just now. Look at this partly effaced signature, which you have not been able to read. I will decipher it for you. Blaise de Mo, and then a c, with several letters missing, just three, and that makes Montluc in the orthography of the time, and the b is in a handwriting which you might have examined in the archives of that same Siena, since you come from there. Now, with regard to this coat-of-arms," and he closed the book to detail to his stupefied companion the arms hardly visible on the cover, "do you see a wolf, which was originally of gold, and turtles of gales? Those are the arms which Montluc has borne since the year 1554, when he was made a citizen of Siena for having defended it so bravely against the terrible Marquis de Marignan. As for the box," he took it in its turn to study it, "these are really the half-moons of the Piccolominis. But what does that prove? That after the siege, and just as it was necessary to retire to Montalcino, Montluc gave his prayer-book, as a souvenir, to some of that family. The volume was either lost or stolen, and finally reduced to the state in which it now is. This book, too, is proof that a little French blood was shed in the service of Italy. But those who have sold it have forgotten that, like Magenta and Solferino, you have only memory for hatred. Now that you know why I want your prayer-book, will you sell it to me for five hundred francs?"
The bookseller listened to that discourse with twenty contradictory expressions upon his face. From force of habit he felt for Montfanon a sort of respect mingled with animosity, which evidently rendered it very painful for him to have been surprised in the act of telling an untruth. It is necessary, to be just, to add that in speaking of the great painter Matteo and of Pope Pius II in connection with that unfortunate volume, he had not thought that the Marquis, ordinarily very economical and who limited his purchases to the strict domain of ecclesiastical history, would have the least desire for that prayer-book. He had magnified the subject with a view to forming a legend and to taking advantage of some rich, unversed amateur.
On the other hand, if the name of Montluc meant absolutely nothing to him, it was not the same with the direct and brutal allusion which his interlocutor had made to the war of 1859. It is always a thorn in the flesh of those of our neighbors from beyond the Alps who do not love us. The pride of the Garibaldian was not far behind the generosity of the former zouave. With an abruptness equal to that of Montfanon, he took up the volume and grumbled as he turned it over and over in his inky fingers:
"I would not sell it for six hundred francs. No, I would not sell it for six hundred francs."
"It is a very large sum," said Montfanon.
"No," continued the good man, "I would not sell it." Then extending it to the Marquis, in evident excitement, he cried: "But to you I will sell it for four hundred francs."
"But I have offered you five hundred francs for it," said the nonplussed purchaser. "You know that is a small sum for such a curiosity."
"Take it for four," insisted Ribalta, growing more and more eager, "not a sou less, not a sou more. It is what it cost me. And you shall have your documents in two days and the Hafner papers this week. But was that Bourbon who sacked Rome a Frenchman?" he continued. "And Charles d'Anjou, who fell upon us to make himself King of the two Sicilies? And Charles VIII, who entered by the Porte du Peuple? Were they Frenchmen? Why did they come to meddle in our affairs? Ah, if we were to calculate closely, how much you owe us! Was it not we who gave you Mazarin, Massena, Bonaparte and many others who have gone to die in your army in Russia, in Spain and elsewhere? And at Dijon? Did not Garibaldi stupidly fight for you, who would have taken from him his country? We are quits on the score of service.... But take your prayer-book-good-evening, good-evening. You can pay me later."
And he literally pushed the Marquis out of the stall, gesticulating and throwing down books on all sides. Montfanon found himself in the street before having been able to draw from his pocket the money he had got ready.
"What a madman! My God, what a madman!" said he to himself, with a laugh. He left the shop at a brisk pace, with the precious book under his arm. He understood, from having frequently come in contact with them, those southern natures, in which swindling and chivalry elbow without harming one another—Don Quixotes who set their own windmills in motion. He asked himself:
"How much would he still make after playing the magnamimous with me?" His question was never to be answered, nor was he to know that Ribalta had bought the rare volume among a heap of papers, engravings, and old books, paying twenty-five francs for all. Moreover, two encounters which followed one upon the other on leaving the shop, prevented him from meditating on that problem of commercial psychology. He paused for a moment at the end of the street to cast a glance at the Place d'Espagne, which he loved as one of those corners unchanged for the last thirty years. On that morning in the early days of May, the square, with its sinuous edge, was indeed charming with bustle and light, with the houses which gave it a proper contour, with the double staircase of La Trinite-des-Monts lined with idlers, with the water which gushed from a large fountain in the form of a bark placed in the centre-one of the innumerable caprices in which the fancy of Bernin, that illusive decorator, delighted to indulge. Indeed, at that hour and in that light, the fountain was as natural in effect as were the nimble hawkers who held in their extended arms baskets filled with roses, narcissus, red anemones, fragile cyclamens and dark pansies. Barefooted, with sparkling eyes, entreaties upon their lips, they glided among the carriages which passed along rapidly, fewer than in the height of the season, still quite numerous, for spring was very late this year, and it came with delightful freshness. The flower-sellers besieged the hurried passers-by, as well as those who paused at the shop-windows, and, devout Catholic as Montfanon was, he tasted, in the face of the picturesque scene of a beautiful morning in his favorite city, the pleasure of crowning that impression of a bright moment by a dream of eternity. He had only to turn his eyes to the right, toward the College de la Propagande, a seminary from which all the missions of the world set out.
But it was decreed that the impassioned nobleman should not enjoy undisturbed the bibliographical trifle obtained so cheaply and which he carried under his arm, nor that feeling so thoroughly Roman; a sudden apparition surprised him at the corner of a street, at an angle of the sidewalk. His bright eyes lost their serenity when a carriage passed by him, a carriage, perfectly appointed, drawn by two black horses, and in which, notwithstanding the early hour, sat two ladies. The one was evidently an inferior, a companion who acted as chaperon to the other, a young girl of almost sublime beauty, with large black eyes, which contrasted strongly with a pale complexion, but a pallor in which there was warmth and life. Her profile, of an Oriental purity, was so much on the order of the Jewish type that it left scarcely a doubt as to the Hebrew origin of the creature, a veritable vision of loveliness, who seemed created, as the poets say, "To draw all hearts in her wake." But no! The jovial, kindly face of the Marquis suddenly darkened as he watched the girl about to turn the corner of the street, and who bowed to a very fashionable young man, who undoubtedly knew the late pontifical zouave, for he approached him familiarly, saying, in a mocking tone and in a French which came direct from France:
"Well! Now I have caught you, Marquis Claude-Francois de Montfanon!... She has come, you have seen her, you have been conquered. Have your eyes feasted upon divine Fanny Hafner? Tremble! I shall denounce you to his Eminence, Cardinal Guerillot; and if you malign his charming catechist I will be there to testify that I saw you hypnotized as she passed, as were the people of Troy by Helen. And I know very positively that Helen had not so modern a grace, so beautiful a mind, so ideal a profile, so deep a glance, so dreamy a mouth and such a smile. Ah, how lovely she is! When shall you call?"
"If Monsieur Julien Dorsenne," replied Montfanon, in the same mocking tone, "does not pay more attention to his new novel than he is doing at this moment, I pity his publisher. Come here," he added, brusquely, dragging the young man to the angle of Rue Borgognona. "Did you see the victoria stop at No. 13, and the divine Fanny, as you call her, alight? .... She has entered the shop of that old rascal, Ribalta. She will not remain there long. She will come out, and she will drive away in her carriage. It is a pity she will not pass by us again. We should have had the pleasure of seeing her disappointed air. This is what she is in search of," added he, with a gay laugh, exhibiting his purchase, "but which she could not have were she to offer all the millions which her honest father has stolen in Vienna. Ha, ha!" he concluded, laughing still more heartily, "Monsieur de Montfanon rose first; this morning has not been lost, and you, Monsieur, can see what I obtained at the curiosity-shop of that old fellow who will not make a plaything of this object, at least," he added, extending the book to his interlocutor, at whom he glanced with a comical expression of triumph.
"I do not wish to look at it," responded Dorsenne. "But, yes," he continued, as Montfanon shrugged his shoulders, "in my capacity of novelist and observer, since you cast it at my head, I know already what it is. What do you bet?... It is a prayer-book which bears the signature of Marshal de Montluc, and which Cardinal Guerillot discovered. Is that true? He spoke to Mademoiselle Hafner about it, and he thought he would mitigate your animosity toward her by telling you she was an enthusiast and wished to buy it. Is that true as well? And you, wretched man, had only one thought, to deprive that poor little thing of the trifle. Is that true? We spent the evening before last together at Countess Steno's; she talked to me of nothing but her desire to have the book on which the illustrious soldier, the great believer, had prayed. She told me of all her heroic resolutions. Later she went to buy it. But the shop was closed; I noticed it on passing, and you certainly went there, too.... Is that true?... And, now that I have detailed to you the story, explain to me, you who are so just, why you cherish an antipathy so bitter and so childish—excuse the word!—for an innocent, young girl, who has never speculated on 'Change, who is as charitable as a whole convent, and who is fast becoming as devout as yourself. Were it not for her father, who will not listen to the thought of conversion before marriage, she would already be a Catholic, and—Protestants as they are for the moment—she would never go anywhere but to church... When she is altogether a Catholic, and under the protection of a Sainte-Claudine and a Sainte-Francoise, as you are under the protection of Saint-Claude and Saint-Francois, you will have to lay down your arms, old leaguer, and acknowledge the sincerity of the religious sentiments of that child who has never harmed you."
"What! She has done nothing to me?"... interrupted Montfanon. "But it is quite natural that a sceptic should not comprehend what she has done to me, what she does to me daily, not to me personally, but to my opinions. When one has, like you, learned intellectual athletics in the circus of the Sainte-Beuves and Renans, one must think it fine that Catholicism, that grand thing, should serve as a plaything for the daughter of a pirate who aims at an aristocratic marriage. It may, too, amuse you that my holy friend, Cardinal Guerillot, should be the dupe of that intriguer. But I, Monsieur, who have received the sacrament by the side of a Sonis, I can not admit that one should make use of what was the faith of that hero to thrust one's self into the world. I do not admit that one should play the role of dupe and accomplice to an old man whom I venerate and whom I shall enlighten, I give you my word."
"And as for this ancient relic," he continued, again showing the volume, "you may think it childish that I do not wish it mixed up in the shameful comedy. But no, it shall not be. They shall not exhibit with words of emotion, with tearful eyes, this breviary on which once prayed that grand soldier; yes, Monsieur, that great believer. She has done nothing to me," he repeated, growing more and more excited, his red face becoming purple with rage, "but they are the quintessence of what I detest the most, people like her and her father. They are the incarnation of the modern world, in which there is nothing more despicable than these cosmopolitan adventurers, who play at grand seigneur with the millions filibustered in some stroke on the Bourse. First, they have no country. What is this Baron Justus Hafner—German, Austrian, Italian? Do you know? They have no religion. The name, the father's face, that of the daughter, proclaim them Jews, and they are Protestants—for the moment, as you have too truthfully said, while they prepare themselves to become Mussulmen or what not. For the moment, when it is a question of God!... They have no family. Where was this man reared? What did his father, his mother, his brothers, his sisters do? Where did he grow up? Where are his traditions? Where is his past, all that constitutes, all that establishes the moral man?... Just look. All is mystery in this personage, excepting this, which is very clear: if he had received his due in Vienna, at the time of the suit of the 'Credit Austro-Dalmate', in 1880, he would be in the galleys, instead of in Rome. The facts were these: there were innumerable failures. I know something about it. My poor cousin De Saint-Remy, who was with the Comte de Chambord, lost the bread of his old age and his daughter's dowry. There were suicides and deeds of violence, notably that of a certain Schroeder, who went mad on account of that crash, and who killed himself, after murdering his wife and his two children. And the Baron came out of it unsullied. It is not ten years since the occurrence, and it is forgotten. When he settled in Rome he found open doors, extended hands, as he would have found them in Madrid, London, Paris, or elsewhere. People go to his house; they receive him! And you wish me to believe in the devoutness of that man's daughter!... No, a thousand times no; and you yourself, Dorsenne, with your mania for paradoxes and sophisms, you have the right spirit in you, and these people horrify you in reality, as they do me."
"Not the least in the world," replied the writer, who had listened to the Marquis's tirade; with an unconvinced smile, he repeated: "Not the least in the world.... You have spoken of me as an acrobat or an athlete. I am not offended, because it is you, and because I know that you love me dearly. Let me at least have the suppleness of one. First, before passing judgment on a financial affair I shall wait until I understand it. Hafner was acquitted. That is enough, for one thing. Were he even the greatest rogue in the universe, that would not prevent his daughter from being an angel, for another. As for that cosmopolitanism for which you censure him, we do not agree there; it is just that which interests me in him. Thirdly,... I should not consider that I had lost the six months spent in Rome, if I had met only him. Do not look at me as if I were one of the patrons of the circus, Uncle Beuve, or poor Monsieur Renan himself," he continued, tapping the Marquis's shoulder. "I swear to you that I am very serious. Nothing interests me more than these exceptions to the general rule—than those who have passed through two, three, four phases of existence. Those individuals are my museum, and you wish me to sacrifice to your scruples one of my finest subjects.... Moreover,"—and the malice of the remark he was about to make caused the young man's eyes to sparkle "revile Baron Hafner as much as you like," he continued; "call him a thief and a snob, an intriguer and a knave, if it pleases you. But as for being a person who does not know where his ancestors lived, I reply, as did Bonhomet when he reached heaven and the Lord said to him: 'Still a chimney-doctor, Bonhomet?'—'And you, Lord?'. For you were born in Bourgogne, Monsieur de Montfanon, of an ancient family, related to all the nobility-upon which I congratulate you—and you have lived here in Rome for almost twenty-four years, in the Cosmopolis which you revile."
"First of all," replied the Pope's former soldier, holding up his mutilated arm, "I might say that I no longer count, I do not live. And then," his face became inspired, and the depths of that narrow mind, often blinded but very exalted, suddenly appeared, "and then, my Rome to me, Monsieur, has nothing in common with that of Monsieur Hafner nor with yours, since you are come, it seems, to pursue studies of moral teratology. Rome to me is not Cosmopolis, as you say, it is Metropolis, it is the mother of cities.... You forget that I am a Catholic in every fibre, and that I am at home here. I am here because I am a monarchist, because I believe in old France as you believe in the modern world; and I serve her in my fashion, which is not very efficacious, but which is one way, nevertheless.... The post of trustee of Saint Louis, which I accepted from Corcelle, is to me my duty, and I will sustain it in the best way in my power.... Ah! that ancient France, how one feels her grandeur here, and what a part she is known to have had in Christianity! It is that chord which I should like to have heard vibrate in a fluent writer like you, and not eternally those paradoxes, those sophisms. But what matters it to you who date from yesterday and who boast of it," he added, almost sadly, "that in the most insignificant corners of this city centuries of history abound? Does your heart blush at the sight of the facade of the church of Saint-Louis, the salamander of Francois I and the lilies? Do you know why the Rue Bargognona is called thus, and that near by is Saint-Claudedes-Bourguignons, our church? Have you visited, you who are from the Vosges, that of your province, Saint-Nicolas-des-Lorrains? Do you know Saint-Yves-des-Bretons?"
"But," and here his voice assumed a gay accent, "I have thoroughly charged into that rascal of a Hafner. I have laid him before you without any hesitation. I have spoken to you as I feel, with all the fervor of my heart, although it may seem sport to you. You will be punished, for I shall not allow you to escape. I will take you to the France of other days. You shall dine with me at noon, and between this and then we will make the tour of those churches I have just named. During that time we will go back one hundred and fifty years in the past, into that world in which there were neither cosmopolites nor dilettantes. It is the old world, but it is hardy, and the proof is that it has endured; while your society-look where it is after one hundred years in France, in Italy, in England—thanks to that detestable Gladstone, of whom pride has made a second Nebuchadnezzar. It is like Russia, your society; according to the only decent words of the obscene Diderot, 'rotten before mature!' Come, will you go?"
"You are mistaken," replied the writer, "in thinking that. I do not love your old France, but that does not prevent me from enjoying the new. One can like wine and champagne at the same time. But I am not at liberty. I must visit the exposition at Palais Castagna this morning."
"You will not do that," exclaimed impetuous Montfanon, whose severe face again expressed one of those contrarieties which caused it to brighten when he was with one of whom he was fond as he was of Dorsenne. "You would not have gone to see the King assassinated in '93? The selling at auction of the old dwelling of Pope Urban VII is almost as tragical! It is the beginning of the agony of what was Roman nobility. I know. They deserve it all, since they were not killed to the last man on the steps of the Vatican when the Italians took the city. We should have done it, we who had no popes among our grand-uncles, if we had not been busy fighting elsewhere. But it is none the less pitiful to see the hammer of the appraisers raised above a palace with which is connected centuries of history. Upon my life, if I were Prince d'Ardea—if I had inherited the blood, the house, the titles of the Castagnas, and if I thought I should leave nothing behind me of that which my fathers had amassed—I swear to you, Dorsenne, I should die of grief. And if you recall the fact that the unhappy youth is a spoiled child of eight-and-twenty, surrounded by flatterers, without parents, without friends, without counsellors, that he risked his patrimony on the Bourse among thieves of the integrity of Monsieur Hafner, that all the wealth collected by that succession of popes, of cardinals, of warriors, of diplomatists, has served to enrich ignoble men, you would think the occurrence too lamentable to have any share in it, even as a spectator. Come, I will take you to Saint-Claude."
"I assure you I am expected," replied Dorsenne, disengaging his arm, which his despotic friend had already seized. "It is very strange that I should meet you on the way, having the rendezvous I have. I, who dote on contrasts, shall not have lost my morning. Have you the patience to listen to the enumeration of the persons whom I shall join immediately? It will not be very long, but do not interrupt me. You will be angry if you will survive the blow I am about to give you. Ah, you do not wish to call your Rome a Cosmopolis; then what do you say to the party with which, in twenty minutes, I shall visit the ancient palace of Urban VII? First of all, we have your beautiful enemy, Fanny Hafner, and her father, the Baron, representing a little of Germany, a little of Austria, a little of Italy and a little of Holland. For it seems the Baron's mother was from Rotterdam. Do not interrupt. We shall have Countess Steno to represent Venice, and her charming daughter, Alba, to represent a small corner of Russia, for the Chronicle claims that she was the child, not of the defunct Steno, but of Werekiew-Andre, you know, the one who killed himself in Paris five or six years ago, by casting himself into the Seine, not at all aristocratically, from the Pont de la Concorde. We shall have the painter, the celebrated Lincoln Maitland, to represent America. He is the lover of Steno, whom he stole from Gorka during the latter's trip to Poland. We shall have the painter's wife, Lydia Maitland, and her brother, Florent Chapron, to represent a little of France, a little of America, and a little of Africa; for their grandfather was the famous Colonel Chapron mentioned in the Memorial, who, after 1815, became a planter in Alabama. That old soldier, without any prejudices, had, by a mulattress, a son whom he recognized and to whom he left—I do not know how many dollars. 'Inde' Lydia and Florent. Do not interrupt, it is almost finished. We shall have, to represent England, a Catholic wedded to a Pole, Madame Gorka, the wife of Boleslas, and, lastly, Paris, in the form of your servant. It is now I who will essay to drag you away, for were you to join our party, you, the feudal, it would be complete.... Will you come?"
"Has the blow satisfied you?" asked Montfanon. "And the unhappy man has talent," he exclaimed, talking of Dorsenne as if the latter were not present, "and he has written ten pages on Rhodes which are worthy of Chateaubriand, and he has received from God the noblest gifts—poetry, wit, the sense of history; and in what society does he delight! But, come, once for all, explain to me the pleasure which a man of your genius can find in frequenting that international Bohemia, more or less gilded, in which there is not one being who has standing or a history. I no longer allude to that scoundrel Hafner and his daughter, since you have for her, novelist that you are, the eyes of Monsieur Guerillot. But that Countess Steno, who must be at least forty, who has a grown daughter, should she not remain quietly in her palace at Venice, respectably, bravely, instead of holding here that species of salon for transients, through which pass all the libertines of Europe, instead of having lover after lover, a Pole after a Russian, an American after a Pole? And that Maitland, why did he not obey the only good sentiment with which his compatriots are inspired, the aversion to negro blood, an aversion which would prevent them from doing what he has done—from marrying an octoroon? If the young woman knows of it, it is terrible, and if she does not it is still more terrible. And Madame Gorka, that honest creature, for I believe she is, and truly pious as well, who has not observed for the past two years that her husband was the Countess's lover, and who does not see, moreover, that it is now Maitland's turn. And that poor Alba Steno, that child of twenty, whom they drag through these improper intrigues! Why does not Florent Chapron put an end to the adultery of her sister's husband? I know him. He once came to see me with regard to a monument he was raising in Saint-Louis in memory of his cousin. He respects the dead, that pleased me. But he is a dupe in this sinister comedy at which you are assisting, you, who know all, while your heart does not revolt."
"Pardon, pardon!" interrupted Dorsenne, "it is not a question of that. You wander on and you forget what you have just asked me.... What pleasure do I find in the human mosaic which I have detailed to you? I will tell you, and we will not talk of the morals, if you please, when we are simply dealing with the intellect. I do not pride myself on being a judge of human nature, sir leaguer; I like to watch and to study it, and among all the scenes it can present I know of none more suggestive, more peculiar, and more modern than this: You are in a salon, at a dining-table, at a party like that to which I am going this morning. You are with ten persons who all speak the same language, are dressed by the same tailor, have read the same morning paper, think the same thoughts and feel the same sentiments.... But these persons are like those I have just enumerated to you, creatures from very different points of the world and of history. You study them with all that you know of their origin and their heredity, and little by little beneath the varnish of cosmopolitanism you discover their race, irresistible, indestructible race! In the mistress of the house, very elegant, very cultured, for example, a Madame Steno, you discover the descendant of the Doges, the patrician of the fifteenth century, with the form of a queen, strength in her passion and frankness in her incomparable immorality; while in a Florent Chapron or a Lydia you discover the primitive slave, the black hypnotized by the white, the unfreed being produced by centuries of servitude; while in a Madame Gorka you recognize beneath her smiling amiability the fanaticism of truth of the Puritans; beneath the artistic refinement of a Lincoln Maitland you find the squatter, invincibly coarse and robust; in Boleslas Gorka all the nervous irritability of the Slav, which has ruined Poland. These lineaments of race are hardly visible in the civilized person, who speaks three or four languages fluently, who has lived in Paris, Nice, Florence, here, that same fashionable, monotonous life. But when passion strikes its blow, when the man is stirred to his inmost depths, then occurs the conflict of characteristics, more surprising when the people thus brought together have come from afar: And that is why," he concluded with a laugh, "I have spent six months in Rome without hardly having seen a Roman, busy, observing the little clan which is so revolting to you. It is probably the twentieth I have studied, and I shall no doubt study twenty more, for not one resembles another. Are you indulgently inclined toward me, now that you have got even with me in making me hold forth at this corner, like the hero of a Russian novel? Well, now adieu."
Montfanon had listened to the discourse with an inpenetrable air. In the religious solitude in which he was awaiting the end, as he said, nothing afforded him greater pleasure than the discussion of ideas. But he was inspired by the enthusiasm of a man who feels with extreme ardor, and when he was met by the partly ironical dilettanteism of Dorsenne he was almost pained by it, so much the more so as the author and he had some common theories, notably an extreme fancy for heredity and race. A sort of discontented grimace distorted his expressive face. He clicked his tongue in ill-humor, and said:
"One more question!... And the result of all that, the object? To what end does all this observation lead you?"
"To what should it lead me? To comprehend, as I have told you," replied Dorsenne.
"There is no then," answered the young man, "one debauchery is like another."
"But among the people whom you see living thus," said Montfanon, after a pause, "there are some surely whom you like and whom you dislike, for whom you entertain esteem and for whom you feel contempt? Have you not thought that you have some duties toward them, that you can aid them in leading better lives?"
"That," said Dorsenne, "is another subject which we will treat of some other day, for I am afraid now of being late.... Adieu."
"Adieu," said the Marquis, with evident regret at parting. Then, brusquely: "I do not know why I like you so much, for in the main you incarnate one of those vices of mind which inspire me with the most horror, that dilettanteism set in vogue by the disciples of Monsieur Renan, and which is the very foundation of the decline. You will recover from it, I hope. You are so young!" Then becoming again jovial and mocking: "May you enjoy yourself in your descent of Courtille; I almost forgot that I had a message to give to you for one of the supernumeraries of your troop. Will you tell Gorka that I have dislodged the book for which he asked me before his departure?"
"Gorka," replied Julien, "has been in Poland three months on family business. I just told you how that trip cost him his mistress."
"What," said Montfanon, "in Poland? I saw him this morning as plainly as I see you. He passed the Fountain du Triton in a cab. If I had not been in such haste to reach Ribalta's in time to save the Montluc, I could have stopped him, but we were both in too great a hurry."
"You are sure that Gorka is in Rome—Boleslas Gorka?" insisted Dorsenne.
"What is there surprising in that?" said Montfanon. "It is quite natural that he should not wish to remain away long from a city where he has left a wife and a mistress. I suppose your Slav and your Anglo-Saxon have no prejudices, and that they share their Venetian with a dilettanteism quite modern. It is cosmopolitan, indeed.... Well, once more, adieu.... Deliver my message to him if you see him, and," his face again expressed a childish malice, "do not fail to tell Mademoiselle Hafner that her father's daughter will never, never have this volume. It is not for intriguers!" And, laughing like a mischievous schoolboy, he pressed the book more tightly under his arm, repeating: "She shall not have it. Listen.... And tell her plainly. She shall not have it!"
CHAPTER II. THE BEGINNING OF A DRAMA
"There is an intelligent man, who never questions his ideas," said Dorsenne to himself, when the Marquis had left him. "He is like the Socialists. What vigor of mind in that old wornout machine!" And for a brief moment he watched, with a glance in which there was at least as much admiration as pity, the Marquis, who was disappearing down the Rue de la Propagande, and who walked at the rapid pace characteristic of monomaniacs. They follow their thoughts instead of heeding objects. However, the care he exercised in avoiding the sun's line for the shade attested the instincts of an old Roman, who knew the danger of the first rays of spring beneath that blue sky. For a moment Montfanon paused to give alms to one of the numerous mendicants who abound in the neighborhood of the Place d'Espagne, meritorious in him, for with his one arm and burdened with the prayer-book it required a veritable effort to search in his pocket. Dorsenne was well enough acquainted with that original personage to know that he had never been able to say "no" to any one who asked charity, great or small, of him. Thanks to that system, the enemy of beautiful Fanny Hafner was always short of cash with forty thousand francs' income and leading a simple existence. The costly purchase of the relic of Montluc proved that the antipathy conceived for Baron Justus's charming daughter had become a species of passion. Under any other circumstances, the novelist, who delighted in such cases, would not have failed to meditate ironically on that feeling, easy enough of explanation. There was much more irrational instinct in it than Montfanon himself suspected. The old leaguer would not have been logical if he had not had in point of race an inquisition partiality, and the mere suspicion of Jewish origin should have prejudiced him against Fanny. But he was just, as Dorsenne had told him, and if the young girl had been an avowed Jewess, living up zealously to her religion, he would have respected but have avoided her, and he never would have spoken of her with such bitterness.
The true motive of his antipathy was that he loved Cardinal Guerillot, as was his habit in all things, with passion and with jealousy, and he could not forgive Mademoiselle Hafner for having formed an intimacy with the holy prelate in spite of him, Montfanon, who had vainly warned the old Bishop de Clermont against her whom he considered the most wily of intriguers. For months vainly did she furnish proofs of her sincerity of heart, the Cardinal reporting them in due season to the Marquis, who persisted in discrediting them, and each fresh good deed of his enemy augmented his hatred by aggravating the uneasiness which was caused him, notwithstanding all, by a vague sense of his iniquity.
But Dorsenne no sooner turned toward the direction of the Palais Castagna than he quickly forgot both Mademoiselle Hafner's and Montfanon's prejudices, in thinking only of one sentence uttered by the latter that which related to the return of Boleslas Gorka. The news was unexpected, and it awakened in the writer such grave fears that he did not even glance at the shop-window of the French bookseller at the corner of the Corso to see if the label of the "Fortieth thousand" flamed upon the yellow cover of his last book, the Eclogue Mondaine, brought out in the autumn, with a success which his absence of six months from Paris, had, however, detracted from. He did not even think of ascertaining if the regimen he practised, in imitation of Lord Byron, against embonpoint, would preserve his elegant form, of which he was so proud, and yet mirrors were numerous on the way from the Place d'Espagne to the Palais Castagna, which rears its sombre mass on the margin of the Tiber, at the extremity of the Via Giulia, like a pendant of the Palais Sacchetti, the masterwork of Sangallo. Dorsenne did not indulge in his usual pastime of examining the souvenirs along the streets which met his eye, and yet he passed in the twenty minutes which it took him to reach his rendezvous a number of buildings teeming with centuries of historical reminiscences. There was first of all the vast Palais Borghese—the piano of the Borghese, as it has been called, from the form of a clavecin adopted by the architect—a monument of splendor, which was, less than two years later, to serve as the scene of a situation more melancholy than that of the Palais Castagna.
Dorsenne had not an absent glance for the sumptuous building—he passed unheeding the facade of St.-Louis, the object of Montfanon's admiration. If the writer did not profess for that relic of ancient France the piety of the Marquis, he never failed to enter there to pay his literary respects to the tomb of Madame de Beaumont, to that 'quia non sunt' of an epitaph which Chateaubriand inscribed upon her tombstone, with more vanity, alas, than tenderness. For the first time Dorsenne forgot it; he forgot also to gaze with delight upon the rococo fountain on the Place Navonne, that square upon which Domitian had his circus, and which recalls the cruel pageantries of imperial Rome. He forgot, too, the mutilated statue which forms the angle of the Palais Braschi, two paces farther—two paces still farther, the grand artery of the Corso Victor-Emmanuel demonstrated the effort at regeneration of present Rome; two paces farther yet, the Palais Farnese recalls the grandeur of modern art, and the tragedy of contemporary monarchies. Does not the thought of Michelangelo seem to be still imprinted on the sombre cross-beam of that immense sarcophagus, which was the refuge of the last King of Naples? But it requires a mind entirely free to give one's self up to the charm of historical dilettanteism which cities built upon the past conjure up, and although Julien prided himself, not without reason, on being above emotion, he was not possessed of his usual independence of mind during the walk which took him to his "human mosaic," as he picturesquely expressed it, and he pondered and repondered the following questions:
"Boleslas Gorka returned? And two days ago I saw his wife, who did not expect him until next month. Montfanon is not, however, imaginative. Boleslas Gorka returned? At the moment when Madame Steno is mad over Maitland—for she is mad! The night before last, at her house at dinner, she looked at him—it was scandalous. Gorka had a presentiment of it this winter. When the American attempted to take Alba's portrait the first time, the Pole put a stop to it. It was fine for Montfanon to talk of division between these two men. When Boleslas left here, Maitland and the Countess were barely acquainted and now——If he has returned it is because he has discovered that he has a rival. Some one has warned him—an enemy of the Countess, a confrere of Maitland. Such pieces of infamy occur among good friends. If Gorka, who is a shot like Casal, kills Maitland in a duel, it will make one deceiver less. If he avenges himself upon his mistress for that treason, it would be a matter of indifference to me, for Catherine Steno is a great rogue.... But my little friend, my poor, charming Alba, what would become of her if there should be a scandal, bloodshed, perhaps, on account of her mother's folly? Gorka returned? And he did not write it to me, to me who have received several letters from him since he went away; to me, whom he selected last autumn as the confidant of his jealousies, under the pretext that I knew women, and, with the vain hope of inspiring me.... His silence and return no longer seem like a romance; they savor rather of a drama, and with a Slav, as much a Slav as he is, one may expect anything. I know not what to think of it, for he will be at the Palais Castagna. Poor, charming Alba!"
The monologue did not differ much from a monologue uttered under similar circumstances by any young man interested in a young girl whose mother does not conduct herself becomingly. It was a touching situation, but a very common one, and there was no necessity for the author to come to Rome to study it, one entire winter and spring. If that interest went beyond a study, Dorsenne possessed a very simple means of preventing his little friend, as he said, from being rendered unhappy by the conduct of that mother whom age did not conquer. Why not propose for her hand? He had inherited a fortune, and his success as an author had augmented it. For, since the first book which had established his reputation, the 'Etudes de Femmes,' published in 1879, not a single one of the fifteen novels or selections from novels had remained unnoticed. His personal celebrity could, strictly speaking, combine with it family celebrity, for he boasted that his grandfather was a cousin of that brave General Dorsenne whom Napoleon could only replace at the head of his guard by Friant. All can be told in a word. Although the heirs of the hero of the Empire had never recognized the relationship, Julien believed in it, and when he said, in reply to compliments on his books, "At my age my grand-uncle, the Colonel of the Guard, did greater things," he was sincere in his belief. But it was unnecessary to mention it, for, situated as he was, Countess Steno would gladly have accepted him as a son-in-law. As for gaining the love of the young girl, with his handsome face, intelligent and refined, and his elegant form, which he had retained intact in spite of his thirty-seven years, he might have done so. Nothing, however, was farther from his thoughts than such a project, for, as he ascended the steps of the staircase of the palace formerly occupied by Urban VII, he continued, in very different terms, his monologue, a species of involuntary "copy" which is written instinctively in the brain of the man of letters when he is particularly fond of literature.
At times it assumes a written form, and it is the most marked of professional distortions, the most unintelligible to the illiterate, who think waveringly and who do not, happily for them, suffer the continual servitude to precision of word and to too conscientious thought.
"Yes; poor, charming Alba!" he repeated to himself. "How unfortunate that the marriage with Countess Gorka's brother could not have been arranged four months ago. Connection with the family of her mother's lover would be tolerably immoral! But she would at least have had less chance of ever knowing it; and the convenient combination by which the mother has caused her to form a friendship with that wife in order the better to blind the two, would have bordered a little more on propriety. To-day Alba would be Lady Ardrahan, leading a prosaic English life, instead of being united to some imbecile whom they will find for her here or elsewhere. She will then deceive him as her mother deceived the late Steno—with me, perhaps, in remembrance of our pure intimacy of to-day. That would be too sad! Do not let us think of it! It is the future, of the existence of which we are ignorant, while we do know that the present exists and that it has all rights. I owe to the Contessina my best impressions of Rome, to the vision of her loveliness in this scene of so grand a past. And this is a sensation which is enjoyable; to visit the Palais Castagna with the adorable creature upon whom rests the menace of a drama. To enjoy the Countess Steno's kindness, otherwise the house would not have that tone and I would never have obtained the little one's friendship. To rejoice that Ardea is a fool, that he has lost his fortune on the Bourse, and that the syndicate of his creditors, presided over by Monsieur Ancona, has laid hands upon his palace. For, otherwise, I should not have ascended the steps of this papal staircase, nor have seen this debris of Grecian sarcophagi fitted into the walls, and this garden of so intense a green. As for Gorka, he may have returned for thirty-six other reasons than jealousy, and Montfanon is right: Caterina is cunning enough to inveigle both the painter and him. She will make Maitland believe that she received Gorka for the sake of Madame Gorka, and to prevent him from ruining that excellent woman at gaming. She will tell Boleslas that there was nothing more between her and Maitland than Platonic discussions on the merits of Raphael and Perugino.... And I should be more of a dupe than the other two for missing the visit. It is not every day that one has a chance to see auctioned, like a simple Bohemian, the grand-nephew of a pope."
The second suite of reflections resembled more than the first the real Dorsenne, who was often incomprehensible even to his best friends. The young man with the large, black eyes, the face with delicate features, the olive complexion of a Spanish monk, had never had but one passion, too exceptional not to baffle the ordinary observer, and developed in a sense so singular that to the most charitable it assumed either an attitude almost outrageous or else that of an abominable egotism and profound corruption.
Dorsenne had spoken truly, he loved to comprehend—to comprehend as the gamester loves to game, the miser to accumulate money, the ambitious to obtain position—there was within him that appetite, that taste, that mania for ideas which makes the scholar and the philosopher. But a philosopher united by a caprice of nature to an artist, and by that of fortune and of education to a worldly man and a traveller. The abstract speculations of the metaphysician would not have sufficed for him, nor would the continuous and simple creation of the narrator who narrates to amuse himself, nor would the ardor of the semi-animal of the man-of-pleasure who abandons himself to the frenzy of vice. He invented for himself, partly from instinct, partly from method, a compromise between his contradictory tendencies, which he formulated in a fashion slightly pedantic, when he said that his sole aim was to "intellectualize the forcible sensations;" in clearer terms, he dreamed of meeting with, in human life, the greatest number of impressions it could give and to think of them after having met them.
He thought, with or without reason, to discover in his two favorite writers, Goethe and Stendhal, a constant application of a similar principle. His studies had, for the past fourteen years when he had begun to live and to write, passed through the most varied spheres possible to him. But he had passed through them, lending his presence without giving himself to them, with this idea always present in his mind: that he existed to become familiar with other customs, to watch other characters, to clothe other personages and the sensations which vibrated within them. The period of his revival was marked by the achievement of each one of his books which he composed then, persuaded that, once written and construed, a sentimental or social experience was not worth the trouble of being dwelt upon. Thus is explained the incoherence of custom and the atmospheric contact, if one may so express it, which are the characteristics of his work. Take, for example, his first collection of novels, the 'Etudes de Femmes,' which made him famous. They are about a sentimental woman who loved unwisely, and who spent hours from excess of the romantic studying the avowed or disguised demi-monde. By the side of that, 'Sans Dieu,' the story of a drama of scientific consciousness, attests a continuous frequenting of the Museum, the Sorbonne and the College of France, while 'Monsieur de Premier' presents one of the most striking pictures of the contemporary political world, which could only have been traced by a familiar of the Palais Bourbon.
On the other hand, the three books of travel pretentiously named 'Tourisime,' 'Les Profils d'Etrangeres' and the 'Eclogue Mondaine,' which fluctuated between Florence and London, St.-Moritz and Bayreuth, revealed long sojourns out of France; a clever analysis of the Italian, English, and German worlds; a superficial but true knowledge of the languages, the history and literature, which in no way accords with 'l'odor di femina', exhale from every page. These contrasts are brought out by a mind endowed with strangely complex qualities, dominated by a firm will and, it must be said, a very mediocre sensibility. The last point will appear irreconcilable with the extreme and almost morbid delicacy of certain of Dorsenne's works. It is thus however. He had very little heart. But, on the other hand, he had an abundance of nerves and nerves, and their irritability suffice for him who desires to paint human passions, above all, love, with its joys and its sorrows, of which one does not speak to a certain extent when one experiences them. Success had come to Julien too early not to have afforded him occasion for several adventures. In each of the centres traversed in the course of his sentimental vagabondage he tried to find a woman in whom was embodied all the scattered charms of the district. He had formed innumerable intimacies. Some had been frankly affectionate. The majority were Platonic. Others had consisted of the simple coquetry of friendship, as was the case with Mademoiselle Steno. The young man had never employed more vanity than enthusiasm. Every woman, mistress or friend, had been to him, nine times out of ten, a curiosity, then a model. But, as he held that the model could not be recognized by any exterior sign, he did not think that he was wrong in making use of his prestige as a writer, for what he called his "culture." He was capable of justice, the defense which he made of Fanny Hafner to Montfanon proved it; of admiration, his respect for the noble qualities of that same Montfanon testify to it; of compassion, for without it he would not have apprehended at once with so much sympathy the result which the return of Count Gorka would have on the destiny of innocent Alba Steno.
On reaching the staircase of the Palais Castagna, instead of hastening, as was natural, to find out at least what meant the return to Rome of the lover whom Madame Steno deceived, he collected his startled sensibilities before meeting Alba, and, pausing, he scribbled in a note-book which he drew from his pocket, with a pencil always within reach of his fingers, in a firm hand, precise and clear, this note savoring somewhat of sentimentalism:
"25 April, '90. Palais Castagna.—Marvellous staircase constructed by Balthazar Peruzzi; so broad and long, with double rows of stairs, like those of Santa Colomba, near Siena. Enjoyed above all the sight of an interior garden so arranged, so designed that the red flowers, the regularity of the green shrubs, the neat lines of the graveled walks resemble the features of a face. The idea of the Latin garden, opposed to the Germanic or Anglo-Saxon, the latter respecting the irregularity of nature, the other all in order, humanizing and administering even to the flower-garden."
"Subject the complexity of life to a thought harmonious and clear, a constant mark of the Latin genus, for a group of trees as well as an entire nation, an entire religion—Catholicism. It is the contrary in the races of the North. Significance of the word: the forests have taught man liberty."
He had hardly finished writing that oddly interpreted memorandum, and was closing his note-book, when the sound of a familiar voice caused him to turn suddenly. He had not heard ascend the stairs a personage who waited until he finished writing, and who was no other than one of the actors in his "troupe" to use his expression, one of the persons of the party of that morning organized the day before at Madame Steno's, and just the one whom the intolerable marquis had defamed with so much ardor, the father of beautiful Fanny Hafner, Baron Justus himself. The renowned founder of the 'Credit Austro-Dalmate' was a small, thin man, with blue eyes of an acuteness almost insupportable, in a face of neutral color. His ever-courteous manner, his attire, simple and neat, his speech serious and discreet, gave to him that species of distinction so common to old diplomatists. But the dangerous adventurer was betrayed by the glance which Hafner could not succeed in veiling with indifferent amiability. The man-of-the-world, which he prided himself upon having become, was visible through all by certain indefinable trifles, and above all by those eyes, of a restlessness so singular in so wealthy a man, indicating an enigmatical and obscure past of dark and contrasting struggles, of covetous sharpness, of cold calculation and indomitable energy. Fanatical Montfanon, who abused the daughter with such unjustness, judged the father justly. The son of a Jew of Berlin and of a Dutch Protestant, Justus Hafner was inscribed on the civil state registers as belonging to his mother's faith. But the latter died when Justus was very young, and he was not reared in any other liturgy than that of money. From his father, a persevering and skilful jeweller, but too prudent to risk or gain much, he learned the business of precious stones, to which he added that of laces, paintings, old materials, tapestries, rare furniture.
An infallible eye, the patience of a German united with his Israelitish and Dutch extraction, soon amassed for him a small capital, which his father's bequest augmented. At twenty-seven Justus had not less than five hundred thousand marks. Two imprudent operations on the Bourse, enterprises to force fortune and to obtain the first million, ruined the too-audacious courtier, who began again the building up of his fortune by becoming a diamond broker.
He went to Paris, and there, in a wretched little room on the Rue Montmartre, in three years, he made his second capital. He then managed it so well that in 1870, at the time of the war, he had made good his losses. The armistice found him in England, where he had married the daughter of a Viennese agent, in London, for the purpose of starting a vast enterprise of revictualing the belligerent armies. The enormous profits made by the father-in-law and the son-in-law during that year determined them to found a banking-house which should have its principal seat in Vienna and a branch in Berlin. Justus Hafner, a passionate admirer of Herr von Bismarck, controlled, besides, a newspaper. He tried to gain the favor of the great statesman, who refused to aid the former diamond merchant in gratifying political ambitions cherished from an early age.
It was a bitter disappointment to the persevering man, who, having tried his luck in Prussia, emigrated definitively to Vienna. The establishment of the 'Credit Austro-Dalmate,' launched with extraordinary claims, permitted him at length to realize at least one of his chimeras. His wealth, while not equaling that of the mighty financiers of the epoch, increased with a rapidity almost magical to a cipher high enough to permit him, from 1879, to indulge in the luxurious life which can not be led by any one with an income short of five hundred thousand francs. Contrary to the custom of speculators of his genus, Hafner in time invested his earnings safely. He provided against the coming demolition of the structure so laboriously built up. The 'Credit Austro-Dalmate' had suffered in great measure owing to innumerable public and private disasters and scandals, such as the suicide and murder in the Schroeder family.
Suits were begun against a number of the founders, among them Justus Hafner. He was acquitted, but with such damage to his financial integrity and in the face of such public indignation that he abandoned Austria for Italy and Vienna for Rome. There, heedless of first rebuffs, he undertook to realize the third great object of his life, the gaining of social position. To the period of avidity had succeeded, as it frequently does with those formidable handlers of money, the period of vanity. Being now a widower, he aimed at his daughter's marriage with a strength of will and a complication of combinations equal to his former efforts, and that struggle for connection with high life was disguised beneath the cloak of the most systematically adopted politeness of deportment. How had he found the means, in the midst of struggles and hardships, to refine himself so that the primitive broker and speculator were almost unrecognizable in the baron of fifty-four, decorated with several orders, installed in a magnificent palace, the father of a charming daughter, and himself an agreeable conversationalist, a courteous gentleman, an ardent sportsman? It is the secret of those natures created for social conquest, like a Napoleon for war and a Talleyrand for diplomacy. Dorsenne asked himself the question frequently, and he could not solve it. Although he boasted of watching the Baron with an intellectual curiosity, he could not restrain a shudder of antipathy each time he met the eyes of the man.
And on this particular morning it was especially disagreeable to him that those eyes had seen him making his unoffending notes, although there was scarcely a shade of gentle condescension—that of a great lord who patronizes a great artist—in the manner in which Hafner addressed him.
"Do not inconvenience yourself for me, dear sir," said he to Dorsenne. "You work from nature, and you are right. I see that your next novel will touch upon the ruin of our poor Prince d'Ardea. Do not be too hard on him, nor on us."
The artist could not help coloring at that benign pleasantry. It was all the more painful to him because it was at once true and untrue. How should he explain the sort of literary alchemy, thanks to which he was enabled to affirm that he never drew portraits, although not a line of his fifteen volumes was traced without a living model? He replied, therefore, with a touch of ill-humor:
"You are mistaken, my dear Baron. I do not make notes on persons."
"All authors say that," answered the Baron, shrugging his shoulders with the assumed good-nature which so rarely forsook him, "and they are right.... At any rate, it is fortunate that you had something to write, for we shall both be late in arriving at a rendezvous where there are ladies.... It is almost a quarter past eleven, and we should have been there at eleven precisely.... But I have one excuse, I waited for my daughter."
"And she has not come?" asked Dorsenne.
"No," replied Hafner, "at the last moment she could not make up her mind. She had a slight annoyance this morning—I do not know what old book she had set her heart on. Some rascal found out that she wanted it, and he obtained it first.... But that is not the true cause of her absence. The true cause is that she is too sensitive, and she finds it so sad that there should be a sale of the possessions of this ancient family.... I did not insist. What would she have experienced had she known the late Princess Nicoletta, Pepino's mother? When I came to Rome on a visit for the first time, in '75, what a salon that was and what a Princess!... She was a Condolmieri, of the family of Eugene IV."
"How absurd vanity renders the most refined man," thought Julien, suiting his pace to the Baron's. "He would have me believe that he was received at the house of that woman who was politically the blackest of the black, the most difficult to please in the recruiting of her salon.... Life is more complex than the Montfanons even know of! This girl feels by instinct that which the chouan of a marquis feels by doctrine, the absurdity of this striving after nobility, with a father who forgets the broker and who talks of the popes of the Middle Ages as of a trinket!... While we are alone, I must ask this old fox what he knows of Boleslas Gorka's return. He is the confidant of Madame Steno. He should be informed of the doings and whereabouts of the Pole."
The friendship of Baron Hafner for the Countess, whose financial adviser he was, should have been for Dorsenne a reason for avoiding such a subject, the more so as he was convinced of the man's dislike for him. The Baron could, by a single word perfidiously repeated, injure him very much with Alba's mother. But the novelist, similar on that point to the majority of professional observers, had only the power of analysis of a retrospective order. Never had his keen intelligence served him to avoid one of those slight errors of conversation which are important mistakes on the pitiful checker-board of life. Happily for him, he cherished no ambition except for his pleasure and his art, without which he would have found the means of making for himself, gratuitously, enough enemies to clear all the academies.
He, therefore, chose the moment when the Baron arrived at the landing on the first floor, pausing somewhat out of breath, and after the agent had verified their passes, to say to his companion:
"Have you seen Gorka since his arrival?"
"What? Is Boleslas here?" asked Justus Hafner, who manifested his astonishment in no other manner than by adding: "I thought he was still in Poland."
"I have not seen him myself," said Dorsenne. He already regretted having spoken too hastily. It is always more prudent not to spread the first report. But the ignorance of that return of Countess Steno's best friend, who saw her daily, struck the young man with such surprise that he could not resist adding: "Some one, whose veracity I can not doubt, met him this morning." Then, brusquely: "Does not this sudden return make you fearful?"
"Fearful?" repeated the Baron. "Why so?" As he uttered those words he glanced at the writer with his usual impassive expression, which, however, a very slight sign, significant to those who knew him, belied. In exchanging those few words the two men had passed into the first room of "objects of art," having belonged to the apartment of "His Eminence Prince d'Ardea," as the catalogue said, and the Baron did not raise the gold glass which he held at the end of his nose when near the smallest display of bric-a-brac, as was his custom. As he walked slowly through the collection of busts and statues of that first room, called "Marbles" on the catalogue, without glancing with the eye of a practised judge at the Gobelin tapestry upon the walls, it must have been that he considered as very grave the novelist's revelation. The latter had said too much not to continue:
"Well, I who have not been connected with Madame Steno for years, like you, trembled for her when that return was announced to me. She does not know what Gorka is when he is jealous, or of what he is capable."
"Jealous? Of whom?" interrupted Hafner. "It is not the first time I have heard the name of Boleslas uttered in connection with the Countess. I confess I have never taken those words seriously, and I should not have thought that you, a frequenter of her salon, one of her friends, would hesitate on that subject. Rest assured, Gorka is in love with his charming wife, and he could not make a better choice. Countess Caterina is an excellent person, very Italian. She is interested in him, as in you, as in Maitland, as in me; in you because you write such admirable books, in Maitland because he paints like our best masters, in Boleslas on account of the sorrow he had in the death of his first child, in me because I have so delicate a charge. She is more than an excellent person, she is a truly superior woman, very superior." He uttered his hypocritical speech with such perfect ease that Dorsenne was surprised and irritated. That Hafner did not believe one treacherous word of what he said the novelist was sure, he who, from the indiscreet confidences of Gorka, knew what to think of the Venetian's manner, and he; too, understood the Baron's glance! At any other time he would have admired the policy of the old stager. At that moment the novelist was vexed by it, for it caused him to play a role, very common but not very elevating, that of a calumniator, who has spoken ill of a woman with whom he dined the day before. He, therefore, quickened his pace as much as politeness would permit, in order not to remain tete-a-tete with the Baron, and also to rejoin the persons of their party already arrived.
They emerged from the first room to enter a second, marked "Porcelain;" then a third, "Frescoes of Perino del Vaga," on account of the ceiling upon which the master painted a companion to his vigorous piece at Genoa—"Jupiter crushing the Giants"—and, lastly, into a fourth, called "The Arazzi," from the wonderful panels with which it was decorated.
A few visitors were lounging there, for the season was somewhat advanced, and the date which M. Ancona had chosen for the execution proved either the calculation of profound hatred or else the adroit ruse of a syndicate of retailers. All the magnificent objects in the palace were adjudged at half the value they would have brought a few months sooner or later. The small group of curios stood out in contrast to the profusion of furniture, materials, objects of art of all kinds, which filled the vast rooms. It was the residence of five hundred years of power and of luxury, where masterpieces, worthy of the great Medicis, and executed in their time, alternated with the gewgaws of the eighteenth century and bronzes of the First Empire, with silver trinkets ordered but yesterday in London. Baron Justus could not resist these. He raised his glass and called Dorsenne to show him a curious armchair, the carving of a cartel, the embroidery on some material. One glance sufficed for him to judge.... If the novelist had been capable of observing, he would have perceived in the detailed knowledge the banker had of the catalogue the trace of a study too deep not to accord with some mysterious project.
"There are treasures here," said he. "See these two Chinese vases with convex lids, with the orange ground decorated with gilding. Those are pieces no longer made in China. It is a lost art. And this tete-a-tete decorated with flowers; and this pluvial cope in this case. What a marvel! It is as good as the one of Pius Second, which was at Pienza and which has been stolen. I could have bought it at one time for fifteen hundred francs. It is worth fifteen thousand, twenty thousand, all of that. Here is some faience. It was brought from Spain when Cardinal Castagna came from Madrid, when he took the place of Pius Fifth as sponsor of Infanta Isabella. Ah, what treasures! But you go like the wind," he added, "and perhaps it is better, for I would stop, and Cavalier Fossati, the auctioneer, to whom those terrible creditors of Peppino have given charge of the sale, has spies everywhere. You notice an object, you are marked as a solid man, as they say in Germany. You are noted. I shall be down on his list. I have been caught by him enough. Ha! He is a very shrewd man! But come, I see the ladies. We should have remembered that they were here," and smiling—but at whom?—at Fossati, at himself or his companion?—he made the latter read the notice hung on the door of a transversal room, which bore this inscription: "Salon of marriage-chests."
There were, indeed, ranged along the walls about fifteen of those wooden cases painted and carved, of those 'cassoni' in which it was the fashion, in grand Italian families, to keep the trousseaux destined for the brides. Those of the Castagnas proved, by their escutcheons, what alliances the last of the grand-nephews of Urban VII, the actual Prince d'Ardea, entered into. Three very elegant ladies were examining the chests; in them Dorsenne recognized at once fair and delicate Alba Steno, Madame Gorka, with her tall form, her fair hair, too, and her strong English profile, and pretty Madame Maitland, with her olive complexion, who did not seem to have inherited any more negro blood than just enough to tint her delicate face. Florent Chapron, the painter's brother-in-law, was the only man with those three ladies. Countess Steno and Lincoln Maitland were not there, and one could hear the musical voice of Alba spelling the heraldry carved on the coffers, formerly opened with tender curiosity by young girls, laughing and dreaming by turns like her.
"Look, Maud," said she to Madame Gorka, "there is the oak of the Della Rovere, and there the stars of the Altieri."
"And I have found the column of the Colonna," replied Maud Gorka.
"And you, Lydia?" said Mademoiselle Steno to Madame Maitland.
"And I, the bees of the Barberini."
"And I, the lilies of the Farnese," said in his turn Florent Chapron, who, having raised his head first, perceived the newcomers. He greeted them with a pleasant smile, which was reflected in his eyes and which showed his white teeth. "We no longer expected you, sirs. Every one has disappointed us. Lincoln did not wish to leave his atelier. It seems that Mademoiselle Hafner excused herself yesterday to these ladies. Countess Steno has a headache. We did not even count on the Baron, who is usually promptness personified."
"I was sure Dorsenne would not fail us," said Alba, gazing at the young man with her large eyes, of a blue as clear as those of Madame Gorka were dark. "Only that I expected we should meet him on the staircase as we were leaving, and that he would say to us, in surprise: 'What, I am not on time?' Ah," she continued, "do not excuse yourself, but reply to the examination in Roman history we are about to put you through. We have to follow here a veritable course studying all these old chests. What are the arms of this family?" she asked, leaning with Dorsenne over one of the cassoni. "You do not know? The Carafa, famous man! And what Pope did they have? You do not know that either? Paul Fourth, sir novelist. If ever you visit us in Venice, you will be surprised at the Doges."
She employed so affectionate a grace in that speech, and she was so apparently in one of her moods—so rare, alas! of childish joyousness, that Dorsenne, preoccupied as he was, felt his heart contract on her account. The simultaneous absence of Madame Steno and Lincoln Maitland could only be fortuitous. But persuaded that the Countess loved Maitland, and not doubting that she was his mistress, the absence of both appeared singularly suspicious to him. Such a thought sufficed to render the young girl's innocent gayety painful to him. That gayety would become tragical if it were true that the Countess's other lover had returned unexpectedly, warned by some one. Dorsenne experienced genuine agitation on asking Madame Gorka:
"How is Boleslas?"
"Very well, I suppose," said his wife. "I have not had a letter to-day. Does not one of your proverbs say, 'No news is good news?'"
Baron Hafner was beside Maud Gorka when she uttered that sentence. Involuntarily Dorsenne looked at him, and involuntarily, master as he was of himself, he looked at Dorsenne. It was no longer a question of a simple hypothesis. That Boleslas Gorka had returned to Rome unknown to his wife constituted, for any one who knew of his relations with Madame Steno, and of the infidelity of the latter, an event full of formidable consequences. Both men were possessed by the same thought. Was there still time to prevent a catastrophe? But each of them in this circumstance, as is so often the case in important matters of life, was to show the deepness of his character. Not a muscle of Hafner's face quivered. It was a question, perhaps, of rendering a service to a woman in danger, whom he loved with all the feeling of which he was capable. That woman was the mainspring of his social position in Rome. She was still more. A plan for Fanny's marriage, as yet secret, but on the point of being consummated, depended upon Madame Steno. But he felt it impossible to attempt to render her any service before having spent half an hour in the rooms of the Palais Castagna, and he began to employ that half hour in a manner which would be most profitable to his possible purchases, for he turned to Madame Gorka and said to her, with the rather exaggerated politeness habitual to him:
"Countess, if you will permit me to advise you, do not pause so long before these coffers, interesting as they may be. First, as I have just told Dorsenne, Cavalier Fossati, the agent, has his spies everywhere here. Your position has already been remarked, you may be sure, so that if you take a fancy for one, he will know it in advance, and he will manage to make you pay double, triple, and more for it. And then we have to see so much, notably a cartoon of twelve designs by old masters, which Ardea did not even suspect he had, and which Fossati discovered—would you believe?—worm-eaten, in a cupboard in one of the granaries."
"There is some one whom your collection would interest," said Florent, "my brother-in-law."
"Well," replied Madame Gorka to Hafner with her habitual good-nature, "there are at least two of these coffers that I like and wish to have. I said it in so loud a tone that it is not worth the trouble of hoping that your Cavalier Fossati does not know it, if he really has that mode of espionage in practice. But forty or fifty pounds more make no difference—nor forty thousand even."
"Baron Hafner will warn you that your tone is not low enough," laughed Alba Steno, "and he will add his great phrase: 'You will never be diplomatic.' But," added the girl, turning toward Dorsenne, having drawn back from silent Lydia Maitland, and arranging to fall behind with the young man, "I am about to employ a little diplomacy in order to find out whether you have any trouble." And here her mobile face changed its expression, looking into Julien's with genuine anxiety. "Yes," said she, "I have never seen you so preoccupied as you seem to be this morning. Do you not feel well? Have you received ill news from Paris? What ails you?"
"I preoccupied?" replied Dorsenne. "You are mistaken. There is absolutely nothing, I assure you." It was impossible to lie with more apparent awkwardness, and if any one merited the scorn of Baron Hafner, it was he. Hardly had Madame Gorka spoken, when he had, with the rapidity of men of vivid imagination, seen Countess Steno and Maitland surprised by Gorka, at that very moment, in some place of rendezvous, and that surprise followed by a challenge, perhaps an immediate murder. And, as Alba continued to laugh merrily, his presentiment of her sad fate became so vivid that his face actually clouded over. He felt impelled to ascertain, when she questioned him, how great a friendship she bore him. But his effort to hide his emotion rendered his voice so harsh that the young girl resumed:
"I have vexed you by my questioning?"
"Not the least in the world," he replied, without being able to find a word of friendship. He felt at that moment incapable of talking, as they usually did, in that tone of familiarity, partly mocking, partly sentimental, and he added: "I simply think this exposition somewhat melancholy, that is all." And, with a smile, "But we shall lose the opportunity of having it shown us by our incomparable cicerone," and he obliged her, by quickening her pace, to rejoin the group piloted by Hafner through the magnificence of the almost deserted apartment.