SAMUEL BROHL & COMPANY
By Victor Cherbuliez
Were the events of this nether sphere governed by the calculus of probabilities, Count Abel Larinski and Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz would almost unquestionably have arrived at the end of their respective careers without ever having met. Count Larinski lived in Vienna, Austria; Mlle. Moriaz never had been farther from Paris than Cormeilles, where she went every spring to remain throughout the fine weather. Neither at Cormeilles nor at Paris had she ever heard of Count Larinski; and he, on his part, was wholly unaware of the existence of Mlle. Moriaz. His mind was occupied with a gun of his own invention, which should have made his fortune, and which had not made it. He had hoped that this warlike weapon, a true chef-d'oeuvre, in his opinion superior in precision and range to any other known, would be appreciated, according to its merits, by competent judges, and would one day be adopted for the equipment of the entire Austro-Hungarian infantry. By means of unremitting perseverance, he had succeeded in obtaining the appointment of an official commission to examine it. The commission decided that the Larinski musket possessed certain advantages, but that it had three defects: it was too heavy, the breech became choked too rapidly with oil from the lubricator, and the cost of manufacture was too high. Count Abel did not lose courage. He gave himself up to study, devoted nearly two years to perfecting his invention, and applied all his increased skill to rendering his gun lighter and less costly. When put under test, the new firearm burst, and this vexatious incident ruined forever the reputation of the Larinski gun. Far from becoming enriched, the inventor had sunk his expenses, his advances of every kind; he had recklessly squandered both revenue and capital, which, to be sure, was not very considerable.
Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz had a more fortunate destiny than Count Larinski. She did not plume herself on having invented a new gun, nor did she depend upon her ingenuity for a livelihood; she had inherited from her mother a yearly income of about a hundred thousand livres, which enabled her to enjoy life and make others happy, for she was very charitable. She loved the world without loving it too much; she knew how to do without it, having abundant resources within herself, and being of a very independent disposition. During the winter she went out a great deal into society, and received freely at home. Her father, member of the Institute and Professor of Chemistry at the College of France, was one of those savants who enjoy dining out; he had a taste also for music and for the theatre. Antoinette accompanied him everywhere; they scarcely ever remained at home except upon their reception evenings; but with the return of the swallows it was a pleasure to Mlle. Moriaz to fly to Cormeilles and there pass seven months, reduced to the society of Mlle. Moiseney, who, after having been her instructress, had become her demoiselle de compagnie. She lived pretty much in the open air, walking about in the woods, reading, or painting; and the woods, her books, and her paint-brushes, to say nothing of her poor people, so agreeably occupied her time that she never experienced a quarter of an hour's ennui. She was too content with her lot to have the slightest inclination to change it; therefore she was in no hurry to marry. She had completed twenty-four years of her existence, had refused several desirable offers, and wished nothing better than to retain her maidenhood. It was the sole article concerning which this heiress had discussions with those around her. When her father took it into his head to grow angry and cry, "You must!" she would burst out laughing; whereupon he would laugh also, and say: "I'm not the master here; in fact, I am placed in the position of a ploughman arguing with a priest."
It is very dangerous to tax one's brains too much when one dines out frequently. During the winter of 1875, M. Moriaz had undertaken an excess of work; he was overdriven, and his health suffered. He was attacked by one of those anemic disorders of which we hear so much nowadays, and which may be called la maladie a la mode. He was obliged to break in upon his daily routine, employ an assistant, and early in July his physician ordered him to set out for Engadine, and try the chalybeate water-cure at Saint Moritz. The trip from Paris to Saint Moritz cannot be made without passing through Chur. It was at Chur that Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz, who accompanied her father, met for the first time Count Abel Larinski. When the decree of Destiny goes forth, the spider and the fly must inevitably meet.
Abel Larinski had arrived at Chur from Vienna, having taken the route through Milan and across the Splugen Pass. Although he was very short of funds, upon reaching the capital of the canton of Grisons he had put up at the Hotel Steinbock, the best and most expensive in the place. It was his opinion that he owed this mark of respect to Count Larinski; such duties he held to be very sacred, and he fulfilled them religiously. He was in a very melancholy mood, and set out for a promenade in order to divert his mind. In crossing the Plessur Bridge, he fixed his troubled eyes on the muddy waters of the stream, and he felt almost tempted to take the fatal leap; but in such a project there is considerable distance between the dream and its fulfilment, and Count Larinski experienced at this juncture that the most melancholy man in the world may find it difficult to conquer his passion for living.
He had no reason to feel very cheerful. He had quitted Vienna in order to betake himself to the Saxon Casino, where roulette and trente-et-quarante are played. His ill-luck would have it that he stopped on the way at Milan, and fell in with a circle of ill repute, where this most imprudent of men played and lost. There remained to him just enough cash to carry him to Saxon; but what can be accomplished in a casino when one has empty pockets? Before crossing the Splugen he had written to a petty Jew banker of his acquaintance for money. He counted but little on the compliance of this Hebrew, and this was why he paused five minutes to contemplate the Plessur, after which he retraced his steps. Twenty minutes later he was crossing a public square, ornamented with a pretty Gothic fountain, and seeing before him a cathedral, he hastened to enter it.
The cathedral of Chur possesses, among other curiosities, a painting by Albert Durer, a St. Lawrence on the gridiron, attributed to Holbein, a piece of the true cross, and some relics of St. Lucius and his sister Ernesta. Count Abel only accorded a wandering attention to either St. Lucius or St. Lawrence. Scarcely had he made his way into the nave of the building, when he beheld something that appeared to him far more interesting than paintings or relics. An English poet has said that at times there is revealed to us a glimpse of paradise in a woman's face, and it was such a rare blessing that was at this moment vouchsafed unto Count Larinski. He was not a romantic man, and yet he remained for some moments motionless, rooted to the spot in admiration. Was it a premonition of his destiny? The fact is that, in beholding for the first time Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz, for it was none other than she who thus riveted his attention, he experienced an inexplicable surprise, a thrilling of the heart, such as he never before had experienced. In his first impression of this charming girl he made one slight mistake. He divined at once that the man by whom she was accompanied, who had gray hair, a broad, open brow, vivacious eyes, shaded by beautiful, heavy eye-brows, belonged to some learned fraternity; but he imagined that this individual with a white cravat, who had evidently preserved his freshness of heart, although past sixty years of age, was the fortunate suitor of the beautiful girl by his side.
There are some women whom it is impossible not to gaze upon. Wherever Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz appeared she was the object of universal observation: first, because she was charming; and, then, because she had a way of her own of dressing and of arranging her hair, a peculiar movement of the head, a grace of carriage, which inevitably must attract notice. There were those who made so bold as to assert that she assumed certain little peculiarities solely for the purpose of attracting the chance observer. Do not believe a word of it. She was altogether indifferent to public opinion and consulted her own taste alone, which was certainly impregnated with a touch of audacity; but she did not seek to appear audacious—she merely acted according to her natural bent. Observing her from a distance, people were apt to fancy her affected, and somewhat inclined to be fantastic; but on approaching her, their minds were speedily disabused of this fancy. The purity of her countenance, her air of refinement and thorough modesty, speedily dispelled any suspicious thoughts, and those who had for a moment harboured them would say mentally, "Pardon me, mademoiselle, I mistook." Such, at least, was the mental comment of Count Abel, as she passed close by him on leaving the church. Her father was telling her something that made her smile; this smile was that of a young girl just budding into womanhood, who has nothing yet to conceal from her guardian angel. Count Larinski left the church after her, and followed her with his eyes as she crossed the square. On returning to the hotel he had a curiosity to satisfy. He questioned one of the garcons, who pointed out to him in the hotel register for travellers the following entry: "M. Moriaz, member of the Institute of France, and his daughter, from Paris, en route for Saint Moritz." "And where then?" he asked himself; then dismissed the subject from his mind.
When he had dined, he repaired to the post-office to inquire for a letter he was expecting from Vienna. He found it, and returned to shut himself up in his chamber, where he tore open the envelope with a feverish hand. This letter, written in a more peculiar than felicitous French, was the reply of the Jew banker. It read as follows:
"M. LE COMTE:
"Although you both write and understand German very well, you do not like to read it, and therefore I write to you in French. It grieves me deeply not to have it in my power to satisfy your honoured demand. Business is very dull. It is impossible for me to advance you another florin, or even to renew your note, which falls due shortly. I am the father of a family; it pains me to be compelled to remind you of this.
"I wish to tell you quite freely what I think. I did believe in your gun, but I believe in it no longer, no one believes in it any more. When strong, it was too heavy; when you made it lighter, it was no longer strong. What came next? You know it burst. Beware how you further perfect it, or it will explode whenever it becomes aware that any one is looking at it. This accursed gun has eaten up the little you had, and some of my savings besides, although I have confidence that you will, at least, pay me the interest due on that. It grieves me to tell you so, M. de Comte, but all inventors are more or less crack-brained, and end in the hospital. For the love of God, leave guns as they are, and invent nothing more, or you will go overboard, and there will be no one to fish you out."
Abel Larinski paused at this place. He put his letter down on the table, and, turning round in his arm-chair, with a savage air, his eye fixed on a distant corner of the room, he fell to thus soliloquizing in a sepulchral voice:
"Do you hear, idiot? This old knave is right. Accursed be the day when the genius of invention thrilled your sublime brain! A grand discovery you have made, forsooth! What have I gained from it? Grand illusions, grand discomfitures! What hath it availed me that I passed whole nights discussing with you breech-loaders, screw-plates, tumbrels, sockets, bridges, ovoid balls, and spring-locks? What fruits have I gained from these refreshing conversations? You foresaw everything, my great man, except that one little thing which great men so often fail to see, that mysterious something, I know not what, which makes success. When you spoke to me, in your slow, monotonous tones, when you fixed upon me your melancholy gaze, I should have been able to read in your eyes that you were only a fool. The devil take thee and thy gun, thy gun and thee; hollow head, head full of chimeras, true Pole, true Larinski!"
To whom was Count Abel speaking? To a phantom? To his double? He alone knew. When he had uttered the last words, he resumed the perusal of his letter, which ended thus:
"Will you permit me to give you a piece of advice, M. le Comte, a good little piece of advice? I have known you for three years, and have taken much interest in your welfare. You invent guns, which, when they are strong, lack lightness. I beg your pardon, but I do not comprehend you, M. le Comte. The name you bear is excellent; the head you carry on your shoulders is superb, and it is the general opinion that you resemble Faust; but neither name nor head does you any good. Leave the guns as they are, and bestow your attention upon women; they, and they alone, can draw you out of the deep waters where you are now floundering. There is no time to lose. I beg your pardon, but you must be thirty years old, and perhaps a little more. This diable of a gun has made you lose three valuable years.
"It pains me, M. le Comte, to be compelled to remind you that the little note falls due shortly. I have had the value of the bracelet you left with me as a pledge estimated; it is not worth a thousand florins, as you believed; it is a piece of antiquity that has a value to only those who can indulge in a caprice for fancy articles, and such caprices are rare nowadays, the time for such is past.
"I am, M. le Comte, with much respect, your humble and obedient servant,
Abel Larinski turned once more in his chair. He crumpled up between his fingers the letter of M. Moses Guldenthal, saying to himself as he did so, that the Guldenthals are often very clear-sighted folks. "Ay, to be sure," thought he, "this Hebrew is right, I have lost three valuable years. I have had fever, and my eyes have been clouded; but, Heaven be praised! The charm is broken, the illusion fled, I am cured—saved! Farewell, my chimera, I am no longer thy dupe! Many thanks, my dear friend: I return to you your gun; do with it as it seemeth best to you."
His eyes suddenly fell on his own reflection in the mirror above the chimney-piece, and he regarded it fixedly for a few moments.
"The semblance truly of an inventor," he resumed, mournfully smiling. "This pale, emaciated face; these deep-set eyes, with dark circles about them; these hollow, cadaverous cheeks! The three years have indeed left their traces. Bah! a little rest in the Alpine pastures, and Faust will become rejuvenated."
He seized a pen, and wrote the following reply:
"You are truly kind, my dear Guldenthal: you refuse me the miserable florins, but you give me in their stead a little piece of advice that is worth a fortune. Unluckily, I am not capable of following it. Noble souls like ours comprehend each other with half a word, and you are a poet whenever it suits you. When in the course of the day you have transacted a neat little piece of business, after having rubbed your hands until you have almost deprived them of skin, you tune your violin, which you play like an angel, and you draw from it such delightful strains that your ledger and your cash-box fall to weeping with emotion. I, too, am a musician, and my music is the fair sex. But, alas! women never can be for me other than an adorable inutility, a part of the dream of my life. Your dreams yield you a handsome percentage, as I have sorrowfully experienced; my dreams yield me nothing, and therefore it is that they are dear to me.
"I must prohibit—understand me clearly—your disposing of the trinket I left with you; we have the weakness, we Poles, of clinging to our family relics. Set your mind at rest; before the end of the month I shall have returned to Vienna, and will honour the dear little note. One day you will go down on your knees to beg of me to loan you a thousand florins, and I will astonish you with my ingratitude. May the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, have you in his holy keeping, my dear Guldenthal!"
As he finished his letter, he heard the sound of harps and violins. Some itinerant musicians were giving a concert in the hotel-garden, which was lit up as bright as day. Abel opened his window, and leaned on his elbows, looking out. The first object that presented itself to his eyes was Mlle. Moriaz, promenading one of the long garden-walks, leaning on her father's arm. Many eyes were fixed on her—we have already said it was difficult not to gaze upon her—but no one contemplated her with such close attention as Count Larinski. He never once lost sight of her.
"Is she beautiful? Is she even pretty?" he queried within himself. "I cannot quite make up my mind, but I am very sure that she is charming. Like my bracelet, this is a fancy article. She is a little thin, and her shoulders are too vigorously fashioned for her waist, which is slender and supple as a reed; but, such as she is, she has not her equal. Her walk, her carriage, resemble nothing I ever have seen before. I can well imagine that when she appears in the streets of Paris people turn to look after her, but no one would have the audacity to follow her. How old is she? Twenty-four or twenty-five years, I should say. Why is she not married? Who is this withered, pinched-looking fright of a personage who trots at her side like a poodle-dog? Probably some demoiselle de compagnie. And there comes her femme de chambre, a very spruce little lass, bringing her a shawl, which the demoiselle de compagnie hastens to put over her shoulders. She allows it to be done with the air of one who is accustomed to being waited upon. Mlle. Moriaz is an heiress. Why, then, is she not married?"
Count Larinski pursued his soliloquy as long as Mlle. Moriaz promenaded in the garden. As soon as she re-entered the hotel, it appeared to him that the garden had become empty, and that the musicians were playing out of tune. He closed his window. He gave up his plan of starting the next day for Saxon. He had decided that he would set out for Saint Moritz, to pass there at least two or three days. He said to himself, "It seems absurd; but who can tell?"
Thereupon he proceeded to investigate the state of his finances, and he weighed and re-weighed his purse, which was very light. Formerly Count Larinski had possessed a very pretty collection of jewellery. He had looked upon this as a reserve fund, to which he would have recourse only in cases of extreme distress. Alas! there remained to him now only two articles of his once considerable store—the bracelet that was in the hands of M. Guldenthal, and a diamond ring that he wore on his finger. He decided that, before quitting Chur, he would borrow money on this ring, or that he would try to sell it.
He remained some time seated at the foot of his bed, dangling his legs to and fro, his eyes closed. He had closed them, in order to better call up a vision of Mlle. Moriaz, and he repeated the words: "It seems absurd; but who can tell? The fact is, we can know nothing of a surety, and anything may happen." Then he recalled one of Goethe's poems, entitled "Vanitas! vanitatum vanitas!" and he recited several time in German these two lines:
"Nun hab' ich mein' Sach' auf nichts gestellt, Und mein gehort die ganze Welt!"
This literally signifies, "Now that I no longer count on anything, the whole world is mine." Abel Larinski recited these lines with a purity of accent that would have astonished M. Moses Guldenthal.
M. Moriaz, after wishing his daughter good-night, and imprinting a kiss upon her brow, as was his custom, had retired to his chamber. He was preparing for bed, when there came a knock at his door. Opening this, he saw before him a fair-haired youth, who rushed eagerly towards him, seized both his hands, and pressed them with effusion. M. Moriaz disengaged his hands, and regarded the intruder with a bewildered air.
"How?" cried the latter. "You do not know me? So sure as you are one of the most illustrious chemists of the day, I am Camille Langis, son of your best friend, a young man of great expectations, who admires you truly, who has followed you here, and who is now ready to begin all over again. There, my dear master, do you recognise me?"
"Ay, to be sure I recognise you, my boy," replied M. Moriaz, "although, to tell the truth, you have greatly changed. When you left us you were a mere youth."
"And now you have the air of a young man; but, I beg of you, where have you come from? I thought you were in the heart of Transylvania."
"It is possible to return from there, as you see. Three days ago I arrived in Paris and flew to Maisons-Lafitte. Mme. De Lorcy, who bears the double insignia of honour of being my aunt and the godmother of Antoinette—I beg your pardon, I mean Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz—informed me that you were in ill-health, and that your physician had sent you to Switzerland, to Saint Moritz, to recruit. I hastened after you; this morning I missed you by one hour at Zurich; but I have you now, and you will listen to me."
"I warn you, my dear child, that I am at this moment a most detestable auditor. We have done to-day one hotel de ville, one episcopal palace, one cathedral, and some relics of St. Lucius. To speak plainly, I am overpowered with sleep. Is there any great haste for what you have to say to me?"
"Is there any great haste? Why, I arrive breathless from Hungary to demand your daughter in marriage."
M. Moriaz threw up his arms; then, seating himself on the edge of his bed, he piteously gasped:
"You could not wait until to-morrow? If a judge is desired to take a favourable view of a case, he surely should not be disturbed in his first sleep to consider it."
"My dear master, I am truly distressed to be compelled to be disagreeable to you, but it is absolutely necessary that you should listen to me. Two years ago, for the first time, I asked of you your daughter's hand. After having consulted Antoinette—you will permit me to call her Antoinette, will you not?—after having consulted her, you told me that I was too young, that she would not listen seriously to my proposal, and you gave me your permission to try again in two years. I have employed these two mortal years in constructing a railroad and a wire bridge in Hungary, and, believe me, I took infinite pains to forget Antoinette. In vain! She is the romance of my youth, I never can have another. On July 5, 1873, did you not tell me to return in two years? We are now at July 5, 1875, and I return. Am I a punctual man?"
"As punctual as insupportable," rejoined M. Moriaz, casting a melancholy look at his pillow. "Now, candidly, is it the thing to seek the presence of the President of the Academy of Sciences between eleven o'clock and midnight, to pour such silly stuff into his ear? You are wanting in respect for the Institute. Besides, my dear boy, people change in two years; you are a proof of it. You have developed from boyhood almost into manhood, and you have done well to let your imperial grow; it gives you quite a dashing military air—one would divine at first sight that you were fresh from Hungary. But, while you have changed for the better, are you sure that Antoinette has not changed for the worse? Are you sure that she is still the Antoinette of your romance?"
"I beg your pardon; I saw her just now, without her seeing me. She was promenading on your arm in the hotel-garden, which was lit up in her honour. Formerly she was enchanting, she has become adorable. If you would have the immense goodness to give her to me, I would be capable of doing anything agreeable to you. I would relieve you of all your little troublesome jobs; I would clean your retorts; I would put labels on your bottles and jars; I would sweep out your laboratory. I know German very well—I would read all the large German books it might please you to consult; I would read them, pen in hand; I would make extracts—written extracts—and such extracts! Grand Dieu! they would be like copperplate. My dear master, will you give her to me?"
"The absurd creature! He imagines that it only depends upon me to give him my daughter. I could as easily dispose of the moon. Since she has had teeth, she had made me desire everything she desires."
"At least you will give me permission to pay my addresses to her to-morrow?"
"Beware, unlucky youth!" cried M. Moriaz. "You will ruin your case forever. Since you have been away she has refused two offers, one of them from a second secretary of legation, Viscount de R—-, and at the present moment she holds in holy horror all suitors. She is accompanying me to Saint Moritz in order to gather flowers and paint aquarelle sketches of them. Should you presume to interrupt her in her favourite occupations, should you present yourself before her like a creditor on the day of maturity, I swear to you that your note would be protested, and that you would have nothing better to do than return to Hungary."
"You are sure of it?"
"As sure as that sulphuric acid will turn litmus red."
"And you have the heart to sent me back to Paris without having spoken with her?"
"What I have said is for your good, and you know whether I mean you well or not."
"It is agreed, then, that you will take charge of my interests; that you will plead my cause?"
"It is understood that I will sound the premises, that I will prepare the way—"
"And that you will send me tidings shortly, and that these tidings will be good. I shall await them here, at the Hotel Steinbock."
"As you please; but, for the love of Heaven, let me sleep!"
M. Camille Langis pressed his two arms and said, with much emotion: "I place myself in your hands; take care how you answer for my life!"
"O youth!" murmured M. Moriaz, actually thrusting Camille from the room. "One might search in vain for a more beautiful invention."
Ten hours later, a post-chaise bore in the direction of Engadine Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz, her father, her demoiselle de compagnie, and her femme de chambre. They breakfasted tolerably well in a village situated in the lower portion of a notch, called Tiefenkasten, which means, literally, deep chest, and certainly a deeper never has been seen. After breakfast they pursued their way farther, and towards four o'clock in the afternoon they reached the entrance of the savage defile of Bergunerstein, which deserves to be compared with that of Via Mala. The road lies between a wall of rocks and a precipice of nearly two hundred metres, at the bottom of which rush the swift waters of the Albula. This wild scenery deeply moved Mlle. Moriaz; she never had seen anything like it at Cormeilles or anywhere about Paris. She alighted, and, moving towards the parapet, leaned over it, contemplating at her ease the depths below, which the foaming torrent beneath filled with its roars.
Her father speedily joined her.
"Do you not find this music charming?" she asked of him.
"Charming, I grant," he replied; "but more charming still are those brave workmen who, at the risk of their necks, have engineered such a suspended highway as we see here. I think you admire the torrent too much, and the road not enough." And after a pause he added, "I wish that our friend Camille Langis had had fewer dangers to contend with in constructing his." Antoinette turned quickly and looked at her father; then she bestowed her attention once more upon the Albula. "To be sure," resumed M. Moriaz, stroking his whiskers with the head of his cane, "Camille is just the man to make his way through difficulties. He has a youthful air that is very deceptive, but he always has been astonishingly precocious. At twenty years of age he became head of his class at the Central School; but the best thing about him is that, although in possession of a fortune, yet he has a passion for work. The rich man who works accepts voluntary poverty."
There arose from the precipice a damp, chill breeze; Mlle. Moriaz drew over her head a red hood that she held in her hand, and scraping off with her finger some of the facing of the parapet, which glittered with scales of mica, she asked: "What do you call this?"
"It is gneiss, a sort of sheet-granite; but do not you too admire people who work when they are not compelled to do anything?"
"Then you must admire yourself a great deal."
"Oh, I! In my early youth I worked from necessity, and then I formed a habit which I cannot now get rid of; while Camille Langis—"
"Once more?" she ejaculated, with a gesture of impatience. "What prompts you to speak to me of Camille?"
"Nothing. I often think of him."
"Do not let us two play at diplomacy. You have had news of him lately?"
"You just remind me that I have, through a letter from Mme. De Lorcy."
"Mme de Lorcy, my godmother, would do better to meddle with what concerns her. That woman is incorrigible."
"Of what would you have her correct herself?"
"Simply of her mania for making my happiness after her own fashion. I read in your eyes that Camille has returned to Paris. What is his object?"
"I know nothing about it. How should I know? I only presume—that is, I suppose——"
"You do not suppose—you know."
"Not at all. At the same time, since hypothesis is the road which leads to science, a road we savants travel every day, I—"
"You know very well," she again interposed, "that I promised him nothing."
"Strictly speaking, I admit; but you requested me to tell him that you found him too young. He has laboured conscientiously since then to correct that fault." Then playfully pinching her cheeks, he added: "You are a great girl for objections. Soon you will be twenty-five years old, and you have refused five eligible offers. Have you taken a vow to remain unmarried?"
"Ah! you have no mercy," she cried. "What! you cannot even spare me on the Albula! You know that, of all subjects of conversation, I have most antipathy for this."
"Come, come; you are slandering me now, my child. I spoke to you of Camille as I might have spoken of the King of Prussia; and you rose in arms at once, taking it wholly to yourself."
Antoinette was silent for some moments.
"Decidedly, you are very fond of Camille," she presently said.
"Of all the sons-in-law you could propose to me——"
"But I do not propose any."
"That is precisely what I find fault with."
"Very good; since you think so much of him, this Camille, suppose you command me to marry him?"
"If I were to command, would you obey?"
"Perhaps, just for the curiosity of the thing," she rejoined, laughing.
"Naughty girl, to mock at her father!" said he. "If these twenty years I have been in servitude, I can scarcely emancipate myself in a day. However, since the great king deigns to hold parley with his ministers, I am Pomponne—let us argue."
"Ah, well! you know as well as I that I have a real friendship for Camille, as the playmate of my childhood. I remember him when he was ever so small, and he remembers me, too, when I was a tiny creature. We played hide-and-seek together, and he humoured me in my ten thousand little caprices. Delightful reminiscences these, but unfortunately I think of them too much when I see him."
"He has passed two years among the Magyars; two years is a good while."
"Bah! he could never possibly have any authority over me. I intend that my husband shall be my government."
"So that you may have the pleasure of governing your government?"
"Besides, I know Camille too well. I could only fall in love with a stranger," said she, heedless of the last sally.
"Was not the Viscount R—- a stranger?"
"At the end of five minutes I knew him by heart. He is precisely like all other second secretaries of legation in the world. You may be sure that there is not a single idea in his head that is really his own. Even his figure does not belong to himself; it is the chef-d'oeuvre of the united efforts of his tailor and his shirt-maker."
"According to this, a prime requisite in the man whom you could love is to be poorly clad."
"If ever my heart is touched, it will be because I have met a man who is not like all the other men of my acquaintance. After that I will not positively forbid him to have decent clothing."
M. Moriaz made a little gesture of impatience, and then set out to regain the chaise, which was some distance in advance. When he had proceeded about twenty steps, he paused, and, turning towards Antoinette, who was engaged in readjusting her hood and rebuttoning her twelve-button gloves, he said:
"I have drawn an odd number in the great lottery of this world. In our day there are no romantic girls; the last remaining one is mine."
"That is it; I am a romantic girl!" she cried, tossing her pretty, curly head with an air of defiance; "and if you are wise you will not urge me to marry, for I never shall make any but an ineligible match."
"Ah, speak lower!" he exclaimed, casting a hurried glance around him, and adding: "Thank Heaven! there is no one here but the Albula to hear you."
M. Moriaz mistook. Had he raised his eyes a little higher he would have discovered, above the rock cornice bordering the highway, a foot-path, and in this foot-path a pedestrian tourist, who had paused beneath a fir-tree. This tourist had set out from Chur in the diligence. At the entrance of the defile, leaving his luggage to continue without him to Saint Moritz, he had alighted, and with his haversack on his back had set forward on foot for Bergun, where he proposed passing the night, as did also M. Moriaz. Of the conversation between Antoinette and her father he had caught only one word. This word, however, sped like an arrow into his ear, and from his ear into the innermost recesses of his brain, where it long quivered. It was a treasure, this word; and he did not cease to meditate upon it, to comment on it, to extract from it all its essence, until he had reached the first houses of Bergun, like a mendicant who has picked up in a dusty road a well-filled purse, and who opens it, closes it, opens it again, counts his prize piece by piece, and adds up its value twenty times over. Our tourist dined at the table d'hote; he was so preoccupied that he ate the trout caught in the Albula without suspecting that they possessed a marvellous freshness, an exquisite flavour and delicacy, and yet it is notorious that the trout of the Albula are the first trout of the universe.
Mlle. Moiseney, the duties of whose office consisted in serving as chaperon to Mlle. Moriaz, was not a great genius. This worthy and excellent personage had, in fact, rather a circumscribed mind, and she had not the least suspicion of it. Her physiognomy was not pleasing to M. Moriaz; he had several times besought his daughter to part with her. In the goodness of her soul Antoinette always refused; she was not one who could countenance rebuffs to old domestics, old dogs, old horses, or worn-out governesses. Young Candide arrived at the conclusion, as the result of his observations, that the first degree of happiness would be to be Mlle. Gunegonde, and the second to contemplate her throughout life. Mlle. Moiseney believed that it would be the first degree of superhuman felicity to be Mlle. Moriaz, the second to pass one's life near this queen, who, arbitrary and capricious though she might be, was most thoughtful of the happiness of her subjects, and to be able to say: "It was I that hatched the egg whence arose this phoenix; I did something for this marvel; I taught her English and music." She had boundless admiration for her queen, amounting actually to idolatry. The English profess that their sovereigns can do nothing amiss: "The king can do no wrong." Mlle. Moiseney was convinced that Mlle. Moriaz could neither do wrong nor make mistakes about anything. She saw everything with her eyes, espoused her likes and her dislikes, her sentiments, her opinions, her rights, and her wrongs; she lived, as it were, a reflected existence. Every morning she said to her idol, "How beautiful we are to-day!" precisely as the bell-ringer who, puffing out his cheeks, cried: "We are in voice; we have chanted vespers well to-day!" M. Moriaz excused her for finding his daughter charming, but could not so readily approve of her upholding Antoinette's ideas, her decisions, her prejudices. "This woman is no chaperon," said he; "she is an admiration-point!" He would have been very glad to have routed her from the field, and to give her place to a person of good sound sense and judgment, one who might gain some influence over Antoinette. It would have greatly surprised Mlle. Moiseney had he represented to her that she lacked good sense. This good creature flattered herself that she had an inexhaustible stock of this commodity; she placed the highest estimate on her own judgment; she believed herself to be well-nigh infallible. She discoursed in the tone of an oracle on future contingencies; she prided herself on being able to divine all things, to foresee all things, to predict all things—in a word, to be in the secret of the gods. As her Christian name was Joan, M. Moriaz, who set little store by his calendar, sometimes called her Pope Joan, which wounded her deeply.
Mlle. Moiseney had two weaknesses; she was a gormand, and she admired handsome men. Let us understand the case: she knew perfectly well that they were not created for her; that she had no attractions to offer them; that they had nothing to give her. She admired them naively and innocently, as a child might admire a beautiful Epinal engraving; she would willingly have cut out their likenesses to hang on a nail on her wall, and contemplate while rereading "Gonzalve de Cordue" and "Le Dernier des Cavaliers," her two favourite romances. At Bergun, during the repast, her brain had been working, and she had made two reflections. The first was, that the trout of Albula were incomparable, the second that the stranger seated opposite her had a remarkably handsome head, and was altogether a fine-looking man. Several times, with fork halfway to mouth, and nose in the air, she had forgotten herself in her scrutiny of him.
Antoinette, rather weary, had retired early to her chamber. Mlle. Moiseney repaired thither to see if she needed anything, and, as she was about leaving her for the night, candle in hand, she suddenly inquired, "Do not you think, as I do, that this stranger is a remarkable-looking person?"
"Of whom do you speak?" rejoined Antoinette.
"Why, of the traveller who sat opposite me."
"I confess that I scarcely looked at him."
"Indeed! He has superb eyes, nearly green, with fawn-coloured tinting."
"Most astonishing! And his hair, is it green also?"
"Chestnut brown, almost hazel."
"Pray be more exact; is it hazel or not?"
"You need not laugh at me—his whole appearance is striking, his figure singular, but full of character, full of expression, and as handsome as singular."
"What enthusiasm! It seemed to me, so far as I noticed, that he was inclined to stoop, and that his head was very badly poised."
"What do you say?" cried Mlle. Moiseney, greatly scandalized. "How came you to think his head badly poised?"
"There—there! Don't let us quarrel about it; I am ready to retract. Good-night, mademoiselle. Apropos, did you know that M. Camille Langis had returned to Paris?"
"I did not know it, but I am not surprised. I had surmised it; in fact, I was quite sure that he would be back about this time, perfectly sure. And, of course, you think he has returned with the intention—"
"I think," interrupted Antoinette, "that it costs me more to pain M. Langis than any other man in the world. I think, also, that he possesses most tiresome fidelity; it is always the way, one never loses one's dog when one wants to lose him; and I think, moreover, that a woman makes a poor bargain when she marries a man for whom she feels friendship; for, if she gains a husband, she is very sure to lose a friend."
"How true your words are!" exclaimed Mlle. Moiseney. "But you are always right. Has M. Langis forgotten that you thought him too young—only twenty-three?"
"He has so little forgotten it that he has managed, I don't know how, to be at present twenty-five. How resist such a mark of affection? I shall be compelled to marry him."
"That will never do. People do not marry for charity," replied Mlle. Moiseney, deprecatingly.
"Adieu, my dear," said Antoinette, dismissing her. "Do not dream too much about your unknown charmer. I assure you he had a decided stoop in his shoulders. However, that makes small difference; if your heart speaks, I will see to arranging this affair for you." And she added, musingly, "How amusing it must be to marry other people!"
The next morning Mlle. Moiseney made the acquaintance of her unknown charmer. Before leaving Bergun Mlle. Moriaz wished to make a sketch, and she had gone out early with her father. Mlle. Moiseney descended to the hotel salon, and, espying a piano, she opened it and played a fantasia by Schumann; she was a tolerably good musician. When she had finished, Count Abel Larinski, the man with green eyes, who had entered the salon without her hearing him, approached to thank her for the pleasure he had had in listening to her; but he begged to take the liberty to tell her that she failed to properly observe the movement, and had taken an andantino for an andante. At her solicitation he took her place at the instrument, and executed the andantino as few but professional artists could do. Mlle. Moiseney, ever ready with her enthusiasm, declared that he must be a Liszt or a Chopin, and implored him to play her something else, to which he consented with good grace. After this they talked about music and many other things. The man with the green eyes possessed one quality in common with Socrates, he was master in the art of interrogating, and Mlle. Moiseney loved to talk. The subject on which she discoursed most willingly was Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz; when she was started under this heading she became eloquent. At the end of half an hour Count Abel was thoroughly au fait on the character and position of Mlle. Moriaz. He knew that she had a heart of gold, a mind free from all narrow prejudices, a generous soul, and a love for all that was chivalrous and heroic; he knew that two days of every week were devoted by her to visiting the poor, and that she looked upon these as natural creditors to whom it was her duty to make restitution. He knew also that Mlle. Moriaz could all the better satisfy her charitable inclinations, as her mother had left her an income of one hundred thousand livres. He learned that she danced to perfection, that she drew like an angel, and that she read Italian and spoke English. This last seemed of mediocre importance to Count Abel. St. Paul said: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." The count was of St. Paul's opinion, and had Mlle. Moriaz known neither how to speak English, nor to draw, nor yet to dance, it would not in the least have diminished the esteem with which he honoured her. The main essential in his eyes was that she was benevolent to the poor, and that she cherished a little tenderness for heroes.
When he had learned, with an air of indifference, all that he cared to learn, he respectfully bowed himself away from Mlle. Moiseney, to whom he had not mentioned his name, and, buckling his haversack, he put it on his back, paid his bill, and set out on foot to make a hasty ascent of the culminating point of the Albula Pass, which leads into the Engadine Valley. One would have difficulty in finding throughout the Alps a more completely barren, rugged, desolate spot, than this portion of the Albula Pass. The highway lies among masses of rocks, heaped up in terrible disorder. Arrived at the culminating point, Count Abel felt the necessity of taking breath. He clambered up a little hillock, where he seated himself. At his feet were wide open the yawning jaws of a cavern, obstructed by great tufts of aconite (wolf's-bane), with sombre foliage; one would have said that they kept guard over some crime in which they had been accomplices. Count Abel contemplated the awful silence that surrounded him; everywhere enormous boulders, heaped together, or scattered about in isolated grandeur; some pitched on their sides, others standing erect, still others suspended, as it were, in mid-air. It seemed to him that these boulders had formerly served for the games of bacchanalian Titans, who, after having used them as skittles or jack-stones, had ended by hurling them at one another's heads. It is most probable that He who constructed the Albula Pass, alarmed and confused by the hideous aspect of his work, did justice to it by breaking it into fragments with his gigantic hammer.
Count Abel heard a tinkling of bells, and, looking up, he saw approaching a post-chaise, making its way from Engadine to Bergun. It was a large, uncovered berlin, and in it sat a woman of about sixty years of age, accompanied by her attendants and her pug-dog. This woman had rather a bulky head, a long face, a snub-nose, high cheek-bones, a keen, bright eye, a large mouth, about which played a smile, at the same time spirituel, imperious, and contemptuous. Abel grew pale, and became at once convulsed with terror; he could not withdraw his eyes from this markedly Mongolian physiognomy, which from afar he had recognised. "Ah, yes," he said, "it is she!" He drew over his face the cape of his mantle, and disappeared as completely as it is possible to disappear when one is perched upon a hillock. It was six years since he had seen this woman, and he had promised himself never to see her again; but man is the plaything of circumstances, and his happiness as well as his pride is at the mercy of a chance encounter. Count Abel was no longer proud; for some moments he had humbled himself, he had ceased to exist.
Happily he discovered that he had not been recognised; that the woman of sixty years of age was not looking his way. She had good taste; discovering the hideous aspect of the country, which is usually known as the Vallee du Diable, she had opened a volume, bound in morocco, which her waiting-woman had placed in her hands. This volume was not a new novel; it was a German book, entitled "The History of Civilization, viewed in Accordance with the Doctrines of Evolution, from the most Remote Period to the Present Day." She neither had made much progress in the pages of the book nor in the history of civilization; she had not got beyond the age of stone or of bronze; she was still among primitive animal life, among the protozoa, the monads, the infusoria, the vibratiles—in the age of albumen, or gelatinous civilization, as it was called by the author, the sagacity of whose views charmed her. She only interrupted her reading at intervals to lightly stroke the nose of her pug, who lay snoring in her lap, and she was a thousand leagues from suspecting that Count Abel Larinski was at hand, watching her.
The berlin passed by him without stopping, and soon it had begun the descent towards Bergun. Then he felt a great weight roll from his heart, which beat freely once more. The berlin moved rapidly away; the count followed it with his prayers, smoothing its course, removing every stone or other obstacle that might retard its progress. It was just disappearing round one of the curves of the road, when it crossed another post-chaise, making the ascent in a walk, and in it Count Abel perceived something red: it was the hood of Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz. A moment more and the berlin was gone; it seemed to him that the shadow of his sorrowful youth, emerged suddenly from the realm of shades, had been plunged back there forever, and that the fay of hope—she who holds in her keeping the secrets of the future—was ascending toward him, red-hooded, flowers in her hands, sunshine in her eyes. The clouds parted, the deep shadow covering the Vallee du Diable cleared away, and the dismal solitude began to smile. Count Abel arose, picked up his staff, and shook himself. As he passed before the cavern, he discovered, among the tufts of aconite which covered it, a mossy hollow, and he perceived that this hollow was ornamented with beautiful blue campanulas, whose little bells gracefully waved in the gentle breeze which was stirring. He gathered one of these campanulas, carried it to his lips, and found its taste most agreeable. Half an hour later he turned from the highway into a foot-path which led through green pastures and forests of larch-trees.
By the time he had reached the heart of the valley it was nightfall. He traversed the hamlet of Cresta, crossed a bridge, found himself at the entrance of the village of Cellarina, about twenty-five minutes' walk form Saint Moritz. After taking counsel with himself, he resolved to proceed no farther; and so he put up at a neat, pretty inn, which had just been freshly white-washed.
The air of the Engadine is so keen and bracing that the first nights passed there are apt to be sleepless ones. Count Larinski scarcely slept at all in his new quarters. Would he have slept better on the plains? He became worn out with his thoughts. Of what was he thinking? Of the cathedral at Chur, of the Vallee du Diable, of the tufts of aconite, the campanulas, and the meeting of the two post-chaises, one ascending, the other descending. After that he saw no longer anything but a red hood, and his eyes were open when the first blush of the morning penetrated his modest chamber. Eagles sleep little when they are preparing for the chase.
The Baths of Saint Moritz are, according to the verdict of a large number of people, by no means an enlivening resort, and here tarry chiefly genuine invalids, who cherish a sincere desire to recover health and strength. The invigorating atmosphere, the chalybeate waters, which are unquestionably wholesome, although they do taste like ink, have wrought more than one actual miracle; nevertheless, it is said to require no little philosophy to tolerate existence there. "I am charmed to have had the experience of visiting the Baths," we once heard an invalid say, "for I know now that I am capable of enduring anything and everything." But this, let us hasten to assure the reader, is an exaggeration—the mere babbling of an ingrate.
The Upper Engadine Valley, in which Saint Moritz is situated, has, as well as the Baths, its detractors and its admirers. This narrow valley, throughout whose whole length flows the Inn, shut in by glacier-capped mountains, whose slopes are covered with spruce, pine, and larch trees, lies at an altitude of some five thousand feet above the level of the sea. It often snows there in the month of August, but spring and early summer in the locality are delightful; and dotted about are numerous little romantic green lakes, glittering like emeralds in the sunshine. Those who slander these by comparing them to wash-bowls and cisterns, are simply troubled with the spleen, a malady which neither iron, iodine, nor yet sulphur, can cure.
One thing these discontented folks cannot deny, and that is that it would be difficult, not to say impossible, to find anywhere in the mountains more flowery and highly perfumed mossy banks than those of the Engadine. We do not make this assertion because of the rhododendrons that abound on the borders of the lakes: we are not fond of this showy, pretentious shrub, whose flowers look as if they were moulded in wax for the decoration of some altar; but is it not delightful to walk on a greensward, almost black with rich satyrion and vanilla? And what would you think of a wealth of gentians, large and small; great yellow arnicas; beautiful Martagon lilies; and St.-Bruno lilies; of every variety of daphne; of androsace, with its rose-coloured clusters; of the flame-coloured orchis; of saxifrage; of great, velvety campanulas; of pretty violet asters, wrapped in little, cravat-like tufting, to protect them from the cold? Besides, near the runnels, following whose borders the cattle have tracked out graded paths, there grows that species of immortelle called Edelweiss, an object of covetousness to every guest at the Baths. Higher up, near the glacier approach, may be found the white heart's-ease, the anemone, and the glacial ranunculus (spearwort); higher still, often buried beneath the snow, flourishes that charming little lilac flower, delicately cut, sensitive, quivering, as it were, with a cold, known as the soldanella. To scrape away the snow and find beneath it a flower! Are there often made such delightful discoveries in life?
Having said thus much, we must admit that the Rue de Saint Moritz does not resemble the Rue de la Paix of Paris. We must also admit that the markets of the place are poorly supplied, and that in an atmosphere well calculated to stimulate the appetite the wherewithal to supply this cannot always be obtained. We cannot have everything in this world; but it is by no means our intention to advise any one to take up his residence for life in the Engadine. There must, however, be some charm in this valley, since those of its inhabitants who emigrate from it in their youth are very apt, after they have made some money, to return to pass their old age in their natal place, where they build some very pretty houses.
Mlle. Moriaz did not find Saint Moritz disagreeable; the wildness of the scenery and the rugged pines pleased her. From the terrace of Hotel Badrutt she loved to gaze upon the green lake, slumbering at her feet, and it never occurred to her to grumble because it had the form of a wash-bowl. She loved to see the cows returning at evening from the pasture. The cowherd in charge marshalled home in the most orderly manner his little drove, which announced its coming from afar by the tinkling of the cow-bells. Each one of the creatures stopped of itself at the entrance to its stall and demanded admittance by its lowing. In the morning, when they were turned out again, they awaited the arrival of the entire herd, and fell into rank and file, each in its proper place. The first time Mlle. Moriaz witnessed this ceremony, she found it as interesting as a first presentation at the theatre or opera.
There were several rainy days, which she employed in reading, painting, and making observations on the human animals of both sexes whom she encountered at the table d'hote. She soon gained an increase of occupation. With her, mind and heart were so constantly on the alert that it was impossible for her to remain a week in a place without discovering some work of charity to be performed. A woman to whom she had taken a fancy, a little shopkeeper of the place, interested her in her daughter, who was destined to be a governess, and who desired to learn drawing. Antoinette undertook to give her drawing-lessons, making her come every day to the hotel, and often keeping her there several hours. Her pupil was rather dull of comprehension, and caused her to grow a little cross sometimes; but she always made amends to the girl by her caresses and sprightly talk.
The weather became fine again. Antoinette availed herself of the opportunity to take long promenades; she clambered up the mountain-slopes, over slippery turf, in the hope of carrying home some rare plant; but her strength was not equal to her valour—she could not succeed in scaling those heights where flourished the Edelweiss. A week after her arrival she had a surprise, we might even say a pleasurable emotion, which was not comprised in the programme of amusements that the proprietor of Hotel Badrutt undertook to procure for his guests. Returning from an excursion to Lake Silvaplana, she found in her chamber a basket containing a veritable sheaf of Alpine flowers, freshly gathered, and among them not only Edelweiss in profusion, but several very rare plants, and the rarest of all a certain bell-flower creeper, which smells like the apricot, and which, except in some districts of the Engadine, is only found now in Siberia. This splendid bouquet was accompanied by a note, thus conceived:
"A man who had had enough of life, resolved to hang himself. To execute his dolorous design, he selected a lonely and dismal spot, where there grew a solitary oak, whose sap was nearly exhausted. As he was engaged in securing his cord, a bird alighted on the half-dead tree and began to sing. The man said to himself: 'Since there is no spot so miserable that a bird will not deign to sing in it, I will have the courage to live.' And he lived.
"I arrived in this village disgusted with life, sorrowful and so weary that I longed to die. I saw you pass by, and I know not what mysterious virtue entered into me. I will live.
"'What matters it to me?' you will say, in reading these lines; and you will be right. My sole excuse for having written them is, that I will leave here in a few days; that you never will see me again, never know who I am!"
The first impression of Antoinette was one of profound astonishment. She would have taken it for granted that there was some mistake had not her name been written in full on the envelope. Her second impulse was to laugh at her adventure. She accorded full justice to Mlle. Moriaz; she knew very well that she did not resemble the first chance comer; but that her beauty would work miracles, resurrections; that a hypochondriac, merely from seeing her pass by, was likely to regain his taste for existence, scarcely appeared admissible to her. So great was her curiosity, that she took the pains to make inquiries; the flowers and the letter had been left by a little peasant, who was not of the place, and who could not be found. Antoinette examined the hotel-register; she did not see there the handwriting of the letter. She studied the faces which surrounded her; there was not in Hotel Badrutt a single romantic-looking person. Very speedily she renounced her search. The bouquet pleased her; she kept it as a present fallen from the skies, and preserved the letter as a curiosity, without long troubling herself to know who had written it. "Do not let us talk about it any more, it is doubtless some lunatic," she replied one day to Mlle. Moiseney, who kept constantly recurring to the incident whose mystery she burned to fathom. The good demoiselle had been tempted to stop people in the road to ask, "Was it you?" Perchance she might have suspected her Bergun unknown to have a hand in the affair, had she had the least idea that he was at Saint Moritz, where she never had met him. He came there, nevertheless, every day, but at his own time; besides, the hotels were full to overflowing, and it was very easy to lose one's self in the crowd.
To tell the truth, when Count Abel Larinski came to Saint Moritz he was far less occupied with Mlle. Moriaz than with a certain illustrious chemist. The air of the Engadine and the waters that tasted like ink had worked marvels: in a week M. Moriaz felt like a new man. There had come to him a most formidable appetite, and he could walk for hours at a time without becoming weary. He abused his growing strength by constantly strolling through the mountains without a guide, hammer in hand; and every day, in spite of the remonstrances of his daughter, he increased the length of his excursions. The more people know, the more inquisitive they become; and, when one is inquisitive, one can go to great lengths without feeling fatigue; one only becomes conscious of this after the exertion is over. M. Moriaz never for a moment suspected that he was accompanied, at a respectful distance, on these solitary expeditions, by a stranger, who, with eyes and ears both on the alert, watched over him like a providence. The most peculiar part of the affair was that this providence would gladly have caused him to take a misstep, or thrust him into some quagmire, in order to have the pleasure of drawing him out, and bearing him in his arms to the Hotel Badrutt. "If only he could fall into a hole and break his leg!" Such was the daily wish of Count Abel Larinski; but savants have great license allowed them. Although M. Moriaz was both corpulent and inclined to be absent-minded, he plunged into more than one quagmire without sticking fast, more than one marsh without having his progress impeded.
One morning he conceived the project of climbing up as high as a certain fortress of mountains whose battlements overhang a forest of pine and larch trees. He was not yet sufficiently accustomed to the mountains to realize how deceptive distances become there. After having drained two glasses of the chalybeate waters, and breakfasted heartily, he set out, crossed the Inn, and began the ascent to the forest. The slope grew more and more abrupt, and ere long he discovered that he had wandered from the foot-path. He was not one to be easily disheartened; he continued climbing, laying hold of the brushwood with his hands, planting his feet among perfidious pine-needles, which form a carpet as smooth as a mirror, making three steps forward and two backward. Great drops of perspiration started out on his brow, and he sat down for a moment to wipe them away, hoping that some wood-cutter might appear and show him the way back to the path, if there was one. But no human soul came within sight; and plucking up his courage again he resumed the ascent, until he had nearly reached a breastwork of rock, in which he vainly sought an opening. He was about retracing his steps when he remembered that from the gallery of the hotel he had observed this breastwork of reddish rock, and it seemed to him that he remembered also that it formed the buttress of the mountain-stronghold of which he was in quest; and so he concluded that this would be the last obstacle he would have to overcome. He thought that it would be actually humiliating to be so near the goal and yet renounce it. The rock, worn by the frost, presented sundry crevices and indentures, forming a natural stairway. Arming himself with all his strength, and making free use of his nails, he undertook to scale it, and in five minutes had gained a sort of plateau, which, unluckily for him, he found to be commanded by a smooth granite wall of a fearful height. The only satisfactory procedure for him now was to return whence he had come; but in these perilous passages to ascend is easier than to descend; it being impossible to choose one's steps, descent might lead to a rather undesirable adventure. M. Moriaz did not dare to risk this adventure.
He walked the whole length of the plateau where he found himself in the hope of discovering some outlet; but the sole outlet he could discover had already been monopolized by a mountain-torrent whose troubled waters noisily precipitated themselves through it to the depths below. This torrent was much too wide to wade, and to think of leaping over it would have been preposterous. All retreat being cut off, M. Moriaz began to regret his audacity. Seized by a sudden agony of alarm, he began to ask himself if he was not condemned to end his days in this eagle's-nest; he thought with envy of the felicity of the inhabitants of the plains; he cast piteous glances at the implacable wall whose frowning visage seemed to reproach him with his imprudence. It seemed to him that the human mind never had devised anything more beautiful than a great highway; and it would have taken little to make him exclaim with Panurge, "Oh, thrice—ay, quadruply—happy those who plant cabbages!"
Although there seemed small chance of his being heard in this solitude, he called aloud several times; he had great difficulty in raising his voice above the noise of the cataract. Suddenly he believed that he heard below him a distant voice replying to his call. He redoubled his cries, and it seemed to him that the voice drew nearer, and soon he saw emerging from the thicket bordering the opposite bank of the torrent a pale face with chestnut beard, which he remembered having beheld in the cathedral at Chur, and to have seen again at Bergun.
"You are a prisoner, monsieur," was the salutation of Count Larinski; for, of course, the newcomer was none other than he. "One moment's patience, and I am with you." And his face beamed with joy. He had him at last, this precious game which has caused him so many steps.
He turned away, bounding from rock to rock with the agility of a chamois. In about twenty minutes he reappeared, bearing on his shoulder a long plank which he had detached from the inclosure of a piece of pasture-land. He threw it across the torrent, secured it as well as he could, crossed this impromptu foot-bridge of his own device, and joined M. Moriaz, who was quite ready to embrace him.
"Nothing is more perfidious than the mountains," said the count. "They are haunted by some mysterious sprite, who fairly delights in playing tricks with venturesome people; but 'all's well that ends well.' Before setting out from here you need something to revive you. The rarefied atmosphere of these high regions makes the stomach frightfully hollow. More prudent than you, I never undertake these expeditions without providing myself with some refreshment. But how pale you are!" he added, looking at him with sympathetic, almost tender, eyes. "Put on, I beg of you, my overcoat, and I will wrap myself up in my plaid, and then we will both be warm."
With these words he took off his overcoat and handed it to M. Moriaz, who, feeling almost frozen, offered feeble objections to donning the garment, although he had some difficulty in getting into the sleeves.
During this time Count Abel had thrown down on the rock the wallet he carried slung to a leathern strap over his shoulders. He drew forth from it a loaf of light bread, some hard-boiled eggs, a pate of venison, and a bottle of excellent burgundy. These provisions he spread out around him, and then presented to M. Moriaz a cup cut from a cocoanut-shell, and filled it to the brim, saying, "Here is something that will entirely restore you." M. Moriaz drained the cup, and soon felt his weakness disappear. His natural good spirits returned to him, and he gaily narrated to his Amphitryon his deplorable Odyssey. In return, Abel recounted to him a similar adventure he had had in the Carpathian Mountains. It is very easy to take a liking to a man who helps you out of a scrape, who gives you drink when you are thirsty, and food when you are hungry; but, even had not M. Moriaz been under great obligations to Count Larinski, he could not have avoided the discovery that this amiable stranger was a man of good address and agreeable conversation.
Nevertheless, so soon as the repast was finished, he said: "We have forgotten ourselves in our talk. I am the happy father of a charming daughter who has a vivid imagination. She will believe that I have met with an untimely end if I do not hasten as speedily as possible to reassure her."
Count Abel hereupon gave his hand to M. Moriaz to aid him in preserving his equilibrium as he crossed the plank, which was not wide. Throughout the descent he overwhelmed him with attentions, sustaining him with his arm when the descent became too abrupt. So soon as they had made their way to a foot-path, they resumed their conversation. Abel was very clear-sighted, and, like Socrates, as we said before, he was master in the art of interrogating. He turned the conversation to erratic glaciers and boulders. M. Moriaz was enchanted with his manner of asking questions; as Professor of the College of France, he was well pleased to owe his life to an intelligent man.
As they traversed a pine-forest, they heard a voice hailing them, and they were shortly joined by a guide whom Mlle. Moriaz, mortally disquieted at the prolonged absence of her father, had sent in quest of him. Pale with emotion, trembling in every fibre, she had seated herself on the bank of a stream. She was completely a prey to terror, and in her imagination plainly saw her father lying half dead at the bottom of some precipice or rocky crevasse. On perceiving him she uttered a cry of joy and ran to meet him.
"Ah! truly, my love," said he, "I have been more fortunate than wise. And I shall have to ask my deliverer his name in order to present him to you."
Count Abel appeared not to have heard these last words. He stammered out something about M. Moriaz having exaggerated the worth of the little service it had been his good fortune to render him, and then with a cold, formal, dignified air, he bowed to Antoinette and moved hurriedly away, as a man who cares little to make new acquaintances, and who longs to get back to his solitude.
He was already at some distance when M. Moriaz, who had been busily recounting his adventures to his daughter, bethought him that he had kept his deliverer's overcoat. He searched in the pockets, and there found a memorandum-book and some visiting-cards bearing the name of Count Abel Larinski. Before dinner he made the tour of all the hotels in Saint Moritz without discovering where M. Larinski lodged. He learned it in the evening from a peasant who came over from Cellarina for the overcoat.
The good Mlle. Moiseney was quite taken with Count Abel; first, because he was handsome, and then because he played the piano bewitchingly. There could be no doubt that Antoinette would feel grateful to this good-looking musician who had restored to her her father. Certain of being no longer thwarted in her enthusiasm, she said to her that evening, with a smile which was meant to be excessively ironical:
"Well, my dear, do you still think that Count Larinski has a stoop in his shoulders, and that his head is badly poised?"
"It is a matter of small import, but I do not gainsay it."
"Ah, if you had only heard him play one of Schumann's romances!"
"A talent for music is a noble one. Nevertheless, the man's chief merit, in my eyes, is that he has a taste for saving life."
"Oh, I was sure from the first, perfectly sure, that this man had a large heart and a noble soul. I read physiognomies very correctly, and I never need to see people twice to know how far they can be relied on." After a pause she added, "I wonder if I dare tell you, my dear, of an idea that has occurred to me?"
"Tell me, by all means. Your ideas sometimes amuse me."
"Might it not turn out that the author of a certain note, and sender of a certain thing, was M. le Comte Abel Larinski?"
"Why he rather than any other?" queried Antoinette. "I believe you do him wrong: he appears to be a gentleman, and gentlemen do not write anonymous letters."
"Oh! that was a very innocent one, and you may be sure that he wrote it in perfect good faith."
"You believe, then, mademoiselle, that in good faith a man about to put a halter about his neck would renounce his project because he had encountered Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz on a public highway?"
"Why not?" cried Mlle. Moiseney, looking at her with eyes wide open with admiration. "Besides, you know the Poles are a hot-headed people, whose hearts are open to all noble enthusiasms. One could pardon in Count Larinski what could not be overlooked in a Parisian."
"I will pardon him on condition that he will keep his promise and never make himself known to me, for this is unquestionably the first duty of a mysterious unknown. Just now he refused to let my father present him to me, which is a good mark in his favour. If he alters his mind, he becomes at once a condemned man. I pity you, my dear Joan," added Antoinette, laughingly. "You are dying with longing to hear one of those romances without words, which M. Larinski plays so divinely; and if M. Larinski be the man of the letter, his own avowal prohibits him from appearing before me again. How can you extricate yourself from this dilemma? The case is embarrassing."
It was M. Moriaz who undertook the solution of this embarrassing dilemma. Three days later, some moments before dinner, he was walking in the hotel-grounds, smoking a cigar. He saw passing along the road Count Abel, on his way back to Cellarina. A storm was coming up; already great drops of rain were beginning to fall. M. Moriaz ran after the count and seized him by the button, saying: "You have saved my life—permit me, at least, to save you from the rain. Do me the honour to share our dinner; we will have it served in my apartment."
Abel strongly resisted this proposition, giving reasons that sounded like mere pretences. A rumbling of thunder was heard. M. Moriaz took his man by the arm, and led him in by force. He presented him to his daughter, saying: "Antoinette, let me present to you M. le Comte Larinski, a most excellent man, but little inclined to sociability. I was compelled to use violence in bringing him here."
The count acknowledged these remarks with a constrained smile. He wore the manner of a prisoner; but, as he prided himself on his good-breeding and on his philosophy, he seemed to be endeavouring to make the best of his prison. During dinner he was grave. He treated Antoinette with frigid politeness, paid some attention to Mlle. Moiseney, but reserved his chief assiduities for Mr. Moriaz. He addressed his conversation more particularly to him, and listened to him with profound respect. A professor is always sensible to this kind of courtesy.
After the coffee was served, the crusting of ice in which Count Abel had incased himself began to thaw. He had been all over the world; he knew the United States and Turkey, New Orleans and Bucharest, San Francisco and Constantinople. His travels had been profitable to him: he had observed men and things, countries and institutions, customs and laws, the indigenous races and the settlers, all but the transient visitors, with whom he seemed to have had no time to occupy himself; at least they formed no part of his conversation. He related several anecdotes, with some show of sprightliness; his melancholy began to melt away, he even indulged in little bursts of gaiety, and Antoinette could not avoid comparing him and his discourse to some of the more rigorous passages of the Engadine, where, amid the black shades of the pines, among frowning rocks, there are to be found lilies, gentians, and lakes.
He resumed his gravity to reply to a question of M. Moriaz concerning Poland. "Unhappy Poland!" cried he. "To-day the Jew is its master. Active, adroit, inventive, little scrupulous, he makes capital out of our indolence and our improvidence. He has over us one great advantage, which is simply that, while we live from day to day, he possesses a notion of a to-morrow; we despise him, and we could not do without him. We are always thirsty, and he supplies us with drink; we never have ready money, and he loans it to us at an enormous rate of interest; we cannot return it to him, and he reimburses himself by seizing our goods and chattels, our jewels, our land, and our castles. We take out our revenge in insolence, and from time to time in petty persecutions, and we gradually arrive at the conclusion that the sole means of freeing ourselves from the yoke of the Jew would be to conquer the vices by which he lives." Count Abel added that for his part he had no prejudice against these children of Abraham, and he quoted the words of an Austrian publicist who said that each country had the kind of Jews it deserved. "In fact," he continued, "in England, as in France, and in every country where they are placed on a footing of equality, they become one of the most wholesome, most vigorous elements of the nation, while they are the scourge, the leeches, of the countries that persecute them."
"And, truly, justice demands that it should be so," cried Mlle. Moriaz.
For the first time the count addressed himself directly to her, saying, with a smile: "How is this, mademoiselle? You are a woman, and you love justice!"
"This astonishes you, monsieur?" she rejoined. "You do not think justice one of our virtues?"
"A woman of my acquaintance," he replied, "always maintained that it would be rendering a very bad service to this poor world of ours to suppress all injustice, because with the same stroke would also be suppressed all charity."
"That is not my opinion," said she. "When I give, it seems to me that I make restitution."
"She is somewhat of a socialist," cried M. Moriaz. "I perceive it every January in making out her accounts, and it is fortunate that she intrusts this to me, for she never takes the trouble to look at the memorandum her banker sends her."
"I am proud for Poland that Mlle. Moriaz has a Polish failing," said Abel Larinski, gallantly.
"Is it a failing?" queried Antoinette.
"Arithmetic is the most beautiful of the sciences and the mother of certainty," said M. Moriaz. And turning towards the count, he added: "She is very wrong-headed, this girl of mine; she holds absolutely revolutionary principles, dangerous to public order and the preservation of society. Why, she maintains that people who are in need have a right to the superfluities of others!"
"This appears to me self-evident," said she.
"And, for example," further continued M. Moriaz, "she has among her proteges a certain Mlle. Galard—"
"Galet," said Mlle. Moiseney, bridling up, for she had been impatiently awaiting an opportunity to put in a word.
"This Mlle. Leontine Galet, who lives at No. 25 Rue Mouffetard—"
"No. 27," again interposed Mlle. Moiseney, in a magisterial tone.
"As usual, you are sure of it, perfectly sure. Very good! This Mlle. Galard or Galet, residing at No. 25 or No. 27 Rue Mouffetard, was formerly a florist by trade, and now she has not a sou. I do not wish to fathom the mysteries of her past—it is very apt to be 'lightly come, lightly go' with the money of these people—but certain it is that Mlle. Galard—"
"Galet," put in Mlle. Moiseney, sharply.
"Is to-day an infirm old woman, a worthy object of the compassion of charitable people," continued M. Moriaz, heedless of this last interruption. "Mlle. Moriaz allows her a pension, with which I find no fault; but Mlle. Galet—I mistake, Mlle. Galard—has retained from her former calling her passion for flowers, and during the winter Mlle. Moriaz sends her every week a bouquet costing from ten to twelve francs, which shows, according to my opinion, a lack of common-sense. In the month of January last, she sent for Parma violets for this protege of hers. Now, I appeal to M. Larinski—is this reasonable, or is it absurd?"
"It is admirably absurd and foolishly admirable," replied the count.
"The flowers I give her are never so beautiful as some that were sent me the other day," exclaimed Mlle. Moriaz.
She went then into the next room, and returned, carrying the vase of water containing the mysterious bouquet. "What do you think of these?" she asked the count. "They are already much faded, and yet I think they are beautiful still."
He admired the bouquet; but, although Antoinette regarded him fixedly, she detected neither blush nor confusion on his face. "It was not he," she said to herself.
There was a piano in the room where they had dined. As Count Abel was taking leave, Mlle. Moiseney begged him to give Mlle. Moriaz proof of his talent. He slightly knit his brows at this request, and resumed that sombre, almost savage, air he had worn when he met Antoinette at the foot of the mountain. He urged in excuse the lateness of the hour, but he allowed the promise to be wrested from him that he would be more complaisant the next day.
When he was gone, accompanied by M. Moriaz, who said he would walk a little distance with him, Antoinette exclaimed: "You see, my dear—it was not he."
"Suppose I was wrong," replied Mlle. Moiseney, in a piqued tone—"you will at least grant that he is handsome?"
"As handsome as you please. Do you know what I think of when I look at him? A haunted castle. And I feel curious to make the acquaintance of the goblins that visit it."
Notwithstanding his promise, Count Larinski did not reappear before the lapse of three days; but this time he gave all the music that was asked of him. His memory was surprising, and his whole soul seemed to be at the ends of his fingers; and he drew marvellous strains from an instrument which, in itself, was far from being a marvel. He sang, too; he had a barytone voice, mellow and resonant. After having hummed in a low tone some Roumanic melodies, he struck up one of his own national songs. This he failed to finish; tears started in his eyes, emotion overpowered his voice. He broke off abruptly, asking pardon for the weakness that had caused him to make himself ridiculous; but one glance at Mlle. Moriaz convinced him that she did not find him ridiculous.
A most invaluable resource, indeed, in a mountain-country where the evenings are long, is a Pole who knows how to talk and to sing. M. Moriaz liked music; but he liked something else besides. When he could not go into society and was forbidden to work, he grew sleepy after dinner; in order to rouse himself he was glad to play a hand of bezique or ecarte. For want of some one better, he played with Mlle. Moiseney; but this make-shift was little to his taste; he disliked immensely coming into too close proximity with the pinched visage and yellow ribbons of Pope Joan. He proposed to Count Larinski to take a hand with him, and his proposal was accepted with the best grace in the world. "Decidedly this man is good for everything," thought M. Moriaz, and he conceived a great liking for him. The result was, that during an entire week Count Abel passed every evening at the Hotel Badrutt.
"Your father is a most peculiar man," said Mlle. Moiseney, indignantly, to Antoinette. "He is shockingly egotistical. He has confiscated M. Larinski. The idea of employing such a man as that to play bezique! He will stop coming."
But the count's former savageness seemed wholly subdued. He did not stop coming.
One evening M. Moriaz committed an imprudence. In making an odd trick, he carelessly asked M. Larinski who had been his piano professor.
"One whose portrait I always carry about me," was the reply.
And, drawing from his vest-pocket a medallion, he presented it to M. Moriaz, who, after having looked at it, passed it over to his daughter. The medallion contained the portrait of a woman with blond hair, blue eyes, a refined, lovely mouth, a fragile, delicate being with countenance at the same time sweet and sad, the face of an angel, but an angel who had lived and suffered.
"What an exquisite face!" cried Mlle. Moriaz.
Truly it was exquisite. Some one has asserted that a Polish woman is like punch made with holy-water. One may like neither the punch nor the holy-water, and yet be very fond of Polish women. They form one of the best chapters in the great book of the Creator.
"It is the portrait of my mother," said Count Larinski.
"Are you so fortunate as to still possess her?" asked Antoinette.
"She was a tender flower," he replied; "and tender flowers never live long."
"Her portrait shows it plainly; one can see that she suffered much, but was resigned to live."
For the first time the count departed from the reserve he had shown towards Mlle. Antoinette Moriaz. "I have no words to tell you," he exclaimed, "how happy I am that my mother pleases you!"
Othello was accused of having employed secret philters to win Desdemona's love. Brabantio had only himself to blame; he had taken a liking to Othello, and often invited him to come to him; he did not make him play bezique, but he questioned him on his past. The Moor recounted his life, his sufferings, his adventures, and Desdemona wept. The fathers question, the heroes or adventurers recount, and the daughters weep. Such are the outlines of a history as old as the world. Abel Larinski had left the card-table. He had taken his seat in an arm-chair, facing Mlle. Moiseney. He was questioned; he replied.
His destiny had been neither light nor easy. He was quite young when his father, Count Witold Larinski, implicated in a conspiracy, had been compelled to flee from Warsaw. His property was confiscated, but luckily he had some investments away from home, which prevented him from being left wholly penniless. He was a man of projects. He emigrated to America with his wife and his son; he dreamed of making a name and a fortune by cutting a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. He repaired to New Granada, there to make his studies and his charts. He made them so thoroughly that he died of yellow fever before having begun his work, having come to the end of his money and leaving his widow in the most cruel destitution. Countess Larinski said to her son: "We have nothing more to live on; but, then, is it so necessary to live?" She uttered these words with an angelic smile about her lips. Abel set out for California. He undertook the most menial services; he swept the streets, acted as porter; what cared he, so long as his mother did not die of hunger? All that he earned he sent to her, enduring himself the most terrible privations, making her think that he denied himself nothing. In the course of time Fortune favoured him; he had acquired a certain competency. The countess came to rejoin him in San Francisco; but angels cannot live in the rude, exciting atmosphere of the gold-seekers; they suffer, spread their wings, and fly away. Some weeks after having lost his mother—it was in 1863—Count Abel learned from a journal that fell into his hands that Poland had risen again. He was twenty-one years of age. He thought he heard a voice calling him, and another voice from the skies whispered: "She calls thee. Go; it is thy duty." And he went. Two months later he crossed the frontier of Galicia to join the bands of Langiewicz.
Othello spoke to Desdemona of caverns, deserts, quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven; of cannibals, the anthropophagi, and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders. Count Abel spoke to Mlle. Moriaz of the fortunes and vicissitudes of partisan warfare, of vain exploits, of obscure glories, of bloody encounters that never are decisive, of defeats from which survive hope, hunger, thirst, cold, snow stained with blood, and long captivities in forests, tracked by the enemy; then disasters, discouragements, the vanishing of the last hope, punishment, the gallows, and finally a mute, feverish resignation, swallowed up in that vast solitude with which silence surrounds misfortune. After the dispersion of the band whose destinies he had followed, he had gone over to Roumania.
This narration, exact and precise, bore the impress of truth. Count Abel made it in a simple, modest tone, keeping himself as much as possible in the background, and growing persuasive without apparent effort. There were moments when his face would flame up with enthusiasm, when his voice would become husky and broken, when he would seek for a word, become impatient because he could not find it, find it at last, and this effort added to the energy of his spasmodic and disjointed eloquence. In conclusion, he said: "In his youth man believes himself born to roll; the day comes when he experiences the necessity of being seated. I am seated; my seat is a little hard, but when I am tempted to murmur, I think of my mother and refrain."
"What did you do in Roumania?" inquired M. Moriaz, who liked to have stories circumstantially detailed.
"Ah! I beg of you to excuse me from recounting to you the worst employed years of my life. I am my father's own son. He dreamed of cutting through an isthmus, I of inventing a gun. I spent four years of my life in fabricating it, and the first time it was used it burst."
And thereupon he plunged into a somewhat humorous description of his invention, his hopes, his golden dreams, his disappointments, and his chagrin. "The only admirable thing in the whole affair," he concluded, "and something that I believe never has happened to any other inventor, is that I am cured entirely of my chimera; I defy it to take possession of me again. I propose to put myself under discipline in order to expiate my extravagance. So soon as my cure is entirely finished I will set out for Paris, where I will do penance."
"What kind of penance?" asked M. Moriaz. "Paris is not a hermitage."
"Nor is it my intention to live there as a hermit," was the reply, given with perfect simplicity. "I go to give lessons in music and in the languages."
"Indeed!" exclaimed M. Moriaz. "Do you see no other career open to you, my dear count?"
"I am no longer a count," he replied, with an heroic smile. "Counts do not run about giving private lessons." And a strange light flashed in his eyes as he spoke. "I shall run about giving private lessons until I hear anew the voice that spoke to me in California. It will find me ever ready; my reply will be: 'I belong to thee; dispose of me at thy pleasure.' Ah! this chimera is one that I never will renounce!"