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Title: The Burning Glass Author: Marjorie Bowen * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1300411h.html Language: English Date first posted: Jan 2013 Most recent update: Feb 2013 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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What is the Beloved to the Lover? A Burning Glass through which the rays of the Sun of Love do concentrate. Sometimes this heat breaketh into flame and consumeth that on which it falleth. --Anon.
|• Chapter I
• Chapter II
• Chapter III
• Chapter IV
• Chapter V
• Chapter VI
• Chapter VII
• Chapter VIII
• Chapter IX
• Chapter X
• Chapter XI
|• Chapter XII
• Chapter XIII
• Chapter XIV
• Chapter XV
• Chapter XVI
• Chapter XVII
• Chapter XVIII
• Chapter XIX
• Chapter XX
• Chapter XXI
• Chapter XXII
|• Chapter XXIII
• Chapter XXIV
• Chapter XXV
• Chapter XXVI
• Chapter XXVII
• Chapter XXVIII
• Chapter XXIX
• Chapter XXX
• Chapter XXXI
• Chapter XXXII
• Chapter XXXIII
On a May evening a woman was walking in a delicious garden that was formed out of the little islands on the waters of the Seine, near Paris.
There was a number of people moving about among the lofty elms, Italian poplars and weeping willows that seemed as if untouched by Art, and yet which had been cunningly disposed by the hand of man, for the owner of this pleasant place was holding one of those fêtes which had become recently so fashionable in the capital.
But this woman walked alone.
She was very famous, very sought after, and generally the centre of a brilliant company; but to-night she had fled all her usual associates for that part of the island farthest from the chateau, where she might hope to be undisturbed. For her heart was full of sad emotions and a passionate melancholy pervaded her being. Solitude and the sweetness of the hour in some degree soothed her; she walked yet farther away from the festivities, and the lamps and music, and at last stood at the edge of the island and paused, looking across the darkening river towards the ferry house at Bezons, where the boats waited to take away the guests of M. Watelet. The evening was warm and perfumed by the first divine freshness of spring, a few stars were out in a sky that was fading to a translucent green hue; these sparkled in their crystal colours and pure brightness as if they pulsed with intense vitality.
A low breeze ruffled the waters of the Seine and sent little waves to break against the flowery banks of M. Watelet's domain.
All, in deference to that passion for nature which was the reaction after centuries of artificiality, the nostalgia of a society too highly cultured, over-civilised, was studiously arranged to appear a piece of untouched country.
Wild flowers grew among the tall grasses, humble herbs mingled with costly shrubs, the worldling's conception of rusticity was visible in the toy summerhouses and wooden bridges and seats.
It was all exquisite—and as false to nature as the stiff Italian gardens of a preceding fashion.
The lonely guest standing looking wistfully out across the water, knew this.
She could remember the country in her childhood, the gloom, the poverty, the cruelty, the immensity of it—so different from this pretty arrangement of trees and flowers, the result of a wealthy man's taste and intelligence, the whim of an artist jaded with city pleasures.
The woman shivered, and turned away from the edges of the river to a weeping willow that drooped its budding foliage over a wooden bench.
There she seated herself and stared through the lovely interlacing branches at the stars that seemed to hang so low, that she had the illusion that if she put out her hand she could catch hold of one entangled in the willow boughs.
Silent she sat, fighting with her melancholy, while the pearl-pure light faded about the island.
She was not young, but she had such a vivid air of vitality that even when she was quiet, as now, she gave no impression of fading, or of the placidity that comes from maturity, or of the sadness or bitterness common to a woman whose youth is past.
In every way she was vital, ardent, eager, though these qualities were veiled by a charming feminine timidity that showed in her look and pose, and the warm charm of her passionate personality lay over her like a spell. In person she was tall and infinitely graceful, with an elegance natural and improved by training Every movement showed her the great lady; very slender and well-fashioned, her hands and feet, her throat and bust, the set of her head, the swing of her shoulders, were truly beautiful.
Her face that had always been plain, was disfigured by the smallpox which had blurred the lineaments and destroyed the freshness of the traits; her nose was tilted, her mouth too wide, her brown eyes large, short-sighted, and in no way remarkable save for their passionate expressiveness.
She had been called ugly, even by her admirers, yet this was not true, as her features were in proportion, her teeth white, her ears small, her hair thick, waving, a pretty light brown colour and growing in a becoming manner about her low brows.
Her dress, which was the finest she had, was expensive and fashionable; the robe and petticoat of apricot silk were veiled in faint-coloured blue gauze, her ruffled sleeves and her chemisette were of fine blonde lace, her full mantle, with a hood, was of white satin lined with white fox, and on her knee rested a muff of grebe's feathers.
A black velvet ribbon was fastened round her throat, and her hair was dressed simply, with a touch of powder on the crown of her small head.
She wore no jewellery whatever, the buckles on her white velvet shoes were of ordinary paste, and the brooch that held the laces on her bosom was of plain silver; thus the poverty that her dress belied was revealed.
Yet her breeding became her so that she had an atmosphere of extravagance and wealth; although she was a woman who would have worn many jewels if she could—she was able to do without them as gaily as she was able to do without beauty.
She was roused from her reflections by a masculine voice.
'It is Mademoiselle de Lespinasse!'
A man parted the drooping willow boughs and stood before her, looking down at her with a little smile.
Julie de Lespinasse returned his glance totally unconcerned.
'How did you find me?' she asked. 'We were only presented to each other an hour ago, monsieur.'
'And then you disappeared, mademoiselle,' said the man, looking at her intently. 'And I followed you.'
'Are you not used to people following you, mademoiselle?'
'You are certainly not used to seeing—people—run away,' she replied with a quick smile. Then, with a sudden change to a perfectly natural manner: 'Forgive me, I am no fit company for any one to-night—least of all for M. de Guibert.'
'Why least of all for me?' He had a changeful, beautiful voice, wholly attractive, that he lowered as he spoke.
He was still standing, making a darkness before her, blotting out the stars.
'Oh, mon Dieu!' answered Julie de Lespinasse, with a certain impatience, 'do you come to me for compliments? Half the witty and pretty women of Paris are here to-night—all ready to praise you. Why do you come to me who am ugly, old, sick, and in a melancholy mood?'
She looked at him with an expression of faint irony on her mobile features.
'Are even you tired of flattery?' she added, lightly.
'Ah, you think that my head has been turned by all this boudoir praise—that is why you avoided me.'
'I thought nothing at all, monsieur,' she said frankly. 'I came here because I was full of sadness—the fête did not prove the distraction I thought it would. I should have stayed at home.' She was nearly as tall as he and stood so near to him that her looped petticoats touched the skirts of his coat.
It was now so dark that they could hardly see each other, and the sweeping branches of the weeping willow enclosed them like the meshes of a cage.
'You are not happy?' he asked curiously.
'Mon Dieu! Happy!'
'You are one of the most envied women in Paris, Mademoiselle de Lespinasse.'
Again impatience showed in her manner.
'M. de Guibert, you know on what happiness depends. If you try to compliment me, I shall never count you among my friends, and that I am disposed to do, for many dear to me love you.'
He answered her earnestly.
'How can you mistake my sincerity for flattery? I have been wanting to meet you ever since I came to Paris.'
She was used to such speeches, even from men as brilliant as this one; all the famous people of her world loved and admired her; for years she had reigned over the salon where all the intellect of Paris met to do her homage, and the language of admiration and respect had become commonplace to her by constant repetition.
'Oh, la, la!' she cried, carrying her muff to her lips and speaking over it. 'Here we have M. de Guibert in a serious mood! Seeks he new worlds to conquer?'
'You mock me, mademoiselle. Perhaps I, also, am unhappy.'
Julie de Lespinasse frowned.
'Why—is that possible?' she asked.
'Can it not be as possible for me as for you?'
'But you are a man—young!' she cried impetuously, then checked herself.
'Come into the open,' she added. 'These boughs stifle me.'
He parted the branches for her and followed her out on to the slope of long grass that dipped to the edge of the river.
The sky was now a deep violet colour and the stars blazed.
The yellow light of lanterns showed among the boats clustered by the landing stage of the ferry; the wind was rising and larger waves lapped at the flowery banks of 'Le Moulin-Joli.'
Julie turned to her companion.
Do you like this better than the salons of Paris, monsieur?'
'When I am here with you, yes,' he replied gravely.
'Mon Dieu! how commonplace you make it with such remarks,' she replied; she still held her grebe muff to her cheek and the long line of her lovely figure was visible in the starlight.
She was not insensible of the fact that she was alone with the man who was the most admired, most wanted in Paris, famous as soldier, philosopher, writer, adored by the women, envied by the men, with all her brilliant world at his feet.
The situation that she had first accepted with indifference began to please her; she was a very woman and the presence, the interest of the man whom every one gathered at 'Le Moulin Joli' would have been enchanted to flatter, began to please her into some passing forgetfulness of her sorrow.
Her piquant face, so full of light and shade, of changeful expression, of quick emotion, was turned towards M. de Guibert.
As she had not tried to disguise her preoccupation, so she did not try to disguise her interest.
'I shall read your book,' she said.
He made a gesture of protest.
'Do you wish me to do something more original?' she added. 'Well, monsieur, perhaps I shall—'
'What is that, mademoiselle?'
'Oh, I am very difficult—terribly difficult, and perhaps when I have read Essai sur la Tactique I shall write you a criticism!'
'You would?' he asked eagerly.
'Oh, we should not talk of books on such a night as this—mon Dieu!—the stars!'
Her hurrying, rather hoarse voice, had the same arresting quality as her person; her speech was slightly broken and slightly difficult, but her accent was pure, her inflexion pleasing, emphatic and fast; in her speech, as in everything else, she showed breed and polish, noticeable even in the great world in which she moved.
'Leave your book, monsieur,' she said suddenly. 'My life is already too full—I have no room for another interest.'
Her words seemed too serious for the occasion; the young man was moved by something vibrant, appealing in her tone.
'Ah, your life is full of friends,' he replied. 'And yet you are unhappy.'
'Ah!' she answered, in a tone of infinite melancholy. 'The dearest of all leaves me, and I am frightened—'
He did not know of whom she spoke, and his curiosity was roused.
'Frightened?' he questioned delicately.
'A mortal illness and a great distance!' said Julie, in a tone of touching confidence.
'This is one you love?' he asked.
'The only one I love,' she replied, with her swift frankness, 'though I have many dear, dear friends.'
'Even if he be doomed, he is fortunate,' said M de Guibert.
'He is the noblest man in the world,' said Julie ardently.
As the bank now sloped sheer into the water, they turned aside into a little alley of ilex and laurel; turning again in this, a sudden light flooded their path. It came from a lantern of pale yellow silk that had just been lit and hung low on the boughs of a Lombardy poplar.
Julie de Lespinasse suddenly paused and looked at the man by her side.
He was very charming, more so than she had thought at first, ten years younger than herself, and attractive in face and figure; he wore his uniform as a colonel of the Corsican Regiment with a certain carelessness; despite his reputation as the most irresistible cavalier in Paris, there was nothing about him that was not serious, and even stately. He did not seem in any way a squire of dames.
Julie noticed in him that vital air of eager interest in life that she had herself, but he was composed while she was nervous, perfectly balanced while she was overstrung.
She observed this quiet sanity in him and wondered if it was that which made him different from her brilliant friends.
'For certainly,' she thought to herself, 'he is not like any other man I know.'
Her frank scrutiny amused him.
'What do you make of me?' he asked.
The pale yellow light was full over his face; the short, finely-shaped features quivered with life and intelligence; the complexion was fresh with youth and an active life; the eyes, long, gray, and sparkling, were full of interchanging emotions, wit, humour, and tenderness; his hair was dressed with a certain looseness, for all the pomade and military side curls.
His whole person had an air of healthy vigour hardly to be looked for in a philosopher, and Julie's exact perception noted something ingenuous and simple about the man who had the salons of Paris at his feet, the great Voltaire proclaiming him a genius, the whole Encyclopedia acclaiming him, all the noted women in the capital competing for his smiles.
Looking at his radiant charm, and finding how he pleased her, she became impatient of herself.
'Oh, you will be a great man,' she said in her hasty way. 'And now I hear music—I think they go in to supper—'
M. de Guibert laughed.
'You do not finish with me so easily, mademoiselle.'
'Eh? What do you want of me?' she challenged. She put out the hand that held the muff and let the soft feathers rest on his arm; her dark eyes were as intense as if they veiled flame. 'I tell you my soul—my heart—my life is full!'
'I think you could be an incomparable friend,' he insisted.
'And you lack—friends?' she mocked.
'Friends such as you would be—yes,' he answered calmly.
Julie seemed slightly to wince; she withdrew her hand; her petticoats shimmered, a wonderful colour under the white satin mantle gleaming in the lantern light; her face was in shadow, but the frail grace of her was a wonderful thing; she seemed as if she might float away into the fairy-like twilight.
'Wait till you see me in the morning,' she said. 'No woman is old, or ugly, or sick, or sad—at "Le Moulin Joli" on a May night, with M. de Guibert for company—but I am all of these—and you could never have patience with me.'
'Am I so different from those who have patience with you?'
'Yes, you are different,' she replied quickly. 'I do not think I ever knew any one who had such an air of—success, as you.'
M. de Guibert coloured under his powder; in swift contrition she laid her hand, free of the muff now, on his arm.
'Do you think I meant less than a compliment? You are so alive. I meant that.'
'Ah, mademoiselle, I do not mean to pass my old age regretting the things I did not do in my youth.'
Her eyes flashed to his; this magnificent assertion of his manhood found an echo in her own tumultuous heart.
'I like you—you please me,' she said. 'Come and see the poor demoiselle in her humble room, monsieur—'
'I shall come,' he interrupted eagerly.
'—And see me by daylight.' Her laugh quivered a little. 'And now, M. de Condorcet is to take me to supper—and you?'
'Madame de Montsauge,' he replied, quietly; they were now strolling towards the pavilion where supper was served; the air was heavy with the sound of violins; they did not look at each other. Julie knew that he spoke the name of the woman who held him in chains almost as difficult to break as those of matrimony. She at once hated Madame de Montsauge and was instantly horrified at herself.
M. de Guibert belonged to this other woman—and she belonged to another man.
'Adieu,' she said suddenly, turning away. 'You have made me forget my melancholy for half an hour.'
'I shall come to the rue Saint-Dominique,' he told her. But she was gone so quickly among the trees that it seemed as if she had not heard.
M. De Guibert, the most sought after man in Paris, returned to his apartments after midnight. He had been to three houses since he had left the fête of M. Watelet, and he was tired with the sudden fatigue of a man who puts all his energy into everything he does.
Yet the stimulus of brilliant society, delicate adulation, and the meeting with a new personality, lingered in his blood, and he could not sleep.
Instead, he flung himself in the chair before his desk and began turning over some papers that lay ready to his hand.
He aspired to be a Corneille as well as a Turenne, and in the snatched leisure of his active life was writing dramas, poems, essays and fragments that experimented in every form of literary art.
Voltaire had praised him, and he meant to deserve that praise.
To his keen, ardent intellect, the vigour of his youth, the self-confidence inspired by his dazzling success, everything seemed possible.
He was in love with life, avid for experience, sensation, adventure, fevered with the sense of unrest, of change that was in the air, scornful of the old tyrannies, the old corruptions, the old conventions.
Yet he was no demagogue, fanatic, or reformer, but a professional soldier who had seen twelve years of active service, during which he had brilliantly distinguished himself in the Seven Years' War, and whose magnificent technical abilities had enabled him to write that masterpiece which was L'Essai sur la Tactique. This work, published secretly in Holland two years previously and smuggled into France, where it was eagerly passed from hand to hand, had at once made the young author famous among the intellectuals of the day through the preface—which dedicated to 'My Country' defied the existing constitutions of King and Church with a daring eloquence that delighted that band of men who, since Denis Diderot brought out the first volume of his Encyclopaedia in 1750, had been spreading the doctrine of free-thought, free government, and scientific materialism as opposed to superstitious credulity. M. de Guibert eagerly responded to the praise and friendship of these brilliant men and women, but he was too young to be satisfied with even this measure of success.
Animated by a sincere patriotism, he wished to serve France in some more definite sense. His most ardent desire was for foreign travel; particularly did he long to visit Prussia, whose king was so remarkable a monarch, Russia, whose empress had proved such a generous friend to Denis Diderot, and those far northern countries of which so little was known.
This charming, eager, and flattered young man was not, either, altogether disposed to follow the precepts he so ably endorsed in his writing; of a noble and military family, all his instincts were for the Court, the salon, the pomp, ease and refinement of life. He might be friends with men such as M. Turgot and the Marquis de Condorcet; he might applaud Voltaire retiring from the world in his little model village of happy peasantry, and Rousseau withdrawn into sulky retreat at Ermonenville; he might admire the crude manliness of David Hume, the impress of whose personality still remained on Parisian society, but he was not disposed to imitate any of these people.
He was the man of wit and fashion, gallantry and breeding, before he was a philosopher or a man of letters.
He wished for the usual preferment in the usual way. He was eager for worldly honours; the praise even of mean people pleased him. He enjoyed the homage of women; solitude, meditation, and peace were foreign to his temperament. He loved movement, company, excitement, the play, the opera, art, gaiety, easy love, facile friendship.
He was not yet sure which path he would take towards that glory that had beckoned him from the onset of his career, but he was convinced that he should gain his goal. Voltaire and Frederic of Prussia had both prophesied this of him. There were those who did not hesitate to say that he would be the liberator of his country in that crisis that every class felt approaching.
With all this, he was but a colonel of a Corsican regiment, and fiercely ambitious.
In his gorgeous fortunes were two vexations; his lack of money and the chain of an attachment which began to gall somewhat heavily on the mounting spirits of the man who felt capable of bringing all the world to his feet.
He was resolved not to be bound by Madame de Montsauge. At the same time, he shrank from breaking a connection to which the woman dung tenaciously, and which was strengthened by use and custom.
As he turned over the sheets of his manuscript without finding a word to write, his excited brain was obsessed by the images of two women.
One, Madame de Montsauge, familiar, gentle, placid, with her calm belief in his devotion, her quiet insistence on his attention—a woman whom he had known too long, loved too easily, understood too thoroughly a woman who had been too uniformly kind, too continuously pliable, whose infatuation for him was too dogged, too quiet, too unchanging. He knew her expressions, her ways, her habits, her clothes even, by heart—she was a symbol of staleness, almost of boredom, in a world that was so new and splendid.
The other woman was Julie Lespinasse, the acquaintance of half an hour's speech, elusive, strange, full of impulses and enthusiasms, vivid, vital—the woman who had said that her life was too full for his friendship.
M. de Guibert wondered who the man was who thus filled the heart of Julie de Lespinasse. She was the admired friend of every brilliant person in Paris, the most famous woman among the disciples of Voltaire. Her salon was the most renowned in the capital. For nearly two years she had reigned there—'the Muse of the Encyclopaedia,' with tact, wit, judgment, charm, and discretion.
M. de Guibert knew very little more about her than this. He was aware that there was a mystery over her birth, that Madame du Deffand had brought her to Paris from the obscurity of a convent in Lyons, that a jealous quarrel between the two women had turned a warm friendship into hatred, and that Julie de Lespinasse, in leaving her patroness had taken with her the entire circle of her friends, who between them had provided the small but decent pension on which she lived.
He knew also of her extraordinary friendship for M. D'Alembert, who occupied a room above her apartments and shared her daily life, a friendship that was respected and admired as showing both the warmheartedness and courage of Mademoiselle de Lespinasse.
Even vulgar or envious minds had found nothing evil to say of this affection between the great man and the charming woman, and M. de Guibert knew that it was not the philosopher to whom Julie had referred as the person who filled her soul.
Whoever this person was, the young soldier rather envied him; it would be pleasant to his pride to be loved by a creature like Julie.
She made Madame de Montsauge appear more than ever colourless.
He had a very exact memory for faces, for nuances of colour and line, and he could recall Julie de Lespinasse so clearly that she seemed to stand before him in the little, quiet, candle-lit room.
Her figure was so enchantingly graceful—like a fine drawing by a great Master—a perfect combination of Nature and Art. She carried the fashions of the moment as if they had been designed for her. Never, among all the women of his acquaintance, had he seen one who could wear clothes so supremely well.
He could recall the long gleaming folds of her white satin mantle, the flounces of the apricot taffeta and blue gauze, the shining feathers of the grebe muff, her lovely unjewelled hands, her slender, high-arched feet that had not, his fastidious eye had noted, pressed the velvet shoe out of shape, the delicate ankle in the thin web of the silk stocking.
She was plain and he admired beauty. Yet her pale, tired face which had neither colour nor freshness, her passionate eyes dark beneath her hood, haunted his memory.
The glamour of the evening, the light of the yellow silk lamp had been kind to her, as she had so keenly known. He also knew this, but he wanted to see her again; he was too young himself to set much value on the graces of youth. Girls had never been among his conquests.
Well, he would go and see her. She was absorbed and he was bound. They might with safety enjoy each other's company; he had the vanity to hope that she would make an intimate friend of him, place him beside men like M. de Crillon, M. de Vaines, M. Élard, M. de Condorcet, and others of her wonderful circle.
He would be glad to go and mingle with the elect at her famous Tuesdays, and to be flattered by a woman whose praise was so eagerly sought for by others.
With a half-sigh he pushed aside his papers and rose.
Life was more interesting than books; he was not the type to be most successful with paper and ink. It was his own personality and charm that made him so remarkable. Little of this got into his poems and dramas, which were in the nature of a tour de force, written because his world was accustomed to literary expression.
He went to the window, drew the short, blue damask curtain, and looked out onto the night.
The moon was now rising above the dark housetops, the sky was gleaming with a silver-blue light, half the deserted street was in shadow, half illuminated by the moonbeams in which the raw, fluttering flames of the lamps looked pale.
Paris, shrouded and silent, lay before M. de Guibert, and as he regarded the city that was the centre of the civilised world, and which he had so easily fascinated, which had accorded him such intoxicating adoration, such eager adulation, he soon forgot the face and form of Mademoiselle de Lespinasse.
The only person who for long occupied his thought was Jacques Hippolyte Antoine, Comte de Guibert, Colonel in His Majesty's Army—this strong, unconscious egotism, that was too ingenuous to be offensive, had largely contributed to his unchecked success.
He stepped out onto the balcony, leant against the light iron rail and looked with absent eyes at the sleeping city. The remembrance of his lack of means came to him with a certain sting. There again he was different from the men who had so warmly received him into their exclusive circle. He could not live in an attic like D'Alembert, nor in retirement like Rousseau; the main facts about him were his youth and his vitality, and these must be satisfied with things that only money could buy. To compete with the rank and wealth by which he was surrounded, and to which by birth and instinct he belonged, he needed a great deal more money than he could at present command. Nor would his position be greatly improved by the death of his father, who, like himself, a superb soldier, had no higher rank than that of major-general, and who had not yet secured a military appointment of any value.
Even the limited elegance of these apartments was more than could really be afforded by this man who was the idol of Paris. His debts were enormous, steadily mounting, and caused him some uneasiness. There was but one solution—the usual, banal one—a wealthy marriage.
The apostle of the freedom of Man, the champion of the new, the elevated, this man who would throw down the old gods and trample on the old conventions, was now in his secret soul contemplating the most commonplace, the meanest form of achieving ease and independence.
His philosophy, his freedom, could suggest nothing to him but this time-honoured expedient—his family must find for him some young girl with a magnificent fortune and suitable birth. There, too, his pride was the ordinary pride of his class. His wife must be fresh from a convent and well-born. Never for a second would he have contemplated marrying a Madame de Montsauge—or a Julie de Lespinasse. He faced the prospect of this marriage with some grimness; it was a bitter drop in the sweet, heady cup that was being everywhere offered to his lips.
He must be chained, he who loved his liberty above all things. He must be burdened for ever by an insipid creature—he whom the most accomplished women could only satisfy for a short time. He must risk putting himself in that ridiculous position in which he so often put other men—that of the ignored, slighted, and flouted husband. Yet the thing must be done, and done—though he shrank from facing this—immediately. He did not see the irony of the position whereby he, voicing so eloquently a new and lofty creed, was reduced by selfish wants to the necessity of a very ordinary expedient, but he chafed under the prospect of this forced surrender of his prized liberty.
Well, first, at least, he would travel. He would indulge his desire to go to Prussia, to study German tactics and to make the acquaintance of the famous Frederic, who, warrior, statesman, freethinker, and man of letters, was greatly admired by M. de Guibert.
He wished also to visit the battlefields of the Seven Years' War and study them in the light of his later experience and knowledge. He was slightly tired of the praise of women, slightly jaded by easy love affairs, a little weary of books and bookmen.
His youth and strength clamoured within him for new adventures, fresh activities; the real trend of his nature was towards action not thought; his military ambitions were now in the ascendant—Turenne, not Corneille, became his model as he stared down in the dark Paris street...He believed that he would rather have won Fontenoy than have written Zaire. After all, Maurice de Saxe was more his type than Jean D'Alembert.
'Grand Dieu!' murmured the young colonel, his thoughts ending in speech. 'But all these men are ill—there is not one of them who could shoulder a musket and a pack for half an hour's march.'
Then he smiled at this heresy and yawned. A little wind blew up freshly on his hot face. He yawned again, overcome with sudden desire for sleep. His healthy mind and body cried out for repose. He turned back into his room, where the candles were guttering to the sockets of the gleaming brass sticks, and without calling his valet, who had gone to bed in despair, flung off the heavy braided coat of his uniform, and then, still yawning, thrust all his papers, poems, love-letters, military documents, together in an untidy pile, closed the desk, oblivious of the May moon now shining into the room, the beauty of the spring night, even here, in the heart of the city, of all the friendship, coquetry and passion, honour, applause and homage, offered him in those letters he had just tossed together, some unopened, most unread, and all unanswered, forgetful of the wistful, vivid face of Mademoiselle de Lespinasse and the dinging sweetness of Madame de Montsauge and only desirous of sleep.
When he had finished his hasty toilet, brushed the pomade out of his hair and flung himself in an abandon of fatigue on his bed, this petted hero of the salons looked an ordinary healthy and tired young man.
His profound slumbers were not disturbed by any dreams either of Julie de Lespinasse, Jeanne de Montsauge, or of the unknown girl who must one day be his wife.
Mademoiselle De Lespinasse lived in the rue Saint- Dominique, in a house that faced the convent of Bellechase.
It was quite a modest house, the property of a master-joiner, and Julie de Lespinasse had rented the second and third floors since her stormy break with Madame du Deffand, who inhabited rooms in the Convent of Saint-Joseph, a few yards away.
The means of this fortuneless, and, in reality, nameless woman, consisted of a tiny pension left her by her mother, a small yearly sum from the Court, obtained for her by the influence of Madame du Deffand, the Duc d'Orleans, and the Duc de Choiseul.
This mean pittance had been augmented by the generosity of her friends. Madame la Maréchale de Luxembourg had given her the furniture for her few rooms, Madame de Chatillon, M. Turgot, M. Henault, and M. d'Ussé had contributed to the expenses of her installation, and Madame Geoffrin had sold her three most beautiful Carl Van Loos to the Empress of Russia, and with the sum she received had secured a life income for Mademoiselle de Lespinasse; this had been added to by M. de Vaines, and brought Julie's income to about twelve thousand livres. This sum was not sufficient, despite the modest way in which she lived, to relieve her of all care, for she managed her affairs badly, having very little interest in them, and spent extravagantly on clothes. Her minute establishment was that of a great lady; she kept two women servants, a lackey, and her tirewoman; her apartment was a nobleman's hotel in miniature. She was like M. de Guibert In this—that she followed ancient traditions while preaching new ideas.
Her tastes were fine, luxurious, and exquisite. She had indulged them in the furniture that the generosity of Madame de Luxembourg had paid for; she had now lived nearly ten years in the rue Saint-Dominique, and the place perfectly expressed her personality, and those who obtained the envied privilege of the entrée to her salon found the dwelling as charming as the mistress. Julie loved the place; until she had owned these few rooms she had always had to defer to the taste of others, and she still felt an intense satisfaction in having, even within these limits, everything that entirely pleased her. She lived on the second floor, a small ante-chamber led into the salon, a fair-sized room with the windows looking onto the street; the walls were of pale wood with sculptured panels, and set with four large mirrors in gilt frames facing the windows. These were hung with taffeta curtains of a dull, soft shade of crimson. The floor was of polished wood and there were no carpets or mats; the fireplace was furnished with dogs and irons in polished iron, ornamented with brass. On the mantelpiece stood a handsome pendule clock by Masson and two branched candlesticks in ormolu. Either side of this mantelpiece stood a marble bust on a pedestal, one of M. D'Alembert, one of M. Voltaire, and near the windows was an exquisitely-executed alabaster bird, poised for flight, on a stand of gilt brass. Before the fire stood a face-screen of green silk, a little table with a green velvet cover that held a tiny box and pot-pourri jar of lacquer, a bergère with green damask cushions, and a large chair with arms covered with crimson damask. Two arm, and three single chairs, of the Regency period, of gilt wood with cane bottoms, an ottoman in red Utrecht velvet, two more bergères, covered with dauphine with a white ground, six armchairs with crimson damask cushions, a desk-chair in red morocco, two rosewood commodes with marble tops, a table of acacia wood covered with books, a veneered cupboard, a sideboard of cherry wood, a desk in rosewood and a desk in satinwood, filled the centre of the room.
A little dining-table of acacia wood, one of the same for books, a rosewood coffer, footstools and cushions completed the furniture.
The walls in between the mirror were covered with prints, framed in gilt or black wood; several subjects in mezzotint after M. Greuze, La Lecture and La Conversation Espagnol by Beauvarlet, Ruines Romaines by Dietrich, and several portraits, among which were M. D'Alembert and M. Turgot.
Between the windows stood a cylinder desk of satinwood, furnished with candlesticks, snuffers, and tinderbox in silvered brass, and above were four shelves of books.
This desk, adorned with ormolu, was Julie's special property, and held two locked portfolios and several books.
An elegant spinning-wheel and a work-table occupied one corner; on the sideboard stood a few silver dishes, a package of sweets, and a decanter.
All the chairs were low and easy and filled with cushions in brocade, mostly red and green, of damask and Utrecht velvet. The room, though too full of furniture, had an air of comfort and ease, of elegance and leisure. At the far end an inner door led into the bed-chamber. This, with a dressing-closet and the room of her maid, completed the suite on this floor.
Above, on the next floor, were the rooms of the other servants, the kitchen and several empty closets.
Above that lived one or two other lodgers of the master joiner, among whom was M. D'Alembert, joint editor of the Encyclopaedia, perpetual secretary of the Academy, as a mathematician second to none, as writer and philosopher second only to M. Voltaire. He had long been the great attraction of the salon in the Convent, of Saint-Joseph and the dearest friend of its blind mistress, the Marquise du Deffand.
When the bitter quarrel arose between this lady and Julie, her companion and secretary, the Marquise had offered her old friend his choice between her and Mademoiselle de Lespinasse. The great man had unhesitatingly chosen the woman whom he had secretly adored since he had first beheld her, and had taken his presence, his prestige, his brilliant following, to the new salon in the rue Saint-Dominique, thereby causing the lonely and bitter old Marquise to hate him furiously with but little less of the violence which she accorded to the rebellious Julie.
Soon after this secession, Mademoiselle de Lespinasse fell ill of the smallpox, that disease which nearly ruined her health and completely ruined her looks. The famous philosopher had proved himself the most anxious, the most devoted of friends. It was largely owing to his intense care that Julie survived her terrible illness. His self-sacrifice nearly cost him his life; he caught the hideous complaint against which his feeble frame could ill struggle. Julie nursed him with complete self-abnegation, and on his recovery insisted that he should leave the close, miserable garret in the house of his foster-mother where he had hitherto spent his life. A temporary lodging was found for him in the hotel of M. Watelet, in the Boulevard du Temple, but the impulsive, warm-heartedness of Julie insisted that he should make his residence under her roof. The man, who regarded her with a secret, tenacious, and hopeless affection, caught eagerly at this half-happiness which was so much more than he had ever dreamed to obtain, and, with a pleasure and pride unspeakable, took up his residence in the rue Saint-Dominique. He shared his meals with Julie and used her salon to receive his friends, acted as her secretary when her sight troubled her, ran her errands, and was completely at her service. He was always present on her famous Tuesdays, and it was very rarely that he did not accompany her to dinner, supper, to the theatre, opera or fête—seldom was one asked without the other.
This singular relationship was respected by a world where sentiment was allowed so high a value and passion had been almost civilised out of existence—at least, out of recognition. Julie de Lespinasse, at any rate, was regarded as a woman sufficiently remarkable to do as she pleased, and the perfect calm and frankness with which she filled her unconventional role would in any case have disarmed criticism.
If it was obvious that M. D'Alembert was most single-heartedly in love with her, it was also obvious that she was not in love with him—and, indeed, the philosopher, fifty-four years of age, frail and effeminate in appearance, sickly and feeble, with his high voice and plain face, was hardly likely to be the object of a romantic passion, and his life had passed without the shadow of a love affair.
The radiant Julie, sure of her own heart, secure in her position, slightly defiant towards a world that had given her so much but withheld so much, cared nothing if her action caused comment or no.
'Eh,' she said proudly, 'when one is old and plain, one may do as one likes.' And she merely smiled at the thought of the weapon she had given to the black spite of Madame du Deffand.
The deep and honest devotion of M. D'Alembert touched her deeply; he had nothing to offer her beyond his fame; his birth was as blotted as her own, his story as sad, his past as painful, his means yet more restricted and uncertain, his health as feeble, and he had never put himself forward as a pretender to her favour—the infinite tact of Julie had spared him that. But every instant of his life was at her service, all his thoughts were for her. No duty, no office was too humble, if it was to pleasure her, and he accepted with humble gratitude the high place she had offered him in her friendship.
He did not really understand this woman whom he adored. Perhaps no nature so calm and tenacious could understand one so passionate and changeful, but he thought that he comprehended her every emotion, and that her whole heart lay bare to him. He knew that she was debarred from marriage by the same reason that he was, and he believed that the tender affection she accorded him was all she had to give to any man. He did not see the compassion in her gentle acceptance of his all; he did not guess how the woman in her was soothed by his attentions; that his brilliant company relieved hours of bitter loneliness, that her feminine vanity was flattered to think that there was always one heart in which she reigned supreme.
Certainly M. D'Alembert understood more about geometry than women, and was very "completely deceived in the complex character of Julie de Lespinasse."
Passionate, sensitive, born and educated under a cloud, terribly hurt again and again, always homeless, without relatives, dependent, conspicuous, yet set apart from others, with a vast capacity for suffering, she found in the rue Saint-Dominique something of what other people took for granted, but what she had never had—her own domain, liberty, security, a permanent refuge, and in M. D'Alembert something of that warm atmosphere of homely affection that hitherto she had missed. Her eager kindness to the man who gave her these sensations of secured happiness had to the infatuated philosopher the aspect of love, and he lived in the rosy illusion of being the first object of her heart.
Julie de Lespinasse had once been in love.
A noble Irishman, M. Taafe, whom she had met in the salon of Saint-Joseph, had inspired her with a capricious and violent fancy. The brief enchantment was dispelled by the grim irony of Madame du Deffand; the demoiselle de compagnie was made to understand that she was not to have feelings, and neither love nor marriage were for the dowerless, disowned girl.
Jealousy barbed these stinging truths. The tongue of the blind Marquise was a terrible, if delicate, weapon, and Julie had been wounded to the quick, and most of all by the fact that the Irishman had proved no persistent lover, but had desisted at the first rebuff, and soon afterwards left Paris, never to return.
A more reserved, a prouder Julie, rose from the overthrow of that first despair. Her friendships were numerous and famous, her attraction was universally acknowledged; she was called 'enchantress,' but she had had no more love affairs until, at an age when she fondly believed life had passed her by, she was drawn, almost despite herself, into the unhappy, violent, and doomed affection that now filled her entire life. Her marvellous friendships were not all with men; many women were under the empire of her charm, and to them she was loyal, frank, and devoted. Madame de Luxembourg, Madame de Chatillon, Madame de Boufflers were among her intimates, and for Madame Geoffrin she had a filial affection, and admitted her into her entire confidence. It was to this lady, whose salon was the most famous in Paris, that Julie owed the support that made it possible for her, alone, poor, and unplaced as she was, to open a salon that could compete with, and finally outshine, those held in the splendid hotel of the rue Saint-Clery, that of the Baron D'Holbach and those of Madame du Deffand and Madame Geoffrin herself.
So great was the devotion of these two brilliant women for each other, that the bitter jealousy of the daughter of the Marquise was roused, and so, in a measure, the friendship spoiled for Julie. The beautiful Comtesse de Boufflers, fresh and seductive, though no younger than Julie, had been her generous champion in the break with Madame du Deffand, and remained her close friend, though not her confidante. Madame de Marchais, lovely and witty, a lady of the Court, a coquette, despite her life-long attachment to the Comte D'Angeviller, and the Duchesse de Chatillon were next among the women of Julie's circle. This last, dowered with all the gifts of fortune, behaved as a tender sister to Julie, who, however, had never admitted her to any great intimacy. Three men came next to M. D'Alembert among those whom she loved—the Marquis de Condorcet, whom she called her second secretary,' M. Suard, the writer, for whom she was using her vast influence to obtain a seat in the Academy, and the Chevalier de Chastellux.
No trace of sentiment entered into her relations with any of these. M. Condorcet was nursing a hopeless passion for the fascinating Mademoiselle D'Ussé, M. Suard was in love with his wife, de Chastellux was unalterably attached to the Marquise de Géon. In all these affairs she was their confidante, and in return opened her inmost heart to them. Her genius for the platonic friendship found expression also with M. Turgot, whom she called 'my minister,' with the Marquis de Caraccioli, the ambassador of Naples at Paris, with David Hume, whose historic quarrel with Rousseau had been settled under her arbitration, and the Earl of Shelburne.
Among others who frequented her modest room, and who were of her near acquaintance, were such men as the Abbé Galiani, Marmontel, Grimm, the Comte de Cruetz, the Baron de Gleichen, and the Comte d'Aranda. So, under her light, gay, and easy rule, gathered thinkers, soldiers, statesmen, scientists, wits, men of fashion, beauties, great ladies, famous foreigners, all enthralled alike by her exquisite culture, her unfailing intelligence and tact, her natural enthusiasm, her unaffected delight in all aspects of life and art, the enchantment of her delicious personality. Her lack of youth and beauty had never stood in her way; women of middle age were the fashion, and the gifts of youth could not show to advantage in the atmosphere of the salons; beauty was at a discount in an over-civilised society that permitted only nuances of sentimental affection and platonic relationships that were tacitly supposed to supersede the crudeness and violence of passion, the natural storms of early love. Julie had no young girl among her acquaintances. Her friends were nearly all older than herself. Those who were not, Madame de Marchais and Madame de Chatillon, were not seen very frequently in her company. She knew herself unique, both in her history, her personality and the position she had achieved, and without in the least losing her head, she abandoned herself to the delights of her friendships, the adulation, the fame, the praise, the round of visits, of entertainments, the gay, easy exchange of thought with the finest minds of the time, the delicious intimacy with her slave, D'Alembert, with Condorcet, with Suard, the celebrity of her Tuesdays, the pleasure of literary labour, of music, of which she was passionately fond, of plenty of clothes, in which direction she had always been starved, with that eager fervour that was her main characteristic. And her youth was past when she began gradually to find that the fame was becoming meaningless, the laughter hollow, the gaiety forced, the friendships limited, the wit stale.
Restlessness and melancholy afflicted her attitude to all the things that had at one time been such a source of avid enjoyment to her: she murmured in her soul, 'A quoi bon?' Some deep instinct told her that her life, outwardly so frank and natural, was in reality artificial, that her days, seemingly so full, were, in truth, empty, that, having in appearance had everything, she had really had nothing.
Her old love of children began to stir in her heart with a torturing pang. She had the nostalgia for the home she had never known, a longing and a yearning for she knew not what.
Tears were close behind her laughter, and she faced the future with terrified eyes. It was when she was falling into this mood of weariness that was near despair that she met the Marquis de Mora.
Jose Y Gonzaga Pignatelli D'Arragon, Marquis de Mora, was the son of the Comte de Fuentès, Spanish Ambassador at Paris, and one of the most remarkable of the foreigners who were admitted into the exclusive circles of Parisian society.
Before he was twenty, he had been married and widowed, and had been introduced to Paris by his father, then in the full éclat of the Pacte du famille. The young Marquis and his two resplendent companions, the Ambassador's secretaries, the Chevalier Fernando Magellon and the Duc de Villa-Hermosa, soon shone at every fête, salon, and entertainment, both in Paris and at the Court, where the Comte de Fuentès was highly favoured.
M. de Mora, in his first youth, handsome, gallant, highly-placed, made an instant success among the people to whom he was introduced; he became a man of wit, of fashion, interested in the new ideas, admiring the Encyclopedia, a frequenter of those gatherings where philosophy and the questions of the day were discussed.
Men like D'Alembert and Condorcet admitted him to their intimacy; he was a regular visitor in the house in the rue Saint-Dominique, and Mademoiselle de Lespinasse had already discovered an affection for him when he was recalled to his regiment and abruptly left Paris.
Refusing his family's wish for his re-marriage with his cousin, dona Félicité d'Egmont Pignatelli, M. Mora, as soon as he returned to Madrid, fell under the charm of the widowed dona Mariana de Silva, duchesse de Huescar, one of the most cultured and beautiful women of the Spanish capital. This affection was defeated by the family of de Fuentès, who used their influence to have the young colonel sent to Catalonia.
At this time the first great sorrow of his life fell on him in the death of his only son by smallpox.
A melancholy settled on the impetuous, ardent spirit of M. de Mora; his health became weakened; he sought restlessly for distraction, for consolation, and less than two years after his departure, returned to Paris. Young as he was, he had now, like Julie de Lespinasse, entered into a phase of disgust of life, of ironical observation of others, of cynical melancholy. The pleasures that had once so entranced him, and that now could hardly distract him, seemed to him trifling and unworthy.
Neither did the philosophers and the men of learning any longer divert him from contemplating his own empty heart. Like Julie he said >a quoi bon? to everything. Neither the easy love affairs, nor the sentimental friendships then the fashion, appealed to him any longer—he was jaded with both.
It was while in this mood that he again met Julie de Lespinasse, and these two natures, so much alike, these two sensitive, passionate, restless, unsatisfied hearts, united in a flame of ardent passion. The beautiful dawn of a love that made earth a paradise for these two creatures was ended by the recall of the Marquis to his regiment.
They swore eternal fidelity, and he declared that henceforth the one object of his life would be to obtain the consent of his family to their union. He soon returned, escorting his sister, Maria Manuela Pignatelli, who had been married by proxy to his bosom friend, the Duc de Villa Hermosa, still resident at the Spanish Embassy at Paris.
The idyll of the lovers was renewed; their betrothal was believed by their friends to be certain. Both Condorcet and Suard were confidants of Julie's love story—only D'Alembert remained blind, with the blindness of a dogged belief. It was also known, however, that there were almost unsurmountable obstacles to such a marriage; the family who had not considered the Duchesse de Huescar good enough for their heir were not likely to accept Julie de Lespinasse.
The de Fuentès received Julie with all respect, honour, and kindness, but M. de Mora could not get them even to listen to his proposal of an engagement, and the bride, the new Duchesse de Villa Hermosa was Julie's jealous enemy. The lovers, in the strength of their deep attachment, were not daunted, and renewed their secret understanding. But again M. de Mora had to bend to military authority and the wishes of his parents. He was sent back to Spain, despite his protests, and made Brigadier-General, with a post at the Spanish Court.
The congratulation of the family at their success was speedily changed to chagrin, for the Marquis resigned from the army, put his affairs in order, and despite all the efforts of his friends, made every preparation to return to Paris and Julie de Lespinasse. The ill-health that he had given as a reason for his resignation, proved to be but too real an excuse: the very day was fixed for his departure when his lingering malady reached a violent crisis. A long and terrible fever was followed by a succession of fainting fits, and as soon as he had gained a little strength, his doctors ordered him at once to Valencia, whose exquisite climate, they declared, offered him his one chance of complete recovery. With despair in his heart he was forced to take this advice, and was conducted to the residence of the younger brother of the Duc de Villa Hermosa, in Valencia. During this, to him, painful exile, his one consolation was the correspondence with Julie de Lespinasse, who, in her turn, lived only for his letters. Encouraged by the extraordinary improvement of his health in the delicious air of Valencia, the impatience of M. de Mora soon broke through the restraints imposed on him by his doctors, and the prudence counselled by his friends. Resisting their endeavours with a violence almost cruel, he returned to Paris and resumed his place among those fascinating companions he had twice been forced to abandon. He was more than ever sought after, admired, flattered, and praised; with something of the ardour of his first youth he returned to the gaieties of the Court, the reunions with the thinkers and wits, the dinners, the suppers, the fêtes, the opera. But all this was because his love for Julie illuminated everything for him, because he was in her company every day and almost all day, and because all his energies were bent on accomplishing their marriage. When he was obliged to go to Fontainebleau on a summons from the Court, he wrote to Julie every morning and every evening. During his ten days' absence she received twenty-two letters. This life, this emotion, the heavy air of Paris, soon undermined the frail health of M. de Mora. He had several fresh attacks when his life was considered in danger, and though in his happiness he affected to treat these with indifference, they caused the heart of Julie to faint with fear. Finally, he was ordered to take the waters at Bagnères, and the lovers were again separated. But this was as nothing compared to what was before them. The Comte de Fuentès, with finances exhausted by his costly sojourn at Versailles, and his wife falling into a state of health even more precarious than that of her son, obtained leave to return for a time to Madrid, and commanded that M. de Mora should accompany him when he had completed the season at Bagnères. The condition of Madame de Fuentès making a refusal on the part of her son impossible, Julie had to prepare herself for an indefinite separation.
M. de Mora, however, coloured the future with a rosy hue. He had no fears on the score of his health, the eternal hopefulness characteristic of his malady re-assuring him on that point, and he resolved to use this obligatory return to Madrid to strain every effort to obtain the consent of his family to his union with Julie and to return to Paris only as her promised husband.
Both this project and the state of his health Julie regarded with something near despair; her tempestuous nature, to which moderation was impossible, and which had been fiercely awakened by passion to the full extent of sensitiveness, suffered agonies of fear and apprehension, melancholy and grief. She struggled to be resigned, to believe in the future, that the love of M. de Mora so tenderly painted for her, and in no way did she endeavour to prevent his departure. This was fixed for July, and during the few weeks that remained to her before the dreadful hour of separation, she was denied even the pleasure of his company, since he was obliged to remain at Bagnères. To add to her distress, she had to conceal her emotion from M. D'Alembert and from most of her friends; her spiritual loneliness was not the least of her griefs, and her health, never strong, began to give way beneath the burden of her agitation and sorrow.
It was precisely at this moment that she had met M. de Guibert at the fête of M. Watelet.
The news from Bagnères had been better than usual, the May day enchanting, and, in a desperate effort at distraction, she had gone to 'le Moulin Joli,' hoping to find among scenes that at one time she had found so fascinating, some relief from the perpetual grief that gnawed at her heart. But she had been unable to mingle with the company formerly so dear to her; her wandering apart had caused her meeting with M. de Guibert and that conversation that had for a short while dissipated her melancholy. A month had passed, mostly in seclusion for Julie, and she had not seen M. de Guibert again, nor had she thought much of him, her mind being entirely occupied by M. de Mora.
It was for him she was waiting this afternoon in her little salon, seated at the cylinder desk of satinwood, on which her elbows rested, her elegant head drooping in her hand. She wore a robe and petticoat of fine white muslin, scattered with little bunches of pale flowers; over this a negligé of striped crimson and white linen, sleeves from elbow to wrist of ruffled lace, the same at her bosom, and a band of narrow black ribbon, which was sewn with tiny silk flowers, round her neck. A fine gold watch and two little hearts, one of gold and one of crystal filled with hair was fastened at her waist by a fine steel chain; she wore also a chatelaine, the various little objects being of ivory and silver, in green leather cases. Her hair was powdered, dressed close to her head, with tiny roll curls above the ears, and covered on the top with a small lace cap.
In the folds of the fichu that crossed her bosom was a small, closely-tied bunch of jasmine. Exquisite care had disguised the ravages of the disease that had stolen her freshness; her face showed of the frail pallor due to artificial whitening; her large and expressive dark eyes were improved by the delicate pencilling of her sweeping brows; her lips were touched with pale carmine. Her whole appearance had that elegant and delicious finish of a woman who, though too sensible to be vain and not fortunate enough to be beautiful, is too fastidious to be careless. Julie though, as always, without jewellery—she possessed none but the merest trifles, a pair of steel buckles, a pair of paste buckles, a necklace of red wooden beads, two silver brooches, such things as these were her sole treasures—wore an expensive gown, and in every detail was the great lady. The dark eyes, heavy with sleeplessness and unshed tears, stared at the books on the shelves in front of her. They were all her familiar friends and had often proved her greatest comfort.
There was the Voyage d'Italie in many volumes, by the engraver, Charles Cochin, all the works of Voltaire, the dramatic poems of Philippe Quinalt, Moresi's French and English Dictionary, the Letters of Madame de Sévigné, The Cours d'Études du Prince de Parma, The Bibliothèque de Campagne, the Caractères of Theophrastus, and Robertson's History of Charles V. and Richardson's Clarissa Harlow, both in English, and the last almost the gospel of Julie, so akin to her peculiar temperament was the mingled passion and sentiment, swooning delicacies and crude violences, the refined emotions, the tempests of feeling, the distracting intricacies of the melancholy tragedy of this extraordinary romance.
Her distracted gaze fell on the gilt lettering of the title now, and her slender hands went to select one of the forty volumes in which the English novel was set forth, when the door gently opened, and M. de Mora stood within the room. Julie rose, and held out her hands without a word. She had contrived to send away the docile and unsuspecting D'Alembert, and her lackey had had orders to admit M. de Mora and no one else. The young Spaniard kissed her hands, then sank on to the Utrecht velvet ottoman which stood just inside the door facing the windows. He was very breathless and smiled without being able to speak. Julie sat down beside him, still holding his hands, which were cold and damp, in hers; she bent forward and warmly kissed his hollow cheek.
'Julie!' he gasped. 'Julie!'
His gaze continued to rest on her with an intensity of affection that seemed half-pleading and was wholly touching.
'You came up the stairs too fast,' murmured Julie. 'Mon Dieu! how this illness frightens me!'
M. de Mora had now recovered his voice, but it was rough and continually broken by coughs. He paused, too, now and then, as if the act of speaking distressed him, and no colour returned to his pallid face.
'The doctors did not want to let me come to-day,' he said, using perfect French. 'Ciel! do they want to kill me? I could not have lived any longer without seeing you.'
'You should not have come!' cried Julie. 'The shaking of the carriage has hurt you.'
He shook his head.
'Indeed, I am better. Why should we talk of it now? Look at me and tell me if you love me!'
'If I love you!' exclaimed Julie, with a sob in her voice. 'But I will get you some wine—something—'
Grasping her two hands, he held her down on the ottoman.
'Do not leave me—I want you—just you, Julie.'
She made no attempt to move, she gazed at him with her soul in her eyes. He had been an extremely handsome man of the pronounced Southern type; slight, supremely elegant, of a beautiful carriage, with a clear, olive skin, aquiline features, a full mouth and magnificent eyes under sweeping brows; thick hair, naturally waving, of so dense a black as to defy powder and pomade. Only a slight heaviness in the nostrils of the hawk-like nose, a hint of coarseness in the lips, prevented the face from having been beautiful, and it had been lit by a fire, a changing expression, a light, an eagerness more attractive than perfections of line and colour.
Most of this penetrating charm was now gone. He was thin to emaciation, he stooped slightly, and his chest was noticeably narrowed.
His traits were equally disfigured: an unhealthy paleness overspread his hollow face, his forehead was bedewed with damp, his lips were dry and colourless; the gleaming black hair did not need so much powder now, for it was thickly sprinkled with gray.
Only his eyes, in their dark fire, remained unchanged; the sweeping lashes were almost unnaturally long and thick, and this one beauty redeemed his ruined countenance. Always magnificent and precise in his dress, he was still attired with rich, if sombre, splendour.
His dark blue velvet coat was heavily embroidered with gold, his waistcoat was of embroidery, his black silk stock fastened with a diamond brooch, his hair waved, rolled and powdered, and fastened by a sapphire blue ribbon. The flatness of his chest and the thinness of his hands were disguised by full ruffles of Spanish lace; he was perfumed with an odour of sandalwood, shaved to the blood, and powdered.
'You are not better!' cried Julie at length. Mon Dieu, but this is frightful—'
'Hush, you must not say these things,' he replied faintly, but smiling. 'Where are those good friends of mine, the little dog and the paroquet?'
'I sent the dog out with D'Alembert,' said Julie. 'And did you not notice the paroquet in the antechamber? I put him there that his voice might not deafen you.'
These words were hardly finished before a slight convulsion passed over her face, and she quickly buried it in the crimson cushions, and burst into tears.
M. De Mora rose and paced up and down the shining floor, glancing at Julie with a sorrow that knew not how to console another sorrow.
'Do you not believe that I shall return to you?' he said at last, in accents vibrant with feeling.
'Ciel! as if I doubted you!' sobbed Julie from the cushions.
'And you believe—you understand—that I have the best of reasons for my departure? That I must, at all costs, recover my health for your sake—that I must achieve our marriage soon?'
'You have the best of reasons,' she agreed. Do you think I blame you?'
She looked up, pressing a handkerchief to her lips; her tear-filled eyes looked over it, intense with love and terror.
'But I am frightened,' she added. 'Frightened of the future—three hundred leagues apart—and your illness—'
'Do not think of that,' he replied hastily. 'I was blooded twice last night, and it has left me a little weak.'
As he spoke, he sat down on the red morocco chair in front of Julie's desk with the air of one who has not strength to stand. His face was now in the full light of the window, and to Julie it looked like that of a dying man.
'After all, why need you go?' she cried impetuously in her pain. 'There are better doctors in Paris—you know that M. Lorry is worth all the physicians in Spain.'
M. de Mora replied gently,—
'There is the question of our marriage, Julie. Once in Madrid I can press that.'
Mademoiselle de Lespinasse rose, her lovely figure dad in the flowing, delicate fabrics outlined against the red ottoman.
'Our marriage she said in a kind of hasty passion. 'That has been your torment for six years—'
'My hope, my solace,' he interrupted, eagerly and warmly.
'The Fuentès will never consent,' replied Julie, with heaving bosom. 'Why should they? Grand Dieu, why?'
'They shall They must!' said M. de Mora, with the weary persistency of a sick man. He put his hand to his head and frowned.
'They never will!' answered Julie. She spoke with painful clear-sightedness. 'What am I that your family should accept me?'
'The most admired woman in Paris.'
Julie lifted her shoulders.
'That means so little! I know people caress me, flatter me—marry me, no! All my life I have been made to feel I am—apart!'
'Julie!' cried M. de Mora. 'How can you speak of these things now?'
'I must speak of them—they are always in my heart, mon ami.'
'Then I have failed,' he returned, sadly and wistfully.
'You! my dearest and my love, the noblest, the truest of men If you have failed—mon Dieu!—you have made me so happy that I have not known how to live! Only I must think that I have nothing to give in return!'
She stood facing him, her hands clasped on her bosom, her whole body quivering, taut with her feeling.
'I am forty years old—I am ugly—I am sad—I am penniless—I am nameless. You are young—a Spanish grandee.'
The Marquis interrupted.
'I love you, and that makes us equal in all.'
Still she was not satisfied.
'Do you know who I am?' she asked restlessly. 'My Julie.'
'You evade me.'
'What do I care who you are?'
'All these years that you have known me, you have never asked.'
'No one has told you?'
'Mon Dieu! it is an ugly story!'
'Julie,' said M. de Mora gently, 'why think of it?'
'Think of it!' she replied passionately. 'Do you imagine that because I never speak of it I ever forget? It is part of my life—it is my life! It is what your family throw at you when you speak of marrying me!'
M. de Mora looked at her with concern. An unhealthy colour began to flame in his cheeks, and he rested his hot head in his hand. Julie turned about and pulled at the cushions on the ottoman; her piquant profile was towards him, and his tired glance dwelt on it with infinite love.
'My brother, the Comte D'Albon,' she said, 'has heard rumours of our affection. He is so afraid that on the occasion of a marriage I might claim my mother's name and a portion of the family fortunes, that he has called a council at Forez, and asked lawyers what claims I have. Mon Dieu!' she added, with stormy pride, 'how little they know me. Nothing to me, neither name nor money, is worth a moment's consideration beside your happiness!'
'How does all this affect my happiness, Julie, save only in so far as it saddens you?' replied M. de Mora tenderly.
'I want you to know,' she replied, without looking round. 'I often wished to speak to you—but I was too happy. Now that you are leaving me—to fight for this marriage which would be untold joy for me—I want you to know—'
'I was aware that your mother was the Comtesse d'Albon, Julie,' said the Marquis, half-sadly, as if he regretted that she should insist on speaking on this subject.
'I suppose every one knows that,' replied Julie with some bitterness. 'I loved her, Pepe. She loved me, and took me to live with her at d'Avanges, but she never would—never dared—acknowledge me. I did not know who I was. She educated me, she caressed me, she wept over me, she flattered me—and then she died, leaving me to learn the truth.'
Her tone softened, her head drooped, and she spoke with a regret that went too deep for bitterness.
'The Comtesse gave me the key of a chest full of money—I was proud—I gave it to my brother, Camillo. My mother had dared leave me nothing but a pension of a few crowns. Mon ami! I was an object of charity! My sister, Diana, was married to the Comte Gaspard de Vichy.'
Julie paused at this name and glanced at M. de Mora, but it meant nothing to him. Sadly he waited for her to continue.
'I went to live with them at Champrond. I became the governess of her children—unpaid, unwanted, in the way—the butt for their humours. They told me who I was—'
She paused, and drew a deep breath.
'I loved the children—especially little Abel—I love him still. For the rest, suffering, sorrow, humiliations, degradations! M. de Vichy's sister, Madame du Deffand, came to Champrond; she asked me to go to Paris with her—she was blind—she saw in me'—here Julie's voice was very bitter—'a useful slave. I had been well-trained for the part. I could not accept—I had no money—I wrote to my brother, and was refused.'
'Mon Dieu I' said M. de Mora.
'Oh, I am telling you nothing,' cried Julie hastily. 'Nothing! Why should I tell you what will sadden you? There are'—she added with a shudder, 'horrors in my history Why should you know of them—and—I could tell them to none!'
She looked at him tenderly; she was thinking that he would hardly be able to understand her story, even if he knew every detail—he whose birth was undisputed, whose position had always been secure, whose means had ever been sufficient for his desires.
'Till the day I left Madame du Deffand, I was never happy,' she said quietly, 'though I tried to persuade myself I was, to console myself with the brouhaha of society—then, when I was free, I was content awhile—with the true friendship of D'Alembert. Then, mon ami, when I met you, when I knew that you loved me, then I also knew what it was to be happy.'
She turned to him with a frank look of love and her eyes shone with gratitude.
'Whatever I suffer now,' she added, 'I have to thank you for six years of joy! Eh, it is a common thing to be loved if one is young and lovely and rich; it is a great triumph to be loved if one is poor and plain and old!'
M. de Mora rose and came across to Julie and laid his hand gently on hers, which rested on the crimson cushions.
She looked up at him quickly.
'You cannot understand, can you? Though we have been soul to soul, you cannot understand?'
'Is it my Julie who speaks?' he asked, with loving reproach. 'Julie de Lespinasse, adored by so many?'
She answered swiftly,—
'My friends have been wonderful! I have been loved more than I deserve! It is not that I meant—I have always been different, apart—marked.'
M. de Mora would have interrupted, but Julie, pressing his hands in her nervous fingers, continued in her hoarse, hurrying voice that was so full of pain,—
'You do not know what I have to look back on, how they have all of them made me feel what I am—the scenes—the bitterness. The only one who loves me, my nephew Abel, does not know the truth.'
'Julie, why are you distressing yourself? Mon Dieu! what has any of this to do with you and me?'
She was trembling, but she kept her voice steady, though with a great effort as she replied,—
'I want you to know all about the woman you are going to insist on marrying. I want you also, mon ami, to understand something of that darkness that clouded my youth—that shadows me even now—the secret of my connection with Madame du Deffand.'
'Her brother, the Comte de Vichy, was your sister's husband—one sought no further than that.'
M. de Mora spoke gently, but in some agitation. He was not troubled so much by Julie's words as by her air of ill-repressed pain and confusion.
'There is much further to seek,' she said, with pallid lips. 'Gaspard de Vichy is my father.'
M. de Mora stared at her a second, then, as the full meaning of the horror to which she had been sacrificed came to him, he gave a little cry of revulsion and disgust.
'You see now,' added Julie feverishly, 'that the very man who should have provided for me and protected me, had the strongest of reasons for ignoring me and thrusting me out, and why all those who should have combined to help me have combined to crush me—and why now there is such fear at Forez and Champrond lest I should claim the names of either D'Albon or de Vichy!'
She sank on to the sofa exhausted; a fit of coughing shook her; she turned her face away and buried it in the cushions. With a passionate gesture, M. de Mora put his arm round her shaking shoulders.
'What do either of these names matter to you,' he cried impetuously, 'since you will so soon have mine?'
Julie moved, lifted her head and caught hold of her lover with a movement that was almost convulsive.
Her face was distorted, her lids swollen with hot tears.
'I cannot tell—my gratitude—' she stammered.
M. de Mora came beside her on the sofa and drew her to him; her head sank on his shoulder. She gave a little sigh; for a brief moment she again tasted something of the joy that had made heaven on earth for her in the early days of this idyll.
She was absolutely sincere when she said that her gratitude was beyond words; it seemed to her a miracle, for which she should be thankful on her knees, that this man, young, noble, fêted, a hero of the salons, courted by women who possessed everything, should love her and be faithful to her with so pure a love and so entire a faith. That he was eager to marry her filled her with a devotion that she felt her entire life could not repay. No calculated thought, no consideration of interest, influenced her feeling. M. de Mora was the person dearest in the world to her tender and passionate heart: their characters, their tastes, were similar; they had everything in common save their histories. Their conception of love—elevated, noble, sentimental, elegant—was the same. Never had any humour, any action on the part of M. de Mora, offended the delicate sensibilities of Julie, and never had any caprice or whim on her part hurt the trusting affection of the Marquis.
Never during the six years of their friendship that had ended in the secret betrothal, had either given the other cause for jealousy, despite the long absences, the continual opposition and obstacles in their way and the brilliant life each led surrounded by admirers and dear friends.
Each had understood the other always, and it was this sense of complete security that was almost dearer to Julie than anything else. She knew that, from the first—whether at Versailles among the diversions of the Court, in Madrid with his own people, far away in Catalonia or Valencia—he was always hers; that he adored her every instant of his days; that he turned from those nearest to him at the mere thought of her; that all his life revolved round her, their meetings, their future union. To such a woman as Julie such knowledge was as the nectar of Paradise.
Even her personal love for the man was not so strong 'an emotion in her sensitive soul as her overwhelming gratitude for what he had brought into her life.
She lifted her head and looked at him; her thoughts were swung back to the present with a shock by the sudden sight of the face that looked so tenderly down.
The agitation of her communication had shaken his frail frame; his complexion was the ghastly hue Of an olive skin when pale; his great Southern eyes were shadowed underneath with purple; he breathed with difficulty, and his forehead and upper lip were damp. As she looked at him he made an effort to smile, and the gleam of his white teeth made his colour appear yet more unnatural.
'Mon Dieu!' cried Julie, while a pang of terror went through her. 'Why do I talk of anything? You are ill and we must part—that fills the world for me!'
She clung to him, quivering, her frail cheek was still reddened where she had pressed against his laces, and her jasmine sprays were crushed into perfume against his breast.
'You must not frighten yourself, mon amie,' said M. de Mora, who had scarcely strength to speak, but who was animated by the nervous, feverish energy common to some forms of his disease. 'You will write—our letters will be the breath of life to each other.'
'The Spanish post only comes in twice a week,' answered Julie. 'But I shall send M. D'Alembert to fetch it as soon as it reaches Paris.'
'Poor M. D'Alembert!'
But Julie had no thought for anything but her immediate grief.
'You will never fail me?' she cried. 'You will write often?'
'As if I could live without writing to you! And I shall write you the best of news—I shall tell you that I am recovering—that my family have consented, that I am returning strong and well to claim you.'
He spoke sincerely, from the glamour of a sick man's illusions; those last hopes that gild the final stages of a mortal disease coloured his perspective, and he was a Southern, sanguine, impetuous, twenty-six years of age and deeply in love.
No such rosy clouds veiled the future from Julie.
Dreadful premonitions clutched at her heart. She thought she saw the impress of death on those features she loved so well, and that in surrendering him to his family she was losing him for ever.
He kissed her forehead; his lips were so cold she could hardly refrain from a shudder; her glance fell to the frail hand that rested on her lap; it seemed bloodless and was dark-stained round the nails. With a movement of agony she rose and went restlessly to the window.
M. de Mora coughed with his handkerchief to his lips. When he took it away he hastily crushed it into his hand that Julie might not see that it was stained with blood.
Such a lassitude was on him that he could hardly hold his head up; he felt that he could face no more emotion; he would have liked to have fallen asleep on the ottoman, holding Julie's hand.
With an effort, he picked up a volume that lay on the acacia-wood table near at hand.
'What is this?' he asked languidly.
'Why, that is M. de Guibert's forbidden book,' replied Julie distractedly.
M. De Mora had gone. Julie, leaning from the window, had seen the carriage lumber over the cobbles on the way to Bagnères. She felt, indeed, that her heart went with it; never had the familiar room seemed so cramped, so dull. The place she had lived in and loved for nearly ten years seemed suddenly hateful to her. She flung herself into one of the low chairs by the window and leant her head back against the gilt pedestal that held the marble bird. She sat there, silent, motionless, sunk in a weary repose that was the reaction from her nervous excitement. She felt sick and shivering, and her fancy saw the future in most terrible colours. She beheld herself separated from M. de Mora for ever, abandoned again to that dreadful loneliness of the soul from which his warm love had rescued her so completely.
With a sense of agony she recalled her bleak, starved youth in the gloomy Chateau of Champrond, the drudge, the outcast and object of suspicion and dislike, the dreary year at Lyons, still alone, apart; the change to Paris—still the same spites and jealousy, the same dependency, the same slavery; then the quarrel with Madame du Deffand that had set her free—the joy of liberty, the friendship of M. D'Alembert; and then the paradise M. de Mora's love had opened to her. If that ended, what had she left? She shuddered to her soul at the prospect of this black loneliness; she felt as if she could hardly restrain herself from rising and going after her lover, and telling him that they never would be separated—was it not madness that they should be?
Why did she not go with him, defying every one—women had done such things? But he did not love her in that fashion; he wanted her in honour, proudly. Almost she wished that he had asked her to leave everything for him. Her lip curled as she thought of the relief of the Comte d'Albon if she should thus cut herself off from the world.
Ah! they need not have troubled about her, begged her to be silent for the sake of her mother's memory, consulted in secret about her legal rights. Never had she cared, never would she care, for either the name or the fortune. It was not in her to disturb the family that had cast her out; never had she even considered those aspects of her case that gave her some right to claim herself to be demoiselle D'Albon. And those who believed that it was respect for her mother's memory that kept her silent were mistaken. Her attitude was merely a proud indifference to all questions of self-interest, an absorption in her own engrossing emotions.
The door softly opened and a gentle step sounded on the polished floor. Julie moved her head impatiently and stared out of the window at the blank front of the house opposite. She did not wish for any interruption, especially this interruption. In the full tide of her happiness she had been more than usually kind to M. D'Alembert; then, as she became more absorbed in M. de Mora, indifferent to him; now, in the grief and agitation that she must conceal from him, he irritated her—his presence, his constant interest, became a fret that was almost insupportable.
She tapped her foot nervously as she heard him tiptoeing across the room.
'You are not well?' came his thin, anxious, tenor voice.
Julie had to look round.
'Mon ami,' she said, struggling to be patient, 'am I ever well?'
The great man peered at her eagerly.
'But you looked so white—so fatigued! I heard you coughing as I came up the stairs,' he cried.
Julie laid a fever-hot hand on his wrist as he stood over her; her lips quivered, but she strove to command herself.
'I have been saying good-bye to M. de Mora—well, not good-bye, but he goes soon, and he is so ill and so dear—it—disturbed me.'
'I should be grieved as yourself if anything happened to M. de Mora!' exclaimed the philosopher in all good faith.
Julie's slender foot again beat on the floor. This fatuous blindness, in some perverse way, vexed her; it seemed hardly credible that D'Alembert could really be ignorant of the passion that was consuming her. It was true that she had made every effort to conceal it from him, but her success irritated her, perhaps slightly disgusted her with herself.
'Mon ami,' she said, as gently as she could, 'as you say, I am not very well—leave me awhile.'
D'Alembert gave her a look of wistful adoration and retreated to the red ottoman. In his anxiety not to obtrude on her, he absently picked up the book M. de Mora had taken from the acacia table and left among the damask cushions.
Julie winced to see him in her lover's place and handling the object M. de Mora had last touched.
Her glance was almost cruel as it swept over the unconscious little man. Had she been in any other mood she would have seen what a piteous figure he was, with his big head and small, frail body, his air of shrinking timidity, his utter absorption in her and her affairs, his complete submission to her wishes—above all, his absolute trust in her fidelity to their platonic friendship. As it was, she merely thought: 'Ciel, is it possible that a man can be so blind, so infatuated?' And wearily turned her head away again and stared at the strip of June sky showing above the gray houses opposite.
D'Alembert glanced at her timidly; he had a plain, frail-looking face, deeply lined and colourless, but his ingenuous expression of modest goodness gave him an appearance of nobility.
Even poorer than Julie, since he had never accepted so much from friends, this man, who was, after Voltaire, the most celebrated in Europe, was dressed, almost shabbily, in the plainest of brown suits, with nothing fine about him but the quality of his neat linen.
He had had two great passions in his life—geometry and Julie de Lespinasse.
For many years the first had been forgotten in the second. He was entirely fascinated by the enchanting woman whose friendship had been the sunshine of his life; it was his pride to please her. His friends had smiled to see the great philosopher running errands like a lackey. Lately, he had been elected perpetual secretary of the Academy, a post that carried with it an apartment in the Louvre, but D'Alembert had instantly refused to leave the humble chamber in the rue Saint-Dominique.
Presently he glanced deprecatingly at the clock on the chimney-piece.
'Shall we not dine?' he suggested humbly.
'I cannot eat,' replied Julie.
'Mon Dieu, but you are ill
A fit of coughing checked her answer.
'Will you see Lorry—take some medicine?'
Julie struggled to control herself.
'I do well enough,' she gasped. 'Take your dinner, my good D'Alembert.'
'Nay,' he said mournfully. 'I have no appetite when you will not eat.'
She could have shrieked at this obstinate devotion. Terribly did she long to be alone. Following out her train of thought, she said,—
'Grand Dieu, but it is dull, this apartment—like a prison! You are mad not to take the room in the Louvre.'
'And leave you!' cried D'Alembert in pained amazement.
'Ah,' she replied with gentle irony, 'you are too fond—I am not worthy of it—I am always ill—and full of whims.'
The great man smiled tenderly; he glanced at the book in his hands.
'L'Essai sur la Tactique,' he read out. 'Ah, what a number of copies have been smuggled over! You like it?'
'I have not read it,' answered Julie with great weariness.
D'Alembert fluttered over the pages.
'You met him—this de Guibert?'
'Yes—at Watelet's fête.'
'You liked him?'
'Yes, he is very charming—different from others—a soldier above all, I think. He said he would come here, but I have not seen him yet.'
'It seems he is very occupied; Paris talks of nothing else. They say he is to save the country. Eh, well, I must read his book,' added D'Alembert placidly, without a shade of jealousy.
'His personality makes his success, I think,' said Julie. 'He is very attractive, not handsome, but seductive and young. Oh, del, young as the gods!'
M. D'Alembert was too sweet-natured and too sure of Julie to find any sting in these words.
'Ah, yes, young,' he repeated mildly. 'But,' he added, ever loyal to his friends, 'he is not so young as M. de Mora.'
'No,' said Julie, 'but—'
She checked herself—she hardly knew what this 'but' implied, what the sharp distinction was that she had drawn between M. de Mora and M. de Guibert. They seemed to her as the poles apart. She frowned, puzzled, a little disturbed.
'M. de Guibert is a soldier,' she added slowly, as if seeking for the solution of some difficulty.
'So is M. de Mora,' replied the philosopher instantly.
Julie was silent. She had never thought of her lover as a soldier, though he had been in the Spanish army since almost a child, and had attained a higher rank than the Colonel of Corsicans.
'M. de Guibert has seen so much active service,' she added at length.
'M. de Mora's health has handicapped him,' answered M. D'Alembert, who wondered why she was making so much of a small point.
'Ah!' cried Julie sharply. That was the difference, the difference between sickness and health. She thought of her lover's face as she had last seen it, and the remembrance of M. de Guibert's radiant personality became an offence.
She rose quickly, with a return of her late irritation. 'Oh, mon Dieu, what a day!' she shivered. 'There is no colour anywhere!'
'But it is spring,' protested M. D'Alembert.
'I,' said Julie de Lespinasse, 'am cold to the heart.'
'Shall we not dine now?' suggested the philosopher timidly.
Her strained nerves gave way. She turned on him in a little gust of forlorn passion.
'Have I not said I will not eat? I am ill—I am tormented!'
She swept past him towards her bedroom door. But M. D'Alembert could not let her go like this.
'I will call Madame Saint Martin,' he said, putting himself in her way.
Julie turned haggard eyes on him.
'Do you imagine a chamber-woman can cure my ills?' she asked.
Then at the swift look of pain that crossed his face, instant remorse moved her. She held out her hands to him with a charming gesture of penitence.
'Mon ami, forgive me. I had not any right—but if you knew how unhappy I am—how unhappy!'
This cry, which came with the terrible sincerity of a child's lament against destiny, stirred and startled M. D'Alembert to the heart.
'But why are you so unhappy, Julie?' he asked ingenuously.
She was at once irritated again. The blindness of this devoted friend seemed to her sheer fatuity; perversely, she blamed him for that faith in her that rendered him so unconscious of the truth of her trouble.
'Why am I unhappy?' she echoed, turning restlessly away again. 'You know what I have had to make me unhappy—what tigers I have had to deal with.'
He knew at once that she referred to her family. No one could understand better the agonies of her position. No one had ever extended to her a tenderer sympathy than this foundling who had been abandoned on the steps of Saint-Jean-le-Rond by his mother, the beautiful Comtesse de Tencin, and who, of noble birth on both sides, had always been, like Julie, poor, nameless, outcast.
But the evil days are past,' he said gently.
'Mon ami, they are never past for me,' replied Julie, with conviction. 'The Vichy and the D'Albon will never cease to hate me.'
She could not tell him how the rumour of her proposed marriage had roused this latent fear and hatred, and how she had been doubly stabbed, both by the action of her brother and the steady opposition of the Fuentès family.
'They think that I shall claim the title of Demoiselle D'Albon,' was all she could say. 'Eh, well, I have some right.'
M. D'Alembert could not think why she should dwell on a subject so painful and so seldom mentioned, nor could he connect it in any way with her grief for the departure of M. de Mora.
She saw his bewilderment and it further increased her nervous vexation.
'Leave me,' she implored. 'I must rest—I must think.'
'Julie—you are not going to take opium?' he exclaimed.
'And if I do?'
'But you have promised!'
'It is the one thing that calms me. I suffer and I can resist no longer.'
'But this drug destroys you,' protested M. D'Alembert, in despair.
Julie hesitated, shivered, and turned away from her bedroom door. She was ashamed of her weakness, but she longed for the sedative. Her head ached, her chest was full of pain, and every nerve in her body seemed ajar.
'Dine in your room,' she said coldly to M. D'Alembert. 'I can eat nothing to-day.'
'Then neither will I,' he replied anxiously.
She moved restlessly up and down the room, her flowing skirts billowing with her graceful movements. His goodness exasperated her; she felt herself unworthy of his devotion, and was fretted by his care.
'Mon Dieu!' she thought desperately. 'How did I come to give him the right to watch me?'
The philosopher, well-schooled in her moods, and lately used to the bursts of impetuous passion, the apathy, the coldness that were the results of her infatuation for M. de Mora, again took up M. de Guibert's book and began once more to speak of the author. M. de Guibert was the topic of the day, and M. D'Alembert could not believe that Julie should be uninterested in the man who had taken Paris by storm, and who was hailed by the entire Encyclopaedia as their most brilliant recruit.
But this subject was a fresh offence to poor Julie. She did not want to hear of the success of the gorgeous young soldier.
'He is too much Fortune's favourite,' she said, and thoughts of M. de Mora made her accent bitter.
'I think he justifies his fame,' replied M. D'Alembert, with the generosity of greatness.
But Julie was almost painfully clear-sighted, even when her stormy emotions were around her. Fine instincts are not to be deceived, and where she was indifferent she could read character with exquisite exactitude. She had judged accurately enough the man whom she had met at 'Le Moulin Joli' for all the enchantment of the lovely May night.
'He dazzles people with his personal gifts—he is born to be great,' she said. 'He will always have his own way—he takes the colour of his time, and will be generally admired—but I doubt if he has capacity to love or to suffer.'
'Then he is indeed fortunate,' replied D'Alembert, with a slightly wry smile.
'Did I not say so?' cried Julie. 'But, mon Dieu I do not know—an empty life!'
'I do not think one could say that of M. de Guibert. He has as many gallantries as any man in Paris—and always Madame de Montsauge.'
'Ah, la, la!' cried Julie impatiently. 'What is any of that but emptiness?'
She sank into a low bergère by the fireplace, leaning back in an attitude of complete exhaustion.
Her tender grace, her fragrant charm were very apparent as she lay there inert, in the ebb of her emotion.
M. D'Alembert looked with humble and utter love at the long figure, the small head, the tired face, the slender hands and feet, the whole person so delicate and exquisite, betraying in every line a rare character, both fine and passionate, capricious and over-sensitive, yet so intensely lovable.
Her broad lids drooped, her head sunk into the cushions.
With a little sigh of relief, M. D'Alembert tip-toed from the room and went to ask for his frugal and delayed meal.
As soon as the door had closed, Julie sprang up with feverish energy, hurried into her bedroom, and fetched the opium.
Julie De Lespinasse awoke from the slumber induced by the opium, moved slowly in the great bed, and gazed round the room. The drug had calmed her, she felt dazed and giddy. Lately, she had had to increase the dose to obtain any effect, and during her recent agitation with regard to M. de Mora and the subsequent effect on her own health, she had been taking enormous doses of opium in defiance both of her friends and her doctor. The habit had commenced when she was at the Convent of Saint-Joseph. Her health enfeebled by the painful life she led in constant attendance on Madame du Deffand, her spirit exasperated by the miserable scenes with her mistress consequent on her first thwarted love-affair, she had resort to the fashionable remedy of nervous and overstrung women, and had taken such a large quantity of opium that many believed she had permanently injured her already delicate constitution. When she was happy she could resist the dangerous sedative, but it was her only resort when her physical and mental sufferings became acute. Her nerves were soothed now, and she was only conscious of a gentle melancholy. She thought of M. D'Alembert with affection and was grieved that she had deceived him. Slowly she sat up. The sun had left the street, and faint shadows began to fill the chamber. Julie found that she had very little strength. She sank back on the tumbled pillows.
The chamber was charming. The bed was in an alcove facing the door into the salon and curtained with hangings of dull crimson damask; the bed-curtains, valence, and quilt were of the same; the mattresses and pillows were of wool, the linen of the finest embroidery. The walls were also hung with this crimson damask, and the window that gave on the street was curtained with this material. Above the door where the polished panels showed, was, an oil portrait of M. the Archbishop of Toulouse in an oval frame of carved gilt wood, and in between the hangings were small engravings, mostly after Greuze, in black and gilt frames.
The fireplace faced the window, the fire-dogs, grate, and furniture were of polished iron, ornamented with silvered brass; the chimney-piece was also of polished metal, supported by wrought bronze arms; either side of this stood a large wardrobe with drawers, in rosewood, and in front were two arm-chairs covered with crimson damask. In front of the window was a bureau of black wood and leather, with drawers and writing-materials; before it a tapestry chair. Next the door into the salon was a low dressing-table of polished wood, with drawers, along this being a mirror in a gilt frame, and in front of it was a bergère in green, with green cushions and two other chairs in crimson damask. This table, which was beautifully finished with metal locks and handles, held Julie's few treasures, which were contained in a box of painted wood, lined and finished with tortoise-shell, another of plain polished wood, another of red horn, and a fourth of tortoiseshell adorned with a medallion in a circle of gold, showing two cupids. A little cabinet of cardboard, lined with tortoise-shell and ornamented with gold, and a writing-case of rosewood, also stood on this table, together with two powder boxes and two dressing-cases in painted wood. A small table covered in green velvet, a chair in crimson Utrecht velvet, and a 'concessional' chair in the same, completed the furniture of the room. In the above, was a small walnut-table with a marble top, and a door leading into the dressing-room.
Such was the chamber where Julie had slept for nearly ten years.
At length she sat up, drew the curtains of the alcove yet farther apart, and let the last daylight stream over the bed. A pale beam fell over the opium-bottle and the glass on the bed-table, a little had fallen on the marble and left a faint purplish stain.
Julie hastily put all away in the table-drawer and pulled the crimson bell-rope. Madame Saint-Martin had been expecting this summons, and came instantly.
She was a middle-aged, elegant woman, precise in her gray gown and delicate muslin apron and cap; she had long been in the service of Mademoiselle de Lespinasse.
'Mademoiselle will eat?' she asked, coming up to the alcove.
Julie had fallen back on the pillows, her hair, still heavy with pomade, lay scattered beneath her, her frail muslin skirts, the crimson and white jacket, were crumpled; she had flung off her shoes, her lace cap, and the velvet neck-band. These lay on the polished floor beside the bed.
'Yes, I am hungry,' she answered faintly, without moving.
The chamber-woman saw at once what had happened.
'Mademoiselle has been taking opium,' she said reproachfully.
'My good Saint-Martin,' replied Julie, 'there are times when I can resist no longer—-eh, it matters little!'
She made an effort and sat up, pressing her thin hands to her giddy head. 'M. D'Alembert dined?' she asked.
'Yes, mademoiselle, and I have ordered some food for you which, is coming now.'
'No one has been?'
'M. de Vaines, mademoiselle, only. M. D'Alembert saw him.'
The maid entered with a tray, and Julie was served on the little walnut-table. Some of her few pieces of silver gleamed on a snowy napkin, the food was well-cooked and tempting. She ate with some appetite, drank white wine and black coffee, and then declared she would get up. A gentle warmth circulated in her veins. Her spirits rose until she felt almost gay, a great sense of vitality animated her. The colour flushed into her face. It was delightful to be free from pain and to have that sense of disaster lifted from her spirit.
'I hope some one will come to-night,' she said. 'I am in the mood for company. Give me a fresh gown. If no one comes I will go out.' She rose, vibrant with life, her whole slim body eager. She flung back her fallen hair and slipped off her tumbled jacket, and stood straight and elegant in her tight muslin bodice. 'It is as if I were expecting something,' she said.
Madame Saint-Martin hastened into the dressing-room. This affectionate woman was delighted with the high spirits of her mistress.
'Mademoiselle does not eat enough,' came her voice through the open door. 'And mademoiselle is too sensitive. Certainly she had disturbed herself too much over the illness of M. de Mora.'
This name caused Julie to shiver, but she quickly recovered herself. She felt now that it was impossible that any great misfortune was about to overtake her; it was May, she was beloved—why should she be haunted with thoughts of death and terror?
Her heart leapt at the remembrance that she would see him again; and yet again, were there not two months to his departure? And perhaps he would not go at all? And if he did, why not believe that he would return safe and well—her betrothed husband? As the Marquise de Mora she would be secured against all that threatened her as Julie de Lespinasse.
She went and stood at the door of the dressing-room in which Madame Saint-Martin had lit the candles. This little chamber was lined with polished wood, furnished with straw-bottomed chairs, a walnut table, and blue and white curtains at the two windows; engravings were on the walls, and in one corner was a marble basin with a metal tap and cover; to the right another door led to the bathroom.
Julie took off her muslin gown, and stood in her white dimity petticoat and corset. She laid her watch and chatelaine on the walnut table, and held out her arms for the jacket of thin cotton with muslin ruffles that the chamber-woman offered her. She sat in one of the low straw chairs, which were filled with green cushions, while Madame Saint-Martin fetched the toilet articles from the bathroom.
'Perhaps I shall hear from Bagnères to-morrow,' she thought.
Half an hour later her maid came to tell her that some one had asked for her. Julie glanced at her watch.
'But I am expecting no one at this hour,' she said. 'Who is it?'
'M. le Comte de Guibert, mademoiselle.'
Julie was now standing in a full white taffeta petticoat and tight white satin corset. She held an ivory mirror in her hand. Her hair was already dressed dose to her head, powdered and adorned with a vivid pink silk rose. Her eyes were very dark and shining.
'Tell M. de Guibert that T will be with him immediately,' she said. Then glancing in the mirror, she added: 'I am glad that he came by candle-light.' She smiled at Madame Saint-Martin. 'Give me the rose taffeta. Did it not come home yesterday?'
When she entered her salon, the last daylight had been excluded by the drawing of the crimson curtains, and the candles were lit. A man who seemed like a stranger to Julie, rose from the ottoman and looked at her in radiant greeting. Julie de Lespinasse gave him the tips of her frail, perfumed fingers.
'M. de Guibert! you have chosen a day when I am dull.'
'The dullness of Mademoiselle de Lespinasse is as the wit of others.'
'Ah, you know me very little or you would not pay me compliments which I neither deserve nor like.'
She stood before him smiling, fragrant and delicious in her full, transparent, striped white muslin, draped over her ruffled rose silk petticoats, with fine lace at her bosom and elbows and paste buckles gleaming on her white velvet shoes.
'You are too early for me to be able to offer you an entertainment,' she smiled, 'and too late to have an excuse to leave me—so?'
'So you cannot escape a little weariness, mademoiselle, and must bear with me with what patience you may.'
'I have no patience at all,' said Julie. 'I am very stupid and very natural. When I am bored I yawn—when I am interested, behold me!'
She seated herself on the low ottoman from which he had risen, and smiled up into his face. The opium was still in her veins giving her a false life; never had she felt farther from pain and illness.
'How is it that I have never met you since the fête of M. Watelet?' asked M. de Guibert.
'I have been much at home—and you have never been here—voilà!'
'If you knew, mademoiselle,' he protested; 'how full my life has been of stupid things—'
Julie interrupted him.
'Do not blaspheme your gods who have given you all you want, M. le Comte.'
'Ah, you imagine that I am a creature of the salons?' he asked, slightly piqued.
She laughed at his ingenuous vanity. 'I imagine that you enjoy your life, monsieur,' she said. 'Mon Dieu I have you not reason to?' Her frankness moved him to respond.
He looked at her with that simplicity that was such a charming counter-balance to his brilliancy and made him, despite his gifts, so entirely an ordinary masculine creature.
'I am twenty-nine,' he said seriously, 'and I have hardly begun to do what I want to do.'
With her exquisite and acute sympathy, Julie instantly reflected his mood. She was sincerely grave as she replied,—
'But you have! Every one talks of you—you do know what hopes you have aroused—and, monsieur, we are sure that you will justify them! Oh, mon ami, the world, is changing. Something different from all this is coming, something better—and you young! Mon Dieu! young—a man—brilliant, intelligent, powerful to influence, admired, you dare to be discontented.'...M. de Guibert flushed with the pleasure of her warm enthusiasm. 'You know better than I what the future is going to be—Madame du Barry will not always rule France nor people always laugh at the 'Encyclopaedia'—and you—you may well see these great changes!' she added, all in a breath.
'I wish to make them,' he replied.
'You will do that,' she said confidently. 'What is to hinder your destiny?'
'I am poor,' smiled M. de Guibert.
'Oh, fi, fi!' cried Julie. 'But this is ridiculous!' To her it did, in truth, seem so; she was utterly indifferent to money herself and the things that she cared for had always seemed entirely independent of wealth; it was no factor one way or another in her world of philosophers and wits, and sentiment.
'It matters,' he assured her, still smiling
Julie gave him a keen look.
'Of course, you are a great gentleman—like M. de Crillon who talks of marrying for money.' She spoke with a faint tinge of irony. His remark had reminded her that he belonged to that world that had always excluded her, save as a pet, or a fashion, and that adventures such as she and M. D'Alembert had known could never be for such as M. de Guibert.
'I also shall have to marry,' answered the young soldier lightly.
'Are you then free?' asked Julie, with some little dryness.
A shadow fell on his charming, expressive face.
'Mon Dieu, are we any of us ever free?' he asked.
'If I were such a man as you,' said Julie, leaning over the arm of the ottoman and looking up at him, 'I would be free as air!'
The candles were behind him on the chimney-piece, so that he stood in shadow and the light fell full on her upturned face, pale beneath the powder, frail and splendidly lit by the soft dark eyes.
M. de Guibert could not quite understand her. He had thought that he knew all there was to know about woman; but this was a type new to him, since she was neither the frivolous, artificial, exquisite lady of the Court, nor the witty, sentimental, learned lady of the salons—though, in appearance, she might have been either.
It was the repressed passion, the hidden flame, the driving force, the fierce energy animating the delicate frame, that puzzled M. de Guibert. He was used to emotions diluted by philosophy, sentiments shaped by fashion, opinions and judgments dictated by the head rather than the heart. He was so interested in her that he did not answer.
'Tell me,' she repeated, with something of a challenge, 'why you are not free?'
'Did I admit that I was not?'
'A hundred times—you are fretted, tired, galled! Eh bien, end it!'
M. de Guibert was somewhat startled at her frankness.
'Break with Madame de Montsauge?' he asked, surprised into an indiscretion.
Julie's eyes narrowed a little. 'So it is Madame de Montsauge! I do not know her, but I have always heard that she is very stupid and a little vulgar.'
'She is a charming woman,' said M. de Guibert, with a slight flush.
'She is a habit,' replied Julie, 'which is more important.'
M. de Guibert turned away with a restless movement. He was a little doubtful if the dark eyes were mocking him, or no. He rested one arm on the chimney-piece and stared down at the gleaming fire-irons. Julie let her trained, acute glance rest on him. She noted the strength of his figure, the depth of chest, the powerful shoulders, the thick neck, the grace of the small, compact head, the flush of health in his clear, fair skin, the firm lines of his short, blunt profile. How different he was from M. de Mora! She hated him for this, and yet, this dissimilarity fascinated her. She noted every point in which he differed from the man who, for six years, had been the idol of her soul. His carriage was not so elegant, he was not so splendid in his clothes, he wore his uniform carelessly, he was slower and quieter in his speech and movements, his hands and feet were smaller, he was not nearly so dark—Ah, bah! She pulled herself up short. What did it matter to her that there was a difference between M. de Mora and M. de Guibert? She rose impetuously.
'I am half-promised to Madame la Maréchale de Luxembourg.'
'And I to half a dozen places,' he said, without looking up.
'Mon Dieu!' cried Julie, 'then why spend your time here?'
He raised his head, and his gray eyes smiled at her as he answered. 'I wanted to speak to you, mademoiselle—who is the man you mentioned at "Le Moulin Joli"?'
'You ask that?'
'One must be interested to know who could entirely occupy such a heart and soul as yours, mademoiselle.'
'It is my secret,' said Julie.
'You have mine.'
'Punchinello's secret. All Paris knows of—Madame de Montsauge.'
'Eh, bien, mademoiselle—perhaps all Paris knows of—M. le Marquis de Mora.'
Julie de Lespinasse laughed in a sad, yet proud, fashion.
'All Paris is welcome to that knowledge, M. de Guibert.'
'It was M. de Mora to whom you referred at M. Watelet's fête?'
'Why are you interested?' she added instantly. 'M. de Mora is to be my husband.' Her pride urged this answer, her fear made her add: 'The thing is not said above a whisper yet. If you, M. le Comte, must be the first to raise your voice, I pray you do not let it reach the ears of M. D'Alembert.'
'No breath on this matter shall pass my lips. I had not spoken now, but it seemed impossible it could displease you.'
'I am not displeased. To-night I feel happy—he came to-day, and I was frightened.' She paused.
'M. le Marquis is ill?' asked M. de Guibert gently.
'Yes, but now I am not afraid.' She looked at him piteously, like one wishful to be reassured. 'But it is terrible—this separation, and his health, and his family—'
'How can he leave you?' exclaimed M. de Guibert, with complete intolerance for the other man.
Julie flamed at once in defence of her lover. 'He has the best of reasons for leaving me! His mother is dying—he himself perishes in this climate—and he goes to conclude the matter of our marriage—which will leave me a lifetime his debtor.'
She caught her breath, pressed her hands together, and, as if she was answering some inward charge of disloyalty, turned into warm praise of M. de Mora. 'He is everything to me,' she said. 'The thought of him is like the sun in my days—eh, I am more fortunate than the evangelists, for I have had my paradise on earth—for six years! I have never found a fault in him—'
She checked herself abruptly, conscious that her usual impulsiveness was betraying her into too great a freedom before a man who was in reality a stranger.
'No one has ever found anything but virtues in M. de Mora,' said M. de Guibert gracefully.
'I spoke too freely,' said Julie. 'But what I said, I meant.' She looked at him with her frank, eager eyes moist. 'If you know him, you will believe and understand,' she added. 'And now, monsieur, I have my supper with Madame la Maréchale.'
He put this aside with the impetuous masterfulness that sat so easily and so agreeably on him. He was really quite indifferent to M. de Mora, but not at all to Julie de Lespinasse.
'Do not let us return to formalities, mademoiselle,' he pleaded, with an earnest note in his beautiful voice. 'Will you not have me for your friend, and let me enjoy your confidence?'
Julie looked at him with a confused emotion that was partly fascination, partly resentment. Why should she accord to him what she had refused to M. D'Alembert? Of all her friends only M. Suard and M. de Condorcet knew the truth of her relations with M. de Mora.
'I do not know how it is that I have so soon opened my heart to you,' she said, smiling proudly. 'But it is no matter. Look well inside, and you will see nothing but M. de Mora.'
'With that name, all is said,' replied M. de Guibert gravely. 'I felicitate you, mademoiselle, on your great happiness.'
This instantly softened her towards him. Neither pride nor prudence could any longer check her natural liking for him, nor balance the fascination he held for her. His voice, his accent, his personality at once so masculine and so exquisite, his face and person both strong and charming, his expression, daring and ingenuous (as if he meant to sin, and knew he should be pardoned) pleased her fastidious taste entirely.
'Ah, mon Dieu! you waste my time!' she cried, suddenly refusing to take him seriously.
He smiled, and then laughed.
'He is dangerous, thought Julie. 'But he is adorable. I think he is what M. Richardson had in mind when he painted Lovelace. It is you who want a confidante,' she said aloud. 'Take me to Madame de Luxembourg, and I will listen to your complaints on the way.'
'Of Madame de Montsauge,' said Julie, with smiling malice.
'I will find a more entertaining topic, mademoiselle.'
'Did I not say that Madame de Montsauge was dull?' Then suddenly her humour changed. 'Nay, I will not come with you, I will not speak with you!' she said impetuously. 'You are no friend of mine—I do not think you ever will be—you were made for success and happiness, and I am not in the way of either—'
'Ah, mon Dieu! do I want your confidences? You and Madame de Montsauge! You think that you understand everything, and you do not know anything at all.'
'About what, mademoiselle?'
'About love, monsieur. Oh, I do not doubt that you are a great authority on tactics!'
M. de Guibert was considerably piqued. He was not used to any kind of criticism from women, and he had a sense that Julie read him too easily.
'I doubt if you ever will know anything,' continued Mademoiselle de Lespinasse. 'To love, one must be able to suffer.'
'You think me incapable of that?' asked M. de Guibert. He certainly could not recall any of his vagrant love-affairs that had caused him pain, nor any great disturbance of his emotions in any way.
'If you suffer,' answered Julie, 'it will be for other matters—love to you is but an amusement.'
'What else should it be?'
'Ah!' cried Julie. 'Did I not tell you you knew nothing about it? Mon Dieu! what should it be, but the giving of one's whole life, in joy, in agony—to death, if need be, to that one object?'
M. de Guibert looked at her curiously. With every word she said, she interested him more.
'That manner of love is not fashionable now,' he said.
'No,' replied Julie de Lespinasse, 'and, therefore, you do not believe in it—but it exists, monsieur, even in the eighteenth century.'
She spoke in the proud security of her knowledge of being the object of such a passion as she had depicted. Her whole being glowed at the thought of M. de Mora. Perversely, she resented the radiant presence of this too attractive man who was so different from her lover. Ringing the bell, she called Madame Saint-Martin, and asked for her cloak.
'So you dismiss me?' smiled M. de Guibert.
'I set you free to follow your inclinations,' returned Julie.
'My inclinations are sufficiently obvious, mademoiselle.'
'And mine—I am going to Madame la Maréchale—and alone.'
'And I shall stay and dine with M. D'Alembert.'
'I return late,' said Julie.
'And I stay late.'
She laughed delicately in his face. She moved a little away from him, and the fragrance of her perfumed garments was wafted to him as he stood looking at her with smiling challenge. In her heart she admitted that he was wholly delightful.
'Ah, why do you waste this on me, who am old and plain? Be content, monsieur. If I were young and pretty, I should surrender at discretion—blame not your arts, but my age, that I leave you.'
'I blame your occupied heart,' he replied gaily.
Madame Saint-Martin entered with the long white gloves, the chicken-skin fan, the white satin mantle lined with false marten fur; the satin was beautiful if the fur was imitation, and the garment fell in rich folds over Julie's rose-coloured hooped petticoats. She looked now as he had first seen her at the Watelet fête.
'Adieu,' she held out her lovely hand. 'I commend M. D'Alembert to you.' She spoke with meaning, and kissed her hand with an air of submission.
'And I commend to you a certain poor Colonel of Corsicans, mademoiselle.'
She looked at him half-tenderly, half-mischievously. The lackey entered to announce that her carriage was ready. This was the hired fiacre that was all Julie could afford. Close behind the lackey came M. D'Alembert. He had hastened back from the Academy in case Julie was going out anywhere, for he wished, as he always wished, to accompany her. Lately, she had more frequently gone abroad alone, or with M. de Mora, and this troubled the gentle philosopher without rousing the slightest trace of jealousy in his trusting heart. His face clouded as he saw M. de Guibert, for he knew that this meant that he might have to stay at home, but this momentary annoyance was forgotten in his joy at the radiant appearance of Julie. She greeted him with the greatest kindness, thankful that he would not be able to accompany her. She was in the last mood to be able to endure his anxious and patient devotion. The society of M. de Guibert had rendered that of M. D'Alembert more than ever distasteful to her, and she wished to escape from both and think of no one but M. de Mora.
When M. D'Alembert had seen her into her modest coach, he returned to make, with his native kindness, the best of the company of M. de Guibert, a young man whom he greatly admired, but with whom he had little in common beyond a certain intellectual sympathy and the love of the same science, as, on his side, the young author of L'Essai Géneral de Tactique could not but be interested in the greatest mathematician of his day.
M. de Guibert was seated negligently in a low bergère when M. D'Alembert returned, and the philosopher, looking at the youth and grace of his appearance, and remembering the abstract studies and deep thoughts that had made his book on an arid and difficult subject a masterpiece, he felt a strong respect towards this splendid young man, who in a situation when his time might so easily have been occupied by the pleasures ready to his hand, had devoted his talents to a work likely to be of incalculable service to his country. In the warmth of this impulsive feeling, he spoke of the book that all Paris was reading by stealth. M. de Guibert was entirely unmoved by this graceful and courteous praise. He was rather tired of his work, which he had written five years ago, and which he meant to excel. He had not relinquished his evening's engagements to talk mathematics with M. D'Alembert. He wanted to know more about Julie de Lespinasse. It was not difficult to lead the infatuated philosopher on to this subject, which was really that which filled his entire heart.
'Is she not the most bewitching woman in Paris?' he asked. 'Imagine, monsieur—she has never been able even to offer supper, and her salon is now more sought after than that of Madame Geoffrin herself!'
'A triumph,' observed M. de Guibert.
He sincerely felt that it was wonderful for Julie de Lespinasse to have created so much out of nothing, but he did not say so in so many words, for he remembered that the position of M. D'Alembert was painfully similar.
'Mademoiselle de Lespinasse is certainly a great adornment to your ranks, monsieur,' he added gravely. Then to draw further information: 'Madame du Deffand spoke of her the other day.'
M. D'Alembert flushed at the name of the woman whose greatest friend and oracle he had been for so many years, but whom he now hated, as Julie's champion, as far as it was in him to hate any one.
'Ah, she would speak maliciously, spitefully, wickedly!' he exclaimed.
'Precisely,' returned M. de Guibert, who had never heard the name of Julie de Lespinasse on the lips of the old Marquise. 'There was some quarrel was there not, in which the world gave Mademoiselle de Lespinasse all the right?'
'Ah, monsieur,' said M. D'Alembert fervently, 'if you knew that story!'
M. de Guibert inwardly smiled at the eager little man who could use no art to conceal his infatuation, but the young soldier's graceful courtesy allowed no hint of his amusement to escape him. With cunning gravity, he drew out the simple M. D'Alembert.
'Tell it to me,' he said. 'I was soldiering when Mademoiselle de Lespinasse came to Paris.'
'Madame du Deffand found her at Champrond,' replied M. D'Alembert slowly. 'At that moment the Marquise was desperate—a woman old, alone, blind, cynical, with nothing but memories of her lost beauty and her dead dissipations to entertain her. She was bored even with M. le Président Henault, to whom she had been faithful so long—in brief, she had nothing to do but to wait for the devil, and she found him tediously long in coming. Mademoiselle de Lespinasse was enchanting, all fire and enthusiasm, and wit and charm—and unhappy. The Vichys made an unpaid servant of her; she was humiliated every instant of her life. I think that she would not have stopped at all if it had not been for the children: she always loved children,' he checked a sigh.
'Who is she?' asked M. de Guibert quietly.
M. D'Alembert gave him a glance of serene dignity. 'A Demoiselle D'Albon,' he replied. 'Lespinasse is the name of one of their estates.'
M. de Guibert knew that he would get no more than this, and was tactful enough not to question further.
'She came to the Convent Saint-Joseph,' continued M. D'Alembert, 'and every one on whom she smiled became her friend. We were used to charming women, but we had never seen a creature like her.'
He paused and looked keenly at the young man.
'She led a terrible life; I am convinced that it ruined her health. She did the correspondence, the housekeeping, the errands, she sat up at night, she was roused from her sleep, taken from her meals at every caprice of that terrible old woman, who used her blindness as the Christians use their Bible—to cover all their iniquities.'
'Madame du Deffand blights,' said M. de Guibert. 'I do not care to be with one of such a bitter and withering cleverness. When she was young, she may have been one of the devil's temptations. Now she is old, she is certainly one of his mistakes.'
'Imagine, monsieur, the effect of such a woman on a girl, sensitive, proud, enthusiastic, with fire in her veins! Mademoiselle de Lespinasse was in torture, she had no liberty, no consideration, no respect; a watchful jealousy, a cruel suspicion dogged her every action.'
'But she endured it?'
M. D'Alembert lifted his head a little.
'Ah, monsieur, both Mademoiselle de Lespinasse and myself belong to the people who must endure. Yes, she endured, and with grace always—she was helped by a great vitality.'
In this speech was the reserve and the pride of one who has had bitter experiences, and who speaks to one who has never had any. M. de Guibert, who knew the story of M. D'Alembert, was sensible of the meaning behind the philosopher's words.
'Madame du Deffand was not worthy of such a treasure,' he said, with courteous interest.
'No,' replied M. D'Alembert quietly. 'She used her—absorbed her very life—and then, when she found that mademoiselle was entertaining her friends while she was waiting for her to awaken, she drove her from her with violence and contumely.'
'But every one gave the right to Mademoiselle de Lespinasse?'
'Even M. de Henault,' returned the philosopher dryly.
'I have never spoken to Madame du Deffand since.'
'In thus robbing her of the chief ornament of her salon, monsieur, you made her loathe Mademoiselle de Lespinasse.'
M. D'Alembert slightly lifted his thin shoulders.
'She was never fond of me—I amused her a little by playing the mimic.'
'You, at least, have nothing to regret, monsieur,' said M. de Guibert, calmly and pleasantly.
'No,' replied M. D'Alembert. He rose and snuffed one of the candles, the gaze of the young soldier followed his movements.
'It is astonishing,' he remarked, 'that Mademoiselle de Lespinasse has never married.'
A delicate flush overspread M. D'Alembert's lined, plain features. He blinked at the candle-flame.
'Mademoiselle de Lespinasse,' he said, and his high voice was a little sharp, 'was selected both by Nature and circumstance for other things than ordinary love.'
Mon Dieu!' thought M. de Guibert, 'is it possible he knows so little of the woman he adores?'
The young worldling looked with a certain pity at this elderly man who was so wrapt in his dreams that he did not guess either how he wore his own heart on his sleeve, nor that the object of his devotion was absorbed by an overwhelming passion for another.
'Truly,' reflected M. de Guibert, with some irony, 'he is as stupid and ridiculous as if he were her husband, without enjoying any of the privileges of the rôle.'
Aloud, he delicately changed the subject. He knew he had gone as far as he could in the matter of Julie without giving offence. With his habitual care, he talked of the usual topics of conversation, the influence of M. Turgot on politics, the last opera, the Academy, the last story of the salons, the last appearance of Mademoiselle Clairon, or Court, the news of M. de Choiseul at Chanteloup. He supped with Julie's friend, was charming, complaisant, and brilliant He left early and went to pass the evening with Madame de Montsauge; he would have liked to have waited Julie's return, but any tête-à-tête was soon insupportable to him, and he was glad to escape into the summer evening and to return to his usual society and atmosphere.
M. D'Alembert was not sorry to be alone. He settled himself on the red ottoman, and indulged in placid dreams of his enchantress.
The salon of the rue Saint-Dominique had been full; it was late when the company departed, but one remained to talk with the mistress of the establishment. This was the exquisite Comtesse de Boufflers who, like most fashionable women, loved the night better than the day.
'Let us talk, ma chérie,' she said. 'Come! we have had enough of the "Encyclopedia." What is the last scandal?'
'You wish to moralise on it, madame?' smiled Julie. The pretty Comtesse was famous for her lofty sentiments and her elegant defences of virtue; that she did not practise what she preached gave an added piquancy to her wit and eloquence.
'Nay, I am in no elevated mood to-night,' returned Madame de Boufflers. She waved her fan and laughed.
The two ladies sat on stools by the window that was open on the August night. Julie was ill and tired, the excitement—the animation given her by the company, had left her, the presence of her friend was a restraint. She wanted to be alone—M. de Mora left Paris in a few days' time.
Julie had never loved the entrancing Madame de Boufflers, but she was under considerable obligations to her. This lady, possessed of great influence, had been one of the first to champion her in her quarrel with Madame du Deffand, and to support her salon, leading there her numberless friends and admirers. She was a delicious creature, who, though well past middle-age, preserved much of the fresh and delicate beauty that had been so resplendent; her small features, large blue eyes, air of languor and grace, her extravagant dressing, her polished wit, her gracious charm and sentimental coquetry combined to make her a perfect type of the lovely, intellectual, and worldly woman produced by the society of her time. She was good-natured and sweet in her native disposition, but so artificial that her life seemed a continual pose. Her gestures and looks were all as if she sat in front of a mirror; her conversation as if she thought her biographer was present. She was more natural with Julie than with any one, but never sufficiently so to please the passionate frankness of Mademoiselle de Lespinasse, to whom all affectation was hateful, and who, in that, was out of tune with all the women of her acquaintance. And the perfume of coquetry that clung to the least action of Madame de Boufflers was displeasing to Julie, who, like so many women of potent charm themselves, could ill brook a rival; so far their hearts had not come in conflict, but Julie was always instinctively on her guard.
'What are we to talk of?' she asked now, rather wearily.
Madame de Boufflers laughed again. She was all animation and spirit, a-sparkle with diamonds and silver-shot white brocade, attired in the extreme of the fashion with great billowing hooped skirts that spread round the stool, her hair powdered over a cushion, a bouquet of exotic flowers at her breast, and cascades of fine lace at her elbows; in the soft candle-light, with her fair face delicately painted and becomingly patched, she did not look more than thirty.
Julie was haggard and pallid beneath her powder. She coughed continuously, and her breathing was difficult; her robe and petticoat of Indian muslin, striped green and white, made in the English fashion without hoops, looked simple beside her friend's splendour, as Julie herself looked plain beside the other's still superb beauty.
She herself was conscious of this. 'Mon Dieu!' she thought, 'who would imagine that Madame de Boufflers was ten years older than I?'
'There were too many people here to-night,' she said aloud. 'My head aches with all the talk, which I think will result in nothing else.'
Madame de Boufflers was surprised. 'Mon Dieu, but it has been delicious There is no such salon in Paris—no, not even that of Madame Geoffrin.'
'It begins to weary me,' said Julie.
'Ma chérie, what then do you want, if this does not divert you? Paris can offer nothing else.'
Julie was silent. She could not tell this woman, to whom she had never opened her heart, of the love that obsessed her, of her cloudy hopes and vague terrors, and the restless melancholy to which they gave rise.
'Ah, mon Dieu!' cried Madame de Boufflers, waving the great painted fan, 'would you become like Madame du Deffand—so bored that she is impatient of living, and can find nothing to divert her but the prospect of death?'
'I? Have I not loved everything in life?' exclaimed Julie, startled. 'Grand Dieu! I have always detested people who are bored—'
'So I thought, mon ami—but wherefore this discontent?'
Julie smiled rather bitterly.
'Madame, this distaste is melancholy, not boredom; it is not that I find the world insupportable, but my own life empty.'
'Empty' was not the word she meant to use, but it had come to her lips, and once it was spoken, she was astonished to find how true it was. Madame de Boufflers gave her delicate affected laugh.
'An empty life is the most delicious thing in the world!' she declared, 'for there is nothing more diverting than finding—something—to fill it.'
Julie rose, and stood leaning against the crimson damask curtain that was drawn back against the frame of the open window. The frivolity of Madame de Boufflers vexed her; she was impatient of this shallow soul that had never known a real emotion; some bitterness tinged this vexation. Madame de Boufflers possessed and valued lightly many things that Julie would have dearly prized; and mingled with this feeling was something of the rancour felt by the woman too proud to give herself for less than marriage, towards the woman who has taken a lesser price and who has never been made to suffer for her easiness. The fair Comtesse, despite her delicate airs of virtue, her book of maxims and her lofty sentiments, almost openly belonged to the Prince de Conti. Julie de Lespinasse, proudly conscious of possessing that virtue usually believed to be the most necessary to a woman, always felt slightly cold towards those delicious ladies of her acquaintance who contrived to manage very well without it, and who caused her to wonder, sometimes ironically, if its value was not a little exaggerated. Madame de Boufflers, who really thought that Julie looked sad and ill, and who wanted to distract her, continued to chatter, with very little more sense, Julie said to herself, than that generally displayed by the paroquet now asleep in his ebony ring by the fireplace.
'If you are dull, mon ami,' she said at length, 'I will bring M. de Guibert to see you. I declare it is the most enchanting creature in the world.'
Julie turned at that name.
'I have met him—why, several times. Last Tuesday he was here, and he should have come to-day—but he is pressed, I doubt not.'
'Did you not find him adorable?' cried the Comtesse.
'He is certainly very pleasing—I should think, a great man.'
'Why, certainly? Can you doubt it? You have read his book?'
'What wit! What daring! What sublime courage What learning!'
'What a success!' added Julie, with faint irony.
'Mon Dieu! He deserves it! I never met any one who charmed me so—the face and figure of Lovelace—'
Julie started at this comparison, which was one that she had made herself.
'Eh,' she said to turn off her movement, 'would you compare M. de Guibert to the first of scoundrels?'
'Appearance, I said,' answered Madame de Boufflers. 'His soul is that of the great Condé, his pen that of Racine, his wit that of Lafontaine, his amours—'
'—Those of any young man,' interrupted Julie.
The Comtesse laughed.
'Certainly Madame de Montsauge is odious. What vulgarity! What stupidity And he is tired of her.'
'But has not the courage to leave her. Your hero, madame, is but mortal, after all.'
'It is not proved,' laughed Madame de Boufflers.
Both Jove and Mars made mistakes in their love affairs. M. de Guibert is in good company—many a great man's one error has been his choice of a mistress.'
'And a foolish woman's one success her choice of a lover,' added Julie.
Madame de Boufflers ignored the possibility that these words might have any reference to herself. She laughed sweetly, dropped her fan on her silken lap, and took from her pocket a little box of pale-blue shot taffeta covered with gold net that contained the chocolate lozenges known as diablotins, and began to eat daintily these perfumed bonbons.
Julie moved from the window and flung herself in the red bergère; the hands of the clock were nearly at two; her head throbbed and her limbs ached; her thoughts were with M. de Mora at Bagnères. She pictured him wakeful, restless, in need of her, and she could hardly restrain her impatience.
'I took tea to-day with Madame de Luxembourg; there was nothing talked of but M. de Guibert—all agreed that he is certainly tired of Madame de Montsauge; he talks of travelling, Prussia and Muscovy. Mon Dieu, what courage! I was told he has not a sou.' So ran on the amiable, artificial voice of the Comtesse.
'Madame de Luxembourg said Madame du Deffand is as witty as ever. She entertains all the English in memory of Horace Walpole. I must go and see her, mon Dieu I but it is depressing—the Convent of Saint-Joseph. They say M. de Hénault is very ill—he must have outlived the formality of regrets—Madame du Deffand will miss him like a bad habit—ciel! but to be old! Have you heard the story of Madame de Talmont? She pretends that she has loved no one since the Pretender—she wears his portrait in a bracelet set with brilliants, and, as she is devoté, the reverse side there is a picture of Our Lord. The other day some one asked "What is the connection between these two?" And Madame de Rochefort said, "It must be this text: 'My Kingdom is not of this world."'
Julie smiled faintly; her dark eyes looked past Madame de Boufflers out of the open window on to the dark violet night that seemed so cool, so remote, so mysterious, compared to the candle-lit room.
The Comtesse continued her delicate speech which was almost mechanical; her whitened fingers, glittering with paste, searched in the blue silk box for the little diablotins.
Julie took no heed of her talk till one of her light speeches flicked at M. de Beauvau, and then Mademoiselle de Lespinasse roused herself in defence of the man who, at her request, had endeavoured to obtain a seat in the 'Academy' for her friend, M. Suard.
'M. le Prince is a very distinguished man, the most amiable in the world,' she declared languidly, yet with sincerity.
Madame de Boufflers laughed again and at last rose. The paroquet has gone to sleep and you are as sad as a volume of Clarisse,' she said. 'Since I cannot please you, mon ami, I will take my leave, lest, like M. Lekain, I outstay my welcome and live to see my audience doze.'
Julie got to her feet. She felt giddy, and there was an extraordinary heaviness at her heart.
'Madame,' she answered, smiling with an effort, 'you pay the penalty of visiting one who is ill and dull.'
She held out her hands with a frank air of regret, and the exquisite Comtesse, with real affection, kissed her on the cheek. 'You have the fever, mon ami, your cheek is hot!'
'A little fever is common to me at night,' replied Julie. 'It is nothing, madame!'
'Madame, I live!'
'So do I,' replied Madame de Boufflers, gravely. 'But I do not suffer, except when I remember my age, and even that reflection becomes tolerable when I recall that I have nothing to regret—not having done.' She smiled kindly at Julie...'And it is impossible that you have not also your solaces, ma chèrie?'
'Ah, yes,' returned Julie.
She drew her hands away. Madame de Boufflers had beauty, position, a title. She was married, wealthy, secure in her powerful lover—how different to Julie, who was but like a brilliant will-o'-the-wisp gleaming in the obscurity of a mystery, coming no one knew from whence, going no one knew to where! She endeavoured to conceal this sense of being different from her friend by an assumed lightness.
'I believe that I shall die a good Christian,' she said. 'At least, I am already one of the "poor in spirit."'
'Make M. de Guibert your friend,' advised the Comtesse. 'He will amuse you—you will find him a new type. Help him to get rid of Madame de Montsauge, and you will do us all a signal service—the creature is detested!'
'But not by M. de Guibert!' smiled Julie.
'Who knows? His relations with her are as complicated as the doctrine of the Trinity. Au revoir—I have the Comte de Crillon to-morrow. I hold you promised—au revoir!'
At last she was gone with her lackeys and her women, her sweetmeats and her laughter. Julie heard the light carriage rattle down the street, and fell back into the ottoman with a sigh of sheer fatigue. She put her thin hands to her aching, burning head, and sat staring at the floor. So M. de Guibert was going abroad, Paris would be the more dull. She had seen a good deal of him lately, and had found him wholly charming; his manner and his conversation had a fascination that dazzled her into forgetting the faults she was perfectly aware of; he was certainly a new type among the brilliant intellectuals who had always formed her world. At once more full blooded, more ordinary and more conspicuous by reason of his active youth, his numerous gallantries, his military career, at times she doubted if he was anything but a mediocre man who had cleverly caught the tone of his day; then again, she would find him as magnificently great as his warmest admirers declared him to be. Never before had she been so undecided in her judgment. Perhaps also—but this she would not admit to herself—never before had any one person, save always M. de Mora, so haunted her thoughts.
'He is not my friend, I do not believe that he ever can be,' she reflected restlessly. 'We are absolutely different—I do not even know that I like him. What is there admirable about him? Yet, when I see him, I forget all this good sense and see nothing in him that does not attract me.'
Madame Saint-Martin entered with a little silver goblet containing hot milk.
'Mademoiselle should go to bed,' she said anxiously. 'It is nearly three o'clock.'
Julie looked up with a faint smile. 'I was too tired to move,' she said. As she put out her hand for the milk, a cough shook her frail body, and the tears came to her eyes with the effort of the spasm. 'I must have opium if I am to sleep to-night,' she said, when she had got her breath again.
The chamber-woman took the cover off the goblet and offered the drink again.
'Ah, mademoiselle! If mademoiselle will drink this!'
Julie obeyed. She was too tired to resist; her gaze went to the window. The sky was paling above the house-tops. The dim purple of night was slowly fading into the radiancy of the dawn.
Julie finished her milk and rose. The room seemed strangely dreary, the crimson draperies dull, the furniture shabby; the red flames of the candles fluttered forlornly in the pure breeze of daybreak that sent a breath of freshness through the open window.
'How little I have seen,' thought Julie. 'How little I know—a chateau, a convent—two rooms in Paris—always the sun above the house-tops; somewhere it is rising above the mountains and the sea.'
She sighed and turned away into her bed-chamber; the candles were lit, the crimson curtains drawn—here the dawn had not penetrated. Julie dismissed Madame Saint-Martin, despite the good woman's protests, and herself took off her gown and shook down her hair. Despite her fatigue she resisted the desire to go to her bed; the sense of the brightening day outside strangely disturbed her. For a while she stood irresolute, a white figure in her muslin bed-gown and dimity jacket with the powder still in her fallen locks, then drew the curtains and opened the shutters and gazed up at the sky now crystal bright above the silent city.
The terrible yearning that smote Julie, frightened her.
'Mon Dieu!' she cried in her heart, 'what do I want? Why am I suffering so? Is it because I am losing M. de Mora, or because I am losing love? Is not that what I need above everything—love?'
THE day of farewell had arrived. Julie was in a state of such acute misery that she sincerely longed for death. For some time past the anxious D'Alembert had been alarmed by her physical sufferings, her cough was painful to hear. She slept very little, her eyes were so weakened that she could hardly see; she was worn out with perpetual headaches and attacks of pain. Julie treated coldly this agitation on the part of her devoted friend. She refused to see a doctor, resisted his efforts to console and divert her, and showed him an indifference and irritation that she had never before displayed during their long connection, and that almost reduced the little philosopher to despair. With touching and almost incredible blindness, he still was entirely ignorant of the real cause of Julie's agony. Aware that she was distressed by the approaching departure of M. de Mora, he still believed that her emotion was one of warm friendship, for it was for ever fixed in his heart that she was incapable of any feeling for any man other than that which she entertained for himself. His continuous presence, his disturbed countenance, his worried looks, the whole personality of the man, so exasperated Julie that she was more than once on the point of telling him the truth and so breaking with a violent hand the delicate chain that bound them together. Shame, pity, and custom restrained her; she knew that to the candid soul and single heart of M. D'Alembert, her conduct would appear deceitful and would lower her in his eyes, and she was aware that he would receive a wound from which he might never recover—the whole edifice of his life would be overturned; he had been a wonderful friend to her and she could not bring herself to hurt him; then, on her side, she was used to him, he was part of her existence, a break with him would alter everything. There would be comment, discussion, perhaps laughter when the story got abroad among their friends; and, tiresome as he was to her rasped nerves, she would miss him. He loved her, and Julie could never endure to turn away love.
So he continued undeceived, she even helping to deliberately blindfold him by forced kindness now and then, and inventing excuses for her humours and moods. The state of her health covered much; it was truly deplorable, and the continuous doses of opium, while they gave her temporary relief and strength, were gradually ruining her constitution.
M. de Mora came from Bagnères a day in early August; his mother was worse and there was no hope of delaying his departure any longer. Julie received him in a passion of despair.
'I did not know that one could suffer so and live!' she cried.
Her lover was startled by the violence of her grief.
'But I shall return,' he said. 'Mon ami, I shall return.'
Julie was not to be comforted. Everything was against her; there was every reason combined to thwart her unfortunate love, and though her faith in him was absolute, she doubted his capacity to combat the terrible obstacles that beset him; the most gloomy forebodings darkened her soul and wrung from her a cry of agony.
'Mon Dieu, my destiny is too cruel!'
She lay flung along her ottoman, the red cushions piled under her and supporting her elbows; her face, distorted and wet with bitter tears, was half-hidden in her thin hands; her loose, plain gown of rose-coloured cambric and her petticoat of English embroidery were crumbled beneath her; her watch had fallen from her bodice and hung by the steel chain over the side of the couch; the two little hearts, one of gold, the other containing the hair of M. de Mora gleamed in a ray of sunshine.
'You have every reason for going,' she added, desperately. 'But I have every reason for keeping you!'
M. de Mora knew not what to say in face of a sorrow so passionate; he stood at the head of the ottoman and looked down, with a bewildered tenderness, on the woman whom he loved so entirely. His stay at Bagnères had had some good effect on his health; he was more than ever confident of a complete recovery and the slight return of his strength had caused his hope for the future to be so brilliant that he was the less distressed by the pains of the present.
'I shall return,' he kept saying. 'Julie, if you weep so, I shall think that you doubt me!'
'Doubt you! But sometimes I doubt Fate!' she replied.
M. de Mora was forced to admit himself that the prospect was dark enough; he knew perhaps better than she did what would have to be faced before he could accomplish their marriage.
'But I will do it,' he said aloud. 'I swear on my honour I will come back to you—my love!'
With infinite tenderness he leant over and put his hand on her shoulder. Julie instantly sat up, snatched his hand, and pressed her hot lips to it with desperate devotion.
'Ah, Julie!' added M. de Mora, 'what is distance to a love like ours? The leagues need not frighten those whose souls are as one!'
'I know! I am so sure of you, I would be secure if you were the world away. It is not that.'
'What then? Nothing else matters!'
It was the old defiant cry of love, but Julie knew that a great many other things mattered, and mattered terribly.
But she also endeavoured to be brave and, forcing back her tears, and caressing his hand, gave him the gallant assurance she had given him before.
'Whatever this means to me now, I thank you for six years of radiant happiness!'
'Julie! You speak as if everything was ended—it is hardly begun—wait but a little, mon ami, wait but a little.'
In her heart she answered: 'I am not young. I cannot afford to wait—I want my happiness now!' But she stifled this desperate cry and endeavoured to respond to his humour.
He came and took his seat beside her on the ottoman. He could not long stand without the most painful fatigue.
Julie wiped her eyes with a morsel of cambric, and drooped her sick head against his shoulder, and instantly moved it, for in that position she could hear with terrible clearness his laboured breath, that seemed to catch and rattle in his chest. She stared into his face and saw in the hollow lines and pallid colour the unmistakable marks of illness—mortal illness.
'Julie, Julie!' he said, quickly reading her terror in her eyes. 'I am mending—I am so much stronger.'
She touched his cheek with an unsteady finger; his flesh was chill and moist; he embraced her, and the feebleness of his arms sent a shiver through her body.
'If anything happens to you, I shall die,' she said, as if to comfort herself. 'I do not think it would be difficult to die—I am so lightly attached to the earth.'
He kissed her brow. 'We are going to live, Julie. Why these forebodings? Have I not left you before?'
'And have I not suffered?' she asked, with passion.
'But you must think that this is to be the last time, that after this you will have a new life in which everything will be happy!'
'I want no happiness but this—to be so—in your arms.'
'We shall never be separated again,' he assured her, with a sweet tenderness. 'I shall return for ever.'
But Julie's spirits were weighed by the gloomiest forebodings, a presage of utmost evil hung over her; sorrow poisoned her very blood; all the forces of her nature were employed in suffering. Nothing in the world existed for her but this man from whom she must part.
M. de Mora, struggling bravely against that physical weakness which made these strong emotions so exhausting to him, summoned all his manhood to comfort the distracted woman who clung to him so desperately.
'You have your friends, your diversions. I do not want you to pine—get well, Julie. Leave the opium and let the thought of the future be your medicine—let people know you are my promised wife.'
Julie shook her head. 'I cannot let our love be the subject of the last jest of the salons—let it be secret until it must be known.'
'At least, tell M. D'Alembert—he is my very good friend.'
'Least of all can I tell D'Alembert.'
M. de Mora was silent. Julie's relations with the philosopher was one of those feminine complications that few masculine minds could either understand or approve; it had amused M. de Guibert because the position of the great man seemed to him comic; it vexed M. de Mora because to him the thing was not ridiculous, but pathetic. He was, however, far too chivalrous and free from jealousy to interfere in Julie's friendships, or to publish their secret until she wished to do so.
'M. Suard and M. de Condorcet know,' she said presently.
'I hope soon that all the world will know, Julie.'
His arms fell from her, and he rose restlessly, with the movement of a man who seeks air. Slowly he moved to the window and drew the curtains back. Before him was Julie's cylinder desk and the marble bird on the gilt pedestal.
'I shall think of you sitting there,' he said, 'writing to Spain. Your letters will be as the breath of life to me.'
A moving sincerity rang in his words. He spoke quietly and his manner was subdued, but no one could have doubted the depth and nobility of his love, his singleness of purpose lent a dignity, almost an aloofness, to his personality; with all the simplicity and force of his fine and ardent nature he adored Julie de Lespinasse. There had been other passions in his life and other interests, but for years they had been completely overshadowed and, lately, entirely forgotten. Nothing in the world was now anything to M. de Mora compared to Julie de Lespinasse. And she knew this.
'Is there anything you wish me to do, or not to do?' she asked.
'Nothing.' He smiled tenderly.
'You leave me so free?'
'Are you not Julie? That is enough—I love you and anything you may do.'
Every fibre of her being responded to this.
'I would die for you,' she said, with absolute sincerity.
He came over to the ottoman again. He was dressed with great care in blue velvet brocade, with much lace and paste, and despite the ravages of his disease, he was still a graceful and magnificent figure. His splendid eyes, that now appeared of an almost supernatural size and brilliancy, were full of the life and fire he had no longer the strength to express with speech or gesture. Julie, gazing up at him, felt her heart ready to break from her breast. With a heartrending little cry, she slipped on her knees beside him and caught hold of the skirts of his coat.
'I have never told you how much I love you,' she stammered. 'Never—never enough! You have been the sun and the stars, fire and water to me—I have not words—I have not strength—I have not power to tell you how I adore you!'
He raised her up, he answered her with some incoherent words, and they clung together, both shaken almost to swooning. He put her back on the ottoman, and stared at the clock.
They had only a few more minutes.
'Mon Dieu!' he murmured. 'These Pyrenees begin to frighten me also!'
His extreme agitation brought on a fit of coughing that rendered him breathless. Julie fetched water from the sideboard. Their chill hands touched over the glass, the water was spilled over their fingers. He drank and set the tumbler on the mantelpiece. They caught hold of each other again, and their glances met, full of misery.
'Love me!' cried M. de Mora, in a sudden surge of uncontrollable anguish. 'Remember that you are mine, and that I should come, even from the grave, to claim you!'
'When I cease to draw breath shall I forget to love you,' she answered. 'Ah, almost I wish I believed in God, that I might daily pray for you!'
They kissed in tremulous agony. Their cold faces remained pressed together in a bitter passion; the drops of pain on his brow and the salt tears on her cheeks were mingled; their panting breaths fused in one sob of grief. Three times he put her from him, three times he came back to clasp her again in an excess of frantic sorrow.
Now that the actual moment was upon him, his reason, his philosophy, his fair hopes were alike forgotten. He only knew that he was leaving the woman so inexpressibly dear to him that she filled his entire existence. In silence he kissed her, again and again, with such force that her lips smarted. At last he tore himself away, and stumbled towards the door. Julie gave a little moan. He came back to her once again, raised her face, and kissed it from brow to chin. She had not the strength to detain him, or even to speak the last farewells. She sank from his embrace, face downwards, on the crimson cushions. When she raised her feeble head, he had gone.
Julie sprang to the window, the heavy Berlin was fast disappearing round the corner. She could only see the lackeys hanging on the straps behind. She reeled backwards into the room and caught hold of the leather chair in front of her desk.
Her suffering was so intense that her whole body was chilled, as if she had been subjected to acute physical pain. Nowhere could she see any help or consolation. Her one impulse was to seek oblivion at any cost, and she thought with a dull relief of the opium in her room, but she had not the strength to go as far. Gone! Gone! It seemed incredible. Never had she conceived such misery as this; the very breath she drew was hateful to her, the whole world had become gray and vile; there was nothing left but to sit and wait for the Spanish post.
Fiercely she rebelled against the fate that had taken away from her all that had made life worth while. She thought with fury of the women who were openly and for ever attached to their lovers, and she wondered bitterly why such a destiny could not have been hers. She believed that she had a greater capacity for love than any woman whom she knew, and her whole nature was maddened by this frustration of all her desires and instincts.
And, more than this, she was shaken by an overwhelming tenderness towards M. de Mora, who was facing so gallantly, and for her sake, pain and loneliness and difficulty. With the sobs catching in her throat she took from the drawer of her desk the little miniatures of her lover. One, oval and enclosed in an olive wood case lined with tortoiseshell, had been painted during the young Spaniard's first visit to Paris, and showed him in the height of his fame, success, and beauty. The face in its vivid colouring and fine, aristocratic line, was that of an ardent boy eager for life and adventure; the hawk-like features were full of vitality and charm, the magnificent eyes shone with intelligence, the full lips were curved to a winning smile, a rose was fastened into the folds of his lace cravat, and his black hair, unpowdered, hung in rich waves about his brow.
Julie covered this likeness with kisses; then, holding it in the palm of her hand, gazed at it long. A curious thought arose in her distracted mind: 'Compared to this, the admired M. de Guibert is plain!'
She picked up the other picture; though it had been painted in Madrid but shortly after the other, it seemed the representation of a man ten years older. The face was graver, the lines hollowed, the vivid colouring gone, the hair was powdered, and there was no rose. He was in mourning for his little son. Julie closed the gold case over this and returned it at once to the drawer; the other she left open before her awhile; with unsteady fingers she unlocked a little portfolio of black leather and took out of it the twenty-two letters M. de Mora had written to her from amid all the distractions of his ten days' stay with the Court of Fontainebleau. While she was looking at these, her lackey entered, and announced,—
'Monsieur le Comte de Guibert.'
Julie instinctively put the portfolio over the miniature.
'Mon Dieu, I can see no one,' she said, in a dazed fashion.
But M. de Guibert was behind the valet, and came smiling into her presence.
Julie rose with an extraordinary feeling of panic, and shuddering with the anguish that she was forced to thrust back. All her air of a great lady had gone. Piteously feeble and confused, she faced him.
'Monsieur, I cannot receive you.'
But M. de Guibert advanced towards her; the lackey had withdrawn.
'Mademoiselle, did you not promise to make me your friend, and is it not when we are in distress that we need our friends?'
Julie was helpless, all her vibrant energy was extinguished, all her glow faded, her delicate and graceful body had a broken look; she could hardly keep the tears from her eyes or her hands from trembling; never before had she been so exposed in her weakness before any one save M. D'Alembert.
'You have intruded upon me, monsieur,' she said faintly.
M. de Guibert seemed to have a great pity for her, but no regret at having forced himself in upon her grief; she interested him extremely, it was the first time that he had looked upon a woman passionately moved.
The wan, exhausted, bitter sorrow of Julie showed him how slight or how false had been all the feminine tears he had ever witnessed, the sentimentalities that were the fashion and that had hitherto satisfied him, appeared trivial indeed beside this intense emotion.
'M. de Mora has gone?' he asked gently.
Julie did not answer for her voice failed in her swollen throat; she crept to the red ottoman and bowed her head in her hands, heedless now of the presence of M. de Guibert.
'Mon Dieu!' he murmured, 'is love like this possible in these days of philosophers?'
Madame de Montsauge and her placid posings flashed into his mind—he had called that love.
'Julie,' he said, 'Julie.'
She looked up with a dull amazement at hearing her Christian name; so bowed and shrunk was she in her attitude of utter affliction, that to the man who watched her she gave the impression of being shrouded in a mourning veil.
'He for whom you weep must be the happiest of men,' said M. de Guibert gravely. Julie stared at him, his personality began to force itself on her consciousness.
'You of all women!' he added in gentle amazement.
Julie flung up her head. 'Did you think "love" was not in the "Encyclopaedia"?' she asked hoarsely. Her eyes glowed in her ruined face that was blotted with tears and distorted with pain. 'Or is it because I am old and plain that you are astonished?' she added.
'It is because I did not look to find the heart of Héloïse in the age of Voltaire,' he replied.
She disdained to endeavour to disguise herself from him. With a sudden superb movement she rose—it was as if she cast the mourning veil off. 'You understand nothing, nothing, any of you—I think; it is he and I only in all the world, and we are parted, and he is ill.'
'But he will return.'
'Though death stood across the way,' said Julie.
M. de Guibert had never heard such words as these save in the classic tragedies; sentiments that had sounded appropriate mouthed by actors, came to him with a strange shock across the little salon of the rue Saint-Dominique.
The August sunshine had now left the chamber, that was enveloped in a golden haze; mists danced in the honey sweet air which came in laden with the drowsy perfumes of midsummer that somehow were abroad even in the city. The paroquet slept in his ebony ring; his emerald and sapphire head gleamed, the only spot of vivid colour in the quiet room.
Julie stood erect by the ottoman, pressing her soaked handkerchief into a ball between her nervous hands; her gaze was on the patch of blue above the house-tops; the tears trickled from her overflowing eyes. M. de Guibert, whose griefs had always been very material affairs, was more moved than he had ever been in all his easy life. For once he completely forgot himself in watching this strange woman; his expression and pose were entirely unconscious as he gazed at Julie, and his robust charm, his healthy good looks, his vigorous grace, were the more apparent. He was thinking of M. de Mora; naturally he could see nothing in the young Spaniard to justify Julie's emotion; he slightly despised him for being ill, and regarded him with a half-envy, half-dislike; he remembered what Julie had said about her hopes of marriage and wondered exceedingly: the Fuentès was a nobler family than his own.
'He must indeed love her as she loves him,' thought M. de Guibert, 'it is extraordinary.'
'What will you do till M. de Mora returns?' he asked.
Julie did not answer.
'You must not grieve too much—for M. de Mora's sake,' he added. 'You look ill.'
She turned her small head and faced him now; he had thought her plain, but now with the tears staining her piteous countenance, he thought her more than beautiful, for she made any fair woman who was in his memory appear commonplace.
'Monsieur, you took me at a disadvantage,' she said. 'I should have been alone.'
'Nay, you should be with your friends—will I not serve as well as M. D'Alembert?'
'I wonder why you trouble about me?' answered Julie uneasily.
'I want to be your friend.'
'And I have told you that my life is full.'
'So is mine—yet it is all at the service of Julie de Lespinasse.'
'Compliments of gallantry—to me.' she said in a voice too sad for scorn. 'Ah, monsieur, this is a poor opiate—I will take my opium.'
'It is a pity,' he answered, 'that you should find a drug your best solace.'
'May such an experience, monsieur, never come to you. I do not think that it is likely to.'
Something of her usual sincerity, enthusiasm, and energy began to shine through the misery that had quenched her glow. 'You are not likely to,' she added. 'I do not think you have the gift of suffering.'
'No? Perhaps I have the gift of healing.'
Again a look of bewilderment crossed her face; astonishment made her tolerate him when no other emotion could have done so. She was a woman who had been seldom amazed for she had always been able to read her little world, and had never moved beyond it; but here was something new; even in the apathy following her violent grief this arrested her, and she looked at M. de Guibert with frank curiosity.
'Is it possible that you are really interested in me?' she asked.
A sense of what was happening returned to her. She dabbed at her eyes and looked at the clock; the most admired man in Paris had spent over an hour in her distraught company. Julie was trained in the school where to show genuine feelings was unforgivable and boredom the first of the deadly sins. She was entirely confused by the presence of M. de Guibert; never for a second had she thought that she could ever attract a man like this; even now she could not believe that she did attract him. She stared at him with heavy eyes full of frank amazement.
'It is not possible that monsieur finds me amusing?' she asked with quivering lips. Her head ached terribly and her sight was dim; everything about her was indistinct as if the sun had suddenly faded in a clear sky. A fit of coughing broke her health, as with a piteous gesture she groped for the support of some article of furniture. M. de Guibert did, quite naturally, an impulsive thing. He stepped to her side and put his arm round her; for a second she lay on the laces on his heart, then he placed her very tenderly on the ottoman. Stooping, he kissed her hand, turning the little palm upwards.
'Au revoir, Julie,' he said, and quite abruptly left her.
The unhappy woman remained where he had left her, motionless, as if lifeless, a look of astonished horror on her drawn face. He had touched her, he had kissed her hand as if it had been her mouth. And this had given her such a sense of security, of strength, of serenity, that it had been an instant's ease to all her pain. A sense of strength! How different even his light clasp was to the feeble embrace of M. de Mora; how cool his lips were to one used to dry, fevered kisses, how radiant with health had been the fair face that for an instant had been brought so near her own...
She shivered that she had made these comparisons which seemed to her wicked and disloyal in the extreme, but they had come none the less poignantly for being unbidden, and had stabbed her heart.
'I do not like M. de Guibert; he shall never be my friend,' she muttered. With difficult steps she returned to her desk, sank into the leather chair, locked up the love-letters in the portfolio, and clasped the miniature to her lips with desperate kisses.
It was twilight now; soon M. D'Alembert would be returning, people arriving; she could see none of them, not even M. Condorcet or M. Suard. She rang the red bell-pull that hung between the windows. Madame Saint-Martin came from the bedroom: she carried a pair of blonde lace sleeves that she had been mending.
'I will take two grains of opium,' said Julie with ghastly calm.
'At once,' added Julie; she coughed and groaned in sheer pain and weakness.
'Will you not see the doctor up the street, mademoiselle?'
'M. Lorry himself could not cure me,' replied Julie. 'My good creature, fetch me the opium, quick.'
Madame Saint-Martin, shrewder than M. D'Alembert, knew the cause of her mistress's suffering, even though she was not her confidante. She glanced at the miniature, at Julie's half-fainting figure, at her pallid face, hesitated, then went and fetched the opium. When Julie had drunk it she allowed the chamber-woman to help her to her room. 'If any one comes, say I am ill—M. D'Alembert will see them.'
Madame Saint-Martin could not get her unlaced, nor the powder out of her hair, before she had sunk into a swooning sleep and had to be laid, all dishevelled, on her crimson bed. Madame Saint-Martin drew the curtains over the alcove and lit the candles in the bedchamber. Then, on a second thought, she tiptoed back, took the miniature from Julie's slack hand and put it under her pillow. It was of M. D'Alembert that she was thinking as she did this. 'Tiens, why should he know about it?' she said to herself; she had a hidden compassion for the little philosopher that was slightly at variance with her sincere loyalty towards her mistress.
Numbers of Julie's usual circle began to call at her door. M. de Vaines, M. Marmontel, M. de Crillon, Madame de Marchais, whose lackey brought a huge basket of fruit, Madame de Boufflers, and M. Suard. M. D'Alembert, whose single-mindedness made his actions decisive, despite his timidity, dismissed them all. Julie was ill, she was sleeping; he would not have a footfall in the apartment. With tender smiles for M. D'Alembert, the visitors departed to other houses where wit and wisdom gathered.
The two ladies exchanged glances on the narrow stairs. 'She takes too much opium. Mon Dieu, it is frightful!' whispered the gay and fantastic little Madame de Marchais.
'Mon ami,' returned the languishing Comtesse, 'she is in love with M. le Marquis de Mora, and he leaves France to-morrow.'
Madame de Bouffiers lowered her voice still more as she replied: 'He'll never return. Any one can see that he is a dying man.'
Their voices whispered away on the mean stairs; their coaches rattled away down the quiet street; the modest apartment, usually so brilliant, was silent and dark; only in the bed-chamber a few candles burned.
Madame Saint-Martin sat silently, with folded hands, by the fireplace; the air was hot—not a breath of freshness came through the open windows.
M. D'Alembert tiptoed into the chamber; he carried the great basket of August fruit that Madame de Marchais had left for Julie. They were of magnificent quality and came from the King's gardens. Madame de Marchais was called Pomona and Flora by her friends because of her generosity with regard to the offerings she made to every one of the flowers and fruit supplied to her by M. D'Angiviller, director of His Majesty's gardens and palaces. The gorgeous pears, grapes, apples, and plums in their rich colour and untouched bloom arranged in the delicate white of the basket, and scattered with small exquisite white roses and sprays of jasmine, were a strange contrast, in the profusion of their perfumed beauty, to the shabby figure and plain, tired face of the man who carried them.
'She sleeps still?' he asked the chamber-woman.
Madame Saint-Martin rose and took the basket. 'Ah, monsieur, it is more like a swoon than a sleep.'
'She has taken opium?'
'You should not have given it to her!' replied M. D'Alembert sharply. 'You should have prevented her taking any; you heard what the doctor said—that she was in no fit state for these doses.'
'Alas, monsieur, what can I do? Monsieur knows that mademoiselle is her own mistress and will endure no restraint.' M. D'Alembert did know this only too well; he changed the subject; even in his distress he was too just to vent his irritation on the chamber-maid.
'It is the departure of M. de Mora which has so upset mademoiselle,' he remarked. Madame Saint-Martin glanced at him quickly; his blindness was incredible to any woman and to most men. 'Ah, yes, mademoiselle was very attached to M. de Mora,' she agreed tactfully.
M. D'Alembert crossed the room softly and drew the curtain that concealed the alcove. A single candle burnt on the table by the bedside, the curtains were looped back partially. Julie's slight figure in the tumbled pink cambric and white embroidery, showed sunk into the coverlet, her face was shadowed by the drapery. M. D'Alembert, as delicate-footed as a woman in a sick chamber, approached the great bed. Julie lay as she had fallen; her right hand was open as Madame Saint-Martin had left it when she had robbed it of the miniature of M. de Mora. The hair that had been carelessly dressed with powder, not pomade, was scattered over the pillow under her graceful head. Her face was of a dreadful pallor, her features sharp, her lips dry, her eyes half-closed—a gleam of staring pupil showing beneath the drooped lids.
M. D'Alembert recoiled; never had he seen her look so ill. He said so in an agitated whisper to Madame Saint-Martin, who was standing behind him with the basket of fruit.
'Ah, monsieur has not seen her asleep,' replied the chamber-woman sadly. 'In the morning she looks terrible—always.'
'Mon Dieu! something must be done!' muttered M. D'Alembert. 'I will get M. Lorry to see her—'
'It is no use, monsieur, she will see no doctor.'
'But this is not right,' protested M. D'Alembert in deep distress. 'She must drug herself before she can rest, and then she sleeps—like this!'
In truth, Julie looked ill in her unnatural slumber; the animation of her voice and gesture and expression had always disguised from M. D'Alembert the real frailty of her appearance, and now, for the first time, a horrible doubt as to the nature of this illness which she had always made 'so light of assailed him, and he asked himself, in boundless terror, if her malady might not be the same as that which had struck down M. de Mora.
The thought was too terrible to be long entertained—the usual hopefulness of human nature where its dearest loves are concerned quickly came to console M. D'Alembert.
He approached the bed and gazed with infinite tenderness at the shadowed face; the look on his own countenance was such that Madame Saint-Martin, thinking of the miniature under the pillow, did not care to see it, and turned her head away rather sharply.
The philosopher, the infidel, the leader of the new school of logic and reason, forgot all his tenets as he hung over the couch of the woman whom he loved, and touched her damp brow with a delicate gesture that was like a benediction.
The autumn brought no good news from Spain. M. de Mora had only achieved the painful journey to Madrid to fall into so severe a relapse of his disease that he had to remain in his room; he was attacked by frequent hemorrhages, which, together with bloodletting, so fashionable among the Spanish physicians, left him utterly prostrate. His sufferings were rendered more acute by the absolute refusal of his family to listen to the proposal of his marriage with Julie de Lespinasse.
His dying mother rallied her last strength to combat his passion, the Comte de Fuentès had every motive to support his wife, and the Duchesse de Villa Hermosa used all her influence against her unhappy brother. M. de Mora did not lose courage; his love was of that exalted nature which made it utterly impervious to all attacks; he had no interest in life beyond Julie de Lespinasse, no object in his existence beyond that of rejoining her. All the cruel opposition that he had to struggle against irritated and saddened him, but did not, in the very least, shake his purpose; his letters were passionate and hopeful, showing always confidence in himself, confidence in her, trust in their final destiny. Harassed by family quarrels, shaken by violent scenes, fighting a mortal malady, the unfortunate young man never ceased to write to Julie letters in which he opened a soul full of a pure tenderness, an unblemished fidelity and an elevated love.
These letters were at once the comfort and despair of Julie during the long days of waiting; when they began to come less frequently, and then suddenly ceased, she was reduced to desperation, and employed M. D'Alembert to write to the Duc de Villa Hermosa for news of his brother-in-law.
Julie's secret suspicions were well-founded; the family of M. de Mora had taken advantage of the fact that he was confined to his room to intercept the correspondence with Paris; the delays, losses, silences were not the fault of the post, but, as Julie surmised, due to the misplaced devotion of M. de Móra's sister acting under the direction of the dying Comtesse de Fuentès.
M. de Villa Hermosa, who had enjoyed the friendship of the rue Saint-Dominique, and who was ignorant of his wife's intrigues, replied in a tone of frank and warm courtesy, giving full details of the health of the young Marquis, and through his hands a safe conveyance was assured for the correspondence between the two lovers. So again Julie did not scruple to use the devoted and deceived M. D'Alembert; he was happy in both his devotion and his deception; she saw him content with the kindness with which she repaid his services, and she looked no further into the matter than this. M. D'Alembert had ceased to mean much to her one way or another; she had found a soporific for the absence of her lover more powerful than the society of M. D'Alembert, and more dangerous than her grains of opium.
This was her friendship with M. de Guibert. Despite his work, his social engagements, his ambitions and his studies, which made him the most occupied man in Paris, he found occasion to see much of Julie de Lespinasse. They were frequently together at the house of a mutual friend, M. de Crillon or M. de Vaines. They met in the salon of Madame Geoffrin or Madame Necker, at the suppers of M. Watelet or M. D'Holbach.
Several times he had come to the rue Saint-Dominique when Julie was alone, and they had become completely in each other's confidence. She extolled the virtues of M. de Mora, which he endured with patience, and he lamented the faults of Madame de Montsauge, which Julie did not find an insupportable theme; he condoled with her on the absence of the perfect being whom she adored, and she sympathised with him on the presence of the imperfect creature who adored him. M. de Guibert—tired of Madame de Montsauge, whom his vanity felt to be an inadequate conquest for one of his present fame—contemplated breaking with her, and was pleased to excuse his action under the plea of intellectual inequality. In the company of Julie he tasted the exquisite satisfaction of the admiration and comprehension of a brilliant woman, whose capacity was equal to his own, and in comparison, Madame de Montsauge appeared more than ever stale and commonplace.
Julie was absolutely sincere when she advised him to break with Madame de Montsauge; to her lofty and romantic ideas the intrigue appeared dull and stupid; she thought M. de Guibert worthy of a grande passion; such were beginning to become the fashion, the era of gentle friendships and sentimental, intellectual unions was ending; in the commencing reaction from too long an artificiality women were catching the contagion of passionate and burning love from the languorous and ardent pages of Rousseau and Richardson. Julie had been one of the first and the most eager of their disciples, as her breathless attachment to M. de Mora had testified, and she wished to convert M. de Guibert.
Both priestess and martyr of love herself, she could conceive of no joy outside his temple—the paltry sentiments which blasphemed his name to her were contemptible. And it seemed to her inconceivable that a man like M. de Guibert should be insensible to the wonder of the most marvellous of human emotions. She suspected in him an inner hardness, a latent insensibility that revolted her impulsive, glowing nature.
'You will never be a great lover,' she told him. 'You have the flame of passion—not the heat.'
His personality dazzled her; she was vexed that in his presence she had no power of criticism, no power of analysis; the perfume of his radiant youth, his healthy vitality, his secure serenity, attracted and fascinated her to the point that she forgot all his faults. The active life he had led, his restless ambition, his love of company and applause, his unemotional thirst for new experiences, made him different from all the friends of Julie.
In her heart she suspected him of being more commonplace, and though she joined with every one else in hailing him as 'a great man,' 'a genius,' her acute perception sometimes detected in him the mere ordinary male—ingenuous, simple, self-confident, selfish, animated by commonplace lusts and desires, whose reputation was due to a superficial cleverness, great personal attractiveness, and a faculty for expressing the thoughts common to his time in language both agreeable and easy to understand.
She told herself again and again that he was not comparable to M. de Mora, who was in every way the hero of romance that M. de Guibert was not Often she contrasted the two men in her mind, always to the advantage of her lover. Against the robust make of M. de Guibert, she set the graceful elegance of the young Spaniard; against the serene fair face of the one, the beautiful, expressive, dark countenance of the other; this calm, self-centred, strong, healthy, material character with that other, impulsive, sentimental, emotional, and passionate. She discovered nothing in M. de Guibert that need make her fearful of faltering in her allegiance to a man so in every way his superior, and she felt secure in indulging in this friendship that she found so curiously consolatory. Sometimes she regretted that the young colonel of Corsicans had ever crossed her path; sometimes she believed that she had found the perfect friend. Certainly her long, intimate, and loving connection with men like Condorcet, Gérard, Chastellux, Turgot, and Marmontel had never meant as much to her as did this acquaintance with a man to whom they were superior in everything save the allure of youth and the seduction of personal charm. This attraction that he possessed for her sometimes moved her to an anger that found vent in passionate words.
'You would content a mediocre soul and torture a fine one,' she told him. 'Mon Dieu! I should be sorry for a sensitive woman who loved you!'
M. de Guibert smiled at her vehemence which he never quite understood. His success with women was certainly not due to his clever handling of them, for he often showed an obtuseness and an awkwardness, a want of tact and perception, that maddened Julie.
'You are insupportable,' she declared. 'To enjoy your acquaintance one must show one's preference for you—do you know there is nothing a woman dislikes more? You force one to admire you, and then you force one to show it. You treat all women as if they were fools and worthless, and yet you make yourself necessary to them—nothing could be in worse taste!'
These complaints came from a woman who, used to being admired, flattered, sought after, found herself, for the first time in her life, obliged to take, not give, the favours of a friendship. For M. de Guibert was occupied, sought after, easily distracted, and (Julie suspected), easily pleased.
He did not always keep his appointments, he did not always stay long when he came, he did not always come when she asked him, nor always follow her mood; he praised other women in her presence and showed interest in a thousand things that were of no interest to Julie. All this was new to one of the most admired women of her time; it threw into relief the exclusive devotion of M. de Mora. 'Movement is more necessary to you than action,' she remarked, with faint irony. She did not know what she wished him to do, but all his projects displeased her; she was vexed at his absorption—in what she called the brouhaha of society, she did not approve of his ardent wish to travel, nor of most of his friendships. She felt herself thoroughly unreasonable in this, and it added to the restlessness of her changing humours.
Madame Geoffrin, Julie's most intimate woman-friend, noticed the uneasy sadness that clouded the spirit that had been so gay and enthusiastic; for the first time since they had known each other Julie did not take her into her confidence. 'My health is detestable,' was all she would say. She continued to frequent the brilliant salon of the rue Saint-Honoré, where for nearly ten years she had reigned as queen over that '.Europe in a triple circle about her chair' that graced the apartments of Madame Geoffrin.
Julie had been as a daughter to this lady, and so had awakened the bitter jealousy of the Marquise's child, Madame de Fertè Imbault; it always seemed to be Julie's lot to be treated as an intruder and to awake some one's hot rage by any place she occupied. She had been the sole woman admitted to Madame Geoffrin's famous suppers, and from among the renowned people whom she had met there she had taken many of the ornaments of her own circle, the Duc de la Rochefoucault, the Abbé Arnaud, Lord Shelburne, Thomas, Duclos, Chamfort, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Creutz, La Harpe, Grimm, Suard, Condillac, Morellet, M. de Schomberg, Loménie de Brienne—all had adored Julie de Lespinasse in the realm of the rue Saint-Honoré. There, too, she had met several women who were her faithful friends—Madame de Meulan, the Duchesse de Châtillon, the Duchesse d'Anville, and Madame de Saint-Chamans.
Julie's comparative financial ease was largely due to the generosity of Madame Geoffrin, as her social position owed its foundation to the prompt and warm protection offered to her by this powerful great lady who lavished on Julie all that care and tender interest that she might have expected from her own mother. It was to M. D'Alembert that Julie owed the introduction to the rue Saint-Honoré, and something to Madame Geoffrin's hate of. Madame du Deffand that she owed the former's first impulsive championship when she was cast from the Convent Saint-Joseph, but it was entirely due to her wit, charm, and vitality that she had so long and triumphantly held the position that she had gained.
Madame Geoffrin rejoiced in her success more than she had ever done in her own, and now watched the cloud that was sinking over the spirits of Julie with an apprehension she had never felt when contemplating her own powers sapped by old age.
One day in early spring, Julie found herself alone with the old Marquise; M. Thomas and M. Chamfort had just left; they were men whose work had always roused Julie's enthusiasm and whose company she had always delighted in; to-day she had received them indifferently, and seen them depart with something like relief. Madame Geoffrin watched her keenly.
Julie sat on a low stool behind the rosewood table set with the Sèvres china wreathed with brilliant-coloured flowers. Her tea-cup rested on her lap; her head was tilted back into the cushions of the gray and silver brocade chair; she wore a robe and petticoat of gauze, striped pale yellow and white, a fichu of fine muslin, a black velvet ribbon worked with a bouquet of yellow silk roses round her slender throat. Her hair was powdered and gathered up under a mob cap of blonde lace, her face was pale beneath the white and red, her figure slack.
'Mon amie,' remarked Madame de Geoffrin, 'you are out of love with life.'
Julie shook her head.
'No,' she answered. 'I am only waiting for the Spanish post.'
'But your news has been better—M. de Villa Hermosa has reassured us all as to M. de Mora's health.'
Julie was still listless.
'I lose my life in this waiting,' she replied. 'How do I know that they speak the truth? They hate me!'
'M. le Duc was always your good friend, Julie,' said Madame Geoffrin, 'and besides, he did not write to you, but to M. D'Alembert; why should he deceive him?'
'I know,' returned Julie wearily.
The old Marquise was making knots; the ivory spool, the gold threads fell in and out of her strong, white fingers. Suddenly, she put this work away in the shot-crimson taffeta bag that she carried on her arm and gave her undivided attention to Julie.
'Mon amie,' she said tenderly, 'you need a younger friend than myself. Why do you rebuff Madame de Chatillon—she loves you?'
'She is goodness itself,' answered Julie. 'But she wearies me—her head is as empty as a spent lantern—her soul is a desert, and I have no strength to fill either one or the other.'
Madame Geoffrin sighed.
'Madame de Boufflers?' she suggested.
Julie sat up and replaced her cup on the table.
'Mon amie,' she replied with sudden animation, 'in you I have the perfect friend—why should I ask further?'
Her dark and eloquent eyes looked with true affection at the old Marquise's stately figure in her black and violet brocade, with her clever, kindly face under the pillow of powdered hair.
'But I do not make you happy?' said Madame Geoffrin.
'Happy!' cried Julie. 'I have no right to be happy, madame!'
She glanced round the rich salon with a peculiar expression; she could never quite forget that she was here, as everywhere else, by sufferance, that she lived on charity, that wherever she went, there was some one to consider her an interloper, an intruder. No amount of delicate kindness could efface from her mind the consciousness that she belonged nowhere, but was always indebted to some one else for a corner in their home; in her soul she still felt the brand of her birth. Would the Fuentès have refused to have received her if she had been really a Demoiselle D'Albon?
'You were happy, mon ange,' said Madame Geoffrin gently, 'until you met M. de Mora.'
'On the contrary,' returned Julie, 'I can say with Tasso, "I wasted all my life before I began to love"—'
She rose and stood, a very slender figure, in the full lemon-coloured and white gown, resting her arms on the back of the silver-gray chair; she was all pale and faint as a pastel drawing, save for her dark eyes and the band of black round her throat.
'Your reading is too sentimental. Leave Rousseau and Diderot, Sterne and your Richardson, and take up Bemis, Dorat, Crebillon—gaiety, mon amie, gaiety!' said Madame Geoffrin.
Julie smiled. 'I can no longer be amused—I must be moved, frivolities cannot distract me. But why trouble about me? I suffer and I am ill.'
'But this illness,' said the old Marquise shrewdly, 'is of the soul.'
'M. de Mora must come back,' she said vehemently. 'Those Spanish doctors kill him M. D'Alembert has asked M. Lorry to write to him telling him he should return to Paris.'
'M. D'Alembert's friendship should soothe any pain, Julie.'
Mademoiselle de Lespinasse laughed faintly in a melancholy fashion.
'I fear I have done him harm,' she said sadly. 'If he loves me, certainly I have—'
'If he loves you, Julie!'
'I think it is but friendship. Mon Dieu, I wish he had stayed with Madame du Deffand—what have I given him but vexation?'
Madame Geoffrin had never heard Julie express herself so openly on this matter. She was alarmed and endeavoured to change the subject.
'Do you,' she asked in all innocence, 'find M. de Guibert as fascinating as he is supposed to be? I must admit to thinking him adorable.'
Julie had dined with M. de Vaines in company with the Comte de Crillon and Monsieur and Madame de Saint-Chamans; she had taken tea with Madame de Châtillon, and supped with Madame Necker. She returned home early, weary of all of them and hopeful of a Spanish letter, as it was the day the post was in; there was none. M. D'Alembert had not yet returned from the visit he was paying to Madame Geoffrin (he and Julie had begun to go out less together), and Julie felt a quick throb of loneliness. She dreaded the long weary night before her. This sensation of melancholy changed instantly she heard that M. de Guibert was waiting for her in the little crimson salon. Here was a distraction more powerful than opium to take her thoughts from the lack of news from Spain, more soothing than the opera, more pleasing than all the conversation of all her friends. She went straight into the little salon that never seemed dull or faded to her when M. de Guibert was there. A charming picture she made in the doorway as she paused, with an air of arrested movement, her short-sighted eyes narrowed on her visitor.
Her hooded mantle of black satin, lined with ermine, was flung open on her petticoat of white satin and robe of white Chinese velvet. She wore long white gloves and carried a huge muff of the white velvet, on which was fastened a bouquet of little taffeta roses in shades of purple and pink, with gold and silver leaves. A similar cluster was pinned into the lace at her breast; she wore no jewels and her hair was pomaded and dressed on the top of her head.
M. de Guibert was quick to admire her frail grace, the delicate splendour of her attire; she was very much grande dame. He had just come from Madame de Montsauge and Julie gained by the inevitable comparison. She offered him her hand. He kissed the ring M. de Mora had given her. Julie shivered. Though it was April a fire burned on the hearth, for Julie was always cold save when in the sun; her rooms were usually warm enough for exotic flowers; to-night the lacquer jar had been newly-filled with pot-pourri. A glass jar of forced lilies sent by Madame de Marchais stood on the acacia table. Julie's garments were scented with jasmine—these various perfumes mingled in one voluptuous odour in the hot air.
Julie took off her mantle and gloves and laid down her muff. M. de Guibert remained seated at his ease in one of the low bergères that showed his fine figure to advantage. As he was now bent more on literary than military triumphs, and sought to please the salons more than the army, he did not wear the blue and red uniform of the Colonel Commander of Corsicans, but a plain suit of pale red cloth, a light blue silk waistcoat, a muslin cravat and plain ruffles. She noticed these details at once—everything connected with this man was now becoming of intense interest to Julie.
They talked of the questions of the moment, of Turgot, Condorcet, the question of America, of the three Academies that M. de Guibert longed to conquer more than he had ever longed to subdue Corsica. A charming intimacy surrounded them. M. de Guibert was flattered by the notice of this famous woman, and her personality greatly attracted him. Sensuous, but temperamentally cold, and though avid for experience, never yet having tasted a warmer emotion than ambition, he was intensely fascinated by this seductive, frank, impetuous and passionate mature. He envied M. de Mora such an incomparable mistress. The pale emotions of the women he had hitherto known seemed very tasteless compared to what he knew Julie to be capable of; he was not a man to care about a risk of burnt fingers, but he found the warmth of bright flames very pleasant.
On her side, Julie regarded him with some secret anguish She studied his delightful face and saw neither passion nor sentiment there; she could imagine that his loves would be always brief and facile, and that though he might have the power to make a woman stake her all on him, it would always be that she lost. He would always do the obvious thing, thought Julie; his desires are commonplace, his ideals ordinary.
She shivered again as she thought how terrible it would be to be at this man's mercy, to be dependent on his tenderness for happiness, to be jealous of the movements of one so restless and inconstant; to have to compete for the dominion of a heart that would probably never be undivided. How much more blessed was she in the love of M. de Mora than she ever could be in that of this man Yet his mere presence stifled her intellect, her judgment, her prudence, and even her thoughts of her lover, and she used every effort to please him, without conscious art, perhaps, for she was by nature entirely without affectation in everything, but with all the eager vitality of her ardent nature. She had always had the power to become interested in everything she wished to, and now she wished very much to be interested in this man, in the colonial regiment that he had founded and commanded, in his past life as a soldier, in his famous book, in his love affairs and his literary ambitions and dazzling future.
She stood by the fire, her white skirts touched by a faint rosy glow that did not reach to her face, which had the ethereal and pearl-like pallor of ill-health. She was so graceful and well-made that her frailty did not displease, but gave her an air of almost superhuman delicacy very gratifying to the artificial taste of M. de Guibert. The light was very kind to her. The warm shadows disguised the defects in her features, and the lines spoiled by the smallpox, under the false bloom of powder and fine rouge, looked pure and exquisite; she had all the effect of beauty. Her fine eyes sparkled with more than their usual animation; the slight huskiness of her voice, and, now and then, a little cough, were the only signs that she suffered from any ill-health. M. de Guibert, studying her, again had that feeling of envy for M. de Mora; he did not speak his name, though Julie introduced that of Madame de Montsauge.
'How long will you continue to submit to the companionship of one so inferior?' she asked, with light curiosity.
'You think that I show weakness?' evaded M. de Guibert.
'Well,' said Julie ironically. 'Perhaps it is Madame de Montsauge who shows strength.'
M. de Guibert smiled. Tiresome as it might be to set himself free, he was not really afraid of, nor much troubled by, any woman.
'I am not so bound as you imagine,' he replied. 'I must not be—I have to think of my marriage.'
Julie felt as if her mounting spirits had suddenly lost their wings.
'Is that arranged?' she asked.
'Mon Dieu, no! But it must be!'
Julie glanced at his complacent good looks; so he was going to sell himself—just like any man, like M. de Crillon.
'I hope,' she said, 'that you will have the good luck, and the good taste, to fall in love with your wife.'
M. de Guibert returned her glance with a meaning look of radiancy in his gray eyes.
The women whom one must marry are seldom the women whom one can love.'
Anger coloured Julie's thin cheek; his admiration expressed in this manner roused all her sensitive pride.
'There are men who do not think of marriage save when they can love,' she answered impulsively, thinking of M. de Mora. 'But,' she added, almost contemptuously, 'you know nothing of that—we were talking of ordinary matters.'
M. de Guibert's amiable smile was not disturbed. It was seldom that women could ruffle him, for the real interests of his life did not lie with them.
'I have some good news,' he remarked, 'which I have delayed in the telling.'
Julie turned on an arrested breath.
'I have got the permission of the Ministry to my projected travels,' continued M. de Guibert. 'And they will find the money. I hope to leave immediately for Prussia.'
Julie moved away and seated herself on the red ottoman; it was as if a faint veil had been dropped over her face obscuring her bright look of enthusiasm.
'I am sorry for Madame de Montsauge,' she said.
'My absence will make no difference to my feelings—'
'Ah, mon Dieu!' cried Julie. 'When one is in love one does not go to Prussia!'
She was thinking of herself, not of the other woman, and he knew it. Into his half-dosed eyes shot the look that had before reminded her of one of the scoundrels in her favourite fiction.
'M. de Mora left you,' he remarked;
At this name, Julie blazed. 'He had every motive for going—and above all, one that if he succeeds in achieving will leave me his debtor to eternity!'
M. de Guibert smiled. His look, his manner, his composure, the health and glow and charm of his person tormented Julie; at the bottom of all her distracted thoughts was this stinging reflection: 'It is easy for him to go and difficult for me to stay behind.' She felt intensely humiliated that she had put it in this man's power to cause her any pain; exasperated at the knowledge that she had no shadow of right to control, or even criticise his actions, and wounded that he should put anything before her proffered friendship.
'You will write to me?' he asked.
'I do not know how your absence will affect me,' she said, 'nor whether I shall have either the wish, the power, or the time to write.' She said this with the indifferent air of a great lady besought for favours, and felt that in some degree she had vindicated herself.
M. de Guibert, who did not greatly trouble what her feelings were, nor if he hurt her, and who only wanted an intelligent listener, began to speak of his proposed visit to Ferney and Potsdam, of the chance that his travels would extend as far as the Court of Catherine, and of the book he was to write when he returned.
Julie listened wearily, leaning back in her cushions. She did not look at M. de Guibert, but stared at the two white busts that faced her; the flickering candler light gave to that of D'Alembert a reproachful look, she thought, and to that of Voltaire an ironical smile.
She admitted herself a fit object for reproach and irony. Why should she, ennobled by the deathless love of a splendid man, set apart from other women by the sorrow and sacredness of her secret betrothal, be agitated by the loss of the society of this conventional darling of the salons, this man adored by commonplace women?
She turned her head, and looked at him with the scornful intention of disabusing herself of any faith in him, any interest, and endeavoured to strengthen herself with the memory of her noble and loyal lover. But as she stared at him, she found herself noticing the details of his person; the strength and compact grace of his slightly thick-set figure, his short neck, his deep chest, the sheer animal health and serene good spirits expressed in his blunt, fresh features; his masterful gray eyes, radiant with youth and ardour, held the allure of ingenuous and imperious masculinity, a look not often seen in the men of Julie's world. As she gazed at him, and listened to that beautiful voice, that was one of his greatest charms, she realised, with a dreadful sinking of the heart, that he alone in all Paris was vivid and real to her, that he had been her one consolation, her one distraction since the departure of M. de Mora, and that, if he left her, she would be surrounded by a desert from which her soul shrank. It was a year since he had Come into her life, and already he was as necessary to her as the air she breathed; she knew this in the light of his impending absence, and she was terrified at herself.
'Mon Dieu!' she cried impulsively, interrupting his eager discourse, 'why need you go?'
M. de Guibert paused, startled and fascinated by this note of passion. In his dealings with women he was more the soldier than the Parisian; he rose and said, almost bluntly,—
'Do you want me to stay?'
Julie coloured at this directness; yet it thrilled her. She had to control herself not to respond with stormy impetuousness.
'Friends are not so common,' she said.
'Julie de Lespinasse has friends enough,' he replied.
'Never enough, mon Dieu!' She spoke with an effort; a rare thing for her, and he knew it. He was watching her curiously.
'You have distracted me,' she added. 'I dislike these foreign countries that take you away.' She also rose, moved by that inner restlessness that she could not combat. M. de Guibert snuffed the neglected candles that flared on the mantelpiece. As he performed this simple task he was wondering' what to do with Julie. She was not thinking at all, but marking his extremely fine hand raised against the flame and the strength of the wrist from which the pale muslin ruffle fell back.
'I shall return,' he said, without looking round.
Julie did not answer. A thought sudden and fierce as the touch of a flaming arrow-head, touched her: 'If he loved me but half as much as M. de Mora loves me, he would not go.' Then she cursed herself for this, and stood taut and horrified as one drawn up on the edge of a precipice.
The little red salon seemed very silent, very remote, very far-removed from the world, as dreamlike to her heavy eyes as that day when her lover had said goodbye, and she had fallen in abject misery along the ottoman by which she was now standing. She could not disguise how powerfully she was moved.
'I shall miss you,' she said.
Never before had she so flattered any man. The husky notes of her troubled voice brought a tinge of colour into M. de Guibert's firm cheek. There was something conveyed by her personality that was like inner exultation and outward fear. This roused him; never had he found her charm so seductive. His heart beat a shade faster, and for the moment he forgot Ferney and Potsdam, his new book, the battlefields of the Seven Years' War.
'I shall write to you,' he said, 'from every stage, by every post.'
Julie put out her hand as if she warded off danger.
'I implore you to deal frankly with me,' she said. 'I constrain you to nothing—write to me little, or much, or not at all.'
She moved wearily towards the hearth on which the fire was dying. The faint, steady light of the falling embers cast a golden bloom over her white velvet, her white satin, her tired face.
'I shall return,' repeated M. de Guibert.
A strange look flashed in the depths of her dark eyes.
'I am used to waiting,' she answered.
He was watching her very intently. In this environment that so exactly suited her and was so peculiarly her own, she was as exquisite as a pearl on a golden thread, and very alluring to the senses of the man who observed her because of this human stress and hunger, and flux and reflux of pride and emotion that glowed beneath her delicate refinement.
We become dull,' she said suddenly. 'Do not wait for M. D'Alembert—he will be late. I wish to be alone—your adieux another time, monsieur.'
M. de Guibert laughed away this dismissal. 'You are too much alone,' he answered.
Before she could guess his intention he was beside her and had taken her in his arms as simply as if they were acknowledged lovers. His own blood leapt to hear her little cry, and to feel the shudder that shook her. The flame and swiftness, if not the heat and force of passion, was easily roused in him, and he kissed her as he had not meant to kiss her, with an eager strength that had all the glow of love.
Julie had thought she knew all there was to know of passion. Now she realised that she had been used to the caresses of a sick man, and saw the long episode of her love affair as a drama that had lacked a climax—a flower that had never come to fruition.
She loathed M. de Guibert for giving her this wisdom, for making what had seemed so perfect appear pale and colourless, and she drew herself away, flushed and trembling, but with dignity.
'A moment more,' he said, much moved. 'Give me a moment more, mon amie.'
Julie shivered back against the wall; she was frightened at herself for the first time in her life. Never had a man touched her in this fashion; the love-making of M. de Mora had always been romantic, ethereal, high-flown, sentimental, such as had suited her innate fastidiousness. All other men had treated her with entire deference; no one had kissed more than her hand—not even D'Alembert...
'I am very tired,' she said proudly. She tried to collect herself. She still seemed to feel the warm fragrance of his cheek and lips and breath—the strength of his firm but delicate embrace. She would not look at him, but pulled the bell-rope behind her. She had difficulty in maintaining the stillness of her demeanour.
'I being what I am,' she said, a is impossible that you mean to amuse yourself with me. You being what you are, it is impossible that I mean to amuse myself with you. That we can be friends is equally impossible—adieu!'
'Why?' he asked, neither daunted nor vexed.
Julie, with her usual proud frankness, gave him the truth. 'Because you are a type of man new to me, and one that I do not know how to manage.'
M. de Guibert took this as a confession of defeat, but before he could follow up his advantage, Madame Saint-Martin entered. Julie held out her hands.
'Ah, my good creature, I am tired—tired—tired! Adieu, monsieur.'
She was gone swiftly, and the chamber-woman followed her. M. de Guibert picked up his hat and coat; his feeling for Julie could not, for an instant, deflect him from his resolve to leave Paris, but it made him look forward to his return. In the little anteroom he met M. D'Alembert entering with a letter in his hand.
'The Spanish post,' smiled the little philosopher. 'I have been to fetch this letter—it was late to-day, and if I had not gone, Mademoiselle de Lespinasse would have had to wait until the morning—a letter from M. de Mora,' he beamed, and one from M. de Villa Hermosa.'
'Mademoiselle de Lespinasse is anxious about the health of M. de Mora?' suggested M. de Guibert suavely.
'But terribly!' exclaimed M. D'Alembert, eagerly. 'He is one of her dearest friends—but lately the news has been better. Forgive me, monsieur, if I hasten to give her this letter.'
They parted. The young soldier laughed as he descended the dark, humble stairs. The behaviour of the great man seemed to him almost too astonishingly amusing to be true.
'Truly,' he thought, 'since the philosophers introduced the age of Reason, there has been no more common sense in Paris.'
Julie had written her letter to Madrid; she had sat hours over it, and it was full of protestations of love and fidelity, but for the first time it was not a single-hearted letter, for M. de Mora no longer occupied the first place in Julie's tempestuous heart. She loathed herself, she fought with fury against the fate that was overwhelming her. Even in her own soul she denied passionately that she was faithless to her 'incomparable lover,' as she named him to herself, but she could no more resist the charm of M. de Guibert than she could resist the opium to which she continuously turned in her desperation. Since the day that he had informed her of his intended journey, she had seen him often; but never alone. She told herself fiercely that when he left Paris he would leave her life, and that this departure would be the most fortunate thing that could happen. But she knew that she would have given anything to have kept him near her; she knew that the thought of Madame de Montsauge tortured her, and that when she observed Madame de Boufflers paying court to the hero of the hour, and M. de Guibert by no means insensible to her coquetry, that her friendship for that lady melted like a snow-wreath before the sun, and she came perilously near to hating the seductive Comtesse. She tried to fortify herself with the logic of the school in which she had been so long trained. 'If I,' she told herself, 'permitted myself to think too much of this man whom I neither know, nor really admire, while I am pledged to the noblest and most devoted of lovers, whose trust in me is perfect, I should be the basest of creatures, without a shadow of an excuse—not even that of youth. Mon Dieu! I am forty!'
But Julie found that all the reason, all the philosophy in the Encyclopaedia were insufficient to calm one wild human heart. She endeavoured to absorb herself in her usual pursuits; she wrote to M. Condorcet, to M. Suard; she waited on Madame Geoffrin; she held her crowded brilliant salons; she went out to dinner, tea, supper; she showed her usual eager interest in the affairs of her world—the new book by M. Thomas, the reforms of M. Turgot. She exercised her usual keen judgment, her clear intelligence, but it was all on the surface. Her heart was entirely occupied with M. de Guibert. He found occasion to write to her, and she did not answer him; when he came to see her, she evaded him. She asked him to supper, but M. D'Alembert was always present; yet it was with a fierce pleasure that she noted that he was losing some of his calm, that he sought her out, that he was certainly seeing less of Madame de Montsauge.
She thought that he was catching some of her agitation, that she had roused him, at least a little, and this gave her a new sensation of breathless, incredulous triumph. Hitherto, she had taken her dominion over men for granted—with M. de Guibert she had never been sure of her influence.
Her health continued to suffer from the secret emotions that tore her soul. She was sleepless, shaken with a painful cough, prostrated by sickness and attacks of pain, consumed with fever almost every evening. Yet, with a flaming energy that was almost superhuman, she would not interrupt her daily life, nor see any doctor save the little local physician, who gave her medicines that she laughed at.
'Nothing agrees with people like happiness,' she said ironically. 'Have you the prescription?'
She refused to visit M. Lorry, or to give up the opium; she put M. D'Alembert to a torture as acute as her own with her refusal to take care of herself and the angry coldness, or glacial indifference, that covered her inward struggles; yet never did he suspect that she was unfaithful to their unsigned compact, or regardless of the love he had never spoken. Julie, when she gave him a thought at all, heartily desired his absence, and even tried to persuade him to pay a visit to Penney. But M. D'Alembert had tried this in the early days of her infatuation for M. de Mora, when her distraction had distressed him unbearably, and he had found life unendurable away from Julie de Lespinasse, and had cancelled his projected travels, to accomplish which he had received a grant from the King of Prussia, and returned instantly to the humble upper room in the rue Saint-Dominique, and knew that he could never bring himself to leave the woman whom he so blindly adored.
Within a few days of the departure of M. de Guibert, Julie yielded to the persistent and imperative clamour of her heart, and sent the young colonel a note that brought him at once to her apartment. She had been dining with Madame de Châtillon, and had not taken off her mantle when M. de Guibert arrived. In this garment of pale-red satin edged with gray fur she was standing by the window, looking out on to the pale spring day.
A fine rain was falling, and the air was chilly—houses and sky were gray alike; there was no sign of May here in the heart of the city. It was a year, almost to the very day, since Julie had first met M. de Guibert. She turned at his entry, looking haggard in the light that was lifeless yet penetrating; her lack of youth and of health was painfully apparent, but her vivid personality triumphed, and she glowed with life.
'Why did I ask you to come?' she greeted him. 'I think that you were made to torment me.'
M. de Guibert was radiant. Adventure, novelty, applause and fame were before him. He was going to do what he wanted to do, and be admired for it. He had his work to satisfy his ambition, adoring women to satisfy his emotions, and a crowd of flatterers to satisfy his vanity. His healthy manhood was content, his splendid egotism viewed the world as a wholly delightful place. He saw that there was much wrong, and he was sincerely anxious to serve in the cause of right; his outlook was noble, and his patriotism genuine, but no real pang was caused him by the sufferings or difficulties of humanity. In Julie he saw the means of a new and fascinating experience. The sentimental friendship of this passionate and famous woman flattered both his senses and his intelligence, and he saw no reason to forgo it. To Monsieur de Mora he gave no more thought than he did to Monsieur D'Alembert. It was easy for him to effect a charming friendship for the philosopher, while in his heart good-humouredly considering him a fool; and it was more than easy, it was instinctive, to dismiss from his mind a man three hundred leagues away who was probably dying.
To the subtle tortures that Julie was enduring he gave no consideration. Her suppressed fury of feeling, which he could not yet quite put a name to, roused and slightly agitated him. His heart had begun to be stirred with the uneasy vibrations roused by the proximity of an appealing passion. He did not speak to her now, but stood looking at her in her crimson salon; he had often of late visited this little room in his thoughts.
'You go on Tuesday?' asked Julie; her eyes were bright and there was some colour in her cheeks, for his sheer presence made her spirits rise.
'Yes,' he replied. 'But I do not think of my departure, but of my return.'
'If that were true, you would not go!' she said instantly.
'I must,' he answered. He was no adept in gallant speeches, and did not know how to flatter one so direct.
Julie moved from the window and flung off her mantle impatiently. The gown revealed, of wide poppy red and white satin stripes, was the brightest thing in the room.
'Ah, go she cried. 'Your talents condemn you to celebrity, you must endure greatness! You have no room in your life for gentle affections and soft emotions.'
'You say that? Mon ami, I have come to offer you my most tender friendship—my most faithful devotion.'
'I do not want it!' returned Julie angrily...'Ah, you are an excellent and amiable creature! The letter you sent me had the sweetness of Gessner, am' the energy of Jean Jacques—you have all that can please and touch—the gift you offer me is one of which I am not worthy! Eh! no, I do not want your friendship—it consoles me—exasperates me—and I have no need of either one or the other—'
'What do you want?' he asked, in a moved tone.
Julie looked at him with something like despair in her large, candid eyes. 'I have need of rest,' she said. 'And to forget you during some time.' She sank on to the ottoman, her bright skirts about her, and clasped her hands in her lap.
'You shall not forget me,' said M. de Guibert quietly. She continued to look at him; her expression was now almost one of terror.
'I want to be frank,' she answered, in a hoarse, hurried voice, 'with you—with myself. And in truth, in the trouble in which I am, I fear, to wrong one of us. Ah, mon Dieu! perhaps my remorse is greater than my wrong; perhaps this fear I feel would only offend he whom I love!'
M. de Guibert came nearer. He wore black, which further enhanced the youthful freshness of his face; a magnificent crimson rose, scented with perfume, was fastened into the lace of his cravat.
'Do you love M. de Mora?' he asked bluntly.
Julie shrank back into the cushions of the ottoman.
'If you could see the letter that I received this morning!' she cried desperately. 'It was so full of confidence in my affection! He writes of my thoughts, my very soul, with that clear certainty one uses when one feels intensely. Ah, mon Dieu by what fatality, by what charm, have you come to distract me?
The young soldier rested his hands on the arm of the sofa, and regarded her steadily, with an eager look in his pleasant gray eyes.
'Have I distracted you, Julie?' he asked under his breath.
Julie de Lespinasse shrank still farther away from this presence, so redolent of the perfume of youth and health, from this firm, charming face, bending over her, so full of a gay, careless, yet intense and eager life. She looked at him with a keyed-up courage, an anxious defiance.
'Why did I not die last September?' she stammered. 'I should then have died without regret, without having any reproaches to make to myself! Alas I feel that even now I would die for him—there is nothing I would not sacrifice to his good—!' She paused, then added wildly: 'These two months past I have no sacrifices left to make! I no longer belong to myself—I do not love more, but I love better.'
He stooped down and pressed her to him. She tried to hold him off while her unsteady voice continued:—
'But he will pardon me I have suffered so much! My body, my soul have been exhausted by the weight of my grief. His absence—this last persecution of the post, reduced me almost to despair. You—you have saved me—re-animated my heart, given me pleasure, interest in life...Ah, I know not whether I love or hate you for this!'
'Kiss me, Julie,' was all he said.
She quivered close to him, and caught at the lapels of his coat; then shuddered away, forcing herself out of his arms.
'Tell me,' she cried in horror, 'does friendship speak like this? Why have I given you my confidence? Make me know myself, help me to regain my strength. My soul is in darkness and confusion!'
'Julie! Julie, why this distress? I care for you! There is no one in the world who comes before you in my thoughts!'
She saw that he was moved, but she saw also that his was a facile and superficial sentiment. Her tone sank to gentleness, and the great tears filled her frightened eyes.
'Ah,' she replied, 'your travels will soon distract you from this affection!'
She rose, hardly knowing what she was doing, her fingers plucked at the laces on her breast, a hectic colour showed beneath her eyes. 'Is this remorse?' she cried. 'Is it my fault—or yours? Is it your departure? Grand Dieu! what is it that persecutes me? I can no more.'
M. de Guibert, shaken on his part, a little bewildered, wholly flattered, was instantly by her side, and would have caught hold of her, but she put him off.
'Ask nothing of me,' she implored. 'In this moment I confide in you wholly—I could tell you all that has happened to me, all my life, but I would not sadden you with so much sorrow Ah, leave me—adieu!—I will see you to-morrow if I can face you after what I have said to-day!'
M. de Guibert, baffled, and finning his usual ways with women of no avail, remained a pace away from her, gazing intently at her face, which, from behind its veil of sorrow, was radiant with the glow, the promise, and the appeal of a whole-hearted passion.
'Would to heaven that you were my friend, or that I had never seen you!' she cried. She rose and her movement was as if she pushed him away from her with vehement hands.
'Will you write to me?' he cried.
Julie de Lespinasse smiled. 'Do not forget that you have promised at once to burn my letters!' she said.
She moved away from him lightly, as a mist-wreathed phantom. 'Do you think that you will be my friend?' she asked. 'Think it over—once only.' She had gained the door of her room, and stood with her fingers on the handle. 'Do I ask too much?' she murmured. Then, without looking at him, was gone.
M. de Guibert was roused as he had seldom been before. He still never thought of abandoning his journey, but he began to think with even more keenness of his return—if this seductive woman should be in the same humour. She had ended the interview, and he was too wise to endeavour to remain in her apartment or to force himself into her presence. With his fancy excited and his imagination stimulated, he left her to seek, not the society of Madame de Montsauge, that was dull by contrast, but the graceful aroma of coquetry and adulation that perfumed the lovely apartments of Madame de Boufflers.
Two days later, Julie, believing that he had departed on the Tuesday, was surprised and stabbed to hear that he was still in Paris. Thursday morning found her at the door of his lodgings in the rue Taranne. She learnt that he had left a few hours before.
Julie's mind beat over two questions as she returned, lonely, in her hired carriage: 'Why did he not tell me he was staying longer? With whom did he pass those last twenty-four hours that he denied to me?' She knew that she had no right even to wonder about his movements, and she came back to her little salon with complete desolation in her heart. She had a ghastly sense of doing the same thing twice, as if she had known every throb of this restless anguish before. This bewildered her—she could not tell for whom she mourned. Her lover was like a phantom to her, with his pale face and reproachful eyes, a phantom obscured by distance and illness; unreal to her also was the other man, who had lately left her, his firm, vivid face seemed to have passed into the figures of her dreams. She viewed the desert of her exceeding loneliness and knew not what she lacked, yet knew that it was neither of these men—but love Love was her need, and twice love had left her; his light was withdrawn, and she groped in darkness.
Exceedingly bitter was it to be again alone, again watching for the post, living from day to day, dragging the unwilling hours on to she knew not what glimmer of hope.
Ah! how weary she was of delayed fruition; this budless spring, this undrained cup, this deferred promise, this waiting—this postponement of all satisfactions and desires. Like a creature at bay, she turned, hardly knowing what she did, to snatch some fire from the torch of life before her destiny threw it smoking at her feet. She wrote to M. de Guibert at Strassburg. 'I know not if I regret you,' she said, 'but I miss you as I would my pleasure.'
Throughout the long days she continued to write to M. de Guibert letters ironical, tender, bewildered, frank, full of a seething unhappiness and an unfathomable yearning. The pang of separation coloured her appealing lines; on every page she laid bare the fact that the absence of the man to whom she wrote was her greatest anguish; unutterable forlornness showed even in the sentences that she strove to render gay; the struggle and impatience of a strong nature tinged with bitterness her lightest words. Every letter was as the proud protest of a woman being dragged unwillingly to her knees, forced to the edge of a terrible abyss. An incurable melancholy pervaded these letters. She never ceased to repeat that she was ill and sad; she showed that the words of Bossuet, 'on trouve au fond de tout le vide e le néant' echoed in her bereft soul. The replies to these outpourings, though full of affection and gratitude, were such as she might have shown to M. de Mora himself. And her correspondent did not hesitate to tell her that he was also writing to Madame de Montsauge and Madame de Boufflers, and Julie had to endure the tortures of futile jealousy.
'Give us our places,' she cried. 'But, as I love not to change, give me one a little worthy—not on the level of that unhappy person!' She had already humiliated herself to the extent of allowing this man to speak of her and his mistress in one breath. She sensed further humiliations ahead of her unless she could cure herself of this over-eager, over-sensitive affection, which was beginning to absorb her entire life. She continued to write to Madrid; her love for M. de Mora was not dead, but dwelt in the bottom of her soul—a haunting, a reproachful, and desperate thing. When she heard of his serious relapse she was ill with agony, and made desperate efforts to accomplish his return to Paris.
'The Spanish doctors will kill him,' she said. 'To save himself he must come.' Soon she added: 'And to save me.'
She sincerely believed that his dear presence would kill the new influence
that was besetting her; she longed to gaze into his sincere eyes, to hear his
voice trembling with love for her, to forget everything in the circle of his
arms. What did those schemes of marriage, that had once meant so much to her,
matter now? Julie cared for nothing save that her lover should come and save
her from herself. She seldom slept without opium now; often she would start
up in the night from painful slumbers full of crowded dreams, draw back the
red curtains, and stare across the familiar room, looking unfamiliar in the
dull light of the night-lamp. And then, amid the circling terrors of her
distraught loneliness, when others might fancy they beheld a vision of an
angel, or a God come to save them, she would see the pale, beautiful face of
the man who loved her, looking down on her with infinite tenderness and deep
compassion. Only the undiminished force of her soul, the astonishing fire of
her spirit, enabled her to endure such sufferings. She lived in a perpetual
fever, the drug in her veins, the passion in her heart, equally intoxicating
her. Sometimes she was gay, witty, sometimes she laughed, always she was
incurably sad; always like a creature possessed, moving through her
accustomed life with instinctive charm and grace, but with all her inner
being under the spell of devastating afflictions. Her illness made great
advance. She was devouring herself, using up her vital forces, consuming her
own life with the impetuous violence of her feelings; her forced activity was
paid for by long hours of prostration. She would then lie like one dead on
the crimson bed in a sleep not due to opium. There came dolorous months in
the summer when she heard neither from Madrid, where M. de Mora lay sick, nor
from Berlin, where M. de Guibert was being fêted—then she received news
of the serious relapse of the former, and a cold note from the latter. 'You
find me very unjust—very difficult,' she wrote in her desperation, to
Berlin. 'I am nothing of all that—I am very truthful, very sick and
very unhappy. Oh, yes, very unhappy! Do you think, in the trouble that I am,
that I have the power to constrain myself?' Then fiercely she set herself to
win this man on whom her last chance of happiness seemed to depend.
'Our friendship must be grand, strong, and entire—our connection
tender, solid, and intimate—or it must be nothing at all. I can never
repent of having let you see my entire soul. If it does not please you, you
can despise it. Eh bien, let us be sincere, and neither ashamed, nor
embarrassed. We may return to where we were when we parted, and believe that
we have dreamt. We will add this episode to the chapter of life that is
called "experience," and we will conduct ourselves as well-bred people to
whom it is not permitted to talk of their dreams.'
Then the imperative need of her nature overcame this delicate pride.
'You will not tell me what place I am to have in your affections. Do you
fear to give me too much, or too little? Your hesitation is perhaps prudent,
but it is not noble. Youth is so magnificent that it loves to be prodigal,
but you are as grudging as if you were old, or rich.'
Her pen went on to reproaches:—
'As soon as you return you will go to Montauban—and after that a
thousand other projects! On my honour, I think it was a misfortune in my life
that day I went, a year ago, to the Moulin Joli. I was very far from needing
to form a new tie; my life, my soul were so filled that I wanted no new
interest; but this is pitiful! Are we free? Is it that all that is could be
otherwise? You were not free to tell me if you would write often, and I am
not free to say I do not greatly desire it—'
So Julie, at her cylinder desk, her frail body shaken, her hastening hand, frequently stayed by her cough or an attack of breathless pain. She had barely sealed this letter when M. D'Alembert arrived with one from Madrid. Julie seized it, taking no more notice of the bearer than if he had been a lackey, and tore open the seals that bore the impress of the Fuentès' proud coat of arms. M. D'Alembert retired to the fireplace, seated himself on one of the low chairs, and gazed with timid and adoring affection at the figure of Julie de Lespinasse.
This man, once so gay, so ironical, so witty—a leader of profound thought, the prophet of a tremendous movement, was now only existing to serve the sorrow of this woman that he did not understand. In her white dimity skirt and white ruffled muslin bed-jacket with her dark hair unpowdered and her face unrouged, Julie looked, to the anxious eyes of M. D'Alembert, ill indeed.
Julie put down the letter. She felt her soul freeze with horror. M. de Mora could no longer disguise his own creeping fear; it showed through the words with which he endeavoured to reassure her; he was weak, confined to his room, there had been another bleeding from the lungs, fainting fits, fever.
'Three hundred leagues apart and a mortal illness!' cried Julie again in her soul. How fantastic now seemed her hopes of the future—an honourable marriage, love, and repose...She rose.
'Bad news?' asked M. D'Alembert, also rising. Julie looked at him blankly; she had, in truth, forgotten his presence.
'Oh, mon ami,' she replied, 'as good as I deserve.'
She went into her chamber, shutting out all this passionate devotion that trembled with eagerness to serve and console. And it was to another man that she wrote: 'You only have the power to suspend for some instants my grief, and this moment's relief attaches me to you for life.'
The thought of M. de Mora was like a spectre before her; more than ever
her one relief was in writing to M. de Guibert:—
'You must have a little impatience to know if I exist still, or
not—eh bien, yes I am condemned to live, no longer free to die.
It would be a wrong towards one who loves to live for me. I hope he will
haste his return, but he cannot support the great heat, so I must wait. Oh
mon Dieu I always to see pleasure deferred and sorrow present If you
knew the need I have for repose—for a year I have been on the
Page after page she filled, one impassioned phrase leaping after the
'Adieu, once more,' she ended. 'My quality of folly is worthy of your
pity. How many letters do you open before mine? Three—ten?'
Almost every day she wrote to him, finding in this occupation the real
interest of her life. She hardly noticed the half-startled surprise of the
man to whom she wrote, save to treat his prudence, his care to associate M.
D'Alembert in their correspondence, his advice to her not to suffer on his
account, with a noble disdain.
'Your letters might be written to any woman of your acquaintance. Mine
could have but one address.'
His rare and careless tenderness angered her ardent, delicate soul.
'What does my suffering matter to you? What value am I to you? Your soul
is so occupied, your life so full and so agitated, how is it that you have
time to pity me, or to respond to my friendship?'
Hearing in the salon of Madame de Boufflers a discussion as to the
present state of the love affairs of M. de Guibert, she wrote to him in a
tone of scarcely-concealed jealousy the whole scene.
'They say that you are in love—no longer with Madame de
Montsauge—"but why, then, does he go to Prussia? Is it, perhaps, to
cure himself, or to inspire a warmer sentiment in the woman he loves?" And I,
who had been silent, was asked what I knew. "Ah! I know nothing at
all! I know that he is in Berlin, that he is well, that the king has received
him graciously, that he reviews troops, that he will go into
Silesia—and that is all that interests me." And then we spoke of the
Opera, of Madame la Dauphine, and a thousand other interesting
Soon she changed this tone of light irony for one of a deep and humble
'You are so strong, so calm, so occupied, that you cannot be touched,
either by great misfortunes or little chagrins. I shall disgust you with my
soul, so little, so ordinary. But I cannot help showing it to you—when
I look into the future, I feel my soul freeze! This is not because greatness
frightens me, but because that which is great merits admiration more than
love. Ah, I am stupid! I am mad! I am worse than that—I am
She praised M. de Mora with desperate sincerity; she showed a feverish anxiety lest the news of her new friendship should reach Madrid.
M. de Chastellux, having rallied her on her correspondence with Berlin,
she wrote in terror:—
'What have you told him? Do you burn my letters? Nay, I see them falling
from your pockets, your portfolios—the confusion of your papers
Proudly she answered his conventional, evasive letters, which began to
assume a tone of rebuff:—
'You have no need to be loved—you do not wish to make me suffer?
What price, then, do you put on this connection where all the advantage is to
be on my side? Alas! one must be calm to reply to the questions of
indifference! Unhappiness has made me too stupid to answer what you ask me. I
reproach myself that I have shown you the sufferings of my soul. I have no
right to your compassion—you owe me nothing. I detest—I abhor the
fatality that made me write you that first letter. Mon Dieu! if you
knew how little my soul is! It sees only one thing in nature worth occupying
itself with—Caesar, Voltaire, the King of Prussia, appear worthy of
admiration without being worthy of envy. I will not tell you what that one
thing is. But do not put me beside the other women of your acquaintance. You
do not realise my worth; believe that I know how to suffer, and how to
die—see if I resemble these women who know how to please and
With her utter sincerity, she saw that he was endeavouring to write to her
and avoid personal allusions.
'In the name of God, talk to me no more of the news of The Gazette,
which I never read!'
Towards the end of July a bitter cry escaped from her distracted
'...the greatest distances are not those that Nature has marked by
leagues—the Indies are not so far from Paris as the 27th of June is
from the 15th of July. These are the real separations—the real
distances—the forgetfulness of the soul, which resembles death, but is
worse, for it lasts longer.'
She was not deceived in the character of the man who fascinated her; again
and again she held the mirror up to him with a frankness to which his vanity
was little used.
'You are ardent you are passionate! you are young, you are capable of all
that is strong and great. But there will never be anything in your life but
actions you are incapable of sensibility and tenderness, of all the sweet and
These judgments were annulled by bursts of almost maternal
'You are amiable to have thought to have enlarged your writing for me, but
now I regret that I complained of the smallness of your characters, for I am
robbed of several lines! Ah, mon Dieu! remain as you are. I will
complain of nothing. Write with a fly's feet, make the tour of the
world—in a word, do not change a hair's-breadth from your manner of
being. I know not if this is the best possible, but to me there could be
nothing more agreeable. Is not this praise fade? Do not mock me. I am
very stupid, but I assure you that I am a good creature, am I not?'
So Julie, during the hot days of summer to the man half Europe was fêting.
His replies were dictated by kindliness, some vanity, and some alarm at the stormy soul being revealed to him. He was not in love with her, and did not wish to be. In all the distractions of his brilliant travels, he would probably have forgotten that she had ever awakened any emotion in his heart had not her letters, like burning arrows, pursued him from stage to stage until he was troubled, moved, restless, half-tempted to respond to this awakening passion that he strove to ignore.
He used the disguise 'friendship' till it was threadbare. The eyes, the lips of Julie, smiled with anguish at him from behind this age-worn mask that her contemptuous fingers removed so early from her face. She breathed 'love' from every line she wrote, and he was vexed, not understanding.
To the woman, shut up in Paris, came the dread that this errant spirit
would completely forget her.
'The habit of unhappiness spoils all,' she wrote. 'When I opened your
letter my first sensation was one of fear—with how many regrets do you
fill my life! I enjoy your friendship; it would be my consolation, my
pleasure—and you are a thousand leagues away, and I cannot free myself
from the fear that your occupations, distance, a thousand distractions will
cause you to forget an interest that never filled your heart, and that time
had never made a habit...I am so fond of you that I cannot impose on myself
the least restraint. I prefer to have to ask your pardon than never to commit
any faults. I have no pride with you—I hate prudence, I hate those
conventional friendships that substitute discretion for interest, delicacy
for sensibility. I love abandon—I would that one should be so with
Yet when he, animated by the warm torrent of her words, responded with
some of her own heat, the distress of her soul found vent in reproaches.
'Your friendship is a new unhappiness for me. Ah, why have you penetrated
into my soul, why shown me yours? Why have you established an intimacy
between two people whom everything separates? Sometimes I check myself in my
desire for your return, for I fear that your affection will be my
When she heard that his voyages were to be shortened, her first impulse
was one of jealousy.
'To whom have you made the sacrifice of Sweden?'
Towards the autumn his letters ceased, and Julie humiliated herself in her
'Here is my fifth letter without a reply—how many people make you
M. de Guibert sent news of his illness as an excuse, and the unhappy Julie
redoubled her passionate tenderness while reproaching him for the formal way
in which he acknowledged her letters:—
'I do not want your gratitude; it is a sentiment that I abhor—and,
strangely enough, you are the last man in the world whom I make an effort to
This was the last letter that she wrote to Austria, for M. de Guibert was returning to Paris.
While Julie was absorbed by the secret agony of her correspondence with M. de Guibert, M. D'Alembert was loyally engaged in endeavouring to bring about the return of M. de Mora to Paris.
Not only did he wish to please Julie, whose grief he believed to be entirely due to the absence and illness of her friend, but he himself sincerely loved the young Spaniard, whose noble qualities and vivid charm had attracted so many hearts.
The philosopher engaged the famous M. Anne Charles Lorry, the most famous doctor in Paris, to write to M. de Mora that his advice was an immediate return to the banks of the Seine, away from the pernicious treatment of the Spanish doctors.
Having enlisted the sympathy of the warm-hearted Duc de Villa Hermosa in the scheme, M. D'Alembert was confident of success, and ventured to tell Julie so.
'I believe,' he said one evening, returning from Madame Geoffrin to find Julie alone, 'that we shall soon have him back.'
The philosopher, in his single-mindedness, used no name. Julie thought he meant the man who absorbed her own heart.
'In a day or so,' she replied faintly.
M. D'Alembert stared at her with his mild, anxious eyes.
'Mon Dieu! not so soon as that. Lorry's letter will have hardly reached them by then.'
Julie saw her mistake, and the painful colour flooded her haggard face. She clasped her hands more tightly in her lap, and leant forward from her low cane chair towards the fire that played between the iron dogs.
'My head is confused,' she said hoarsely. 'I have spoken with forty people to-day, dined with Madam Chatillon, and entertained M. de Chastellux. Mon Dieu how wearisome he is with his comedies of La Chrevette! And then M. de Crillon, with his heiress—and all these people spoke of M. de Guibert, who returns this month.'
M. D'Alembert liked the young soldier, but his faithful heart did not consider him on the same plane with M. de Mora.
'Ah, yes,' he said pleasantly. 'These fashionable folk must have their little god—to-day one, to-morrow another. This young man is more worthy than some, but, au fond commonplace!'
Julie shivered; it seemed to her that her infidelity must be branded on the face she shaded with her frail hand from the heat of the flames.
'I meant M. de Mora,' continued M. D'Alembert eagerly. 'Would not that cheer you, mon amie, if he were to return?'
She avoided his tender glance.
'Certainly M. de Mora had better return,' she answered slowly, 'for the sake of—all his friends.'
Her gaze travelled nervously round the familiar room; the red hangings, the comfortable furniture, the prints, the busts, the mirrors oppressed her with a sense of monotony; they fretted her almost as much as did the presence of M. D'Alembert.
She thought of the old story of the sweet basil that, perfumed and fragrant, yet when placed under a stone, bred a scorpion; so her delicate and pleasant life had suddenly brought forth a bitter sting.
She wore still her quilted mantle of white taffeta; it was open on her gown and petticoat of yellow gauze over taffeta, of the same hue. The firelight gave all a golden pink tint, like the warm colours of the inside of a shell. Her face was turned from M. D'Alembert; he could only see the charming, irregular profile, with the tip-tilted nose and sensitive mouth.
'Mon ami,' he said, with a tenderness that could not be any longer suppressed. 'What is your trouble. What estranges us?'
These words frightened Julie; they approached too near her deeply-hidden secret. She sat quite still.
'I believe that you have something on your mind,' continued the little philosopher, with the most delicate and loving solicitude. 'You are grieved, as I am, for M. de Mora, but surely, it is more than this that disturbs you so. And it is not possible that you have so changed that you do not wish to give me your confidence—after thirteen years, Julie?'
The unhappy woman shivered, and desperately rallied all her powers to her defence. She was forced now to regard this man as a personality, and not any longer as the mere part of her life that he had lately become. Deceit and insincerity were so unnatural to her, that it took all her strength to endeavour to turn aside the suspicions of M. D'Alembert.
'Mon ami,' she said in husky tones, 'I am not well, and that is the beginning and end of it—you know how I suffer. My body is exhausted, my head stupid—Eh, mon ami!' she roused herself to speak with feeling, 'do you think that I do not appreciate you?'
As she looked at him and saw his quivering face and eyes filled with tears, some of her ancient tenderness for him returned for a moment.
'Why does it not satisfy me—this love?' she asked herself in torment.
'There is, then, nothing between us?' murmured M. D'Alembert.
Julie gave him her hand.
'What could there be?'
He gazed into her eyes, pressed her fingers between his, and was completely reassured. The easiness of her dominion over him chafed Julie. She was impatient of the burden of this affection that forced her into deceit; her usual irritation took the place of her transitory compassion. She urged him to leave her, under plea of fatigue, and the little philosopher, happier than he had been for some time, went upstairs to that poor little chamber that he preferred to apartments in the Louvre, and wrote to the Duc de Villa Hermosa.
As soon as he had gone, Julie's assumed languor left her. She started up and, full of feverish energy, threw off her mantle. M. de Guibert returned to Paris to-day. He had promised in his last letter from Vienna, his first visit should be to her. He would see her before Madame de Montsauge, he said, and would have done so, even if that lady had been the nearer on his route as she was the farther.
'I owe so much,' he wrote, 'to our friendship and your sufferings.'
Would he come to-night? It was yet early—what would his visit mean? How was he going to interpret this 'friendship' of which he spoke so much?
He was coming back with redoubled fame and prestige, approved by Voltaire, by the King of Prussia. How much time would he have to give to her? Would she not lose him again in that distraction of society which had now become so hateful to her, but which he adored?
These questions resolved themselves from that chaos which was poor Julie's heart. She, could hardly have named any of her sentiments; she only knew that she was waiting for this man's return as a prisoner might for sentence of release. All her reason, her judgment, was suspended by the force of this one great desire. She turned eagerly to one of the long mirrors fixed in the wall. Many men had been charmed by her—three, at least had loved her. Why not this one? Then her mood swiftly changed. A woman of forty—plain, disfigured, ill! Could she make him forget these things? In that moment, she could have gone to any damnation for the beauty of Madame de Boufflers, Madame de in Vallière, or Madame de Forcalquier.
For the first time in her life, a primitive passion inspired her, and with it came the instinctive desire for the first of female rights and needs—loveliness.
Hateful to her seemed the powder and pomade, the flounces and lacings, the art and taste that disguised her natural haggardness, her lack of health and bloom.
Yet it was no ungracious image that the mirror reflected; her fineness, her grace, her delicacy, her distinction were independent of youth and beauty; her seductive and exotic charm was a rarer thing than ordinary comeliness. The power and fire of her dark eyes, the turn of her elegant head, her whole personality, fragrant with such breathless emotion, were as enchantments blinding men to what she lacked.
She caught up her mantle, put it on and then put it off again; flung her scarf of silver gauze about her shoulders, then dragged it away. Then hastened about the room, and, with hurried breath, blew out all the candles save those that stood on the cylinder desk between the two busts.
'He will not come,' she thought, bitterly scornful of herself. 'There are a dozen women who interest him more.'
In the lovely glow of the firelight she stood erect, in the attitude of one who meets destiny with a high heart. And then she heard his step, his voice in the ante-chamber.
He was laughing with the lackey as he took off his coat, the air of a little popular tune was on his lips. 'Jouez, dancez, amusez vous.'
A sensation of complete terror swept over Julie. She wanted to hide, to avoid him; she moved desperately farther from the door. The next instant he was in her presence.
He brought with him the freshness of the autumn rain, the keen outer air, a sense of youth and health that was so much stronger than the close perfumes of the salon that it overwhelmed and scattered. Joyous, radiant, flushed with success, adventures, and a curious anticipation, he came towards her. She had not remembered him so handsome; his firm, fresh face, his strong, vigorous figure, were dearer than even her dreams had thought them. This moment showed her her own heart clearly; all doubts, terrors, hesitations, remorse, regret, were swept away by an overwhelming emotion.
'So you have come!' she exclaimed faintly. She spoke from behind the ottoman, leaning against the mirror. She knew that she could not endure him to touch her—not yet.
'To you,' he replied; his bold and charming voice was more than ever serene and self-confident.
Julie, all glimmering and gold against the gilt mirror, in her gauze and taffeta, in the rose and honey-coloured light of the two distant candles and the steady fire, neither moved nor spoke; but her look and attitude were more eloquent than either gesture or speech.
To M. de Guibert she was illuminated by the glow of her wonderful letters. His curiosity flamed almost into passion; her great eyes seemed to promise unfathomable delights. Was this marvellous woman to be the crown of his breathless success?
'What have you to say to me?' he asked unsteadily.
She turned away from him, and gazed into the mirror against which her shoulder rested.
'What can I say to you that I have not already said?'
M. de Guibert smiled.
'You have said so much.'
'Too much! I revealed my soul before I was asked to. What do you think of me?'
He leant against the corner of the ottoman, looking at her. He wore a dark blue travelling suit and high boots; his hair was unpowdered—it showed a darker brown than Julie had imagined it would be from his fair complexion; his face was slightly tanned; he was alert and vivid with health and the joy of life. Her wild glance noted him in the mirror; she felt him so utterly dear that her instinct was to creep to his side, like a dog, and implore a caress.
She knew that she would not have asked in vain; her instinct told her that he was trying to read her humour, waiting for her signal.
Julie could not give it; she mastered her passionate heart, and turned to him with a quiet, if trembling, smile.
'Tell me of your triumphs! Of Voltaire—of Fréderic.'
A slight shade of puzzled disappointment came over M. de Guibert's candid face. From her letters he had not expected this reception. He was not, however, yet sufficiently sure of his own feelings to take the initiative, and he adopted her tone with an ease that cost Julie a secret pang.
'The King was perfect. Voltaire—ages! He composed some atrocious verses. Eh bien, old age is a mistake!'
'To youth, nothing is right,' said Julie, 'save a mirror that reflects itself.'
She smiled at him with a faint irony; she was suddenly fatigued to the point of exhaustion. He noticed her swooning look.
'You have been ill—you are still ill, mon ami.'
The tender name shook all her fortitude; she would have answered with uncontained tenderness had not M. D'Alembert at that moment entered.
He had heard M. de Guibert's voice on the stairs, and had come, beaming, from his letter-writing to greet the returned hero.
Julie soon crept away to her chamber; she did not go to bed. When M. de Guibert left, she sent Madame Saint-Martin after him with a little note begging him to come on the morrow when M. D'Alembert should be at the Academy.
She had known by his look, his air, that he would come, and to the exact minute he was at her door. He, the most sought-after man in Paris in the first glow of his return!
Julie told herself with a wildly-leaping heart, that he had not had time to see Madame de Montsauge, or Madame de Boufflers—she knew that he, had spent his morning at the Ministry, and the early afternoon with M. de Crillon and M. de Chastellux; she might have been with them, but had purposely kept herself for this meeting. On her old stool by the fire, she waited for him. Her ill-health was so forgotten, it was as if she had never known suffering. The candles were not lit, and the firelight alone dispelled the crossing shadows; the pot-pourri in the lacquer jar was powerful in the close air. Outside, a little autumn wind rattled at the panes of the long windows.
Julie was in white gauze with a single line of silver at the hem, a taffeta jacket ruffled with blonde lace, a broad black ribbon round her throat, her hair powdered in loose curls. At her tight waist hung her chatelaine with dozens of little trifles in gold and ivory, and tucked into the muslin at her bosom was one of Madame de Marchais's late roses, a coral pink bloom from the gardens of the King.
She made no pretence of reading or sewing. Her hands were clasped in her lap, her gaze fixed on the flames, and when he was announced she rose instantly and stood waiting.
He was radiant, on the crest of the wave, intoxicated with life, joyous, self-confident...to Julie almost divine in his glowing vitality.
She moved to the window without a word of greeting, and stood leaning against the cold panes, looking up at the dim purple sky above the dark house-tops. A new moon, a line of crystal light, showed faintly. As he came and took her in his arms, she dosed her eyes and let her head fall on his shoulder. She was conscious of no feeling save a sensation of extraordinary relief; warmth and ease seemed to encompass her—at last! At last!
To M. de Guibert, her light, half-swooning weight, the silent droop of her body against his, gave a thrill he had hardly known before. He felt all her soul come out from her like the essence of a flower drawn by the beat of the sun.
Silent, he gazed down at her and dreamed of unknown paradises, delicacies of love and passion hitherto unrealised.
Julie lifted her pale face, and kissed him as he had never yet been kissed—kissed him again and again, drawing his fine head down by the tight clasp of her frail hands about his neck. He was as swept off his feet as any boy with his first love; he forgot everything, but this moment that she made so wonderful, so magic!
Gone was all his wit, his poise. He stammered out immortal commonplace.
'Julie—Julie, do you love me?'
She answered with her trembling lips on his warm cheek,—
'My love, I love you as one ought to love, with excess, with madness, transport and despair!'
She drew slightly back, and gazed at his flushed, triumphant and joyous face, across which the last daylight fell. Her hands crept up and caressed his undressed, wind-disordered hair.
'It seems to me,' she added, 'as if I did not do enough for you in loving you with all my soul—in being ready to live or die for you. You are worth more than that Ah! I can do nothing but love you; and what is that worth? Is it not natural to love you? But I can do better than that—I know how to suffer—I would renounce my happiness for yours.'
He caught the contagion of her breathless passion. It was as if he held fire in his arms that scorched to his very heart.
'You magic creature!' he cried, and kissed her throat until she panted. 'I will make your happiness mine, Julie.'
'Ay,' she murmured wildly, 'you must love me to madness, for I shall desire it. I exact nothing, I shall pardon all. I shall never be out of humour—my love, I am perfect, for I love you to perfection!
She held him off now, stood away from him, staring at him through the dusk between the young moon and the fading fire.
'I want you! I fear you!' she said. 'I love you! I dread you! I am wholly yours, now and always—you have created me.' Her light hands went to her heart. 'This is yours! Alas! perhaps, like God, you have repented your work!'
He caught hold of her again, he could not keep pace with her exalted, tremendous rush of anguished passion. Her emotions were at once too high, too fine, too swift for him to understand them, but she had roused all his senses, excited him with a sweet bewilderment.
'Ah!' she cried sharply, 'if you pity me, do not tell me so! I cannot do otherwise than as I have done! A force irresistible has brought me to this moment—everything abandons me, save the power to say I love you—past death, past despair!'
'Before God I love you,' he answered eagerly.' I did not know it was like this—I did not know!'
She clung to him, catching at his collar.
Do you know now? Ah, do you? Can you love me as I love you? Look at me—I am nothing or everything, as you decide. Fire or ashes, as you will. I am worth nothing save if you think me so. Ah! I give you all I have—my pride, my vanity, my pleasure—all my existence—all, all to love you! You shall see if I know how to love. I have waited for you, I love you! I would be everything to you and afterwards die!'
Her words were like a sob; beneath the ecstatic note of her abandon of tenderness sounded the agony of tragic premonition. There was something of torture in her voice, her gestures, her inspired look. He saw this, and it troubled him. He missed in her that complete joyousness that awaited him at the threshold of this new-found paradise.
'You are not happy—you suffer,' he stammered. 'Are you unhappy, Julie?'
'You and my unhappiness are all that remain to me in the entire world. I have no interests, no friends, no needs. To love you, to see you, or to die—that is the first and last wish of my soul!'
With a half-cry he caught her to him closely; she exulted in his embrace. It was as if she stood a-tiptoe and caught hold at last of the flying feet of all her winged dreams...
She opened her eyes on his kisses, the dusk and the moon.
'However you judge me, however you think of me, you must know that you have never been loved as I love you!'
She dragged herself away from him, and stood leaning against the bust of Voltaire, white as herself, in the deep twilight.
'To-morrow—to-morrow—to all eternity. What can I tell you? There is needed a new language to interpret what I have in my soul.'
Not even the rapt, eager melody of her letters had prepared M. de Guibert for this still transport of passion.
He strove against her fascination. He remembered that he did not want this tremendous, this overwhelming thing in his life.
'I am your friend, your best friend,' he began painfully. 'I would do you no harm!'
'Ha!' interrupted Julie. 'You find me too difficult already? Alas, I said I was perfect, but I have all the faults of an unhappy creature who loves with abandon and has only one desire, and one thought. Adieu, then!'
'Mon Dieu! you must not leave me so, you put me to the torture, Julie, indeed to the torture!'
His usual facility of words had forsaken him; his charming voice was rough.
'Do you not think that I suffer?' answered Julie proudly. 'Do not be afraid—I have given myself without being sure that the gift is valued.'
'Do not talk so, Julie. On my life I—I—' he faltered in his speech.
'If you loved me a thousandth part of how I love you, you would know what to say!' cried Julie. 'Mon Dieu! I suffer—yes, but I envy not the joys of Heaven.'
She again made a movement as if to leave him, but he caught at her glimmering figure in the gloom of the now dark room that only the dying heart of the fire faintly illuminated.
'Julie, we must not love each other—we cannot! Mon Dieu! am I to blame? I never meant you ill. Remember all there is between us. Do not love me.'
'You advise me not to love you, and you take me in your arms!' panted Julie. 'Eh, grand Dieu, you advise me not to love you! For whose sake, yours or mine? Tell me!'
'For yours,' he answered sincerely. 'I would not see you suffer.'
'Ah! I have an infallible remedy!' replied Julie wildly. 'How sweet it would be to me if I could think it would be a relief to you! But you must love me, you must! It is impossible that there is no response in your heart!'
'There is—too much,' he said, in fierce agitation. 'Then love me!' cried Julie triumphantly.
As she spoke she drew herself away from him 'Ring for lights,' she said. 'I hear M. D'Alembert without.'
M. de Guibert was too confused to be able to find the bell-rope. Julie threw open her bedchamber door and took up one of the lighted candles Madame Saint-Martin had put inside the door on the polished bureau. With this in her hand she went round the salon, lighting the candles on the chimney-piece and tables.
M. de Guibert watched her with gleaming eyes: bitter sweet and fiercely tender, triumphant in her abandon, the little leaping flames revealed her to him. His fears and scruples were lost in the quick surge of his blood. As she passed him, he snatched her to him and kissed her. The lit candle she carried fell at their feet and was extinguished in thin smoke that came acridly to their nostrils...
When M. D'Alembert entered, a moment after, he found Julie looking at a stain of wax on her white taffeta skirt, and M. de Guibert in his dark travelling clothes standing by the sinking fire.
The little philosopher had brought M. de Vaines and M. de Chastellux with him. Julie ordered coffee, that was brought in her little Sèvres cups.
M. de Guibert joined very little in the animated conversation—a thing unusual in him: he generally treated his companions as an audience.
Continually he glanced at Julie. She was gay, witty, charming. He noticed how the other men admired her: the light in M. D'Alembert's eyes when he looked at her. Certainly she was a conquest to be envied.
He took his leave early. There were calls on every moment of his time: he was full of a thousand projects for work, glory, dissipation, and amusement; he was more sought after than even when he had left Paris.
But to-night he could think of nothing but Julie de Lespinasse. She was an incomparable creature: she loved like some heroine of antiquity—not like the boudoir women of to-day. But—she would want everything, and could he give even—anything? He was no professional rake, and the main interest of his life would never be with women. He wanted to be free of Madame de Montsauge. Of what use to leave this meek and easy mistress to involve himself with a woman like Julie de Lespinasse?
And undoubtedly he must marry. His father had even named the lady to him—a certain Mademoiselle de Courcelles with a fine dowry, a girl fresh from school.
His debts had increased with his fame. If this marriage could be postponed a year or so it would be the utmost that it could be, and he did not see how marriage and Julie de Lespinasse were both to be added to his life.
Of course, he considered himself absolutely free to have what affairs he wished—even after his marriage: it was the custom of the great world to which he belonged. But he did not see Julie de Lespinasse in a secondary role. She had already shown a keen intolerance of Madame de Montsauge, and he suspected her of a fierce jealousy.
She was tempestuous, uncontrolled, a woman who would make scenes. She was pledged to another man and loathed her infidelity. No softness, no laughter, no ease, was to be expected from the tragic love of Julie de Lespinasse.
Yet this dark gift she had offered him with such proud abandon, attracted him. He, so avid for life, could hardly bring himself to pass by this experience. He knew that he might win a dozen women like Madame de Montsauge; it was not probable that he would ever meet another like Julie de Lespinasse.
'My youth shall not leave my age anything to regret,' he had once said. Surely he would very keenly regret the love of Julie de Lespinasse.
Yet when he reached his rooms in the rue Tarrane he wrote her a note counselling her to forget him and desperately evoking that 'friendship' she had already cast aside. But the next day he went to see her, and as soon as they were alone she was in his arms.
She laughed at his letter. And he, before he had left her, had promised to break with Madame de Montsauge.
She had never loved like this before; nay, more, she told herself that she had never known what love was. Her sentiment for M. de Mora was now as faint as had become that for M. Taafe, the Irishman. When she had first met him her senses and her emotions, fully roused for the first time, completely stifled her reason and her judgment. 'She knew neither remorse nor regrets, nor reflection. With closed eyes she abandoned herself to the torrent that swept her out to the magic sea of unutterable dreams.
All that had hitherto made her life seemed but a feeble prelude to these enchanted days. She recovered her health, her charm, that had so little to do with her body, and became of a radiant loveliness. She lived but for her meetings with M. de Guibert: when he was not with her she worshipped him in a locked heart.
Of the future she would not think. It seemed to her as if she was immortal, and that this golden time would last for ever. He had sacrificed Madame de Montsauge. Julie's passionate gratitude repaid him To the sacrifice that she had to make she hardly gave a thought. She continued to write, almost mechanically, to Spain. Instinctively she shrank from telling M. de Mora the truth; but she was so absorbed in her new passion that she hardly considered this problem. His letters to her were but paper and ink; D'Alembert's loyal talk of him but chatter; her memories of him utterly confused and blotted. So exalted was she, that she did not notice the monotony of love—that M. de Guibert said what M. de Mora had said, often in the same way and with the same accent, even though he was such a different man and his love was of such a different quality. Everything was new to her; even the commonplaces of this man to her were wrapt in flame And if she did not notice the samenesses in his wooing, neither did she notice the differences. She never saw that this strange, mutual attraction that she had fanned into stormy passion was not in the same category with the reverent, comprehending, tender affection that' had encompassed her for six years. She never reflected that the other man had remained for ever at her feet, had offered marriage, had risked everything to obtain the utmost honour for her...and that with this man she was rushing to a climax that was neither marriage nor honour.
She was as one blindfolded and gagged, with cotton-wool in her ears; she only lived by and for and through Jacques Hippolyte de Guibert.
What was left to her of reason was employed in concealing her secret. She was so lost in a crowd of brilliant people, she had been so long a law unto herself, she was so universally supposed to be pledged to M. de Mora, that it was not difficult for her to deceive an easy-going, lax, philosophical society.
Her blazing spirits were believed to be owing to the better news from Spain: M. de Mora was supposed to be recovering, and to be thinking of taking M. Lorry's advice and returning to Paris.
M. D'Alembert was content in his blindness, for her great happiness made her kind to him again. He ceased to fret her. She tolerated him gaily: he was part of the furniture of her little salon; a comfortable, familiar thing.
During this winter of '73, Julie envied no imaginable god. She was intoxicated with her overwhelming joy. She was aware, with every nerve in her body, that there was but one end to such love as this, and she who had been so proud, so reluctant, so disdainful of easy women, so innately chaste for all her high passions, now never hesitated. She knew she was his beyond the restraint of any honour, of any scruple.
It was M. de Guibert who prolonged the sentimental stage of their affection. Julie had distracted him, roused him, finally made him love her. But she had neither absorbed him, nor dazzled him. He had a dozen other interests in his life and a perfectly clear head, both of which prevented him from being an ideal lover.
Despite his vows to Julie, he kept up a very tender friendship with the patient Madame de Montsauge and a delicate coquetry with Madame de Boufflers, which he endeavoured to conceal; and he never relaxed for a moment his efforts for his own advancements, his eagerness to please, to fascinate, to win applause and fame. He was not content with drawing-room successes, but was inspired by a real desire for glory of a noble kind.
If he had a little lost his head, his multitude of flatterers were to blame.
'No man should have his portrait painted to whom posterity is not going to erect a bust,' he said, when sitting for his picture. And the remark did not sound vainglorious on the lips of the man praised by Voltaire and Frederic, and hailed as the coming saviour of his country by all the intellectuals of Paris.
At present, Julie was scarcely disturbed by his overwhelming popularity.
'Your talents condemn you to success,' was all she said. She did not mind the manner in which he was sought after, for it meant that she met him everywhere. Her friends combined to bring them together, for all the salons where she had queened it so long were now at his feet.
M. de Vaines, M. Turgot, M. de Saint Chamans, M. de Crillon, M. de Chastellux, Madame Geoffrin, Madame Necker, Madame de Chatillon, even Madame de Boufflers and many others, continually invited both her and M. de Guibert to their houses. They could meet two—three times in the day at one of these hotels, and then on his return to the rue Taranne he would find a note from her telling him where he might meet her on the morrow.
He had returned in October; by the time that the first chill winds of spring had lifted the winter fogs and mists from Paris, she had woven her charms completely round him. He knew the slumbering fires his touch could wake to madness: he knew that he did not desire any longer to resist this almost terrible love.
He had tried to warn her—tried to tell her that he had nothing to offer her save, perhaps, perdition; tried to resist seizing the willing victim; tried to tell her that he had never meant more than friendship; but she, in her headlong passion, would have none of it. She called his scruples, his hesitations, coldnesses, as indeed they were, for he did not love her as she loved him, and never would.
But the glory of her own emotion prevented her from observing this. She saw him yielding now and she was almost delirious with happiness.
It was not very difficult for M. de Guibert, despite his secret misgivings, to shake the burden of the future off his shoulders: his healthy good humour saw no tragedy in the situation.
Any affair with a woman was apt to be tiresome; he could only hope this would be no more tiresome than others. In any case, his marriage in the near future must end everything, and he reflected that a woman like Julie would easily find another lover. He did not give too much credence to the vows that she gave him, because he knew that they had been made to at least one man before, and he was not fine enough to understand the value of what she offered.
Indeed, he was both too occupied and too self-absorbed to endeavour to understand her at all.
At best, she was but one flower amid the laurel leaves with which he meant to crown himself; at worst, but an encumbrance to be flung off and forgotten; for, being neither sensitive nor morbid, M. de Guibert was not troubled by either regrets or remorse, nor did he ever mean to be.
Julie had been happy before, never as happy as this. Even in the first days of her doomed affection for M. de Mora, she had not known this rapture, though she had been loved with a far nobler, more whole-hearted love: though her heart had beat in unison with M. de Mora in a way that it never could with M. de Guibert.
The familiar apartment that had begun to look so dreary to her disconsolate eyes, now appeared like an enchanted palace. The bleak spring days were hyacinth-scented to her, even here in the narrow streets of the city; the nights were full of vision and of wonder. The warm happiness of her love perfumed her life; her moods, her tempers, disappeared: she was sweet and gentle with all; she bewitched even those who had least admired her before.
Her women friends—Madame Geoffrin and Madame de Chatillon—thought that the change in her was due to some assurance that her marriage with M. de Mora could be accomplished; every one knew that his return was spoken of.
Julie, in her rainbow paradise, where the fairy colours were already charged with the radiancy of tears, gave no heed to what they thought.
On a pale day in February she sent him the shortest note of their correspondence. She headed it: 'Every instant of my life,' and the one sentence ran like liquid fire:—
'I love you, I suffer, and I wait for you.'
He came: she had people with her and they could not speak alone. She asked him to go with her to the opera that night—a friend had lent her a box, and they had often been there before to listen to the voluptuous music of Gluck that so enthralled Julie's exquisite senses. Those hours had been magic for her. To-night they would be alone—he said he wished her to come alone. In his voice was that note—in his eyes that look, she had been waiting for. At last he was wholly hers, ah, surely...At last he loved her as she loved him. With a still look she said she would come alone. M. D'Alembert saw her depart with neither envy nor jealousy, only with a touching pleasure in her gaiety. She wore a new gown. D'Alembert had been rather bewildered by the number of new gowns that she had been having lately. When he had ventured to say that her income would not stand this extravagance, she had answered him with so radiant a smile that he was silent. To-night she was gorgeous in a lilac silk, flounced with filet lace and caught with little clusters of gold roses, and a huge wrap of white quilted silk. A gold ribbon was round her throat, a gold flower in her powdered hair. Her face looked lovely in its delicate glow. She was like the Julie of ten years ago who had captured all hearts in the Convent Saint-Joseph—a creature of such enduring charm that the faithful heart of the man who looked at her was thrilled to think that he was permitted to adore her. He did not go out that evening, but sat with her dog, her paroquet, her books, dreaming those loveless dreams of his. This dear room was so redolent of her presence that it did not seem to him that he was alone. He looked tenderly at her distaff, her work-bag of pink-shot taffeta, the bowl of jasmine she had arranged, her pictures, the alabaster bird she was so fond of—. all the little details of her home life.
The little philosopher dared to imagine what it would have meant if he had married her, if the same tragedy of poverty and unhappy birth had not cursed them both, if each had not been nameless outcasts from their class...Ah well! such foolish dreams. Was it not happiness to be near her, to serve her and to love her?
Hugging this comfort to his heart, he waited her return—a homely little figure in the low bergère by the great fire, with a book on his knee and the dog at his feet.
He had his dinner alone. Afterwards M. de Vaines and M. de la Harpe came and went, and again he was alone, waiting Julie's return. She was late, later than she had ever been before. M. D'Alembert blinked in mild surprise at the clock on the mantelpiece; he sent his valet to bed, and began to doze a little himself over the fire he had kept so carefully mended.
At last she came, entered silently the candle-lit room, and paused at the sight of M. D'Alembert. He had an instant impression that a stranger stood before him.
'What is the matter?' he asked instinctively, starting up.
Julie did not answer. She came to the other side of the fireplace. She did not unfasten her mantle, or unwind the lace scarf that was round her head.
'Are you ill?' asked D'Alembert, anxiously stirred by he knew not what fears.
'Ill?' she repeated. He thought her voice quite changed.
'You look as if you had a fever,' he said.
In truth, her face in the folds of the lace shawl had a glow that was not like the glow of health.
At his words she glanced curiously at herself in the gilt mirror, and drew the mantle closer under her chin. 'Why, I am very well,' she said.
'The opera was good? What was it?'
The answer came after a second's hesitation: 'Le Devin du Village.'
'Ah! you were always fond of it—'tis a pretty thing. But you are late.'
'I know. We remained to talk.'
M. D'Alembert smiled placidly. He saw Julie with her usual crowd of friends in the little amber-and-silver brocade salon behind the box, with its rosy lights and low couches, and he was glad that she had been gay.
'Tell Madame Saint-Martin to go to bed,' said Julie suddenly.
'But do you not want her?'
'No. Please do this for me.'
He left her to go upstairs and knock at the door of the room where the chamber-woman waited.
Julie, as soon as she was alone, glanced swiftly round the room, with eyes that seemed to gaze from another world. How different everything looked...it would never look the same again.
'What is the date?' she asked D'Alembert when he returned.
'February the tenth.'
Julie smiled at him vaguely. He came to take her mantle, but she stepped back.
'No, I am cold.'
She paused, as if she had difficulty in concentrating on what she said.
He waited patiently her humour and her will; he thought perhaps that she wanted to stay and talk. Abruptly she spoke,—
'The music goes to my head—it leaves me giddy. I must sleep now. Good-night—good-night.'
She watched while he put the candles out and covered the fire. She gave him good-night again in a faint, absorbed voice. She took the brass candlestick he gave her, and went into her chilly, empty bedroom.
Her little, solitary flame showed her the damask bed prepared, the muslin bed-gown, the slippers ready—all so familiar yet so strange, like home revisited after a lifetime's absence.
She set down her candle; she unwound the lace from her head. Her locks fell in disorder. She unclasped her mantle and let it slip to the floor.
The gold flower had gone from her hair, the gold ribbon from her neck. She wore no gloves and carried no fan.
Holding out her bare arms, she stared at them curiously, as if she expected to see them marked; she lifted up her skirt and looked at one of the flounces that was torn; she put her fingers slowly to her cheeks, as if she expected their contours to have changed—all this in a dazed, stealthy sort of way. Then, like a flower bursting its sheath, some flame of feeling penetrated her stillness. She fell to her knees before one of the red chairs and clasped her hands against her face.
She had accepted her fate—there were not two ways, no two issues open to her now. She no longer belonged to herself: she had nothing more to give.
There was grandeur in the knowledge. She regretted nothing. Triumph, not fear, caused her to shudder; she was rapt not with terror, but with glory. This quiet room, lit by the solitary little candle, scarcely was real to her. It seemed as if she was still in the pale little brocade chamber behind the box with Jacques de Guibert, the swelling melodies of the opera in her ears.
'Oh, my love, my love!' she whispered.
No thought came to spoil her ecstasy. She did not think: 'I am now only to him what many other women have been,' but: 'He is now to me what no other man ever was.'
Exalted, she remained on her knees before the splendour of her own vision, shivering with bliss, while the lifeless light of dawn crept between the red curtains, and the unheeded candle guttered in a winding-sheet round the gleaming brass.
In the town of Bordeaux, the twenty-third day of May of that year '74, a sad party of travellers arrived and put up at the first inn within the gates, one of their number being in a state in which it was impossible for him to travel farther.
This haggard and fainting being, whose terrible look of illness excited the compassion, curiosity, and horror of the people of the inn, was the once brilliant, admired, flattered Jose de Pignatelli Gonzaga, Marquis de Mora, Gentleman of the Bedchamber to his Catholic Majesty and General in the Spanish army. In early February he had had, by a ghastly coincidence, a serious relapse; he had struggled up from this overthrow of his body to bitter perplexities of soul. M. D'Alembert's and M. Lorry's letters arrived urging him to return to Paris, but it was not these that had impelled him to take this desperate journey. A creeping doubt of Julie's fidelity had touched his heart; her letters, wild, agonised, often incoherent or delirious, betrayed the tumult of her soul; he felt that she was, for some mysterious reason, estranged from him. The absence of over two years had made no difference to his deep and noble love. To regain his health, to accomplish his marriage, to return to Julie—all for her sake—these had been the sole objects of his tortured life since he had come back to Madrid.
To satisfy himself as to her faith, to save her if need be from herself, to protect her and claim her, he had overcome the languor of his failing body, he had dragged himself away from his family and friends, his home and his country, and started on the long journey to Paris. He was accompanied by M. Navarro and two servants, and had been travelling since the third of May.
At first his health had not appeared to suffer; by slow stages he had drawn nearer his goal; a sense of exultation had begun to fill his heart.
'I have that in me which will repay you for all that I have made you suffer,' he wrote to Julie from one of his stages. A few hours later a violent bleeding from the lungs laid him prostrate, and the rest of the journey was one long, anguished struggle with his fatal illness.
After another ten days of agony, somehow they got him as far as Bordeaux; he had to be carried from the coach to his chamber. His first act was to take out his tablets and write to Julie—'From Bordeaux, on arriving May 23rd, 1774, and nearly dead,' he headed his letter.
But he set his teeth against his fate.
'It is impossible that I shall not see her,' he said. He would not take off his travelling clothes. 'I shall start again in the morning.'
In the poor inn bedroom, among strangers, the young man faced the spectre that had dogged his steps so long. He was not yet thirty, he had everything to make life desirable, he was animated by one great passion, one overwhelming desire; with the whole strength of his ardent soul he fought against his failing body. His resistance had already been marvellous. M. Navarro had not believed that he would get as far as Bordeaux.
He lay on the bed in the upper chamber to which they had carried him, the windows set open on the May evening, his cravat untied, his great eyes staring across the room. He was so cold that they had covered him with blankets; he was so emaciated that these lay smooth over his body, undisturbed by the fleshless limbs. If the woman whom he worshipped could have seen him now, probably she would not have recognised him, so changed were his characteristics.
The bony structure of his face showed prominently, the hawk-like nose was sharp and pinched, the once full lips dragged and thin, his complexion clay colour, even his eyes had a strange, staring look that altered them; his hair was as gray as if powdered and clung damp with sweat to his hollow temples, across which the veins showed knotted and sluggish.
The sound of his breathing filled the room, every few minutes a violent and useless cough shook him; he lay on the right side as he had done for the past year; to turn on the other caused him choking agony.
M. Navarro, a reserved, intelligent, capable Spaniard, sat by the fireplace; despite the chilliness of the spring evening there was no fire, the smoke being intolerable to M. de Mora's ruined lungs.
M. Navarro was depressed by his surroundings—the plaster walls, the uncarpeted floor, the rough bed, table and chairs, the foreign atmosphere. He did not care to look at the man on the bed whose grim, haunted, and staring eyes, with their look of bitter defiance, he knew were gazing across at him in an agony of challenge and question.
It was the sick man who broke the silence. 'Tell me,' he said, in a hoarse, rattling whisper, 'that I shall be able to travel to-morrow early.'
M. Navarro rose slowly and crossed to the bed; he took one of M. de Mora's hands; it was cold, damp, bluish about the nails. The doctor could hardly find the pulse; he bent forward and listened to the awful sound of the labouring breath tearing through the broken lungs.
'A few days' repose, M. le Marquis,' he said quietly, 'would strengthen you.'
The dark eyes, with their unnatural stare, fixed the speaker with a dreadful glance. 'I must get to Paris,' whispered M. de Mora. 'Ah, why not? She wants me, you know, doctor, everything will be all right when I am in Paris.'
'Yes, ah, yes—but a little delay that would benefit you. Mademoiselle de Lespinasse would understand.'
The wheezing whisper went on unheeding: 'Doctor, she is expecting me.'
A sudden cough tore him; he made a convulsive struggle for air; the doctor dragged him into a sitting posture; he threw up pale blood that ran over his clothes, the bed, and the doctor's hands. M. Navarro called the servants.
They chafed his wrists, moistened his temples with brandy, wiped away the hideous stains, laid him back on his pillows.
He muttered 'Julie,' between his gasping breaths, and lay immobile.
The doctor ascertained that he was still living and crept away with the two servants.
'Señor,' whispered one, 'will the Marquis get to Paris?'
M. Navarro, rather pale, looked at him quietly.
'My friend,' he answered gravely, 'your master is already in the agony.'
'Eh, Dios!' cried the man under his breath.
'He was dying,' added the doctor, 'when he left Madrid—the whole journey has been a madness—and a miracle.'
Tears filled the servant's eyes.
'If it had not been for this accursed Frenchwoman,' he muttered, 'M. de Mora might at least have died at home with his family.'
The doctor slightly lifted his shoulders. He had so long known this case to be hopeless that he had lost professional interest in it; from the first he had been aware that the Marquis would certainly die on one of the stages of the journey. He was only amazed that his patient should have lasted till Bordeaux.
As the dreary hours wore on, the room was prepared for the night, a small lamp lit, cordials, medicines, glasses, flasks, arranged on the little table by the bed. The curtains were left drawn and the windows unlatched on the moon-filled night.
The doctor left the watch to the valets and went downstairs to his supper.
He wondered, as he sat over his sombre meal, what this woman was like for whose sake a dying man had so forced his strength; he knew that she was not young nor fair.
M. Navarro remembered the beautiful dancer over whom M. de Mora had quarrelled in his youth with M. de Villa Hermosa and the gorgeous Duchesse de Huescar who had later fascinated him. Who was this woman who could maintain such an empire over a heart that had so soon become indifferent to these two brilliant creatures?
M. Navarro knew, as only a doctor or a confessor could, the soul of the man dying upstairs; knew how absolutely it was dominated by one thought, that of Julie de Lespinasse: one desire, that to return to her: one emotion, love of her. Even last autumn when his mother had died, his real and passionate grief had been assuaged by the remembrance of his love waiting for him in Paris.
'He would have married her,' thought the doctor, with all a Spaniard's pride. 'Of course she tried for it—a Fuentès—and she an astute, French coquette. I expect she has played him false and he knows it—the heir of the Fuentès and that woman!'
The doctor finished his wine and wiped his lips. He considered that the premature end of M. de Mora was perhaps fortunate in so far as it saved him from the folly of marriage with this penniless, foreign adventuress, basely born and middle-aged and with reputation gravely damaged, in the eyes of people like M. Navarro, by her connection with M. D'Alembert. He wondered, rather cynically, what she was doing now, and what she would do when she received this news. He made no doubt at all that she had already put some one in M. de Mora's place. Her letters, that the frenzied Marquis had babbled about in his delirium, were sufficient, the doctor thought, to prove this. She must, considered M. Navarro, have been very sure that he would never return to have flung away this chance of marriage. Of course she saw he was doomed when he left Paris.
A slight smile curved his lips as he pictured the scene there would have been if M. de Mora had reached the rue Saint-Dominique...Ah, well! these speculations were useless. The hastening lover would never leave Bordeaux.
The doctor passed for a moment into the fresh night air before commencing his long and painful night vigil.
There were a great many people about: the King of France was lately dead, Madame du Barry had fled...
Great things were expected from the new monarch; it was whispered that men like Turgot and Necker, the friends of the people, would come into power; every one hoped some alleviation of his private hardships from the ending of the reign of Madame du Barry and her minions; it was supposed that the Duc de Choiseul would return from his banishment at Chanteloup. The air was full of rumours, mostly of cheerful augury. M. Navarro gathered that the whole state of France was so deplorable, perilous and bankrupt, that men were clutching at any shadow of hope with desperate hands.
He recalled that Julie de Lespinasse was the Muse and goddess of the party now coming into power; in an age of reason and liberty, during the triumph of the philosophers and Encyclopaedists, Julie de Lespinasse would be more famous than she had ever been; probably, thought M. Navarro, she would not have time to mourn greatly M. de Mora.
With this thought in his mind, he went upstairs to the sick chamber and dismissed the two distressed servants to take some rest. M. de Mora's shivering fit had now passed into a high fever. He had flung off all the bedclothes and lay on his back with his arms flung out; his face glistened with sweat, but his lips were dry and strained back from his large, white, blood-stained teeth; the red veins in his eyes stood out clearly, his lids were turned back and the eyeballs were protruding from their sockets. His breathing racked his whole body; the deep cough shook him every few minutes. His cravat was flung aside, and the muscles of his throat showed labouring either side of a hollow above his collar-bone.
He could not move his head, but he turned his terrible eyes towards the doctor.
M. Navarro approached him and bent down above the bed.
'This—is nothing serious?' he whispered.
'Nothing; all you need is rest,' replied the doctor cheerfully. He tried gently to wipe the sick man's face; but M. de Mora made a movement for him to desist.
'You would not deceive me?' he added in his hoarse mutter. 'There is no danger? I feel as if I were breaking in pieces.'
'No danger at all, M. le Marquis,' said M. Navarro, taking up the limp, burning hand. 'The pulse is excellent, the breathing good.'
'I shall be able to journey to-morrow?'
'Lift me—a little.'
The doctor turned him on his side. He was so weak that even this effort nearly caused him to faint. He shivered and shuddered and gazed across the room with that awful look in which astonishment and reproach were mingled with an absorbed anger. His mind began to wander.
'Is it possible that I shall never realise any of my dreams?' he said. Then: 'Who are these people who all cry, "Fool! fool! fool!?" If I had more money we might get married.'
He lifted his head to cough, dropped it again, and blood trickled out of his mouth on to the handkerchief that the doctor had tucked under his face. He looked at this, and then up at the doctor.
'I must get strong,' he whispered. 'She—will find me too much changed.'
Disgust at the long nausea of the illness against which he had so desperately fought, shook him.
'Give me something to make me strong,' he said. 'Food—why are you keeping me without food?'
Then he lay silent with his eyes half-closed, as if insensible.
The doctor went softly away and returned with two eggs in brandy; but the sick man could not take them, nor even lift his head again.
His distorted face now showed purple patches under the eyes where the congested blood burnt; every breath he had to fight for, yet even now the ardent spirit was struggling against the last lethargy. When he spoke again his mind was quite clear, if bewildered.
'I ought to be with her in a few days,' he said. He looked at his hands, which were swollen. 'Ah! I am getting stronger, doctor,' he muttered. 'Not strong, but—well, they are not so thin, my hands.'
Now he seemed to fall asleep.
One of the servants came tiptoeing to the door: what about fetching a priest?
The doctor was perfectly aware of the opinions of M. de Mora, but an old superstition stirred again in his heart. He was not a religious man himself, but he was aware that the opinions of the Encyclopaedists did not, somehow, seem so important in the face of death.
He hesitated, while the man insisted. Should the heir of Fuentès go to damnation out of respect to the doctrines of this shameless Frenchwoman? he demanded.
'But he does not know that he is dying,' returned M. Navarro. 'He still thinks that he will reach, Paris. But in case he should ask for a priest, have one in readiness. They tell me that the parish church is Notre-Dame de Puy Paulin.'
With that he gently closed the door and returned to his patient's bedside.
M. de Mora lay in the same position. His ghastly face, seen in the dim light of the night-lamp, already glistened with the death damps; but his eyes were open and the look in them showed that the soul still struggled fiercely. His resistance had been so unnaturally prolonged that the doctor was struck by a sense of horror as if he were a spectator of something superhuman.
He withdrew the stained handkerchief from under M. de Mora's cheek and placed a fresh one. He noticed that the fever had fallen a little and that the dying man appeared in full possession of his faculties.
'Doctor,' he whispered, every word like a rough sob between his broken breaths, 'this is the end, is it not?'
'Ah, M. le Marquis, we must hope. You make a marvellous resistance; but if you would see a priest—as a mere act of precaution.'
If M. de Mora heard he paid no attention. All his failing forces were concentrated, with a supreme effort, on one object.
'I would write—to Mademoiselle de Lespinasse,' he murmured, 'while I have the strength.'
The doctor was startled into a protest. The sick man's eyes were fixed on him in a dreadful stare.
'I cannot—talk...get me the things,' he gasped.
A cough that brought blood stopped him. He made a vague gesture; his eyes shone with imperious command.
The doctor hastened to unstrap one of the portmanteaux on the floor, and took out a writing-desk in black morocco, unlocked it and put it before M. de Mora.
The cherished letters of Julie de Lespinasse fell out on to the bed.
M. Navarro lifted the Marquis up, propped him with cushions, and put a pencil into his right hand.
M. de Mora remained motionless a moment; then with jerky and uncontrolled movements began to write.
'I was coming to you...but I must die. Ah, cruel destiny! But you have loved me; that thought sweetens even this—I die for you...'
The paper fluttered from his hand. He could do no more. The doctor caught him as he fell back on the pillows.
He could no longer speak, but he held out his hand and gazed at two rings there, and then up at the doctor.
M. de Navarro knew that one of those rings was composed of a tress of the hair of Julie de Lespinasse, and that the other was one that she had given him in the early days of their love—a gold band engraved with the motto: 'Tout passe hormis l'amour.'
'You want them sent to Mademoiselle de Lespinasse?' asked the doctor.
A faint contraction like the distortion of a smile passed over his swollen face. He lay still staring across the room.
The doctor sealed and addressed the unfinished lines to Mademoiselle de Lespinasse: he intended to send them: if this woman had a conscience he meant to hurt her. He felt that he hated her as he considered the place and the manner in which she had caused M. de Mora to die.
Then he returned to his post to watch through the long struggle, the protracted agony that could have but one end: to listen to the senseless mutterings of the dying man as he fought with a delirium through which one name sounded again and again: 'Julie—Julie—Julie de Lespinasse.'
The news of her lover's intended return, of the terrible state of his health, of the commencement of the fatal journey, reached a woman already in torture.
Very brief for Julie de Lespinasse had been the vision and the splendour of passion; very short the glory of her supreme surrender; very soon over that intoxication of the soul that had swept away jealousy and made her indifferent even to Madame de Montsauge.
In the first rapture she had believed that she was loved as she loved herself, with a sentiment of the same quality and strength. She had taken it for granted that the man at whose feet she had cast all she had, would give her everything in return. She would have considered it blasphemy to have doubted his fidelity.
But the soft, luscious rind of the Dead Sea fruit soon withered in her hand, disclosing the ashes beneath. In a few weeks triumphant joy had given place to horror at him and amazement at herself. She saw that her love was neither understood, appreciated, nor perhaps wanted by M. de Guibert, that he was absorbed in other pursuits, interested in other women, and that to him, spoiled by easy conquests, this love, to her brilliant as life and terrible as death, was but an episode.
This knowledge showed her her conduct in the most awful light: her unfaithfulness to the perfect lover who was giving such a tremendous proof of his tender constancy, seemed to her monstrous.
The image of the dying man leaving his home to struggle back to Paris to save her from herself, haunted her with a terrible persistency. She could not imagine what would be more terrible—that he should die before seeing her, or that he should reach her only to learn a truth that would be his death-blow—the truth she had so carefully concealed from him, that he suspected and must discover once he was in her presence.
During this month of May, when all Paris was absorbed by the change of monarchs and a thousand hopes and plans for the salvation of France, Julie remained shut in her chamber, overthrown with fright and horror.
She had dosed her salon when M. de Guibert had become the sole point of interest in her life; but her friends had continued informally to gather round her. Now she would see none of them, not even Madame Geoffrin or Madame de Châtillon.
She would not admit M. de Guibert into her presence. Not only were these hours sacred to M. de Mora, but she could not sufficiently disguise her agony to receive a man who neither understood nor sympathised with the cause of it. Alone with M. D'Alembert, himself in a state of the deepest distress, she awaited the news of her fate.
Her one relief were the letters that she now wrote to M. Condorcet and M. Suard, her two confidants.
'To-morrow's news will perhaps deliver me from life. This horrible thought will not leave me. The image of M. de Mora only appears to me under the aspect of death. There seems to me nothing more to do. You know what I mean, but you do not know all. No, there is no more calm, repose, to be hoped for...you will not blame me if I think no more of reason and moderation; if I would continue to live I must continue to submit to these virtues. But I assure you that I shall not remain more than a moment in this sad state called life. After this, see what I think and judge what I shall do!'
In the same strain of despair she wrote to M. de Guibert:—
'I have a sense of terror that unsettles my reason. I await Wednesday, and it seems to me that death itself could not be sufficient remedy, for the loss I fear...It is beyond my strength to think that perhaps he whom I love and who loved me, will hear me no more and will come no more to my aid.'
When she had heard that M. de Mora was leaving Madrid, the thought that she would have to tell him of her infidelity had frozen her soul. Now the knowledge that she would never meet him to tell him anything was infinitely worse. It seemed to her that her love for him had never been dead, only obscured by this frantic passion for another man which had seized her against her will. Her feeling for M. de Guibert now appeared to herself as one of hatred. When, during her anxious days of waiting, he forced himself into her presence, she turned on him as if he had been an enemy.
'What are my misfortunes to you? What awful error have I not made? How I have been deceived and blinded! You have never been my friend! you never will be! Mon Dieu how is it that my mind could not restrain my heart?...I always read you...Yet in judging you I was still attracted by you. Leave me You understand nothing. With you, to love is but an accident of your age.'
M. de Guibert, who was of a singularly patient disposition and so normal as to be insensible to many of the exquisite agonies of this highly-strung, nervous, passionate nature, went his way without much demur. It was an added pang to the wretched Julie to know that he was seeking consolation in the delicate coquetries of Madame de Boufflers and the placid affections of Madame de Montsauge. She almost succeeded in despising him. With her mind she really did hold him in contempt, and all her deep devotion was for M. de Mora. Her behaviour appeared to her in the light of a crime—a treason unspeakable. She abhorred herself and detested M. de Guibert; she only existed for the news from M. de Mora. Her friends, in particular her confidants, M. Condorcet and M. Suard, were alarmed at the intensity of her grief; they feared for her life or her reason, and were astonished at this affection which had endured so long and so intensely, little guessing the true cause for her intolerable anguish.
On the second of June, the unfinished letter written in the Bordeaux inn was put into her hands.
'I was coming to you, but I must die. Ah, cruel destiny But you, have loved me—that thought sweetens even this. I die for you...' Added to these broken lines, which showed some of the confusion of approaching and final anguish, was a brief note from M. Navarro, stating how M. le Marquis de Mora, after struggling in the agony for three days, had died in the inn at Bordeaux, after receiving the Sacraments, and had been buried the next day, with some pomp, at the church of Notre-Dame de Puy Paulin.
The despair of Julie de Lespinasse at the news, rose to the supreme suffering of real tragedy. She was as exalted as she had been in the first days of her surrender to M. de Guibert. She had done with lamentations. She saw only one thing to do: to put into practice the project she wildly hinted at in her letter to M. Suard. She could no longer reason; at the same moment she found herself robbed of the love that had been the glory of her life, and disillusioned in the man for whose sake she had betrayed this perfect and noble affection. She had to endure the knowledge of her own falseness, and the bitter remorse of having troubled, by the confusion and coldness of her letters, the last days of the man who had lived only for her, of having, by allowing him to have had doubts of her, caused him to undertake the journey that had resulted in his death. She was stunned by a terrible sense of loss.. This deep, tender, faithful love that had illumined her whole life; this loyal, strong, and passionate friend was gone, and she shivered in her loneliness. The love of M. de Guibert was a poor substitute.
'If I could only have died yesterday,' she said to herself, 'if the first of June could have but fixed the term of my life.' Vaguely she recalled all the pains and miseries that she had ever endured—they seemed as nothing compared to this. She regarded M. D'Alembert with a new and remorseful tenderness; she watched his grief almost with envy. If she could have mourned so single-heartedly, she felt that she would have been happy.
Her doors were closed to all corners. She wrote to M. Suard, her faithful confidant—'A moment has annihilated thirty-seven years of unhappiness!'—despatched the letter, sent M. D'Alembert to tell Madame Geoffrin the fatal news, dismissed the weeping Madame Saint-Martin, and closed herself into her chamber. She was so giddy that she could hardly stand, so overwrought that nothing seemed real to her but this one thing on which all her fainting energy was concentrated—death.
It had been perfectly clear to her from the moment that the shock of the news of M. de Mora's relapse and proposed return had finally revealed to her the full meaning of what she had done, that if he died she must die, too. She did not contemplate suicide because it would serve any purpose, or because it would be any expiation of what she now regarded as her crime, but because her sufferings were so intense that she snatched at the only possible remedy. She turned to death as she had turned to the opiate, because she could not endure this acute torture of mind and body.
Trembling and cold, she sat down in the red armchair in her bedchamber. Her head ached, and she was so weak that the room rocked before her eyes; all her limbs ached, and she sat in a reclining posture through sheer weakness. On the little table by the fire-place was the bottle of opium and a glass. She meant to take the poison, without further reflection, as soon as her hand was steady enough to pour it out.
M. de Mora's letter had been brought to her when she was in bed, and she still wore her loose bedgown of white dimity, with a dressing-jacket of crimson-and-white striped muslin. Her hair hung in dark disorder over her thin shoulders; her face, untouched by powder, was of the ghastly sallowness of ill-health, her lips bloodless and her eyes swollen and dim. Of all her charm nothing remained but the grace of her figure and movement and a certain fineness of make and carriage that nothing could efface.
She was past thinking or reasoning; but certain thoughts forced themselves on her stunned mind. Above all, amazement at herself...How could she have done it?...How could she? The magic and the enchantment gone like mists before the wind the thing showed stark and hideous.
Not three months ago and she had touched the stars and walked in Paradise; all her blood had throbbed to an immortal melody; her spirit had known perfect ease and peace.
Now, viewing it with the coldness of despair, she wondered at herself with a bitter wonder. What had been so beautiful, now appeared vulgar; what had seemed so wonderful, now seemed commonplace, ah! so commonplace.
The episode had but added one more triumph to the record of a man already jaded with such conquests, and from her it had taken everything. She, so proud, so fastidious, so aloof in her sad story, her brilliant position, her great power of intellect, her great gift of charm, had been as easy as any of these women whom she had hitherto despised...And the man who had conquered her was merely the popular idol of the salons whom every silly woman was in love with—a man in every way inferior to the noble lover she had won and betrayed.
'Ah! how I am fallen,' she muttered. Her head fell sideways against the back of the chair, and she stared with blurred vision at the window against which a light spring rain was drifting.
Time and place no longer existed for Julie; the pleasant room seemed remote from the world and filled with a mortal cold.
'He was buried the next day, with a certain pomp, in the Church of Nôtre-Dame de Puy Paulin.'
This sentence seemed suddenly written on the void that was closing round her, shutting out familiar objects.
She wondered what they had done with her rings...Had he been buried with them?...She saw him dead very dearly, rigid and still, with the grave-cloths about him, lying in the vault of that strange and foreign church. He had received the Viaticum, the doctor said. Had his ancient faith, then, returned at the supreme moment, or had the sacrament been forced on him when he could not resist?...If she believed the Christian faith it would give her a hope that she might see him again—a hope of redemption...'though your sins be as scarlet'...But she was a disciple of Voltaire, and no comfort of any creed lightened the darkness that encompassed her: the black abyss of utter annihilation was her one refuge.
Spurred by a terror that M. D'Alembert would return and call her back to life, she dragged herself up and stretched out her hand for the opium-bottle. It took her a considerable effort to pour out the poison, her hand was so feeble; the sight of the pale liquid gave her a faint sensation of relief. Soon this intolerable anguish would really end.
The thought gave her a little strength. She drained the bottle into the glass, which she was about to raise to her lips when the sound of some one struggling at her door caused her to start violently.
So M. D'Alembert had returned—was alarmed. The thought that he could intrude on her agonies caused her to put the glass back and desperately fight for the strength to send him away. Twice she made an effort to speak and could not. The struggling at the door continued; it seemed as if the lock must give way. This impetuous strength did not seem that of M. D'Alembert.
Julie quivered like one slowly coming back to life out of a trance.
A beautiful masculine voice called to her:—
'Julie Julie! You must—you shall admit me!'
She stared at the door; it was as if an angel had spoken to one in limbo.
'Julie; I command you!' came the voice again, 'or I will force the lock.'
New strength began to circulate in her veins. She was like one under a spell, and went and turned the key in the door.
It was instantly flung open, and M. de Guibert stood before her—radiant, splendid, profoundly moved.
'Julie, I have heard!' he said quickly. He entered, closed the door, and swiftly took her in his arms.
'I said I would see no one,' said Julie dully; to her own ears the words tinkled like utter folly.
'Do you think that lackeys could keep me from you?' he cried. He gazed at her dishevelled appearance; then saw the glass and bottle by the chair. 'Mon Dieu! what is this?'
'I must die,' answered Julie. 'Do not seek to prevent me.'
He laughed. Never had he been more fond, more entirely hers. His embrace tightened round her frail figure, and he kissed her poor, distorted face.
Julie gave a low cry of despair; she felt her resolution dwindling, the love of life returning, the ancient magic enslaving her. All her little thoughts of him vanquished. His presence was as wine and sun to her. As she lay on his breast she once again entered her paradise.
'Do you then love me?' she asked desperately. 'Is it possible?'
'I love you, Julie.'
'But I must die, for I have killed the noblest of men—he who loved me—-'
M. de Guibert smiled indulgently. 'Mon ami, I understand and pity your distress; but you have nothing to reproach yourself with. M. de Mora was dying when he last left Paris.'
'Does that make my crime the less?'
'He knew nothing of it.'
'He guessed...my letters...Oh! I must die.'
M. de Guibert gently placed her fainting weight in the red chair by the fireplace, took up the bottle of opium, went to the window, opened it, and cast the poison out into the rainy air.
Impetuously he returned to Julie. 'Live, mon ami, live. There are others love you beside M. de Mora. You made him happy for many years. He is dead through no fault of yours—and life has much—has everything, to offer you.'
Julie sat bowed before him, speechless through conflicting passions, endeavouring to struggle against this enchantment that was beginning to dazzle her into forgetting her anguish.
'Look at me,' said M. de Guibert, bending over her. Reluctantly she raised her haggard eyes. Like life and youth and love personified, he was revealed to them—the antithesis of all the haunting horror that had been driving her to suicide.
His sanity, his health, his strength, his calm, seemed to dwarf her tragedy. His fresh, charming face, that seemed incapable of expressing either fear or anguish, his light, careless clothes, his shapely, virile hands, his musical and changeable voice, his very presence made the thought of death and agony seem grotesque...
'Oh, grand Dieu!' she murmured, 'if we lived in the days of wizardry, I should say that you bewitched me!'
'Is not love an enchantment, Julie?'
'But I dare not love you...I do not like you...I do not know what you do to me...But now I hated you!...I have been loved by one so noble.'...
'But did he teach you what love means, Julie, or did I?'
She hid her face in her thin hands.
'Go,' she muttered. 'You offer me a worse poison than that you have cast away...Leave me.'
'Leave you to mourn a shadow! You have been mine since I first met you.'
She made an agonised effort to resist him; she rose and caught hold of the metal mantelpiece. She looked a strange, broken figure in her crumpled white dress and hanging dark hair.
'What am I become,' she asked bitterly, 'that in this moment I can even listen to you?'
'Julie, you cannot deny me. Why are you afraid of love? Do you not see that it is like fire that purifies all it touches?'
'And consumes,' said Julie, with a terrible smile, 'and consumes. You condemn me to life but to kill me slowly and less mercifully.'
For answer, he took and kissed her hands with great tenderness, drawing her gradually towards him; all his generosity and chivalry, all his love for her were fully roused by her suffering. She had always attracted him when her flame-like emotions were laid bare, and a certain unconscious jealousy of the dead man caused him to exert all his power to recapture her entire heart.
'Some men would not be so gentle with this grief of yours,' he said.
At these words, which reminded her that she belonged to him, Julie quivered. Her desperate heart read in them the assurance that he truly loved her with a love strong enough indeed to snatch her from the arms of death. She roused from the lethargy of her anguish into one of those movements of unrestrained passion that always took him with her to fierce heights of rapture.
'My fate was pronounced last February,' she cried, 'to love you or to die! If you force me to live, you must love me! love me! love me!'
He caught her close in his arms.
'You have condemned me to live; you have bound and chained me to life,' Julie de Lespinasse said frequently to the man who had saved her from suicide, and it was true that her existence during the months following the death of M. de Mora was one long punishment.
The thing that kept her alive—her fatal passion for Jacques de Guibert, was also her most acute torture. He was literally all she had in the world, and she felt that only his complete devotion could reconcile her to drawing out her miserable existence. She had given all, and she wanted all. 'Live and love me! Live and I will love you!' he had urged; and on those terms she had resisted the temptation to die.
But again she had been disillusionised. Once he had assured himself that she intended nothing desperate, M. de Guibert began again to prove himself an indifferent lover; not that he was really wishful to neglect her, but because he was distracted by a thousand other interests, and because his equable, happy temperament could not remotely comprehend the tragedy of this stormy, sensitive, nervous, fine nature that had been so cruelly stricken and so utterly humiliated. He was young; he was attractive; he was ambitious; he had all Paris at his feet; he was overwhelmed by the attentions of charming women. It was not possible that his thoughts should be entirely and always with Julie de Lespinasse unless she had inspired him with a passion equal to that she had roused in M. de Mora.
It was her worst suffering to notice that this was not so; to be aware that he was incapable of any head-long abandonment to any one emotion—that he would never love her as she had been loved.
She bitterly contrasted his behaviour with that of M. de Mora, who had thought only of her, who had written to her twice a day when he was being fêted and caressed at Fontainbleau; who had remained absolutely faithful to her despite the seductions of women like the Duchesse de Huescar and the fierce opposition of his family and friends; who had been prepared to marry her regardless of the difference in their positions and her unconventional life; who had been absorbed in her until the very moment of that death which he met in coming to her rescue.
This disappointment in what she had paid so high a price for, this aching remorse for what she had lost, rendered Julie stormy, difficult, jealous, suspicious, capricious to the last degree.
She spied on M. de Guibert's movements. Madame de Montsauge was her perpetual torment. She, at the least neglect or coldness or slight that she fancied, accused her lover of heartless infidelity, and added hot reproaches as to his being the cause of her misery.
M. de Guibert endured these scenes with patience; he was rather maladroit with women, and had always had to pay the penalty in this kind of discomfort; besides, he had many consolations.
But though he might anger Julie to the soul, wound her to the quick, though she might understand him, weigh him, despise him, she never ceased to adore him with her entire being.
'All these contradictions of my unhappy heart,' she wrote to him, 'can be explained in three words; "I love you."'
She craved for his society with feverish eagerness; when he was not with her she wrote to him; she took a passionate interest in all that appertained to him—his career, his writing, his travels, his soldiering. The rest of the world did not exist for her. Since she had closed her saws to her friends she had appeared a changed being; even with Madame Geoffrin, with Condorcet, with Suard, she was silent and distraite.
With M. D'Alembert she preserved a certain tenderness because of his sincere grief for M. de Mora: the Comte de Fuentès had asked him to write a eulogy on his son; M. de Villa Hermosa had written affectionately; his wife had sent Julie the ring of hair found on the dead man's finger.
Julie received these attentions with bitter irony; but the little philosopher was pleased, and promised to write a tribute to M. de Mora, whom he himself described 'as the most perfect creature I have ever known.' He continued to act as Julie's secretary, man of business, if need be, lackey and servant. He would always hasten back from the Academy to see what service he could render in the rue Saint-Dominique Julie needed many services now. The health that had come with the brief radiancy of her happiness, had gone; the shock of the news of M. de Mora's death had completely undermined her strength. Her physical sufferings were frightful, and excused and explained in the eyes of all her moods, whims, melancholy, and caprices.
Her cough had returned with violence; insomnia, headaches, pain and sickness, constant fits of fever and delirium, convulsions followed by fainting fits made her life a penance. She got through the days by the aid of enormous doses of opium, and continual hot baths, both of which left her weaker and more sensitive to pain than before.
When she could not have the company of M. de Guibert she dragged herself out to seek distraction among her old resorts. The society she frequented was full of life and movement, hopes and plans. Everything was expected from a young king. It was said that M. Necker and M. Turgot, both old friends of Julie would come into power. All this did not now remotely interest the woman who had for so long been the 'Muse of the Encyclopaedia.' She might have been a power among the most powerful men of the day; instead, she withdrew more and more from the society she had once so adorned and dominated, and her position fell from her into the hands of more ambitious women. This, too, she had sacrificed to her impetuous passion for Jacques de Guibert.
'You have no need to be loved,' she wrote to him desperately. 'Confidence, tenderness, self-forgetfulness, all that a tender and passionate soul appreciates are unknown to you. And I have dared to accuse other people of lack of discernment, of not knowing men I, who so utterly deceived myself! You know not half the power you have over me; you know not what you have to overcome every time I see you. You do not realise the sacrifices I make for you—you do not know how I renounce myself to become yours. I say to you as Phèdre said: "Il fallait bien souvent me priver de mes larmes." Yes, mon ami, for your sake I deprive myself of all that is dear to me. I cannot talk to you either of my regrets nor of my memories; and what is still more cruel, I cannot let you see more than a half of the emotion with which you fill my heart, and I must control the passion that you excite in my soul. Incessantly I say to myself: "He could not reply; he could not understand, and I should die of grief."
'Conceive, mon ami, the species of torture to which I am subjected. I am remorseful for that which I give you and regretful for that which I dare not give you. I abandon myself to you and do not satisfy my love. In ceding to you I combat myself. Ha! do you understand me—that which I feel and that which you make me suffer? When you turn to me it is merely the sensibility, the compassion of the moment. I know not why I write thus to you, mon ami. I am sure that I shall not find consolation in your heart, which is empty of tenderness and sentiment. You have only one means to deliver me from my suffering, and that is to intoxicate me, and this remedy is the greatest of my tortures.'
Julie wrote these lines in bitter self-contempt, knowing now only too well that his attraction for her was purely physical, his charm entirely of the senses. When she was away from him she could analyse him, despise him...When she was in his presence, when he kissed her, she knew nothing save that she loved him with an overwhelming love.
It was this long struggle between the mind and the body, this combat between the flesh and the spirit, that rendered her days a weary agony.
It was a few weeks after the death of M. de Mora that M. de Guibert came one evening unexpectedly to the rue Saint-Dominique. Julie was due to dine with Madame de Chatillon, in whose tender friendship she was beginning to find a refuge in her distress, but she instantly sent a lackey to say that she could not come.
M. D'Alembert was with Madame Geoffrin: the lovers had the little crimson salon to themselves. M. de Guibert, in prune-coloured velvet, with paste buttons and flowered waistcoat, sat in one of the low bergères. He appeared distressed, and, a rare thing for him, he spoke very little. Julie had tried desperately to interest him in the last work by M. Thomas, the last opera, the last gossip of the day; but he had not responded.
Too often she found him, as Madame de Maintenon had found Louis XIV., 'unamusable': he was not a man for a tête-a-tête. Julie had several times had the humiliation of seeing him on the verge of boredom; once he had fallen asleep in the midst of her brilliant conversation.
To-night she looked apprehensively at his pleasant face. Ironically enough, he was the first man whom she had so failed to entertain. The knowledge that the fault did not lie in herself, but in his nature that needed crowds, gaiety, all the stimulus of society, did not help to make her situation any more bearable. It seemed to her now as she looked at his dull pose and indifferent face, that the physical tie was the only one between them, and that if they were not in each other's arms, blinded by passion, they were nothing to each other. How different, she thought, bitterly, had been that perfect communion of souls that had united her and M. de Mora.
'I like you to come in the evening,' she remarked on the impulse of her thought, 'because you have the less excuse to plead an engagement with Monsieur So-and-So and Madame This-or-That; with Gluck or Chastellux or Crillon; but, mon ami, when you but come here to show me how wearisome I am—'
'Julie!' he protested.
'Ail!' she flashed in return, 'you treat me as if I were one of those tiresome romances by Madame Scuderi, to be yawned through.'...
She stood before him, a tragic figure. He raised his glance to her and dimly felt her force and her agony. This vexed and made him uneasy. His luxurious temperament did not care to be forced to contemplate this fierce and ruined soul; already the tie was beginning to fret, the claim to be resisted, the sentiment fading to occasional outbursts of passion which were like the last spurts of flame in a dying fire.
And the wretched Julie, with her stormy jealousy, her sensitiveness, her suspicions,' her moods and tears, was doing nothing to win back this spoilt, vain, easy nature. Even now, when her heart's desire was fulfilled by his presence, she could not resist striking at him though she thrice wounded herself in so doing.
M. de Guibert heartily disliked the scenes that were becoming so frequent in the company of Julie. With an effort he endeavoured to avert this one.
'If I found you so wearisome, mon ami, should I be here?'
These words were insincere. M. de Guibert would much rather have been petted by Madame de Boufflers, or soothed by Madame de Montsauge to-night than reproached by Julie de Lespinasse, and his visit had only been for a special purpose. He was really tired; lately he had been overdoing both work and pleasure; he was worried by his restless ambitions and agitated by private confusions in his affairs.
'I do not know why you are here,' replied Julie, regardless of the note of appeal in his voice. 'You rob me of my thoughts of one infinitely beloved.'
His eyes darkened.
'Cannot I see you but you remind me of M. de Mora? Mon Dieu I how long will you continue to drag that spectre between us?'
'A spectre that haunts me day and night!' returned Julie wildly. 'Do you think that I am ever free of him? I am glad that you also, heartless as you are, sometimes suffer from the thought of the man you so wronged.'
'You are unjust,' replied M. de Guibert with a flush. 'I have nothing on my conscience towards M. de Mora.'
'All! you boast of your insensibility—you delight in your cruelty!'
M. de Guibert was vexed and showed it. He could hardly control his impatience. Very far was he from those heights where he and she had once stood. He was inclined to curse the chance that had led him to mingle his destiny with that of this tempestuous and agonised creature.
'I am dull,' he said, in a tone of forced and artificial gallantry, 'because I have to leave you.'
'Leave me!' she ejaculated.
'For a short time—it is necessary.'
Julie stared at him. She was unable to conceive anything more terrible than this—that he should leave her!...They had never been separated since the fatal month of February.
'For how long?' she added faintly.
'For a few months—on business.'
Her proud delicacy forbade her to press him as to the nature of this business; but her watchful jealousy could not be entirely silent.
'To go to Bréteche, to Madame de Montsauge she cried.
'No,' he answered.
'To Montauban—to your people?'
'Mon Dieu!' exclaimed Julie, almost beside herself, 'what does this reticence mean? What new torture have you devised for me?'
M. de Guibert moved uneasily in his chair. At that moment he was prepared to consign all women to perdition. He gave Julie a look that was almost appealing, as if he entreated her to leave him in peace.
Julie stood erect, her hands clasped on her heart, and utter misery in her great eyes. She was elaborately dressed for the supper with Madame de Chatillon. Her good taste had forbidden her to go into mourning for M. de Mora; yet his friends and hers had expected it, and Julie herself had no heart for gay clothes, and she had compromised on black and white. She now wore a robed à la polonaise, an extravagant fashion of hooped petticoat, introduced by the new Queen, of white broché and striped taffeta, with a bodice laced with black velvet over ruffles of fine muslin. Her hair was powdered dead white; her face was made up to disguise the ravages of her illness. She wore no jewel or flower or colour, and was a mournful figure in her haggard whiteness.
M. de Guibert glanced at her, and then away again. His fresh, firm face was clouded. Darling of the salons as he was, he had little art to help himself through a moment so disagreeable.
'Believe,' he said awkwardly, 'that I would not go if I could avoid it.'
'I believe nothing,' replied Julie stormily, 'save that you do not love me.'
'Mon ami, must we meet but to quarrel?'
'If you had any tenderness, any consideration, any sympathy, we should not quarrel!' cried Julie hotly. 'But you have none of these things—your soul is empty, and your heart is but full of false ambition.'
'You mistake me,' answered M. de Guibert dryly. 'My ambitions are not false—if true glory is to be acquired in this age of little things I will acquire it. I have no other desires.'
Julie was now trembling with anger at his continued coldness; she loathed herself because she was quivering with the desire for him to take her in his arms and kiss away the quarrel, and loathed him because he did not do so.
In her agony she struck at him fiercely. 'You have neither feeling, nor any noble sentiment. Mon Dieu! how could I have been so misled by you—I, who was loved with the perfect love of a perfect nature—I, who know what real love can be? I despise myself and you and the fate that brought us together!'
M. de Guibert rose.
'I cannot pretend to follow your feelings,' he said, 'nor your whims and caprices. You speak to me as if I were the worst of scoundrels. If you reflect on the manner of our coming together, you can judge if I have wronged you or not.'
The miserable Julie shivered with despair at the hard tone in which he pronounced these words.
'My violence should show you how much I love you,' she said desperately.
'Mon amie!' replied M. de Guibert, who was glad of an excuse to leave her before she pressed for further explanations, 'I set a greater value on softer affections.'
This was sufficient to dissipate Julie's last remnant of control. She thought his tactless words referred to the placid love of Madame de Montsauge, and her bitter wrath knew no bounds.
'Leave me she cried, facing him as if he had been a fierce enemy. 'I have need of repose from you—you trouble me. If you have any decency left you will disturb me no more. Ah! must I bar my doors to you?'
'Rest assured I shall not besiege them,' he returned haughtily.
'No!' panted Julie. 'Doubtless you will be happy with your Madame de Montsauge.'
'Leave that name,' said M. de Guibert, irritated beyond prudence. She is not the person you have to fear.'
'Is there then another?' interrupted Julie fiercely. 'Madame de Boufflers?'
'Your jealousy has nothing to dread from that stale coquette. Cease to torment me with these women.'
'To whom do you refer?' demanded Julie, almost beside herself. 'How many wretched creatures do your base affections play with? Shall I find my rival among the dancers of the opera, or the wives of your friends?'
'Among neither,' replied M. de Guibert, pale with anger.
'Who is it, then?'
'My only answer can be to remind you that I am not accountable to you for my actions.'
'You behave like a villain.'
'And you like a fury. Mon Dieu, have the charity to allow me to depart.'
Julie had no words. Dumb, she sank on to the ottoman and covered her face with her hands.
She heard the doors dose, and knew that he had left her alone in her torture.
And while he was turning his steps towards the hotel of Madame de Montsauge, resolving to break off a liason that was becoming so vexatious, the wretched woman, humbled to the dust by the hand which had once exalted her to the heavens, was seated at her desk feverishly writing a letter of penitence and impassioned love...
Anything, anything would she sacrifice as long as she did not lose him...but she had no more sacrifices to make...
Neither Julie's letters, her tears, her anger, her abasement, could either discover the object of M. de Guibert's journey, nor delay his departure. Since his meetings with her were almost always stormy, he avoided seeing her save in company, and though he strove to make peace with her by correspondence, he was maladroit enough to write to her of a visit Madame de Montsauge had paid him as he was sealing a letter for Julie: 'It is not love, nor jealousy, that caused her to make these reproaches; but she had counted on my friendship; that she had regarded as the repose of her heart and the happiness of the rest of her life...the was very tender, very interesting, though there was nothing, either on her side or mine, of our ancient sentiments. She was full of reason, of philosophy, of wit—I would that you could have heard her.'
The self-confidence, the naive vanity of letters such as these, wounded at once the delicacy and the pride of Julie. She responded in tones of bitter haughtiness.
'You make a merit of all that you do not do for Madame de Montsauge. Mon ami, there is this difference between us—she loved you and I love you—after that, talk no more of sacrifices!'
But she could not long allow herself these reproofs. She learnt from the gossip of the salons that M. de Guibert had left Paris without either farewells or warnings. Julie, returning in despair to her little salon, wrote to the runaway, sending the letter in charge of the porter at the rue Taranne:—
'You wish to make a secret of your voyage. If you are not ashamed of the object of it, why do you fear to tell it to me? And if this journey must offend me, why do you take it? Never have you had with me the abandon of confidence...I know not where you are...I am ignorant of your actions. Mon ami, does the most ordinary friendship behave thus? And can I think without grief that you, of your free will, leave me? You spoke of an absence of four months—and you did not give me the last evening that you had in Paris?'
No reply came to this letter, and the unhappy creature wrote again:—
I have no news from you...Yesterday I had an access of despair that gave me convulsions that lasted four hours...When I see you I love you to madness...but I must see you to love you...The rest of my life is filled with regrets, with remembrances and with tears. Be frank; tell me that you love another. I want it—I desire it; I am torn by a grief so profound that I expect no relief save from death. That which you bring me has the effect of opium: it suspends my pain, but it does not cure, and, on the contrary, it leaves me more sensible and more feeble. I am no longer capable of loving—I only know how to suffer...Why did you trouble to make yourself beloved of me?
'You had no need of my affection, you knew that you could never return it...Did you amuse yourself with my despair? Give me back my heart; torment me no more. Love me always, or efface the love I have for you—in a word, do the impossible—calm me or I die.'...
Several days passed without a reply. Julie, who could not induce M. D'Alembert to leave her, had to support the company that came to see him and which distracted her in her agony of secret anguish without consoling her. She had not been able to discover from any one where M. de Guibert was: she could only believe that he was with Madame de Montsauge.
She recalled the one occasion when she had met this lady. It was at the Mass at Saint-Sulpice, where Julie had gone to hear the music. It had been in the early days of her rapture, and in her false security she had praised her rival: she was beautiful, charming—her taste a little vulgar—her manners a little commonplace.
Julie laughed at herself now, as she thought of that mad burst of generosity towards a woman whom she had always had to fear. Doubtless Madame de Montsauge was coolly magnanimous towards her now; her blood burnt to think of it. Surely he had treated her shamefully.
She recalled the previous fatal May that he had been absent for a few days, and she had never known where...doubtless then, as now, with Madame de Montsauge.
She passed the weary days in corresponding with her faithful friends and in reading her lover's tragedy, Anne Boleyn. She seldom left her bedchamber, never the house. Her health was more wretched than ever; she was attacked by pains in the chest that almost stopped her breath, and that laid her prostrate and moaning for hours.
At last one hot morning in June, M. D'Alembert brought a letter from M. de Guibert. Julie glanced at the ever dear writing with mingled relief and terror.
'This has not come by the post?' she asked faintly.
'No,' returned the little philosopher placidly. 'Henri told me it had been left by a valet.'
He continued talking to her of other subjects. Julie did not hear him; she was staring at the letter, a thin letter, which she held in her bloodless, emaciated hands.
She sat in one of the bergères near the tulipwood table, that bore a great bowl of jasmine. She wore a plain robe and skirt of black gauze with a fine muslin fichu. Her face was pallid beneath the close powdered hair.
M. D'Alembert continued talking; his keen, plain face was full of animation and the fire of intelligence as he spoke of what was happening in the great world—Turgot in power, Necker to follow: ancient wrongs to be redressed at last, reason and justice to trample superstition and tyranny...Julie continued to finger her letter; she heard nothing of what the philosopher was saying; she cared nothing for what was taking place in France.
At last her cold fingers broke the seal and drew out the short note. There was no address; it was brief, ironic, worse than cold. He did not want her love; she burdened him; he wished to be free. Must she always follow him with her jealousies and troubles? He wished for peace.
Julie folded up the letter and sat quite still. M. D'Alembert continued to talk—of M. Turgot, of France, of the Academy.
'I must leave you for a little while,' said Julie at last. 'My head...aches.'
She rose now, carefully, with a reserved gesture, repulsing his instant solicitude.
'Send no one...You know that these times I wish to be alone.'
Looking like a widow in her black, helping herself by the furniture by the left hand, holding the letter to her thin bosom with her right, she gained her chamber and locked herself in. So often had she been alone in this room with hideous thoughts that it had become like a place of torture to her. She stumbled to the window, where the red damask curtains had been drawn back from the blinds that protected the room from the blazing sun. She opened these and looked on to the dry, hot street and the pale, hot sky.
It was Saturday, and some of the church bells were practising for the morrow's services; their metallic clang gave the summer air a sense of emptiness.
His letter—his dry, cold, disdainful letter...the letter of a man telling a woman he is tired of her, fretted with her—a man using the power a woman puts in his hands when she gives herself without price...the commonplace letter of a commonplace man, written in commonplace circumstances...This was what her glory and her dream, her agony and her sacrifice had come to...This was the fruit of her tragedy.
She left the window, went to her desk, moving in a still fashion, put his letters with the others in the rose-coloured portfolio that she kept so carefully locked, and began to write, a frail, black figure, whose delicate head was bent low with the burden of pain, and whose fragile hand travelled fast over the paper.
'Judge me mad, if you will; believe me unjust, all that you please, this will not prevent me from telling you that never in my life have I received an impression so painful, so wounding, as that given me by your letter...
'I feel myself so humiliated, so degraded to think that I have given any one the terrible right to write to me like this, and so naturally that I cannot doubt the truth of it nor suppose that you paused to wonder if you would offend me mortally.
'Ha! you have well avenged M. de Mora! You punish me cruelly for the delirium, the madness that led me to you! How I detest that folly! I shall not enter into details; you have not either enough goodness or enough delicacy to understand my complaints.
'My heart, my pride, all that animates me, all that makes me feel, think, breathe, in a word all that is in me, is revolted, wounded and offended for ever.'
She paused, for a cough shook her, a bitter breath parted her pale lips; her body was almost fainting with weakness, but her spirit could not rest until it had expressed some of its haughty passion.
'You have given me enough force, not to support my anguish—it appears to me more terrible, more overwhelming than ever—but to assure me that I shall never be more tormented nor unhappy for your sake.
'Judge of the excess of my sin and the greatness of my loss: I feel, and my sorrow does not deceive itself, that if M. de Mora lived and could read your letter, he would pardon me, he would console me in hating you.
'Ah, mon Dieu! leave me my regrets—they are a thousand times dearer to me than that which you call your sentiment, and which is hateful to me; its expression is contemptible and my soul repels it with a horror that shows me that I am still worthy of being virtuous.
'How have you dared, how could you bring yourself to form the words which, if they fell under the eyes of others would make me lost and dishonoured for ever? If they are the expression of what you feel and what you think, believe, at least believe that I shall not be vile enough to justify myself nor to ask for pardon, and as you must believe that you have rendered me less than justice, I prefer leaving you in that opinion to entering into an explanation. It is finished, then; be with me as you can, as you will. For me, in the future, if there is a future for me—I shall be with you as I ought always to have been, and if you leave no remorse in my soul, I have good hopes of forgetting you. I know now that wounded pride steels the heart. I have not been accustomed to this commerce of cruelty and liberty. It is true, also, that never before have I been guilty; this reflection makes me find your conduct less remarkable, but not more honest.'
She paused, kissed the little hair ring of M. de Mora that she wore, and then went on with feverish haste, the tears overbrimming her eyes:—
'I know not why I wrote to you all I did in the past you see there all my weakness, but not all my unhappiness. I hoped nothing from you, I would not be consoled. Why then complain? Ha! why? Because the dying man still waits for the doctor; because his eyes are still searching for hope in the faces of those about him; because the last cry of the soul is for succour. This is the explanation of my folly, my inconsequence, my weakness. How I am punished!
'If ever there comes to me a thought that can offend the sentiment that M. de Mora had for me, I shall reread your letter, and in this humiliation I shall expiate my sin.
'Return me this paper and have the honour to remember the line of "Phèdre" that I have quoted.'
She dosed and sealed the letter and addressed it to the rue Taranne.
She imagined his receiving it in the company of
Madame de Montsauge; she conceived his using light speech of her as she had heard him use of other women...and she remembered with an unutterable and bitter longing the love of M. de Mora.
Again she crept to the window. There was a heartrending melancholy in the cloudless skies, the empty sunshine...The long days seemed eventless, sterile, wearisome, like her own barren life. Her own existence seemed so purposeless, so cruel, so doomed; images from her sad history came, like phantoms, to haunt her loneliness—the poor surgeon's lodgings in Lyons where she had been secretly born one November evening, the church of Saint-Paul where she had been baptized under the name of fictitious parents, which places she had afterwards gone to visit with steps at once curious and reluctant; the splendid chateau of D'Avanges where she had been caressed by the mother who dare not recognise her nor provide for her; Champrond where she had been so unhappy, where she had endured such shameful knowledge, and suffered such bitter treatment—the convent in Lyons where she had retired in despair—Paris!
Human phantoms, too, were there in her sad visions: her mother, delicate, frail, weak and sorrowful; her sister, cold and indifferent; her nephew Abel, whom she had always loved—he alone of all her family; Gaspard de Vichy, the stern soldier to whose relationship she hardly dare place a name; Madame du Deffand, that terrible blind figure...Another figure came to her mind—a strange figure of one whom she had never seen, but who was her nearest relation, the sharer of the same secret, the same shame, the same doom—her brother, Henri Laurent Hilaire, for nearly twenty-five years monk in the order of the Cordelier Fathers of Saint-Bonaventure at Lyons. This life, as secret and obscure as the secret and obscure birth had been, and as the secret and obscure death would be, that was hidden from Julie, yet bound her by a closer tie of blood than any other in the world, affected her with a vague sense of horror. Both gages of the same illicit love, how different had been their fates—he a monk, she the disciple of Voltaire; he buried in oblivion, she famous. 'Yet how much happier is he than I,' thought Julie. 'If only I could have been left in the ignorance of a convent—my enlightenment has only taught me to suffer.'
A light and timid tap on her door recalled her to the present. It was M. D'Alembert, who could no longer endure her absence. Was she ill? Should he send for Madame Saint-Martin—the doctor?
She came and unlocked the door and tried to speak to him gently and soothingly; his love had now a certain value for her; she wished to be rid of his presence, but she had no desire to lose his affection.
As soon as he saw her he led her to the red ottoman and piled up the cushions behind her, brought a footstool, and fetched her wine and biscuits and a plate of the beautiful grapes sent by Madame de Marchais. These attentions did not please or console Julie, but she could not resist them for sheer weakness and because she was struggling for the calm that would disguise from this anxious friend the trouble that was tearing her soul.
She gave him the letter to M. de Guibert. As she did so, she told herself that it was the last she would ever write with that name on the envelope.
In his calm, amiable fashion M. D'Alembert began speaking of M. de Guibert: 'This long peace is his misfortune. His drama is not as good as his tactics. I doubt the lasting success of Le Constable de Bourbon.'
'The salons talk of nothing else,' said Julie dully.
'The Duc D'Orleans has asked for a special audience; the Queen wants it given at Versailles.'
'Simply because the young man is the fashion with the women; he has a beautiful voice—he reads well—that is all.'
Julie's beaten soul writhed within. 'The fashion with the women'—'the fashion with the women!'
She listened a little longer to D'Alembert's talk; she forced some responses, a smile or two; then she escaped to her room again, to write letters, she said.
It would have frightened M. D'Alembert could he have seen those letters; pages of them there were, filled with half-delirious remorse, regret, love, longing—and addressed to M. de Mora, Notre-Dame de Puy Paulin, Bordeaux.
Suddenly she flung down her pen and looked round over her shoulder.
'Ha!' she cried, 'why do I need to write to you when you are always behind me?'
He took her reproaches lightly, being too used to the moods of women in general, and not sufficiently versed in the moods of this woman in particular. He had not yet come any nearer to an understanding of the tragedy of Julie de Lespinasse, and her noble and agonised reproofs seemed to him the mere usual upbraidings of a slighted woman, to which he was already inured.
He wrote to her in a tone that showed he did not take her anger seriously, but he did not do the one thing that might have moved Julie—disclose the object of his journey and his address.
His tenderness only disgusted her; she was too deeply wounded, too utterly humiliated to respond to his overtures, to what seemed a renewal of his affection.
He returned to Paris and she would not see him.
'Have the honesty to cease to persecute me,' she wrote to him. 'I have only one wish, I have only one desire, that is—to see you no more...Leave me; count no more on me. If I can calm myself I will live; but if you continue to persecute me you will soon have to reproach yourself with having given me the strength of despair. Spare me the chagrin and the embarrassment of having to exclude you from my rooms when I am alone.'
For over a week she continued her resistance; then he forced her door, as he had done when he had saved her from suicide, and now—as then—she was in his arms as soon as she saw him face to face.
'What horrible project have I conceived—not to see you! It would have been impossible! You know it. You know that when I hate you it is because I love you with such a degree of passion that my reason is unsettled. Yes, I love you, a thousand times more than I know how to say...I love you more than I dare tell you.'
Once more the force of her passion swept him to the heights with her; once more he was hers; once more the delicious poison intoxicated and enfeebled her desperate soul.
But the first glow of this reconciliation was hardly passed before he told her that he must leave her again, this time without mystery, but for several months. He had to visit his father's estates at Montauban and pass some time with his family.
He showed himself full of regret for this enforced absence, tender and considerate with Julie. More studious of her happiness than perhaps he had ever been; and she bloomed in this warmth of love like a flower in the sun. His slight illness caused her a passionate solicitude that was almost maternal. She was the wisest critic that he had of his work, in which she took more real interest than did the countless admirers that lost their heads over his genius. Her fine judgment, her keen intelligence, delighted to serve him.
In these days there was a lull in the course of her malady, and she ceased to write to M. de Mora.
They saw each other every day—at his rooms, at hers, at the houses of their friends, at the opera, at the Italian Comedy, at the French Comedy; they passed days together in the country on a visit to some chateau near Paris. If they were separated for half a day they wrote to each other.
Julie fought against his fresh departure, begged him at least not to travel on a Friday, which had painful associations for her in the history of M. de Mora, who had always started his journeys on a Friday—and on a Friday died.
'Think how this recollection frightens me in connection with you, whom I love more than happiness, more than life, more than I have words to express,' she said.
One day that late summer, Julie called at his rooms in the rue Taranne; he was supposed to have left Paris. She found him there, but the elegant salon was in the confusion of departure.
M. de Guibert was alone, and greeted her tenderly. Julie received his kisses without animation and sank down on one of the gold and lemon-coloured striped silk chairs. She wore a robe of black-and-white satin in wide stripes and a black hat and feather, from underneath which her hair fell in long curls heavily pomaded. She was skilfully rouged in defiance of her pallor, and her eyes gleamed dark and fiery, full of resolution and pride. Some white roses showed among the laces at her breast, and a delicate perfume came from her beautiful clothes. A great and noble lady she looked, sitting gracefully at her ease and slowly waving to and fro her black silk fan.
M. de Guibert, having an uneasy conscience, did not care either for the unexpected visit, her flashing eyes, or her silence. But he was proud of the gorgeous creature she was and endeavoured to please her by every means.
'You cannot think how it weighs on me that I must leave you,' he said. 'All day I have been full of sad thoughts.'
'Why?' asked Julie coldly.
'Because of you—your health—and you are not happy.'
'You know why—you know the only sentiment that attaches me to life.'
'I know it is one to which you will never entirely give yourself,' he answered quickly. 'It is half-killed by your regrets and may be entirely killed by this absence.'
'Why, then, do you leave me?' asked Julie ironically. 'My father awaits me. I should have left fifteen days ago: with the visits I have to make on the way and the project I have of returning here in October, that leaves but two months with him.'
Julie was silent. M. de Guibert paced up and down the room, speaking with some agitation: 'My inquietude will make the time long! How necessary your letters will be to me! Will mine be so to you?'
He paused in front of her.
'I will write them as if they were.' Julie smiled slowly and bitterly.
'But this occupation,' continued M. de Guibert with tender warmth, 'will not fill the horrible emptiness left by your society...Ah! it will cost me something to give up the sweet habit I have formed of seeing you every day.'
Julie shivered and regarded him with sombre eyes.
'Why are you so silent? Do you not believe me? You and my work would fill my life. When I am near you my ambition is extinct.'
He took her hand and held it against the laces on his heart; it lay cold and lax in his warm clasp.
'Julie! Julie! you have given me fresh ideas of glory—of happiness—of repose. Be happy, mon amie. Nothing shall come between us. Never has my existence been so strongly attached to that of another.'
'Never?' echoed Julie wanly.
'Never! I have had sentiments more tumultuous—never one so sweet—one on which I could found the happiness of my life.'
She drew her hand away and rose.
'Why do you mock me with this false language?' she said. 'You blaspheme great things. You do not love me at all. The happiness of your life You would not sacrifice half a day's comfort for me.'
'Why do you so wrong me, Julie?'
'AM protest no more!' she cried impetuously, 'for you speak to me who knows what love is. There was a man who did found his happiness on my affections—who lived for me and by me, who had no thought but to serve me...whose dearest wish was to offer all he had—who would have married me, though he was the heir of Fuentès...and I am...Julie de Lespinasse.'
Even M. de Guibert's self-confidence blenched before the proud bitterness of these words. To marry her! Certainly it had never entered his head. He had no defence.
'So we will leave talk of love,' added Julie. 'I came to ask you why you lied to me?'
The colour rose in his fair face.
'Two days ago I waited for you—you never came—you told me you were in the country with M. D'Augessan. I have now discovered you were with Madame de Montsauge in Paris, although you said she had left at five that afternoon for Bréteche.'
Even 'M. de Guibert's candid egotism found this challenge difficult to deal with. He stood silent, looking very young in his troubled vexation.
'Why did you deceive me?' continued Julie. 'Do you not see how I suffer—how you humiliate me? You abuse my tenderness. You cause me to abhor the moments of consolation and of joy that I owe you. You denied me death—my sole resource—that you might plunge me into this frightful unhappiness. You fill my soul with remorse—you make me hate you—yes, hate you, mon ami.'
'Ha! you have made me ill: during these three days that I have not seen you I have, been prostrate. Oh, mon Dieu! this fever of the soul reaches delirium. What body would be strong enough to resist such suffering?'
'Mon amie, listen! It was true that I was in the country at Chanteloup; since my return I have been occupied with my Eloge de Catinat.'
Julie glanced round the disordered room—the portmanteaux waiting to be strapped.
'And you were leaving again without letting me know of your return—without a farewell.'
'Did you not get my letter?'
'Yes, but at the same time I learnt that you had been with Madame de Montsauge and had left for Chanteloup twelve hours later than you said.'
She tightly clasped her thin hands on her frail heart, so that the hair ring of M. de Mora cut into the flesh.
'Why did you tell me you were tired of that woman? Did I ask you to abandon her? Why did you complain of her when you have for her this unconquerable affection? Why tell me your heart was empty when she filled it?'
'In my letter—' he began.
'Ah! your letter...I would not read it...
What do you think that cost me? What effort to put it in my portfolio sealed?...How often have I had it in my hands...even in the night I felt the need to touch it...I wanted to be strong.' Her voice softened and her indignant eyes filled with tears. 'I thought of nothing but that sealed letter...yet I wanted to resist you...At last, yesterday, I opened it...and see my folly!...I loved you more than ever...Then I heard that you were back in Paris and I was filled with contempt for both of us—you for the evasion, myself for the pursuit.'
She trembled all over as she spoke, as if she shuddered with unendurable nausea, and dropped again into the gay little chair.
M. de Guibert was sincerely moved by her distress; his good nature was always ready to endure the reproofs that his carelessness provoked, and his genuine love for Julie was always roused by the sight of her suffering.
'How I am grieved at all the evil I have done you. I am wrong and I do not pretend to justify myself,' he declared with impetuous frankness. 'I concealed from you that I was with Madame de Montsauge—she left at nine instead of five, and I was with her until her departure.'
'And when you left her?' demanded Julie.
'I returned here. In leaving her I could not come to you.'
'You were too sad!'
Heedless of the irony in her voice, M. de Guibert blundered on in his charming, musical voice:—
'"This is no more than friendship," she told me, "but it is friendship warm and tender that it would cost me a mortal pain to forgo." Her eyes were full of tears, mon amie. Mine also were wet. You see with what frankness I speak to you. You understand my position—my need of reticence.'
'Lies!' said Julie bitterly, 'lies!'
'Lies, then, if you will,' he replied, drawing away from her with dignity. 'Lies, if you will call them so; but their origin has never been falsehood, but delicacy towards you...Grand Dieu! why must you establish this hatred and contempt between us? You know how I was drawn to you, and at the same time I never concealed from you that I was attached to another.'
'You admit, then, that you care for her?' interrupted Julie violently.
'My heart is a labyrinth. Cannot your sensibility have some consideration for me. I do not understand myself. When I left her I tried to examine myself. I felt that I was not cured, and yet that there was no one dearer to me than you...Ah, grands Dieux is there not between your situation and mine a similarity that should excite your indulgence? You love me and your soul is full of M. de Mora. If I tried to detach you from his memory I should detach you from life itself. Mon ami, we are, you and I, strange examples of the intricacies of the human heart.'
This defence, given with eloquence and sincere feeling, served to enrage Julie more than any insult could have done. His obtuseness, his egotism, his venturing to quote his vulgar intrigue in the same breath with her noble love—to compare his easy infidelity with her agony, wounded and stung her beyond bearing. She turned on him, her whole figure, her face, her pose, expressing fury.
'Mon Dieu!' she cried, 'who has been the object of the sacrifice I have made of my honour? A man who has never loved me, who is cruel enough—false enough, to tell me that he has made me his victim without loving me! After having betrayed me, after having deceived me a thousand times, you take a barbarous pleasure in telling me a truth that outrages me and abases me!'
M. de Guibert endeavoured to check the bitter torrent of her words, but Julie was beyond reason. Had he not confessed to an affection for Madame de Montsauge? Was not the nightmare of her days realised in this confession?
'You say that I owe you indulgence!' she gasped. 'You vaunt the delicacy of your sentiment, that caused you to lie from morning to night. Ha! you expect me to be grateful to you for reducing me to despair?'
'You have not understood me,' said M. de Guibert, confused and on the verge of anger. 'You use terms that revolt me. I am neither as false nor as dishonest as you believe.'
She moved away from him. She was drawn to her full height, her nostrils distended, her face livid, her eyes sparkling. With a great effort she struggled with the constant cough that tore her chest.
'I have nothing more to fear from you!' she panted. 'You were only dangerous for me as long as I believed in you...Now I see you as you are. Adieu! If one day I can cost you a regret and make you know remorse, I shall be avenged.'
She essayed to open the door, but her strength failed her and she leant against it, her handkerchief pressed to her quivering lips, fighting for her painful breath.
M. de Guibert made no attempt to approach her. His gray eyes were dark with anger. He was conscious of no wrong towards her and of some wrong to himself. The beginning of their love-affair was very uppermost in his mind. He recalled how she had cast herself into his arms on his return from Prussia—her joy and triumph that February night at the opera...And now she spoke to him as if he was a heartless seducer!
'You overwhelm me,' he said coldly. 'You speak of hate and show it. Adieu, then. You may cause me regrets, but never remorse. This is doubtless the last time that we shall see each other. I would rather that you abandoned me altogether than meet me but to hate me—to revile me—to outrage me. I shall neither expect your letters nor write any. If the news of your health is worse I will address myself to your friends.'
Julie remained leaning against the door, her agonised stare on her lover.
He was flushed and handsome in his anger; the colour had mounted to his pleasant eyes and stained his slightly thick neck. His hands were clasped behind the skirts of his pearl-coloured coat. His hair was not dressed and his cravat was dishevelled. There was something homely in this negligence that was infinitely dear to the woman who gazed on him with such hopeless passion.
'Adieu,' he said again.
Without a word she left the room.
For fifteen days after the departure of M. de Guibert, Julie's soul dwelt in silence, feeding on its own grief. She judged herself, her lover, the situation, with that keen intelligence that never failed her, save when blinded by some outburst of passion or emotion.
And it was against herself that she pronounced judgment, she found that her conduct descended from the sublime to the absurd. She beheld herself in the most painful and foolish of positions—that of the middle-aged woman endeavouring to fix the affections of the young man. She admitted that there was neither right nor reason in her conduct, that she had been crying for the moon, asking for what did not exist.
'Many women love him: he is young, charming, famous. There is not a single reason to draw him towards me, save, perhaps, pity. He was attracted to me despite himself—and I expect his entire fidelity.'
So she reasoned, without faltering; so she judged herself, without mercy. For a while her body and soul were in fierce combat, but her spirit conquered the feeble flesh.
She would set him free, she would liberate herself from this insensate love. She would atone for her blind pride and her headlong folly by renouncing whatever claim she might have had on her lover's errant heart.
This resolution violently to tear herself from the one object that made life dear to her, this voluntary forfeiture of all her dreams and hopes, all that made her days supportable and thought of the future bearable, was not without heroism. Not without fierce suffering did she come to this resolution which was aided by his absence. Had she been forced to see him she could hardly have found so much courage.
In the first calm following the exultation of her sacrifice she wrote to Jacques de Guibert at Montauban a letter that was a farewell to her unhappy love.
'I pardon you all the cruel things that you have said to me, and I abjure, with all that remains to me of strength and reason, all that I have written to you in the convulsions of despair. Now I put into your hands my profession of faith. I promise you that I engage myself neither to expect nor to exact anything of you. If you preserve for me your friendship I shall enjoy it gratefully and peacefully; if you do not find me worthy I shall grieve without finding you unjust.
'Adieu, mon ami. It is friendship that pronounces this name; it is not the less dear to my heart because it can trouble it no more.'
She asked for all her letters back—a request she had frequently made before, and one that had never ceased to wound M. de Guibert. When the thing was done and the letter sent, she fell into a state of complete apathy; no more tears, no more convulsions, only the calm of a deep and profound melancholy. The old cry came to her lips: 'A quoi bon?' 'I go to bed every night hoping that I shall not wake up in the morning,' she wrote to Condorcet.
Sometimes during these sleepless nights she wrote to the spectre that never left her, invoking her dead lover with a yearning unspeakable.
M. de Guibert had to go to Bordeaux, and she exacted from him a complete account of the tragedy of the previous May; he must visit the inn—the church—the Spanish consul.
He obeyed her with a delicacy and sweetness that won from her tears of gratitude. He had not agreed to her offer of platonic friendship, but he was eagerly pleased at her gentle resignation, her new tone of submission, and his letters were full of warm affection, of sad sentiment and touching reflections on the death of the rival whom he could now afford to pity.
Julie was soothed by his attitude into believing that her love was dead, and that she could enjoy the placid friendship that had taken its place. She endeavoured to interest herself in what was going on about her—the success of M. D'Alembert at the Academy with his Eloge de Desperaux, the great movements at the Court that seemed to promise a new era for France, M. Turgot Controller-General, his party entirely in power.
M. D'Alembert was so delighted with the turn of public events that for once his attention was slightly distracted from Julie.
'You never come to hear me now,' he said once on returning from the scene of his triumphs.
Julie smiled. She lay on the Utrecht velvet ottoman, the red cushions piled under her back and head.
'I have been too ill,' she said quietly. 'I have not had strength enough to hold myself on my chair.'
He looked at her with swift anxiety. 'Are you worse, mon amie?'
'No worse—the same.'
He considered her with a keen look on his plain, tired, intelligent face. In his careless, sober attire, so at variance with the times and the circle to which he belonged, with his quiet humorous manner, gray hair, and frail figure, he looked anything but the ideal of a lover. But Julie knew that he loved her with a passion as deep and true as that with which she loved M. de Guibert. The irony of the thought caused her painful smile to deepen.
'Never mind about me,' she said. 'Tell me more news.'
'I know of none. I went to Madame de Boufflers. M. Crillon was there. I think she exerts herself to make an impression on him. That will be a blow to the vanity of M. de Guibert!'
'I have observed that myself,' replied Julie calmly. 'Whenever she comes here he is with her. But I fancy that she wastes her time—he talks of getting married...he is much in debt.'
'Eh bien! he has talked of that for some time, so has M. de Guibert. Young men must make a term to their dissipation.'
'Do you think that M. de Guibert will marry?' asked Julie languidly. 'He spoke of it months ago, and I offered to find him a parti among my friends, but nothing came of it. I think that he loves too much the brouhaha of Society to put any chain on his liberty.'
'He loves too much his own position in Society,' retorted M. D'Alembert shrewdly, 'to risk losing it through lack of money. I believe that his debts are beyond bounds—certainly his dissipations are.'
'It is certainly a pity,' said Julie in the same cold, calm tone. 'Have I not often complained to him of the elegant emptiness in which he wastes his youth and his talents? He tells me that he is writing another tragedy—Les Graques.'
'And no doubt he is very pleased with it,' replied M. D'Alembert with kindly tolerance, 'but I believe that he has mistaken the trend of his genius.'
Julie winced at hearing this calm dispraise of M. de Guibert; yet she continued the subject ironically, prolonging her own pain.
'What is he going to do, that young man,' she said, raising her feeble head from the red cushions, 'with all the gifts, all the opportunities, and no taste save for idle pleasure? But his Eloge de Catinat,' she added quickly, 'you admire that? It is good, isn't it?'
Her tone, that she strove to render indifferent, was tinged with wistfulness.
'It is good,' replied D'Alembert, 'but there is a life of Nicolas Catinat by one Turpin I have just read, which is its equal.'
'I will send M. de Guibert a copy,' said Julie. 'But not with those words of mine.'
'Nay,' she smiled sadly. 'I should be sorry to wound his candid self-confidence.'
She sat up on her couch and turned languidly to the fire, which although it was yet only early autumn, burnt brightly in the polished hearth. Julie loved the warmth.
She looked pale and frail in her gown of black and white Indian silk and her muslin cap on the powdered curls. She still took an interest in her dress, and her toilet was of extreme elegance if sombre; but her pose and expression were of a profound melancholy, and her movements had the feebleness of great ill-health. Her very grace was now the grace of a creature utterly broken, her vitality seemed quenched, her bright spirit that had been so ardent and fearless, quelled and obscured.
But as she spoke calmly and was not prostrate with pain, M. D'Alembert was not more concerned about her than usual. He was now inured to the sight of her sufferings, and had that species of false security that comes to one who watches a very long illness; he was so used to her bad health, so habituated to the symptoms of her disease, that they made little impression on him. He was in continual anxiety but he had no definite fear.
As soon as he had left her, Julie de Lespinasse held out her hand to the fire. It was almost transparent, the dark ring that she had given M. de Mora showed against her pale blood.
For the first time the thought occurred to her that perhaps she was struck by that mortal malady of which her lover had died. If this were so, what a ghastly retribution and how mad for her to dream that suicide would expiate...Far longer, far more terrible the punishment. She must suffer all the pangs he had suffered, endure the same long, fruitless struggle, bow before the same premature, unnatural death.
Her hands fell to her knee and clasped there tightly.
Surely her fate was now revealed to her: this could be no passing illness, not merely the result of her agonies of soul.
What was this continuous cough nothing would cure, this shortness of breath, this pain in her chest, this emaciation, this sickness, pain, and exhaustion?...What had her mother died of?
'Mon Dieu!' she murmured, 'it must be that I have only a few months to live—a year, perhaps. M. de Mora was as I am now when he last left Paris.'
Her thoughts clung to him. On this very couch they had sat when he had come for his farewell. She recalled his damp hands, his hollow face, his stooping shoulders, his desperate hopefulness, mocked by the haunted, reproachful look in his great eyes, the bitter fiction they had kept up: 'I shall return—I shall be faithful—We will be happy'—cheating themselves by the perfume of these poor flowerets of sentiment into ignoring the abyss of eternal separation that was opening between them.
Separation of the body, of the spirit, no, for he was ever present. To escape the spectre of her lover, who appeared to her sometimes in his rich dress as he had lived, sometimes in clinging grave clothes, but always under an aspect of horror, Julie had only two resources—opium and M. de Guibert; and the ghastly face of the dead man often mocked the drug-given sleep and distracted her amid the caresses of the traitor for whom she had betrayed love.
She felt that if he had lived he would have forgiven her; but that as he was dead he regarded her without pity. She thought of his long agony in the foreign wayside inn, the doubts and suspicions that had troubled his last moments...his intense loneliness...his unutterable failure.
If she must die the same way it was a punishment from which she would not flinch; yet she wished that she had been able to make the prompt expiation her soul had indicated. How had Jacques de Guibert dared to garrot her to a life he rendered intolerable?
Well, she would be free of him now; she would content herself with his friendship to soften the haunted dreariness of her life, and she would dedicate herself anew to death—the long, slow death that M. de Mora had suffered.
She could now gauge his torture by the measure of her own, and she was twice amazed at the strength of will that had forced the dying body to that last journey.
She picked up her chatelaine and looked at the two little hearts hanging there—one of gold, one with that tress of dark, Southern hair. She felt that she had never ceased to love him and her infidelity appeared to her as absurd as it was monstrous.
Her own actions seemed incredible, exactly like the hallucination of an evil dream. It was impossible that she who had always preserved so immaculate her womanly reticence, her inner reserve, her proud self-respect, even through the transports of a passionate love affair, should have given herself so easily to one who was not even her friend—who never could be.
Her self-contempt, her remorse, poisoned memories that should have been magic; the music of Le Devin du Village she recalled as the wail of lost spirits; the rosy glow from the pink-shaded candles in the room behind the box at the opera like a reflection from the bottomless pit. Infidel as she was, she found no difficulty in believing in Hell.
But now she was calm; she told herself again and again that she was calm. Was it not easy to be so when the term of her life was to be so short?
She tried to detach her thoughts from the all-pervading image of Jacques de Guibert, and to think of the others—shadowy figures these!—whom she must leave behind; she who had such a genius for friendship thought dully now of her wonderful friends: Jean D'Alembert, whose life was based on such a tragic misunderstanding; Madame Geoffrin, her loving benefactor; old now and ill herself; Madame de Chatillon, whose tender kindness had moved a response from Julie; the good Condorcet; Caraccioli, Chastellux, Marmontel, Suard, La Harpe, M, de Crillon, M. de Vaines, M. de Saint Chamans all these dear friends who had made life so rich to Julie she could now leave without a pang. Neither their love, their wit, their laughter, nor their need of her could lighten that dreary, melancholy desert where her soul dwelt. She thought of them with a faint surprise that they had ever interested her; only for D'Alembert and Madame Geoffrin did she feel any stir of affection.
'I suppose,' she said to herself, 'this is what they mean by a broken heart.'
During the following weeks her health steadily declined; she hardly left the house; those who gathered about her wondered at her calm, her sadness; all, save the thrice blinded D'Alembert thought that it was to do with the loss of M. de Mora. The knowledge of the origin of their pity was a further burden to Julie, and caused her to reject the consolation that might otherwise have soothed and strengthened.
M. de Guibert wrote from Montauban, where his mother was ill (Julie recalled when M. de Mora's mother had died the autumn before his own death, and shivered), from Livourne where he had gone to join the Corsican Legion, from other places where he gave no address, but told her to send her letters poste restante.
She believed that he was with Madame de Montsauge, if there were some other woman she was too languid to care.
She wrote to him in the language of this new 'friendship' on which she had fixed her last hope of calm. She promised to criticise the Eloge de Catinat, which was to be presented at the next Concours of the Academy; she repelled his more ardent protestations of affection; she received calmly his careless remark that his affairs were in such a state that there was nothing for him but a wealthy marriage. She acted the part she had set herself, that of a prudent, sincere friend.
To her drug-taking she added another solace—music. When she could drag herself so far, she never failed to spend the evening in the box of one of her friends, listening to the voluptuous strains of Flora e Pomone, or the piercing sweetness of the melodies of Gluck.
She remained more constant to her books than to her friends. Richardson, Sterne, Condillac, Montaigne, Racine, Voltaire, La Fontaine, Prevost, Le Sage, Gessner, La Motte, continued to please her; La Rochefoucauld, Montesquieu, Tacitus, Plutarch, these were often the companions of her voluntary loneliness, and served to maintain the heroic exaltation of her mood.
'I dare not desire your return, but I count the days of your absence,' she wrote to M. de Guibert.
He took little heed of her new resolution. He believed that as soon as she saw him she would fall into his arms, be at his feet—she had done so before.
But on his return to Paris in November he found a changed Julie. She was calm—there were neither tears nor complaints nor protestations. She avoided caresses; she silenced his vows. Baffled, he believed that he had lost her, and amid the dissipations of the capital in which he involved himself more deeply than ever, he was vexed and wounded by the thought of this incomparable woman who had been so utterly his and now was so inaccessible.
Perversely, he decided on the reconquest of a mistress whose mere existence had lately been an irritation and a burden.
Julie, in her pitiful courage, clung to the memory of M. de Mora, which was at once her comfort and her despair, and believed herself safe.
No reasoning made any impression on Julie. She remained serene in her new-found strength; she accorded Jacques de Guibert nothing but a sober friendship, and gradually she began to know some calm—an apathetic calm, perhaps, but easeful compared to her former tortures. She almost believed that the spirit of M. de Mora was appeased; though the vision of him never ceased to haunt her, he appeared to her now under an aspect less ghastly, less full of horror. And that she was able to make this resistance was as balm to her wounded pride, her lacerated self-respect. She could not lose her overwhelming sorrow, but she regained some dignity and repose; she was no longer tormented by jealousy: the life led by M. de Guibert caused her only an impersonal regret; his presence was as necessary to her as ever but not his constancy.
In an exalted mood she waited for death, concentrating her thoughts on this expiation, not knowing that the hour was not yet and that her sufferings were not to be ended so easily. M. de Guibert paid her more attention than he had done when he was sure of her; apart from his pique at her coldness, he fell again under the spell of the woman whom so many had named 'enchantress.'
Nearly every day found him, either morning or evening, in the little red salon where Julie, too languid now to go out much, passed long days with her books, her needlework, her dogs, and her paroquet.
The Utrecht velvet ottoman was drawn close to the fire, and often she never moved from it by the day together, sometimes her cough, the pain in her chest, or her headache would be so bad that she denied herself even to M. de Guibert and remained prostrate for hours, conscious of nothing but her physical distress. And always when she rallied from these attacks there appeared to her the pale image of M. de Mora languishing in that agony of which her own seemed a reflection.
M. de Guibert tried to induce her to see M. Lorry and to give up her increasing habit of opium-taking, always without result. One day when he found her very feeble from the effect of an enormous dose of the drug, he reproached her folly with a force that was nearly anger.
'You must know my history, mon ami,' she replied languidly, 'before you condemn me. How little you do know about me, after all.'
He considered her with frank and troubled eyes. She was further removed than ever from his comprehension; part of her fascination for him was that she kept him in a continual state of wonder and slight bewilderment. She was so different from all the women whom he had ever known, or imagined, or heard of.
Julie raised herself on her elbow; the firelight gave a false rosiness to her haggard face, the voluminous dress of Mexican muslin, striped gray and white, her frilled and ruffled lawn fichu and elbow flounces disguised the emaciation of her figure. Twisted round her shoulders was a scarf of white gauze with black satin stripes; a large mob-cap of blonde lace concealed her hair. Her piquant face had become sharp in outline, but had lost nothing of the charm of its changing expression. She did not look at M. de Guibert, but into the fire where she had so often traced her castles in Spain.
'Some day, mon ami,' she said quietly, 'I will tell you things that you will not find either in Prévost or Richardson. My history is composed of circumstances so terrible, so atrocious, that it proves that nothing seems more improbable than the truth. We hear little of the childhood of the heroines of romance—mine was singular enough to deserve to be remembered! Some evening this winter, when we are sad enough and thoughtful enough, I will give you the pastime of hearing a story that would interest you if you found it in a book, but will make you conceive a horror for the human species. The cruelty of men! Tigers are gentle compared to them!' She shivered and bent closer over the fire. 'I should have devoted myself to hatred. I have badly fulfilled my destiny, for I have loved much and hated very little. Mon Dieu it is as if I had lived a hundred years...My life, that appears so uniform, so monotonous, has known all misfortunes. I have been a victim of all the wicked passions that can animate men.'
M. de Guibert was moved. He knew that she referred to her unhappy origin, the mystery of which was so well-guarded that he had never been able to discover the truth.
'But you remain on friendly terms with the D'Albon?' he asked
Julie flashed him an angry look. 'Who told you that I was a demoiselle D'Albon?'
He stood his ground before her haughtiness. 'Some of your letters have the D'Albon seal and, pardon me, mon amie, but so much is common knowledge among your friends.'
'You know no more?
'Seek to probe no further,' she said. 'There are horrors! With my family'—she spoke the word proudly—'I keep up the commerce of civility. One only I love—Abel de Vichy. He knows the truth, and since the day that he wrung it from his mother he has overwhelmed me with devotion and tenderness.'
'And the others?'
'As long as I ask nothing, mon amie, the others are quiet.' She spoke with a profound and bitter indifference. 'Do not believe,' she added, 'that I have not pressed my claims because of respect to them, but only because I cared nothing about it and had my mind full of other things.'
She looked at him with a smile and quickly changed the subject: 'Have you read the L'Eloge de Despreaux? It is worthy of D'Alembert.'
'I have read it and am assured of its success.'
'He is the first of our philosophers, the first of our men of letters,' said Julie, warmly.
M. de Guibert agreed, with generous enthusiasm. 'You are right, because he practises what he speaks. His goodness, his nobility, his disinterestedness have no equal.'
Julie gave him a strange look. 'He is indeed the best of men,' she added.
Both were silent, but so strong was one thought in both their minds that it was as if each said: 'And the most credulous.'
Julie shivered, and M. de Guibert, with that tactlessness that sat so strangely on a man of his breed, said firmly: 'I consider him superior to M. de Voltaire, whose spirit I detest as much as I admire his genius, and whose dry soul is not to be compared to that of M. D'Alembert. I am only sorry that I could not see him oftener. I hope that you keep a warm spot for me in his heart.'
'Mon ami,' said Julie quietly, 'do you think that I need to hear of M. D'Alembert's virtues from you?'
He flushed. 'Do you mean to reprove me? Can I never please you?'
She smiled faintly. 'I only thought that M. de Mora would never have said those words.
'Must you always put M. de Mora between us?'
'The logic of the heart is absurd,' smiled Julie. 'Have I not always been impossible?'
'You are sad!...and when every one is swept away by an intoxication of happiness!'
'I know. M. de Crillon has written me three pages—a patriotic hymn from Montigny. But I? Is my heart to cease to ache because M. Turgot is Controller-General?'
She turned towards M. de Guibert and spoke with sudden force. 'Why do you spend your time with this sick woman when France is afire with these great events? Find an occupation more suitable to your youth and genius, mon ami.'
'Julie,' he said boldly, 'I love you.'
He rose and leant against the mantelpiece, looking down at her with masterful eyes.
He was more richly dressed than formerly, more assured, more the courtier, less the soldier. The life of Paris had robbed him of that freshness of early youth, that bloom of perfect health, but the charm of his delightful personality remained unaltered.
Julie looked up at him. He made a movement towards her. She held out her frail hand to keep him away.
'Tell me of the L'Eloge de Catinat,' she said quickly. He accepted his rebuff quietly.
'I am annoyed that the other biography is to appear,' lie remarked. 'It takes the novelty from the subject which had never been treated before.'
'But yours is better,' said Julie, in a calm tone. 'You have certainly nothing to fear from this man Turpin, but possibly something from the rivalry of La Harpe.'
M. de Guibert glanced at her with growing vexation; he was becoming unbearably inflamed by her serenity.
'Let us leave off talking of Catinat,' he said almost roughly.
Julie took him up swiftly. 'Shall we talk of Les Gracques, or the visit of the Archduke, or the recall of the exiles from Chanteloup and the joy of Madame du Deffand?'
He refused any longer to bow to her mood.
'You may discuss these matters with any one,' he replied, 'there is no need that you should endure my company for such a conversation.'
Julie moved restlessly on her couch. She coughed a little and put her hands to her painful breast.
'Will you come to the opera with me to-night?' asked M. de Guibert, fixing on her his powerful glance.
Julie shook her head.
'There is your new Italian, Mellico; you admire him?'
'I will not come to-night.'
'They are giving Le Divin du Village.'
She started and her baited glance met his. 'And you ask me to see that—with you!
'Why not? I remember it very ill. I heard but little of the music. It hardly penetrates to that delicious little salon behind the box.'
He smiled very winningly and held out his small, shapely hand, adding, while she was breathlessly shrinking from him,—
'Julie, Julie! will you never be happy? Must you always analyse and probe—be torn with remorse and regret? For what fault? Be always haunted with spectres and phantoms—for what crime? Ah, mon amie'—his voice fell to notes of great tenderness—'can you not love me save in half-measures?'
She laughed desperately. 'Love you—in half measures?'
'Ay; do you not turn to me but to escape the spectre of M. de Mora? Is not your soul—your mind full of him?'
'Can I forget a man whose death I caused?' murmured Julie, terribly shaken from her calm.
You torture yourself for nothing,' replied M. de Guibert with the contempt of the healthy-minded for the morbid. 'The consul at Bordeaux assured me that he would have died as soon even if he had stayed in Madrid. He was dying for years—certainly doomed when he left Paris.'
'All this cannot one jot remove the weight from my heart,' said Julie, moving restlessly on the couch and clutching at the red cushions. 'I know his worth; I know how he loved me.'
'You know how I love you.'
Julie moved her head from side to side like one trying to escape from intolerable pain. She was ghastly in her colourlessness. Her eyes looked unnatural in their size and lustre.
'Why do you not leave me alone? Why detach me from my sole comfort? Ha, why? For you do not love me...that would be the sole excuse...but you do not love me.'
He leant forward and took her quivering, chill hands in his strong, warm fingers. 'What is your comfort, Julie?'
'Death,' she answered, her hoarse voice almost extinct with pain. 'Do you not see that I am dedicated to death? That I have no other thought—no other idea? Once you forced me to live; now it is beyond your power.'
He still retained her hands. 'You to talk of death! You so sweetly alive! I cannot think of you and death, Julie.'
His smile expressed an affectionate contempt for her sombre speech. 'Mon Dieu these funereal ideas!
Live, mon amie, live! Are there not things that can make life dear to you?'
He let go her hands, sank on the ottoman beside her and caught her to him with a gentle firmness.
'Repulse me now,' he said, with a warm laugh.
His irresistible attraction encompassed her like warmth to the frozen, light to the blind, the breath of life to the dying. She felt the old flame flicker in her heart and burn away her hard-won repose; but pride and shame and despair were still strong in her, and she resisted this extraordinary influence, invoking with a shudder of agony the spectre of her dead lover, straining away from the embrace of M. de Guibert and burying her face in the cushions.
He kissed the thin line of her neck and all her ardent nature responded with a shock of joy. It seemed to her that her heart was singing within her: 'At last at last!' Still she struggled, as she had struggled again and again to resist the opium bottle.
'You shame me bitterly!' came her stifled voice. 'At least have pity.'
He laughed and continued to kiss her neck.
Julie lay passive. She had been so brave; for a whole month her courage had not faltered; she had been so calm, so serene in her certainty of death: M. de Mora had ceased to gaze at her with eyes so reproachful; Madame de Montsauge had ceased to torment her. Was all this to be lost in one moment's weakness?
She raised her head and struggled away from him. Her face was now flushed with a hectic colour, like the bloom of a wild rose.
'I will not listen,' she murmured. 'I have no need of you. Will you not leave me? You were never my friend.'
For answer she felt his firm, warm face on hers, and he had caught her by the shoulders and kissed her mouth. And she returned the kiss and clung to him, then dragged herself away with a sound that was like a wail.
But he caught her again, the blood staining his face and thick neck and flushing his eyes. When he exerted only the half of his strength her utmost struggles were vain.
'I hoped never to know this again,' breathed Julie, helpless in his embrace. 'You have overcome; only tell me that you love me...Ha, mon Dieu!'
Her head fell forward on to the laces at his heart, and he looked over her bowed, shamed figure with a smile of unconscious triumph.
'Only tell me that you love me,' muttered the unfortunate mature, clinging to him frantically.
He did not think that he was false when he answered, 'Yes'; for that
moment at least it was true...
The autumn afternoon faded unnoticed; the fire sank to a glowing heap of ashes, unheeded; shadows began to obscure the well-worn, elegant furniture, the mirror that had reflected M. de Mora, the alabaster bird against which Julie had leant to watch him drive away, the bust of M. D'Alembert, patient, credulous, the bust of Voltaire, alert, ironic, the desk where only yesterday she had written a letter to the dead man...
When he left her to go and sup with a cheerful mind in Madame de Bouffler's salon, Julie crept to her bedroom. She looked quite old.
There was no exaltation now, no radiancy, no passionate joy in love renewed; nothing but utter wretchedness and shame, bitter self-contempt and abject humiliation.
She picked up a hand mirror and stared at herself as if she expected to see the marks of his kisses like brands upon her face.
'How vile I am!' she muttered. 'How vile!'
The disastrous love of Julie de Lespinasse became now more terrible, she had left neither pride nor self-respect, she could not reproach the man whom she could not resist. She had no hold on him, no claim, for he had reduced her to accept with thankfulness even a portion of his regard. Once he had again overcome her resolution to escape, he became indifferent, difficult to bring to an appointment, fertile in excuses for leaving her, absorbed in a hundred other interests, careless of the little attentions and considerations for which Julie's wounded heart was so avid.
She sank into a state of ironic resignation, broken by only occasional complaints.
'Death would be my only solace,' she told him, 'twice you have taken it from me, and now I have no longer the activity of soul to seek it.' She calmed her burning pain with opium and the opera; night after night found her listening to Orfeo. The sad, lovely music fascinated her beyond words and moved her to those tears that saved her heart from utterly breaking.
She moved among her friends like a phantom of herself, barely able to force an interest in anything save it concerned Jacques de Guibert. She had to endure his renewed intimacy with Madame de Montsauge—'friendship' he called it. She remembered how she had used the word and detested it. 'There is only one thing possible between a man and a woman, and its name is not friendship.'
Evening after evening she waited for him and he did not come. Time after time she looked for him at the opera or the Comédie in vain. Again and again he lost an opportunity of being with her, either through design or carelessness.
'You have more affairs on hand than Providence,' Julie wrote to him after a long neglect, 'and I must say with the Cannanite, "I am content with the crumbs that drop from my master's table"; but, mon ami, this Biblical humility is of a baseness that only a Christian can endure, and I, who do not aspire to heaven, will not in this life nourish myself with any one's leavings.' Then he would turn to her again, and an hour of joy would annul weeks of pain, and she would be at his feet, adoring him, willing to endure any torture for an occasional caress.
He was her despair, her agony, her humiliation, but he was the one thing that kept her attached to life. All the thousand other interests in her existence would not have held her a single day. He, and he only, distracted her from the death she longed for.
'It is strange to adore that which one knows is not a god,' she said, in bitter self-contempt. She continued to write to the man whose spectre haunted her day and night. To escape the living man she cast herself into the arms of the dead. To free herself from the dead, she turned frantically to the living, not knowing which agony was the greater to endure: the still phantom of the lover who had loved her too well, or the virile presence of the lover who did not love her enough.
The ceaseless devotion of D'Alembert, of Madame Chatillon, of Madame Geoffrin, the affection and solicitude of her numberless friends, had now no value at all for Julie, save as an occasional anodyne against her unceasing pain. The brilliant, charming people among whom she had passed her life, now appeared to her as the dullest of fools. Every emotion seemed trivial in comparison with the violent passion that was consuming her. Her entire being, her health and happiness, were dependent on the treatment she received from a man too engrossed in a thousand pursuits to be always careful how he pleased, and too selfish to always notice how he wounded.
He lost his muff (that she suspected to be a woman's gift) and she sent him another; he returned it with a note saying it was too costly for him to accept, that he should lose it; Julie was moved by this awkward ungraciousness into a retort, pathetic in its openheartedness.
'With me such excuses are banal and stupid,' she wrote. 'Be easy, the fact that I have given it to you is a proof that it is not valuable. I return it to you—keep it, if for no other reason not to let my lackey know the cause of our quarrels!'
He hurt her in another way; he left the rue Taranne, in the Quartier Saint-Germain near to Julie, and took apartments in the Hotel de Make, rue de Traversière, some distance away; then she was sure that he was careless with her letters; she had given him a blue morocco portfolio to keep them in, but she often found them in his pockets or saw them loose in his desk, and she was frantic in her attempts to recover them, demands that he always took as an insult, and although she no longer allowed herself the right or could find in herself the courage to reproach violently or upbraid him for the scantiness of the affection that she had been forced to accept, often her woe escaped her in murmurs of ironic revolt.
'You make a mystery of your doings,' she told him one evening, 'but this week I have divined them—shall I tell you?'
He was restive and rather unhappy under her vivid scrutiny; he looked oppressed and his fresh complexion was pale; his appearance was no longer that of a man in his first youth; he leant over the back of one of the tall chairs and stared into the great fire.
'To-morrow,' continued Julie in the same tone of sarcasm, 'you go out at eleven, you pay visits in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, you dine with Madame de Boufflers, at five you are with M. de Crillon, you go home and write to Madame de Vaines, at seven you go to the Comédie Française to see Henri IV., which is the second piece, you ask for the box of M. d'Aumont—at eight, without wasting a minute, you leave and go to supper with Madame de Montsauge.'
'Do you spy on my movements?' asked M. de Guibert irritably.
Her gleaming, jealous glance swept over his magnificent figure in the peacock blue velvet with the silver lace and paste buttons; the fire-glow was full on his angry, charming face, powdered and patched now, and on his waved, rolled, and pomaded hair.
'Will you hear the rest of the programme?' she demanded. 'Monday, dinner with M. de Vaines and supper with Madame de Montsauge. Tuesday, dinner at the "Controle General" and supper with Madame de Montsauge. Wednesday, dinner with Madame de Geoffrin and supper with Madame de Montsauge. Thursday, dinner with M. de Crillon and supper with Madame de Montsauge. Friday, dinner with Madame de Chatillon and supper with Madame de Montsauge. Saturday, dine with Madame de Montsauge and go to Versailles, return Sunday evening to dine with me—does it not please you, this programme?
'Mon Dieu I' he replied impatiently, 'you put poison and steel into everything.'
'Nay,' she replied quietly, 'I have not the strength for tragedy. I am even too sad and too weak to tell you how much I love you.' She closed her eyes and leant back against the corner of the ottoman that had now become her habitual couch.
'There are your letters,' said M. de Guibert, laying a packet on the table by her side. 'Even to that which asked for their return—here is the garter you asked for—I believe that I shall never forgive the spirit that made these demands.'
'Mon ami,' said Julie in a quivering voice one should pardon everything to the fools, the sick, and the unhappy.'
'You have never been a fool,' retorted M. de Guibert, 'and it is your own fault if you are sick and unhappy. Mon Dieu I know not either how to understand you or deal with you, you turn all to tragedy, to tears and terror, you evoke ghosts and live among funeral images. Your life should be radiant.'
'Ah! You do not understand, indeed,' murmured Julie, opening full her tired eyes, now blurred with tears; her hoarse voice sank lower. 'And, therefore, I do not reproach you, for you know not the wrong you have done—as for me, do you not see that all my contradictions are explained in the three words—I love you!'
He lowered his glance uneasily. 'And yet you will not let me make you happy.'
'You keep me alive,' smiled Julie wistfully. 'If you could see me on the days you do not come you would pity me. I listen for every passing carriage—is it he? For every knock—is it from him? Ah, the long waitings, the fainting hopes, mon ami. Pity! Ha Indeed I am sunk beneath anything but pity.'
'I come when I can, my engagements...' he began awkwardly
Julie cut him short. 'You quote "engagements" to me I I who have loved you with such abandon that I have sacrificed all I held sacred, even my tears, even my desire for death, to you! I, too, have friends and interests, position and fame—these have gone down the wind for you—and in return you throw me a little of your spare time!' She smiled bitterly, staring at him with a look he did not care to meet. His chest heaved and his fingers played restlessly on the back of the chair as he answered,—
'Even as you speak, you know that you are unjust. But I pardon your moods.'
Again Julie interrupted him, this time fiercely
'You pardon me—and for what crime? These words to me!—M. de Mora is avenged indeed, that after his perfect love I must endure this!' She rose as she spoke and stood erect, an emaciated and pallid figure in her black silk gown and white lace, but vivid, powerful, and beautiful in the sheer force of her passion and vitality.
'You quote too often M. de Mora,' said M. de Guibert, the slow colour mounting to his face and neck. 'Remember that he could not hold you.'
Julie quivered and threw out her hand as if to ward off an offensive presence. 'Go to Madame de Montsauge,' she muttered. 'She will be the better company.'
M. de Guibert flamed into a rare fury. 'Mon Dieu how intolerable is this jealousy, am I never to have done with it? You have nothing to fear from the lady with whom you torment me.'
'There is another,' said Julie instantly.
'And if there is?' he flared, 'Grand Dieux, am I not my own master?'
Julie stared at him in sheer terror. 'Then you are concealing something from me,' she stammered, 'I knew it...these visits...your obstinate silence...your evasions...tell me.'
'I will tell nothing to one who acts the fury on the least excuse,' he answered hotly; his masculine pride and arrogance were now fully mused and he turned on her with the impetuous anger of one who strikes from his path an irritating impediment. 'My time and my actions are my own...I have suffered too much...I am not responsible for your tortures or your rages...You have made your own limbo and must suffer in it alone...Mon Dieu, is life to be wasted in these perpetual recriminations?' He snatched up his hat and was violently leaving her, but the wretched woman, who by his words was goaded into desperation, impetuously caught his sleeve.
'Only be frank with me, tell me the truth,' she implored. He tried to escape her and she fell to her knees clutching at his reluctant hand. 'The truth!' she almost shrieked.
He was repelled, not softened, by her utter humiliation; a faint shame struggled in him with an intense desire to be rid of her; the whole situation had become utterly hateful.
'I will see you when you are calmer,' he muttered, pulled his hand free and went swiftly, leaving her kneeling in the centre of the room.
Julie staggered to her feet and attempted to go after him, heard the door close and fell back, clutching at the back of the ottoman. She began to laugh and then to cough; her body was shaken with a slight convulsion; she turned and stared at herself in the gilt mirror. A fever coloured her lips and cheeks with a false look of health, a deep pain tore at her chest; she was giddy and sick and feeble, but her tremendous energy kept her erect.
It was still early. Julie, in the mood of a hunted creature looking for a hole, thought she would go to see Madame Chatillon who loved her...Madame Chatillon who caressed her tenderly. She rang for Madame Saint-Martin who exclaimed at her appearance—
'Mademoiselle is ill again!'
'No, I am going out,' said Julie, with a ghastly smile.
She took some wine and a biscuit, then went to her toilet. She selected a new costume, a robed la polonaise and gorge de pigeon; a fantastic fashion, that her grace carried well, in satin, striped with dark green and white with adjustments of blonde lace and silver ribbon. She nearly fainted while her hair was being dressed. She could not endure the powder in her throat, nor hold the horn to her face, so it was piled up in its own dark waves. She worried about her scarf, her gloves, her shoes...and after all she could not go. Her strength failed her when the moment came to descend the stairs.
The wearisome toilet was followed by a wearisome disrobing, and at last she was in her white dimity bed-jacket and muslin gown, seated near the fire burning in her room. She insisted on Madame Saint-Martin giving her a dose of opium, then sent the waiting woman, silent and frightened, away. Julie stared down at the pile of letters on her knee, and the silver garter with the pink rose he had cherished and then returned to her on her insistent demand. With a shiver she cast the delicate trifle into the flames. She meant to send the letters after it, but something more powerful than herself restrained her, and presently she made an effort and rose feebly, and somehow crawled to her desk, and locked them away with the others he had sent back in impetuous anger, put them away in the rose-coloured portfolio with those other letters of hers the doctor had returned from Bordeaux—all with that little seal of the seated cat, save one or two proudly set with the arms of D'Albon in a lozenge. She stared at one of them. 'Ha!' she thought, 'had I been Julie D'Albon, or Julie de Vichy, things had not gone like this with me.'
She locked the portfolio, and sat down at her desk. She meant to write to M. de Mora, to tell him of her suffering, her punishment, her remorse, her love.
The little gilt clock on the mantelpiece struck twelve. Julie put down the pen; her glance fell on the bins calendar hanging before her. The candle-light illuminated the date—February the twelfth. Her soul froze within her. A year ago at this very hour, M. de Mora had been dying in Madrid, and she had been in the arms of Jacques de Guibert, forgetful of everything save the music, the rosy lights, the delicate warmth, the perfumed poison she was drinking—the delicious poison that even now circled in her veins.
She turned in her chair and stared over her shoulder. Still and empty was the crimson bed-chamber in the fire and candle-light, the bed shadowed in the alcove, the door closed. Her head was giddy with the opium and the horror of her recollections. A year ago! a year ago...
She held on to the back of the tapestry chair staring, staring. The figure of a young man appeared before her, radiant with love and tenderness. Seductive words were on his warm lips, his fresh face had all the bloom of first youth. He turned to her the features of Jacques de Guibert...even as she stared he changed, faded, grew pale, stern, and cold; the fair locks darkening to black tresses—the face of the dead gazed with living eyes from above the stiff folds of a shroud. 'Who are you?' murmured Julie.
'I am your fate,' breathed the phantom, and vanished into the shadows slowly, as the echo of a sigh.
Julie stood motionless, holding on to the back of the tapestry chair, staring, staring.
Passionate, desperate letter following passionate, desperate letter failed to elicit any response from M. de Guibert, who sought the usual refuge of a good-natured, vexed man in a difficulty—silence.
Julie, more and more agitated, suspected that something fatal to her happiness was being concealed behind this obstinate resistance.
'What must I do to merit the truth?' she wrote to him. 'Tell me; I shall find nothing impossible. Listen to your own heart and cease to agonise mine...esteem me enough to be frank with me. I vow, by all that is most dear to me, never to give you cause to repent having told me the truth...I have taken from you all excuse to deceive me; if you continue to do so you will be shameless.'
The evening of the day he received this letter, he came to her; Julie was going to the 'Comédie to see Tom Jones and La Fause Magic, and Madame de Chatillon and M. de Crillon were with her. She could scarcely conceal her agitation at seeing her lover again, her distress at having to meet him before witnesses.
He was distracted, careless, hardly gracious; he refused to go to the theatre. He said he had come for L'Eloge de la Raison that she had promised him. Julie bade her Mends go without her while she stayed behind to look for the brochure. As soon as they were alone, she turned on him with a mingled agitated joy at the sight of him and a quivering indignation at his behaviour.
'Must you flout my friends?' she demanded. 'But truly, it is useless to speak. You have not the manners or the tone of any ordinary mortal—you are like God, infinitely perfect, and I doubt not no less self-satisfied and happy. Any one of such a magnificence could only change to lose—doubtless Alexander had no gift for the civilities. Preserve, then, mon ami, your haughty manners and your total disregard of all that which pleases and interests those whom you say you love.'
M. de Guibert looked sulky; he deliberately glanced at the clock.
'I am pressed for time. I could not come to the Comédie.
'Why did you come here at all?' demanded Julie sarcastically.
'Mon Dieu I Have you not insisted on an explanation—an interview?'
Julie shrank away from him.
'You put it like that? Mon ami, it is nearly a month since I have seen you, and this is your greeting.'
She rested her elbow on the mantelpiece and took her brow in her hand, and the mellow firelight glowed on her white satin hooped gown, her white satin jacket with the cowled hood drawn over her powdered hair; the hand that hung by her side still mechanically held her long, white gloves and her blue fox muff. She shivered, and now and then her entire body was shaken by a suppressed cough. M. de Guibert regarded her with confusion and vexation; he had not taken off his dark overcoat or even his gloves; he carried his gold gallooned hat under his arm; his firm, delightful face, set now in unusual lines of anger and framed in elaborate pomaded curls, was thrown up dearly against the shadows of the background.
'Well?' said Julie, without moving.
'What,' he asked, awkwardly, 'are you expecting?'
She moved abruptly, sat down on the ottoman, flung away her gloves and muff and snatched up a green silk hand-screen, which she held between her pallid face and the fire. M. de Guibert took a turn about the crowded little room. His was the angry agitation of the man faced with a situation unavoidable and entirely disagreeable. Meanwhile, Julie's wrath was dying, as it always did under the charm of his presence.
Her great eyes followed his movements with eager tenderness; she began to forget all her wrongs in the sheer joy of his presence...after so long. 'How I love you,' her heart kept saying, 'how I love you.'
At last he stopped before her and looked at her reluctantly and apprehensively.
'You must know!' he said, 'and I must tell you—my father comes to Paris next month.' He paused and glanced away, frowning.
Julie dropped the hand-screen.
'Well?' she breathed.
'My father comes to arrange my marriage.' Julie was hysterically incredulous.
'This is nothing new—you spoke of this before. Mon Dieu the stale project!'
'But this is settled—the date fixed.'
'In May, I think, or June.'
'Ah,' added Julie vaguely, 'the date fixed in May or June.'
Encouraged by her quiet reception of his secret, M. de Guibert assumed a more natural manner. He took one of her passive hands and kissed it with an air of gratitude.
'You know,' he said, with an eager tenderness, 'that this had to be—my family, my debts, my position—eh bien! what is marriage—this will make no difference.'
Julie did not seem to hear this rapid self-justification.
'Who is the person?' she asked.
'Mademoiselle Boutinon des Hayes de Courcelles.'
'I do not know her—young?'
'Eighteen years! Rich?'
'Rich, and of good birth and intelligent. Have I done well? You see, I want your approbation—my family are pleased, but your good opinion is more to me.'
Julie rose and put her hands to her head as if she had received a stunning blow there. A low cry broke from her dry lips.
'We can no longer love each other!' Instantly she added, 'I can no longer live.'
Her dazed eyes turned on him with a stare of agony that was beyond reproach.
'Julie!' he cried desperately, 'do not take it like this. Mon Dieu! but there is no need; this is a mere mariage de convenance, a girl from a convent—if you knew my debts.'
'Leave me,' said Julie dully. 'I am so tired. It seems to me that I have no longer the strength even to die.
She sank to her knees by the ottoman and dropped her poor head on to the red cushions. He bent over her in real distress.
'Mon ami, promise me that you will not suffer.' She raised a tearless and distorted face.
'Promise you? I can promise nothing, but nothing at all! All my existence has rendered restraints impossible to me!' The blood suddenly rushed to her thin cheeks. 'Yes, you would wish me to be submissive and weak—that should be the character of one in my position...the abandoned mistress...but I am capable of everything—save submission.'
She rose and faced him.
'I have the strength of the martyr, perhaps of the criminal...Yes, I tell you, of the criminal, in the cause of love—but I find nothing in me that can meekly promise the sacrifice of that to which I have sacrificed everything.'
'Then you will continue to love me?' he asked, hesitating.
All her outraged pride flamed now to spurn him.
'I will never touch your hand!...leave me! How can I say if I shall continue to love you or not, or what effect your marriage will have on me? I care little, for I have that relief you have before cheated me of—death.'
'Grand Dieu you make of everything a tragedy.' He repeated his usual complaint helplessly.
'Doubtless to you it is a comedy, monsieur.' Her smile was bitter as gall.
'Julie!' he cried, 'in honest distress. 'I am not worthy of the pain I cause you.'
'Do you think I do not know it? Not worthy, indeed! I find not one. noble impulse in you—I understand you as little as you understand me.'
M. de Guibert bit his lip.
'If you mean to reproach me—-?' he began.
'Should I caress you?' she interrupted. 'You, who come to inflict on me the cruellest humiliation a woman can endure as calmly as if you were dismissing a chambermaid? Must I smile and thank you? Must the castoff mistress run to welcome the wife—this young, rich, intelligent, noble girl?'
'This,' he replied hotly, 'was not what I expected from your friendship and intelligence.'
And it did seem to him that she was speaking with mere vulgar invective. The force of passionate strength that had swept him off his balance when she had used it to woo, revolted him when she used it to spurn. Her broken, straining voice, her flashing eyes, her pallid face with the hectic red on the too-plainly revealed cheek-bones, her whole pose of taut anguish, her words of reckless wrath—all these things were antagonistic to him; he felt himself aggrieved personally and ashamed for her. Yet deep in his soul he received some gratification from the fact that she was behaving like this—it was balm to a conscience that had been more than a little uneasy lately. If Julie had wept he would certainly have been very uncomfortable.
As it was, he merely hardened and set his fine mouth in lines of obstinacy. He had the courtesy to remain and listen to her, but every line of his stiffened figure told his distaste.
Julie was exalted by the immensity of her woe; there was about her anguish the calm of one who has nothing more to lose.
'Mon Dieu she cried, 'is there no vengeance? Must one limit oneself to hate and to die! But all this is nothing to you...you do not know, even, how much I loved you...Ha! you will miss me in your life...I know how to love: it is not so common...Listen; M. de Mora knew what love was, and what did he say of mine? "You are of the climate of Lima and other women of that of Lapland"...and this he wrote to me from Madrid...How I have been loved...how fallen, how punished!'
'I meant neither to deceive you nor to wrong you,' said M. de Guibert sullenly. 'The fate that was too strong for you overcame me also.'
'You treat this as if it was a situation in a romance,' replied Julie, from the heights of her wrath and pain. '"Wrong," "deceit"—stock phrases, mon ami. Oh, mon Dieu! I believe that you are so commonplace that you do not see anything horrible in my position! Wrong deceit! Mon ami, if you are a Lovelace I am not a Miss Harlowe, save inasmuch as that I shall die of what you have done to me...I have loved you—you will never be able to forget it—but I talk according to my folly, and you listen according to yours. Leave me, and believe that I prefer my grief to any consolation you can offer...
'This is furious language!'
'Mon Dieu what else do you expect from one in Hell?'
The grandeur of her agony escaped him; he thought that she was acting, after her nature, impulsively, dramatically...soon she would be resigned—if not, why, he had always meant to break with her He moved impatiently. His rich, light dress gleamed where his coat fell apart; she saw his silk and lace and jewels.
'You are going to some amusement,' she cried; 'after telling me this you are hastening away to your enjoyment, glad of an unpleasant moment lived through you never meant to stay!'
'I cannot,' he said cruelly. 'I have to dine with Madame de Courcelles.'
'Ah!' breathed Julie, 'that is the sort of thing you do—fling me my dismissal and go to fawn upon your legal love, and tell me so—I, who loved you!'
'Forget me,' he said impatiently. 'There is nothing between us save the accident of our meeting. If my heart's blood could wash out the grief I have caused you, I would shed it. Forget me!'
'How banal you are,' replied Julie. 'You say what men in your situation have always said. How amazed I am that I could ever have exalted you as high as my heart! Yes, I shall soon forget you, and M. de Mora, and my pain, and all the sad days and sick nights—I shall sleep well after a lifetime's broken slumbers—but you will not forget me so soon. I am the greatest thing that ever happened to you.'
Uneasy, frowning, he listened. His main thought was that he would be late for his appointment. Julie was calm now, as a spent wave.
'Good-night,' she said. 'I am not very well, and poor company.'
She smiled faintly, and he thought that she was reconciled and resigned, and his conscience stung him into some sort of self-justification. He began to speak of his debts, of the insistence of his family, of Mademoiselle de Courcelles' dowry, of the mere business transaction the affair was...
Only once did Julie interrupt him, and then it was to exclaim,—
'Your debts! I cost you nothing...you kept no carriage for me'
When he had come to the end of his argument and his breath, she did not look at him nor move.
Julie, Julie,' he pleaded, 'have you nothing to say?'
'Good-night,' she muttered again, 'good-night.'
He hesitated a moment, sighed and left her. While he descended the stairs he felt uneasy. As soon as he got into the street a sense of relief stole over him...The thing was done, and, after all, women were always the same—simply impossible. He looked forward with pleasure to the caresses and homage of the de Courcelles family, which would distract him very pleasantly from any painful impression this interview with Julie had left on his mind.
Alone in the little red salon, Mademoiselle de Lespinasse faced her fate.
To any woman, it would have been bitterly hard to be thus coolly abandoned in the very midst of a passionate love affair. To Julie it was an agony that stunned and overwhelmed.
In no way had he spared her feelings or softened the hideous fact—a cowardly silence had been followed by a cruel admission. He had been impatient, embarrassed, vexed; abundantly had he made it clear that he did not love her—nay, had scarcely any regard for her; no thought of her had entered into his calculations—himself, his debts, his family, his future—always himself.
Her large, impetuous nature truly despised this self-interest. All her instincts revolted against this plotting and scheming for self-advancement, for ease, for security. Had she been a queen, she would have gaily thrown aside her crown for love, for any wild, fatal love, as Mary of Scotland did. She was incapable of counting the cost, of putting anything in the balance against her heart. And so had been M. de Mora; he had been as young, as noble, as famous, as popular, as M. de Guibert, and he had never hesitated—he had offered marriage, he had defied his family, he had abandoned his career—dying, he had tried to come to her...and the man for whose sake she had betrayed this perfect lover was abandoning her—to pay his debts.
She went to her room at last, not conscious of moving.
Madame Saint-Martin, who had her toilet ready and the brass bath in the little bathroom with the blue-and-white check curtains filled with hot water, was frightened into tears at her mistress's appearance.
'Oh, Mademoiselle, you are dying!' she blurted out.
Julie smiled Her lips seemed drawn high across her teeth, her forehead glistened with damp; she unfastened her lace fichu and her shoulders showed sharp.
'Yes, I am dying,' she repeated, 'but not so easily. Oh, mon Dieu! how poor the light is...or I am half blind to-night.'
She suddenly began coughing and fighting for her breath. She fell into the chair by the fireplace and suddenly thrust her kerchief to her mouth; it was instantly wet with a pale stain.
She looked at the chamber-woman, who rushed out crying into the next room. M. D'Alembert had just come in. A doctor was fetched—this time not the 'doctor of the street' to whom hitherto Julie had so obstinately clung.
The great man told the shuddering D'Alembert that Mademoiselle's lungs were both diseased.
Julie paid no attention whatever to the opinion of the doctor, nor to his statement that her disease was 'spreading from her soul to her body' and that if she determined to recover she might easily do so.
'My lungs will last longer than my heart,' she said.
D'Alembert would have moved heaven and earth to have sent her away from the fogs of Paris to some softer climate. They neither of them had sufficient money, but they had friends, and D'Alembert would not have hesitated to write, as he had done before in a similar emergency, to Frederic of Prussia for the funds.
But Julie could not for a moment contemplate the idea of leaving Paris. Now that M. de Guibert was no longer in the Faubourg St Germain, she had a secret desire also to leave the neighbourhood, but only that she might take up her residence nearer the HOtel de Matte.
She had spoken to several of her friends of this vague project of changing her lodging, but she said nothing of it now to D'Alembert; it was not likely M. de Guibert would be long in the rue Traversière.
She lived only to discover more about her lover; her intense and furious interest was easily satisfied: the porte claquette announced the forthcoming betrothal, and for a day or so Paris talked of nothing else.
Julie learnt that Mademoiselle de Courcelles was a granddaughter of Dancourt, the dramatist; that she had pretensions to art and learning; that she did not disguise a frantic adoration for M. de Guibert.
Julie also learnt that even at the last he had deceived her the project was nothing new, nay, two years old, and his frequent absences from Paris had been caused by his visits to the Chateau de Courcelles.
Still, it was the fact, not the person, that smote Julie; she did not for a moment believe that Jacques de Guibert was interested in Louise de Courcelles.
Young girls had never, once her governess days were over, filled any place in Julie's life. Madame de Montsauge was as old as herself, Madame de Boufflers older; all her acquaintances were great ladies, disdainful of youth; the men who thronged the artificial atmosphere of the salons had never been heard to express any admiration of, or need for, youth.
Women held sway by reason of wit, charm, intelligence, social prestige, enthusiasm, beauty of carriage, of clothes, of environment, of manner. A woman hardly existed till she was married—Julie had only heard girls mentioned as some pawn in the matrimonial game, some creature worth just so much in money or name or power.
She believed Mademoiselle de Courcelles to be one of these. It was impossible that she who had held her own with Madame de Boufflers should really seriously consider as a rival a girl of eighteen.
The shock, the insult, the despair, were none the less; but on this point she was calm: Mademoiselle de Courcelles had not won Jacques de Guibert and could never hold him. Julie was almost sorry for this poor puppet.
Her own stormy relations with him were the same: she insisted on his presence to but fiercely repudiate him; she wrote to him but to upbraid; she swore she would love him no more, and in the same breath that she would die of his neglect.
All her being revolted against the position he now offered her, yet her need of him was so great that she could not deny herself even the little he flung her. So terrible was her struggle, so acute her distress, that she longed for the day of his marriage as the condemned man might long for the day of his execution.
The family De Courcelles came to Paris, and De Guibert was much in attendance on them. One day, after a miserable interview, he left Julie saying that Madame de Courcelles and her daughter were coming to his rooms that evening at seven.
Julie, abandoned to her anguished loneliness, formed the resolve to be present also. She would see the doll who had bought Jacques de Guibert with twenty thousand livres of rent; she thought to wound him by letting him see her beside this little provincial.
It was one of her good days: she had hardly any cough and neither headache nor any great weakness. She dressed with the greatest care: Madame Saint-Martin was nearly two hours arranging her in a robe and petticoat à la polonaise of broche and striped pale green and white gauze over an under-dress of white taffeta. The tight bodice was finished with a fichu of blonde lace, into which was fastened a bouquet of gold and silk roses. She wore a cap of lace and a huge black hat with a single green feather, her hair powdered in curls on her shoulders, and a large muff of Canadian marten.
The dress was extravagant, in the extreme of a fashion that was almost grotesque, but Julie carried it as well as did the frivolous young Queen who had set it. Her face was skilfully painted and her eyes lustrous with excitement.
When the lackey showed her into the presence of M. de Guibert she had the satisfaction of seeing him whiten with anger and mortification.
'Mon Dieu!' he cried, 'do you not know who is coming?'
'Mademoiselle de Courcelles,' said Julie. 'I have come to see her.'
'To humiliate me?' he asked, his self-confidence, his serenity, for once entirely lost.
Julie glanced at him maliciously.
'Do you not know that I am a creature of impulse, and do not know what I may do?'
She glanced round the little salon, so elegant in its ash-coloured and gold furniture, its white walls painted with wreaths of flowers, the straw-coloured silk curtains through which the spring sun was streaming, its bowls and vases of Sèvres china full of jasmine and roses, lilies and tulips. It made her own chamber seem shabby in the recollection.
It was to maintain this luxury that he had run into the debts that he must marry to pay. All the petty details of this room had proved stronger than his love for Julie. So the cast-off mistress thought as she waited for the coming of the woman who was to supplant her. She remembered D'Alembert's poverty and the lack of means of M. de Mora, and how differently both these men had faced the same situation and how her relationship with all of them had been affected by this need of money.
A look of great bitterness came over her vivid face; she went to the window and stood there looking out, but it was too high for her to see the street.
M. de Guibert struggled to command himself, but could by no means disguise his lively terror of some violence on Julie's part.
'I entreat you not to meet these ladies now—they expected to find me alone,' he began desperately.
'Do you not consider me fit to speak to your betrothed?' said Julie quietly. 'Ah, mon ami, if you bring her to live in Paris she will meet worse women.'
'I believe you have come to humiliate me,' retorted
M. de Guibert, 'to spy on me, to put me to the torture. Whatever your feelings towards me, remember that this young girl is innocent of all offence.'
He could have said nothing more calculated to wound Julie's quivering pride.
'Innocent,' she repeated. 'Ah, mon Dieu, this innocent young girl—'
The words had hardly been spoken before the door opened on the two guests. The elder lady, a graceful creature in black and gray silks, began talking volubly to the overwhelmed young man; the younger, advancing into the room, found herself face to face with Julie de Lespinasse.
If she felt any embarrassment at being thus confronted with a stranger, if she had any suspicion of who this might be, if she saw anything remarkable in the splendid personality, the haggard face and vivid eyes of this woman, she gave no sign, but serenely waited with a little smile.
She was of a seductive loveliness—till that moment Julie had never realised what a power sheer youth and beauty might be.
This creature was fresh as an opening rose, graceful and joyous in the bloom of life's earliest morning. She was of the type of the childish maidens beloved by Greuze, who was soon to paint her portrait. Her features were delicate, rosy, almost infantile; her limbs rounded and small; her eyes blue and languishing; her hair so fair as to be almost silver. She was dressed with a simplicity that was the height of cunning art; neither hoop nor powder disfigured her. Her mantle of fine white silk was open on a gown of white gauze over pink taffeta; she wore pearls round her throat and amid the careless drapery at her bosom. Her lovely waved hair was twisted with a braid of pearls and confined by a close circle of pink roses.
Julie had never met any one like this. Madame de Foucalquier, Madame de Boufflers, Madame de la Vallière, might have been such as this in their youth, but Julie had not known them then.
Madame de Courcelles, with some question in her manner, turned towards the stranger; the wretched M. de Guibert had to present them to each other.
'Mademoiselle de Lespinasse came—-' he began lamely.
Julie's hoarse, low, but calm voice took up the sentence.
'I came to see Mademoiselle de Courcelles,' she said. 'As one of M. de Guibert's friends I was eager to behold his future wife.'
The slight sense of tension in the air relaxed. Madame de Courcelles was charming to this famous lady. She had heard of her extraordinary friendship for M. de Guibert and was perfectly prepared to ignore the sentimental side of it, if need be. She had already, with tranquil serenity, met Madame de Montsauge, whose relations with her future son-in-law were as notorious as Julie's were obscure.
'Mademoiselle accompanies us to the opera?' she asked, after several graceful compliments.
'Nay,' replied Julie. 'I do not even stay to dinner. I do not go out now very much. Madame, my health is too poor...I was very desirous of seeing your...delightful daughter.'
Louise de Courcelles curtseyed. She had a very pretty air of modesty and eager desire to please.
'If Mademoiselle de Lespinasse will be my friend,' she said, 'I shall find Paris even more delightful than I do now.'
'Too neatly turned!' thought Julie: 'She is well schooled.'
She glanced at M. de Guibert, who flashed her a look of gratitude and admiration, and aloud she said,—
'This is the most fortunate of men whom you crown, Mademoiselle. He has never lacked anything, save such a Comtesse as yourself...To what may he not now attain? And you—may you be as happy as you deserve.'
She took the girl's hand and smiled. There was both grandeur and sweetness in her look which vaguely touched Mademoiselle de Courcelles with an instinctive pity. She had heard the story of M. de Mora, and felt sorry for this woman, who seemed to her old and painted and ill and long since passed by love.
Out of her own radiant happiness she glowed friendliness and joy.
'I am such an insignificant person, Mademoiselle de Lespinasse, that I do not know how to reply to you nor how to thank you...I want to beg another favour—your further acquaintance.'
Julie de Lespinasse gazed at the loveliness so near her that seemed of itself to give out a perfume exquisite to the senses. This was her rival; this the creature for whom she was cast off; there the lips he would kiss; all this beauty would lie in his embrace, adoring and adored. While she...
'Adieu, Madame,' she said to the mother. 'M. de Guibert's choice is worthy of himself, of his gifts, and of his destiny—if you knew how much I admire him you would value this compliment from one who could not be your rival in anything, Mademoiselle, but who may be your admirer in everything.'
She curtseyed to the elder lady. The girl, who had flushed very prettily, seemed to want to reply, but hesitated a little as to how to answer this polished language of the salons. Julie de Lespinasse gave her no chance, but left the room, accompanied by M. de Guibert.
'Go back to your guests,' she said, but he came with her to the door of the ante-chamber.
'They are delighted,' he whispered in eager pleasure, 'charmed with you...and I—I could fall at your feet for the effort you have made...
Julie turned and looked full at him. His flushed and winning face was near to hers; his simple masculinity showed through all his powder and curled locks and slightly over-rich dress of lavender-blue velvet and silver.
'I cannot thank you—' he began.
Julie put her hand over his mouth with a gesture that might have been either a light blow or a fierce caress. The hair ring of M. de Mora touched his lip.
'Sh!' she breathed, 'go back to...your guests.'
With no backward look she left him, descended to her modest carriage, went back to her modest lodgings. There, with that heroic candour of emotion that belonged to her least action; she at once wrote an impulsive letter to her lover.
'I find this young creature charming, and indeed worthy of the interest that she has inspired in you. The manners, the figure, and the air of the mother are equally amiable and interesting. Yes, you will be happy.'
She despatched this note so that it would reach M. de Guibert before he left for the opera, took off her stiff and stately dress, and in a quilted white silk jacket and white dimity skirt seated herself once more by the fire that she still kept, despite the May weather, in her bed-chamber.
She was conscious of no pain now, only a great weariness that encompassed her like the waves of an encroaching sea. She only moved when her suppressed cough shook her, and then her face contracted with the start of agony in her chest.
M. D'Alembert was still out; he had expected her to dine with M. de Crillon.
She thought of the little philosopher with a vague affection: 'If only I could have loved him, how happy I might have been...
Madame Saint-Martin entered.
'Has Mademoiselle seen the letters?'
'Two letters came for Mademoiselle.'
The chamberwoman went to fetch them, put them on the table nearest Julie, who was too weary to take them or even look at them—they would be from Condorcet or Suard or Abel de Vichy...of what interest to her now were any of these people?
Madame Saint-Martin lingered and looked at her curiously.
'One is from Spain, Mademoiselle.'
'Give it me.'
She saw the seal, the arms of the Fuentès; she saw the writing...
'Leave me,' she stammered.
The chamberwoman crept away.
Julie sat up and turned the letters over. One was from Madrid, one from Bordeaux, both in the writing of the Marquis de Mora. She opened them; the dates were of a year ago.
'From Madrid, which I am leaving to come to you,' one was headed; the other a scrawl, 'from near Bordeaux and almost a dying man.'
Some error in the post had delayed these letters that now came like a summons from the dead—such, at least, they appeared to the exalted fancy of Julie de Lespinasse, who sat shivering and staring at them as if they had been dropped into her lap by the cold fingers of a phantom.
Then as she read these broken words of a faithful, desperate love, her frozen pulses began to stir again to a rhythm of exquisite pain.
The young man of her opium vision again appeared to her horror-struck fancy, and seemed to be beckoning to her from the vaults of Notre-Dame de Puy Paulin, a gulf opened at her feet in which unnameable horrors lurked. The fatal disease in her blood, the fumes 'of the drug in her brain, the anguish in her heart, combined to render her exalted to the point of delirium. These letters seemed to her like a warrant for her instant death. Beyond the circle of encroaching horrors she saw the utter blackness of complete annihilation, and all her ardent nature that had so loved life shuddered and recoiled...
She sprang up as if she had been suddenly touched on the shoulders by a pursuer. Where was he while she was thus in torment—with the music, the light, the gaiety, with that fair, fragrant creature who claimed his lawful love...
Julia staggered to her desk and wrote a bitter and burning letter to Jacques de Guibert. When she had sealed it, she had scarcely strength to ring the bell before she fainted.
Next morning found M. de Guibert, distracted and alarmed, at the door of the apartment in the rue Saint-Dominique.
He could not see her, but on his return later in the day he was admitted.
Julie was on the red ottoman. She had passed a terrible night and been all the morning in a hot bath. Her sufferings were now a little relieved, but she was utterly weak.
She had made some effort to array herself, and wore a charming gown of pale blue and white striped muslin with sleeves of ruffled ancient lace and a fichu of white gauze, but her hair was undressed and gathered simply under a muslin cap.
By her side was the acacia table set with a Sèvres tea-service in blue and white, and a little milk-pot in white, painted with flowers; a basket of Chantilly porcelain filled with fruit and two plates of sweets.
She appeared calm and greeted M. de Guibert with a slow smile.
'What a strange, inconceivable creature you are!' he broke out. 'I told you that I could have kissed your feet yesterday for your goodness—the language of heaven was on your lips—you caressed, you flattered Mademoiselle de Courcelles—she was enchanted and I overjoyed—and then that letter It has poisoned all your kindness...I do not understand. What do you want? What do you expect?' He paused, looking at her in deep vexation and genuine distress.
Julie was silent. She gazed at him with avid, half-narrowed eyes.
'What do you mean to do?' asked M. de Guibert.
'Do not ask me,' replied Julie, without moving. 'I know nothing, nay, nothing at all. If I listened to vanity and pride I could calculate my behaviour...as it is...Passion has no future. In saying to you "I love you" I say all that I know and all that I feel.'
'But your resignation, your promises—' he began, in despair.
'Ha! my resignation interrupted Julie. 'I, who have so well lived and so paid the price...so would I again, yes, I would accept life on the same conditions were it offered me...little interests have never meant anything to me—to love, to suffer, Heaven, Hell—when one has existed thus can one live on earth with all the slaves and automatons with whom one is surrounded?'
'You are beside yourself,' said M. de Guibert.
'Yes, perhaps these are the thoughts of a mind exalted,' replied Julie. 'But who are capable of noble and great actions? The reasonable, prudent, and little people?'
'You certainly are neither reasonable nor prudent,' remarked M. de Guibert.
'Go!' she cried, 'and do not stay here to turn and re-turn the poniard in my wound.' Her hoarse voice was suddenly violent and she sat forward on the couch trembling all over.
'You made me live—you animated me with this passion—Why? That you might satisfy your vanity, your cruelty! You play with my despair, my torment, this fatal sentiment that is dearer to me than life—'
A fierce cough broke her speech. She pressed her handkerchief to her mouth and the tears started to her eyes.
'Mon amie, calm yourself, calm yourself, I implore you,' entreated M. de Guibert; whose anger vanished at the sight of her obvious and piteous sufferings. 'You wrong me bitterly, but I love and I forgive. I came to you to-day to implore you, to beseech you to cease this humour that turns everything to gall. I have loved you, I do love you—I found you unhappy, I endeavoured to console you—this is my crime. Re-read my letters and see if I am guilty—think of the circumstances in which we are placed, and judge me then.'
While he was speaking, with a charming air of frankness and that touching tenderness so well expressed by his beautiful voice, he approached Julie and leant over the ottoman so that he was gazing down on her as she lay passive, with her face hidden in the cushions.
'Mon amie,' he said gently, 'your love is as cruel as hate.'
He felt sincerely sorry for her in this moment, and although his pity did not cloud the radiancy of his own happy fate, he would, in his careless, generous fashion, have done a good deal to heal this unhappy being whose malady he did not even understand.
'Your letter,' he continued, 'cost me my sleep—I passed a night of horror.'
'How many such nights have I not passed?' muttered Julie.
'May heaven give us both sweeter slumbers henceforth,' said M. de Guibert, in a caressing tone. 'You look fatigued, mon ami, you are feverish. Forgive me, and sleep—sleep well and I will come again this evening—you are always my first thought.'
Julie shuddered and looked up.
'So with poison you bring me back to life,' she whispered. 'Why do you make sweet to me the life you take from me? What have you done to me? I have enough to endure now in the sheer fact of existence...Leave me, if you have any pity...I know not what frightful pleasure you take to thus trouble me.'
'I love you, and cannot leave you in distress, Julie!'
'Ah!' she answered faintly, 'even when you speak the truth you have the manner of a deceiver, and I believe not in this affection of yours.'
She sat up, assuming the languid attitude of one in extreme ill-health, the unconscious droop of sickness.
'Ha! mon Dieu!' she continued, 'how tired my soul is—how I long for some deliverance! Cure me of loving you—but that is impossible. I have no refuge against you but death!'
'I know not what to say,' stammered M. de Guibert.
'You mean that I weary you. Go to Madame de Montsauge—she will be all that is wise and tender and reasonable—she will commend your choice and flatter your taste—'
She wiped her lips and smiled.
'I will not tell you not to come and see me again,' she said, 'for I know that it is your intention. I go to M. Bertin this evening and then to Orfèo; in the interval to see Madame de Chatillon—like myself, she is always sick.'
He stooped and kissed one of her pallid hands. 'You are in truth the most generous of creatures,' he said. 'Why must you belie yourself?'
'You think to console me by flattering me?' she replied. 'Mon Dieu I your praises only hurt me and there is nothing in the world can console me—Ah, leave me! I know not how long I can be calm—I am so troubled, so agitated, I wonder which will resist this torture the longest—my reason or my life.'
He raised her hand and laid it with a caressing movement against his cheek.
'Leave me,' she said wildly,' there is nothing for me in the whole universe but to love you and to die...See, you behold the bottom of my soul—you know what fills it with life and with despair...Leave me!'
'While you are in this state I cannot—I will not,' he replied. 'Do you think that I am not concerned in your happiness?'
Her mood suddenly changed. She snatched her hand away from him.
'Julie,' he said, 'be not so unreasonable—believe that I shall always be your friend.
'Is it in this manner that you take your happiness?' demanded Julie bitterly. 'I dare not complain of it, if it is your good fortune that makes you behave like this, but I would have you know that it is not in my power to suffer protection and compassion—'
She rose and moved away from him, her feeble figure drawn to its full height.
'I am not so base,' she added. 'Spare me the expression of your pity, which but puts the crown upon my unhappiness—persuade yourself that you owe me nothing, and that I do not exist for you—'
'It is no great effort that I ask of you,' she added. 'You have only to preserve the habit you have already formed of not considering me in the least in your life, and to refrain from these forced expressions of commiseration that wound me to death.'
She said these words in a hoarse, hurrying voice, the tones full of a despair of emotion, a warm and yet bitter strength, so sincere, so heroic in its candour and noble agony that M. de Guibert was silent, some instinct telling him that he could neither judge her pain nor his own unworthiness.
'I frighten you—I make you hate me,' she said, in a broken voice, looking at him keenly. 'Have you thought how I must suffer to so speak to you? My regrets...my remorse...my dread of the future...but you have nothing to do with that.'
She paused, coughed, and wiped her lips. Shaken by her words into trouble and an uneasy emotion of pity and regret, but in no way moved from his resolutions nor able nor willing to make any sacrifice to spare her pain, Jacques de Guibert stood frowning at the floor, as much at a loss as he had ever been in his triumphant life.
'When is this marriage to be?' she asked, in a low voice.
He did not look at her as he replied.
'The contract was signed the first of this month.'
She turned on him with an extraordinary expression of pain, as if she heard this dreadful thing for the first time.
'It is signed, then, this contract? God grant that it has pronounced as surely on your happiness as it has on my life!'
M. de Guibert looked at her. She was suddenly gentle.
'Mon ami,' she said, 'I can no longer endure my thoughts...you overwhelm me. Leave me to recover the strength that you have robbed me of...'
She sank into a low chair by the fire, shivering all over, and began to laugh a little, catching her breath and coughing.
His facile good nature was instantly moved by her gentleness. He approached her with a timid look of affection and penitence.
'Adieu,' said Julie, turning her head away and speaking faintly. She quivered, clenched her hands, moved her head slowly, and gazed at him, saw him distressed, agitated, and melted into a yearning tenderness. Her love became almost maternal in its selflessness. 'Adieu,' she said impulsively. 'May you always be so happy and so occupied as to forget even the remembrance of my unhappiness and my love...do nothing more for me...Adieu.'
He would have put his arm round her, but she shrank into a corner of the chair with such horror that he withdrew.
'Leave me,' she murmured. 'Call my woman—I am ill.'
She seemed, indeed, on the point of fainting, and he could do nothing but ring the bell.
Madame Saint-Martin entered instantly from the bedchamber. Julie made an effort to raise her head.
'Adieu, mon ami,' she said to M. de Guibert. 'Your visit has helped me to pass this long day.'
'I chill send to-night for your news,' he answered. 'I am Leading your Catinat,' she murmured wistfully.
He took his leave, thoughtful this time, and a little heavy-hearted.
Julie lay heavily in the low chair.
'May,' she kept saying to herself, 'always this month of May—in May I met him—in May he left me—in May M. de Mora died—in May his marriage—in May my death, too—this year or next?'
She would not return to her bed; she had not the strength, she said. She remained inert, staring into the fire, until M. D'Alembert returned.
He was full of the discourse of M. de Duras at the Academy and of his own L'Eloge de Bossuet that he was about to read.
Julie answered with some semblance of interest, but her thoughts wandered far.
To be married in May...Her mind turned to old, delicious fairy tales that had once touched her with the magic of the soul's most sacred, most secret longings...A chateau amid rose gardens, set in the spring woods; peace and sunshine and an enchanted remoteness from the world; a woman young and lovely, loving and beloved, in silk and pearl, the bride of a man whom she adored...Ah, the radiant days! How he would make her happy, that creature herself like a rose...Eighteen...wife of Jacques de Guibert...wife, honoured, noble...his wife...and presently there would be his children...
Julie sat up. The violence of her emotions, so unsuited to the delicacy of her features, had distorted her face so that it was hideous; but not to D'Alembert.
'You suffer,' he said, breaking off his discourse.
Julie nodded. It was as if she had been tortured into dumbness and tried to cry aloud with her eyes. Her friend and her woman helped her to her chamber and put her to bed. They crept away when they thought that she slept.
Julie, as soon as she was alone, crawled from her bed to her desk and wrote to M. de Mora.
The wedding of M. de Guibert was fixed for the first of June, in the Chateau de Courcelles, and Julie de Lespinasse, in these few days left to her, was driven by a thousand contradictions of her agitated heart into as many different moods. There was only one more humiliation possible and this befell her. She discovered that in representing his marriage as one of convenience, M. de Guibert had deceived her. A desperate visit to his house to endeavour to recover some of her letters, a glance at his carelessly-kept desk, the sight of a letter of his to Madame de Courcelles, and one of Mademoiselle de Courcelles to him, revealed the truth. He had been on intimate terms with the family for the last two years. His bride-to-be was in love with him and he with her...Julie discovered that she had never occupied the first place in his inconstant heart.
Exasperated to the point of madness, her delicate, ardent, and sensitive nature in constant and bitter torture, she again turned on her lover with a fury that left him overwhelmed.
'What vile action is this that you have committed for 20,000 livres rent! You used me to break off with Madame de Montsauge, and pave the way for your marriage.' She continually demanded his presence, only to reject and repulse him when he came. She was in a continual fever, and her dreadful nights were passed in delirium; her dreadful days between outbursts of emotion and long swoons of exhaustion. All her friends (save D'Alembert, always completely in the dark) believed her still mourning for M. de Mora, and this pity and consideration that she usurped, was yet another pang of agony. 'If they knew that it is not the death of M. de Mora but your marriage that is killing me, what would they think of me?' she cried fiercely to M. de Guibert.
He could only present a patient front, a rather indifferent kindness to these scenes and tempests of passion. He could neither understand her love, her despair, her remorse, nor her shame. The violence of her feelings bewildered him. His normal, healthy temperament, selfish and slightly obtuse, was incapable of dealing with such a nature as that of Julie de Lespinasse. He could only offer banal consolations when his good nature was touched, and banal reproaches when his anger was roused.
A visit from Prince Pignatelli, the brother of M. de Mora, who had lately come to Paris, threw Julie into fresh convulsions of terror. The face, voice, and gestures of this young man all reminded her of her dead lover, and she regarded this visit as she had regarded the two delayed letters, as a sign from the grave that her fate was upon her, At length this period of torture came to an end. A year after, almost to the very day that M. de Mora had died, M. de Guibert left her to go to the Chateau in Berri, and join the family of his betrothed.
Julie wrote to him on the eve of his departure, 'Adieu, and do not seek to see me. My soul is in despair, and you can never calm it...if you are honourable, leave without endeavouring to see me.'
He came, however, and Julie, half fainting, murmuring incoherent words of love and hate, was in his arms. He pressed into her hand a little ring of gold thread twisted round a lock of his hair, begged her to wear it and remember the faithful attachment he would always bear to her, kissed her damp cheek with his fresh lips, and ended this cruel farewell by abruptly leaving her. Julie, on her knees, put his little ring on her finger; the gold wire broke, and the hair uncurled into her palm. Julie shuddered with superstitious terror, thrust the broken jewel into the bosom of her black gown, tried to stagger into her chamber, and fainted on the threshold.
For eight days she did not leave her bed. She was without words, without tears. When she had the strength, her rose-coloured portfolio was brought to her, and she wrote to M. de Mora, telling him her misery and entreating him to cease his vengeance.
From the happy and fortunate bridegroom, no news. Julie from her darkened sick chamber saw, as in a vision, the delicate beauty and her lover wandering in the summer glades. When she shuddered from her medicine, or turned from her food with disgust, she thought of them pledging each other in beautiful wine and smiling at each other across a table covered with fine viands.
D'Alembert hardly left her room; once, when she felt his tears on the hand of hers he held, she smiled at him. It was the sole reward that he had for these days of patient self-abnegation.
At length, one morning came Madame Saint-Martin with a letter—from the Chateau de Courcelles—from M. le Comte de Guibert. It was not meant as a cruel letter; composed in the first flush of a new and exquisite happiness, it had been sent with the selfish desire of breaking all links with the past. As he no longer saw Julie he believed that she was no longer suffering, and he wrote to tell her that she must not entertain any more hopes. With his usual awkwardness he excused his desertion, and begged her to forget one not worthy of her regrets. To the wan woman who read these words, seated in the bed, disordered by the tossing of a long night of delirium, they appeared as the last insult.
For six weeks her frail body struggled with the agony of her soul; then she wrote to the man who had not even, during this period, inquired if she was alive or dead.
'I see you now as you are. I see that you have committed a vile action; I see that you did not hesitate to reduce me to despair with the sole object of filling in the time between your rupture with Madame de Montsauge and your marriage, and, as long as you achieved your end, it mattered nothing to you that you robbed me of the sole good that remained to me, my self-respect.'
A little strength returned to her, she flung herself into her old life with feverish energy. She re-opened her salon, surrounded herself with her brilliant friends, went to the opera, the theatre, to suppers, receptions, stiffing her illness with enormous doses of opium, and getting through the days by reason of her extraordinary, and now hysteric and half delirious vitality. There was no sign from the hero of the idyll at Courcelles, until one day the proof of his Eloge de Catinat was put into her hands with a note from him asking her advice and corrections. Julie answered in impulsive anger. 'Permit me the feeling of pride and of vengeance that gives me pleasure to say that I pardon you, and that it is no longer in your power to make me know fear...your marriage, in letting me see your entire soul, has closed mine for ever. There was a time when I would rather have seen you unhappy than contemptible—that time is no more.'
Yet, despite this cruel invective, her love was too true and deep to be able to resist the frank egotism, so like that of a child, with which he had sent her his work, trusting in her help. She read it again; she saw some faults. She thought of his rival perhaps at the coming concours. A new interest began to flicker in her soul, she could not forbear working at his proofs with as much zeal as if he was still faithful to her. His mother could not have yearned over his work with a purer affection, war longed for his success with greater disinterestedness.
A terrible attack of her illness, a convulsion of agony, a succession of fits and swooning, suddenly came upon her in the height of the summer. She said afterwards that only the sight of D'Alembert's bitter distress caused her to make an effort to return to her dreadful life, and she still lay half unconscious, her breath almost extinct, when two letters were brought her from Jacques de Guibert. The gentleness of these, the words 'mon amie,' caused her heart to beat again. As before, her bitter revolt ended in her snatching greedily at any scrap of affection he would accord her. Once more he bade her live and she obeyed him. Once more resignation succeeded the tempest. She dreamed of renouncing her wild passion, and filling her life with a gentle and pure friendship, and in a tone of touching humility she confided her resolution to the man whom she adored.
'I will never trouble your repose and your duty, which to me are sacred.'
The failure of the famous Le Connétable de Bourbon, both before the court and the public, wounded her tenderness as much as it did the author's vanity, though her shrewd judgment had foretold it.
When he returned to Paris in October, they were no longer lovers. M. de Guibert, his conscience at ease, and his heart satisfied, remained her tender and affectionate friend. Julie kept her word. Her courage was as great as her love, and if there were moments in which he would have evoked the past, she repulsed him with a firmness that left him confused and vanquished.
These struggles, however she might subdue them, left her more and more desperate. 'I do not any longer know how to write to you. I fear to see you,' she wrote to him. 'My soul is in torture. I confound everything. I know not if it is sin or virtue that makes unhappiness...I know not which is worse, remorse or regrets...the sense that you care for me is the sole thing that holds me to life...yesterday evening you convinced me of this—at the end of a quarter of an hour of your company, I feel that I am alone with you in the universe; you annihilate the past and the present. You are no longer guilty, and I am no longer unhappy!'
She did not deceive herself as to her own strength. She had acted on her instincts of duty and honour in this rupture with her love. She had the courage to maintain her resolution, but she knew that she must die of it, and she longed for death ardently with all the force of her passionate and imperious nature.
She ceased to have even a shadow of interest for the events taking place beyond her doors; the only thing that roused her during this time was the failure of M. de Guibert's Catinat, and the victory of his rival and her ancient friend, La Harpe.
Madame Geoffrin, Madame de Boufflers, Madame de Chatillon in vain besought her to follow the advice of her doctor and give up the excessive use of drugs, but she was deaf to their reasoning and their entreaties, to the affection of D'Alembert, and the distress of Condorcet and Suard; her firm refusal of all advice, her persistent dwelling on the idea of death, amounted to suicide.
Her doctor continually told her that her cure lay in her own hands and that it was from the soul had first come this incurable malady that attacked her body. 'We have no remedy for the spirit,' he told her, and in despair left her. Julie wrote her will, disposed of her humble means, provided for a poor family in whom she was interested; for her servants, for the porter of the house; left her books and her furniture to her different friends, and begged the Marquis de Vichy to see to her debts if there were any. She directed how she should be buried and implored that her papers should be all burnt.
The letters of her lovers and her own replies she meant to destroy, but with the feebleness of sickness this task was postponed from day to day. She was now generally too ill to leave her room, often too ill to leave her bed; her days passed in opium-sleeps or attacks of haunted pain.
M. de Guibert, at first angry at what he called 'this detestable capricious resolve to die,' and then alarmed at the rapid change in her health, became tender and attentive when he was in Paris and a constant correspondent when he was away.
Julie was not deceived; she knew that this facile affection was only roused by pity, and she suspected him of being in love with his wife, but she could not resist the joy his presence, his solicitude, gave her. 'I am no longer myself when you are with me, you charm all my sufferings...I hardly know if or no I am in pain. When I see you I know nothing save that I love you. Heaven is in my soul, and I cannot judge yours...I forget that you are guilty...I love you.'
The commiseration of her friends who believed her dying for M. de Mora, continued to weigh on her: 'How they would despise me if they knew!' she wrote in bitter humiliation to M. de Guibert. 'What a horror they would conceive of me! But it could be no more than that I have of myself. I know not how it is that twenty times already the words that would discover the secret of my life and my heart, have not escaped my lips.'
But her shame was stronger than her honesty, and she continued to disguise even from her most intimate friends what was killing her. In this desperate anxiety to preserve her secret she was unkind to the unhappy D'Alembert. His attentions met with distracted silences, dry answers, and the little philosopher went about with the air of a man in despair.
'I am not worthy of his friendship and his virtues,' said Julie to De Guibert one evening. 'He irritates me. I wish that he would leave me.'
She lay in her bed, sunk in cushions, the red curtains drawn back, and M. de Guibert, who had been allowed in for a few moments, was seated by the night-table with its horrid array of bottles and glasses, handkerchiefs, basins, and fruit.
The room was dose, and a sickly smell of medicine and perfume mingled in the air. Julie was slightly propped up in bed. She wore a jacket and cap of frilled muslin; none of her hair showed, her face was damp and clay-coloured, her emaciation terrible, but her eyes dwelt with a look of dominant love on the face of the man beside her, which was illuminated by the solitary candle in the brass stick on the night-table.
'I think you might have some pity for M. D'Alembert, mon amie,' said M. de Guibert. 'He is in the state of the greatest distress—he knows not what his crime is and dares not demand it—he sees that you are changed and knows not why.'
Julie moved her head impatiently, 'I am cold, so cold,' she murmured. 'I shiver, I die of this concentrated cold, which is twenty degrees below that of Réaumur, it is as if I were plunged into ice. Ah, the long nights, with the pain and the visions and the headache.'...
'The opium, does not that quiet you, mon ami?'...
'As the Medusa's head was quieted,' she answered. 'I am petrified without the use of any of my faculties—what I behold is for me a magic lantern—I cannot put the names to objects, I am dead in life.'
'Mon Dieu!' exclaimed M. de Guibert, 'you risk poisoning yourself a hundred times...if you have ever loved me forbear these heavy doses.'
Julie shuddered. 'My heart is so cold,' she complained.
'Grand Dieux cried M. de Guibert in agitation, 'you frighten me...so also Phèdre expressed herself.'
Julie stared at him without answering. He wore blue velvet, he looked young, fresh, and healthy in this sick chamber; his figure had become slightly heavier, the thickness of his jaw and neck was more noticeable; his blunt, charming features, though now wearing an expression of distress, were forming in lines given by a satisfied manhood and a happy destiny.
'Leave me to my remorse,' muttered Julie. 'I am guilty! I am punished! M. de Mora is avenged. What do you want more? Leave me, I will not inflict on you this too long agony of the creature whom you have struck to death.'
'Julie!' he answered reproachfully, 'this remorse will drive you to death and me to madness...' He rose. 'You will come again?' whispered the sick woman. 'To-morrow in passing.'
'Ah, in truth,' interrupted Julie, 'all that you grant me—all that you have ever accorded me has been in passing.'
She closed her eyes and lay quite silent. M. de Guibert stood looking down at her with a bewildered expression. 'Why will you torture yourself thus?' he demanded.
She opened her eyes. 'A quick death would have pleased me better,' she said feebly, 'but the torment to which you have put me has taken from me the force, the courage to achieve it. I am so ruined that I could live even to receive one kind word from you. Hélas, if I could rest!' Her eyelids drooped and it seemed as if her mind wandered a little.
'Six years of happiness! Was not that something to thank God for? Was he not a perfect lover? And she whom he loved is so degraded—so degraded. Help me to bear this blow you have struck me. I can die, but I cannot leave you.'
With a sudden movement of surprising energy, she sat up. M. de Guibert stared with fascinated horror at her excessive thinness. He had not believed that one could be so emaciated and live.
'How I have been loved!' she panted. 'Why was it not by you?'
A cough choked her broken voice, a spasm of nausea convulsed her, she made a sign for M. de Guibert to leave her. He called Madame Saint-Martin, who waited in the dressing-room, and fled from this scene of physical humiliation—fled from the coughing, the sickness, the stained pillows and night linen, the distorted face, the skeleton-like body, the filmed eyes of the woman whom he had once loved and who looked at him now with a passion that seemed beyond either love or hate.
He was glad of the spring air in the streets, of the nosegays of flowers in the baskets of the market-women going home with their unsold wares that showed softly in the light of the moon and the oil lamps. He was glad of the fresh breeze on his face that seemed to take from him the remembrance of that ruined body and that despairing soul, and all the stale odours of the haunted sick-room.
In May, as she had foretold, Julie de Lespinasse died; it was just four years since she had met M. de Guibert, just two since the death of M. de Mora, and just one since the marriage of her lover. She died after a long agony, from the last stages of which she excluded the man whom she adored; her face was distorted with continual convulsions, and her pride would not permit him to have this last remembrance of her. M. de Vichy came to her death-bed and she received the sacraments 'in the face of and despite of all the Encyclopaedia,' as her brother said proudly. To the last she continued to write to Jacques de Guibert; the one regret in leaving life that she had, was that he would so soon forget her; his agitated tenderness, his constant attention, his genuine, grief did not deceive her as to the depth of his affection.
'A wife, a mistress, your duty, your pleasure,' she wrote, 'You will not have time to grieve for me...
He occupied her thoughts even through the incoherence of the last agony; the day she died she asked for her rose-coloured portfolio, and with a feeble hand and a mind beclouded, expressed the last sigh of her supreme passion.
'Mon ami, I love you, this calms my pain—it rests with you to change this opiate into poison, a poison that would be of all others the most violent and sure. Hélas! find it so terrible to live, that I implore your pity and your generosity to grant me this succour, it will terminate a painful agony that one day will weigh on your soul. Ah, mon ami, let me owe you my repose. In pity be once cruel. I can no more, Adieu.'
With these confused words she besought him to cease to hold her to life by his distress and his affection, and when they were sent she soon fell into the last swoon while in the act of murmuring to D'Alembert her affection, her gratitude, and her remorse. At two o'clock that night she opened her eyes, murmured, 'Do I still live?' and then closed them for ever, expiring in the arms of D'Alembert and in the presence of the Marquis de Vichy and her old friends.
She was buried as she had directed, very simply, in the church of Saint-Sulpice, Condorcet and D'Alembert her chief mourners, and Jacques de Guibert unnoticed among the crowd.
A few days after the funeral, M. de Guibert entered the apartments of Mademoiselle de Lespinasse with that stupid feeling of credulity that follows bereavement. Though he had seen the stone swung into place above her coffin, the emptiness of her rooms seemed unnatural.
Henri, her valet, had opened the door to him, Madame Saint-Martin was moving about. Flowers were still in the vases, candles in the sticks; the windows were open on the May sunshine that streamed in over the red ottoman where there still lay a white quilted couvre pied that Julie had used.
He stood irresolute, slightly confused. He had come to see D'Alembert, and to obtain his letters or to ascertain if they were destroyed, but for the moment he forgot his errand.
A young man was quietly going round the room with a note-book and pencil.
'Who is this?' asked M. de Guibert.
'Monsieur,' said Madame Saint-Martin, who looked quite ill from weeping, 'it is the lawyer's clerk who takes the inventory—the things have to be valued and the rooms sealed up.' She stooped mechanically and began packing up some dresses that stood in an open mantua-maker's box among silver paper. 'She was so fond of clothes, Monsieur, she bought these two weeks ago—her taste was most exquisite!'
She folded away a gown of English embroidery, one of silk tartan on a white ground, one of white and green brocade, and one of white and poppy-coloured satin in wide stripes, that the whim of the dying woman had ordered.
The notary came out of the bed-chamber, bowed, and effaced himself in joining his clerk. The businesslike murmur of their voices rose steadily as they went over Julie's treasures.
'Forty volumes, The History of Clarisse, twenty-nine volumes Contes Moreaux, forty-three volumes Lettres de Madame de Sevigné, all to be valued by a librarian.'
They had finished the books and began to take the pictures and furniture.
'A cylinder desk of satin wood, ornaments of ormolu, a little bird in marble on its pedestal of gilt brass, a bust of M. de Voltaire, of M. D'Alembert...
M. de Guibert passed brusquely into the bedchamber. Julie's two other women-servants were there, and the Commissionaire of the Chatelet. The curtains were drawn back from the alcove, the bedding rolled up on the bed, some medicine bottles still remained on the night-table; in the middle of the floor stood several baskets covered with yellow linen, from which one woman was unpacking clothes that the other was describing on her list. M. de Guibert saw one, a dress of lilac silk trimmed with filet lace, the gown that she had worn that day in February at the opera.
'A robe and petticoat of black poult-de-soie, a bath robe of English flannel, seventy chemises, fifty-three handkerchiefs, and different adjustments of ribbons, blondes, and gauzes not worth describing—altogether worth two hundred Byres.'
M. de Guibert turned away, a faint perfume was rising from all this linen and packed-away clothes; little trifles of ribbon and knots of artificial silk flowers were scattered over the floor. Madame Saint-Martin and the Commissionaire were going over the little boxes of painted wood and cardboard on one of the side tables. There were her watch with the steel chain, 'bearing the number 2146,' wrote the Commissionaire, her chatelaine, her steel shoe-buckles, her tablets of ivory and of red morocco, a little red wood necklace, a little silver compass, a ring with the portrait of Louis XV. that M. de Guibert had never seen her wear, and little tiny bijoux—such as a little silver wolf, two little flacons in gold and crystal, one in blue and gold, scissors and pencil-cases in ivory and silver—all scattered together with the boxes of olive wood lined with tortoiseshell, of red horn, and of gilt and painted cardboard and lacquer powder boxes and toilet cases. A set of the game Trou Madame, and in the midst the two miniatures of M. de Mora, the two little hearts he had given her, and the ring she had given him, which Madame de Villa Hermosa had sent from Madrid.
'Where is M. D'Alembert?' asked M. de Guibert.
Madame Saint-Martin broke off her task. 'Monsieur, he went upstairs a little while ago; he has been going over the papers, the portfolios—a sad task. I think he could hardly endure it...
M. de Guibert was silent, the low voices of the women came steadily from behind him,—
'Five pairs of muslin sleeves trimmed with different laces, a collar of point D'Argentan, another pair of sleeves with three frills of muslin trimmed with ancient point, five dressing-gowns of white linen...
'Was all this necessary?' asked M. de Guibert.
'It is by Mademoiselle's orders, Monsieur, she wished everything valued,' replied Madame Saint-Martin, opening the toilet boxes and showing their contents to the Commissionaire.
'A bed-jacket and petticoat of cotton trimmed with muslin, another Indian silk striped puce and white...M. de Guibert passed into the salon; an ugly nostalgia assailed him. The rooms full of the dead woman's clothes and personal belongings, the sense of emptiness and disorder, the drooping flowers in the vases, the stale perfume and faint odour of medicine in the air affected him very unpleasantly. The pot-pourri in the lacquer jar had been upset, and the withered rose and lavender trickled over the floor. He noticed that one of the Regency rosewood commodes had been moved slightly away from the door; he knew that this had been done to allow the coffin to pass.
The parrot and the dog had gone—Madame Geoffrin had taken both. The empty ring and the empty basket were left.
M. de Guibert picked up a little work-bag of shot gold and pink taffeta which he had often seen Julie handle. Inside was a piece of cambric and a packet of comfits. He remembered when he had bought them for her; she had never opened them, but tied them up with a silver ribbon and put them away.
The voices of the notary and his clerk rose: 'Two engravings under glass in frames of gilt wood, after Bauvarlet, two after Dietrich.'
M. D'Alembert entered from the ante-chamber, and M. de Guibert turned to him with an air of relief. The philosopher clasped his hand in silence, and put on the red ottoman three portfolios.
'You have been going over the papers?' asked M. de Guibert.
M. D'Alembert gave him an extraordinary look and sat down beside the portfolios.
'Monsieur, you have fatigued yourself,' said M. de Guibert kindly.
The philosopher seized the young man's hand again as if he gained strength from the touch of the firm, warm fingers.
'I am glad you have come,' he said in a rough voice. 'I am glad you have come.'
'Two engravings under glass in gilt and black frames, the Paralytique and L'Accordée de Village, after M. Greuze, the Chevalier Bayard in mezzotint.'
'Cannot these be sent away?' asked M. de Guibert. The other rose with a distracted air and begged the notary to leave the salon and go upstairs to the kitchen and servants' rooms, upon which he withdrew with his clerk, and M. D'Alembert dosed the door into the bedroom. M. de Guibert watched him; he was most horribly changed, and looked, in his plain mourning, an old man. His shoulders and his knees seemed bent, his face was sunken and rigid beneath his carelessly-powdered hair, his mouth and chin continually quivered, and his tired eyes were bloodshot and frayed.
M. de Guibert, who was composed and fresh in his uniform as Colonel Commander of the Corsican Legion, looked at him with curiosity.
'You have not seen the will, Monsieur le Comte?'
D'Alembert took a paper out of his pocket and gave it to the soldier who glanced over it quickly. D'Alembert was the sole executor.
All her clothes, linen, laces, to Madame Saint-Martin. A year's wages and the furniture of his room, to the valet, Henri. Her Racine and Molière, and the dictionary of Moreri, recently left her by M. d'Uzes, to M. d'Anlezy. To M. de Saint-Chamans all her manuscripts. To Madame Saint-Chamans her toilet set of rosewood—'and I hope that, as I used it every day, it will sometimes recall to her my tender sentiment.' To M. Suard, her satin-wood desk. To M. Condorcet, her busts of Voltaire and D'Alembert, and such engravings as he cared to take. To Madame Geoffrin—'whom I love so tenderly'—the little marble bird on the gilt pedestal. To M. Roux, her doctor, her watch and clock. To M. de Vaines, the portrait of the Archbishop of Toulouse. To M. de Guibert, her books in French and English. To M. D'Alembert, three pieces of furniture in rose-wood, and to her brother, the Marquis de Vichy, the payment of her debts, if there should be any. 'Not out of generosity,' she added proudly, 'but out of consideration for the sum taken from me at the death of his mother and mine.'
In a note she begged D'Alembert to take the two little hearts from her watch, the hair-ring from her finger, the two portraits of M. de Mora, and send them to Madame de Villa Hermosa. She also implored him to burn all the papers she had marked 'To be burnt.'
'Eh Bien,' said M. de Guibert, rather at a loss.
'Read, if you please, Monsieur,' said the other in a quivering voice, 'this letter.'
It was addressed to D'Alembert. M. de Guibert read it with a curious feeling of wonder that the philosopher should have taken him so into his confidence.
'I owe you all. I am so sure of your friendship, that I will use what is left to me of strength to support a life where I neither hope nor fear anything more. My unhappiness is beyond consolation, but I still feel that I owe it to you to make an effort to prolong the days I have in horror. However, as I cannot count upon my strength of will, nor that it will not cede to my despair, I take the precaution to write to you, to beg you to burn, without reading, all the letters in the large, black portfolio. I have not the force to touch them. I should die on seeing the writing of my friend. I have also in my pocket a rose-coloured portfolio, where there are letters that I beg you to burn. Do not read them, but keep his portrait for the love of me...I do not recall if I have disposed of the desk where you will find this, if not, I pray you to send it to M. de Guibert, begging him to receive it as a mark of my friendship.
'Adieu, mon ami; do not regret me. Think that in leaving life I find a repose that I could no longer hope for here. Preserve the memory of M. de Mora as the most virtuous, the most sensible, the most unhappy man who ever existed. Ask M. Magellon if you can have my letters. I am sure that he has them in a large portfolio. Find out what they did with them at Bordeaux, and if you can find them, burn them without reading them.
'Once more, forget me. Think of yourself—life must still have interest for you—your virtues must attach you to it. Adieu, despair has dried my heart and my soul; I no longer know how to express any sentiment. My death is only a proof of the manner in which I have loved M. de Mora—his showed that he responded to my tenderness more than you ever thought. Hélas! When you read this I shall be delivered from the burden that overwhelms me. Adieu, mon ami, adieu!
'A word of me to Madame Geoffrin. She loved my friend. I wish to be buried with the ring I wear. Send all these packets to their addresses. Adieu, mon ami, for ever.'
'Eh bien,' said M. de Guibert again, handing back the letter. He was wondering if the ring to which Julie referred was his (given her in place of that which broke), or if she had changed her mind about that of M. de Mora. M. D'Alembert seemed to be making a supreme effort for self-control. He put the two papers in his pocket.
'I sent you the desk she speaks of, Monsieur. Your letters you will find sealed and locked in the drawers as I found them, Monsieur.'
The young man heard this news with considerable relief. He did not want any one to know of his relations with Julie de Lespinasse.
'And this,' continued M. D'Alembert, 'is the black portfolio, and this the rose-coloured.' He indicated the two as they lay on the ottoman.
Now that he had his own letters safe, M. de Guibert was not very interested in either. He was anxious to get away from this room over which hung the peculiar taint of death. The furniture looked quite shabby, and the disordered flowers gave forth a stale perfume. He recalled how her dying whim had been to change her lodging and take one nearer to him in the rue de Grammont.
With quivering fingers, M. D'Alembert was fumbling at the locks of the two portfolios, then he suddenly turned and caught hold of M. de Guibert by the arm.
'What manner of woman was this?' he asked in a terrible voice. The young man stared. Truly he did not know the answer. M. D'Alembert was transfigured by passion. Indignation, fury, and contempt made his insignificant person appear powerful and impressive.
'Monsieur,' he cried, 'she was in love with the Marquis de Mora!'
Self-control made M. de Guibert's face blank.
'In love with M. de Mora!' repeated M. D'Alembert—'for years...there are the letters.'
'She asked you to burn them,' murmured M. de Guibert.
'I read them—after her last note to me in which she avows her affection, I read them.'
'It was cruel of her not to have destroyed them,' said M. de Guibert, who was both abashed and embarrassed.
M. D'Alembert did not seem to hear him. 'I wasted for her sixteen years of my life,' he said. 'She never loved me. I was her fool from the first—among all her letters, had she kept one of mine? Ungrateful and unhappy! She belonged to all the world sooner than to me...
'Pity me,' said D'Alembert. 'Pity me, Monsieur. I loved her—she never loved me. I wasted sixteen years with her—I am sixty years old.'
Speaking these words with passionate bitterness, he turned away to hide his distorted face, and his old, tired, and shuddering hands fingered the fatal portfolios.
The young man looked with compassion at this intense and heartbroken grief that was as beyond his comprehension as the grief of Julie had been. He was amazed at D'Alembert's long self-deception, at the strength of his love, his depth of despair, and the supreme irony of his choice of a confidant.
With an effort he forced himself to offer some consolation. 'M. D'Alembert has so many other friends who can fill the gap caused by this one who changed—'
'She changed, Monsieur, but I did not. She was the charm of my life. There is nothing left for me but a frightful emptiness.' He lifted his poor worn eyes to the radiant face of the young man.
'She was fond of you, monsieur, and you understood her. Let me keep your friendship for her sake. It would comfort me if I were capable of comfort, but all is lost for me. There is nothing left for me but to die.'
'Do you not believe, Monsieur, in the immortality of the soul?'
'Is there comfort in that?' Dead or alive she belongs to M. de Mora.'
M. de Guibert turned away. He began to find the situation intolerable, and to echo in his heart the agonised cry of D'Alembert: 'What was this woman?'
D'Alembert looked at him with the difficult and dreadful tears of old age glistening on his cheeks.
'Monsieur...we will speak of her another time...now, I cannot command myself.'
'Our silence should be her best monument,' said M. de Guibert. Monsieur, adieu.'
'Adieu, Monsieur le Comte.' The young man glanced once more round the room he was never to see again, and at the despairing figure of D'Alembert broken with the passion of his wasted love, his wasted tears, going over the letters of the lover who, in his turn, had been betrayed. Then he took up his hat and left with a shudder and a sigh.
He felt faintly sick, and thought of Julie with a vague physical horror. The day of her funeral he had written, after the present fashion, her portrait and her elegy—he could not have written it now.
He walked through the May afternoon to his father-in-law's hotel in the rue de Grammont, where he was staying. With every step he took from the rue Saint-Dominique, his spirits rose. He had a charm in his heart potent against most griefs.
He was in love at last, his errant passions held firmly and for ever, all his tenderness, all his sentiment absorbed by one creature, the demure, wise, and fragile beauty whom he had married for her dowry.
In the course of a year Madame de Guibert had made him her lover and her slave.
As soon as he reached home he wrote to her, using a language he had never employed to Julie de Lespinasse:—
...'It is nine days I am without thy news. It seems I am indeed fifty leagues from thee. These silences separate more than distances!... Ah! tell me again and often that thou lovest me! I cherish these repetitions, this disorder is the eloquence of the heart. That villain, Lépine, has not yet sent my watch, but I have thy portrait. I can truly say, with the Duchesse du Maine: "One marks the hours, the other causes them to be forgotten."'
He was vexed when he was interrupted in his writing by the arrival of the desk that held his correspondence with Julie de Lespinasse.
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