A DUEL OF HEARTS
Broad daylight streamed down into the vast studio through a skylight
in the ceiling, which showed a large square of dazzling blue, a bright
vista of limitless heights of azure, across which passed flocks of birds
in rapid flight. But the glad light of heaven hardly entered this severe
room, with high ceilings and draped walls, before it began to grow soft
and dim, to slumber among the hangings and die in the portieres, hardly
penetrating to the dark corners where the gilded frames of portraits
gleamed like flame. Peace and sleep seemed imprisoned there, the peace
characteristic of an artist's dwelling, where the human soul has
toiled. Within these walls, where thought abides, struggles, and becomes
exhausted in its violent efforts, everything appears weary and overcome
as soon as the energy of action is abated; all seems dead after the
great crises of life, and the furniture, the hangings, and the portraits
of great personages still unfinished on the canvases, all seem to rest
as if the whole place had suffered the master's fatigue and had toiled
with him, taking part in the daily renewal of his struggle. A vague,
heavy odor of paint, turpentine, and tobacco was in the air, clinging to
the rugs and chairs; and no sound broke the deep silence save the sharp
short cries of the swallows that flitted above the open skylight, and
the dull, ceaseless roar of Paris, hardly heard above the roofs. Nothing
moved except a little cloud of smoke that rose intermittently toward the
ceiling with every puff that Olivier Bertin, lying upon his divan, blew
slowly from a cigarette between his lips.
With gaze lost in the distant sky, he tried to think of a new subject
for a painting. What should he do? As yet he did not know. He was by
no means resolute and sure of himself as an artist, but was of an
uncertain, uneasy spirit, whose undecided inspiration ever hesitated
among all the manifestations of art. Rich, illustrious, the gainer of
all honors, he nevertheless remained, in these his later years, a man
who did not know exactly toward what ideal he had been aiming. He had
won the _Prix_ of Rome, had been the defender of traditions, and
had evoked, like so many others, the great scenes of history; then,
modernizing his tendencies, he had painted living men, but in a way that
showed the influence of classic memories. Intelligent, enthusiastic, a
worker that clung to his changing dreams, in love with his art, which
he knew to perfection, he had acquired, by reason of the delicacy of his
mind, remarkable executive ability and great versatility, due in some
degree to his hesitations and his experiments in all styles of his art.
Perhaps, too, the sudden admiration of the world for his works, elegant,
correct, and full of distinctions, influenced his nature and prevented
him from becoming what he naturally might have been. Since the triumph
of his first success, the desire to please always made him anxious,
without his being conscious of it; it influenced his actions and
weakened his convictions. This desire to please was apparent in him in
many ways, and had contributed much to his glory.
His grace of manner, all his habits of life, the care he devoted to
his person, his long-standing reputation for strength and agility as
a swordsman and an equestrian, had added further attractions to his
steadily growing fame. After his _Cleopatra_, the first picture that
had made him illustrious, Paris suddenly became enamored of him,
adopted him, made a pet of him; and all at once he became one of those
brilliant, fashionable artists one meets in the Bois, for whose presence
hostesses maneuver, and whom the Institute welcomes thenceforth. He had
entered it as a conqueror, with the approval of all Paris.
Thus Fortune had led him to the beginning of old age, coddling and
Under the influence of the beautiful day, which he knew was glowing
without, Bertin sought a poetic subject. He felt somewhat dreamy,
however, after his breakfast and his cigarette; he pondered awhile,
gazing into space, in fancy sketching rapidly against the blue sky the
figures of graceful women in the Bois or on the sidewalk of a street,
lovers by the water--all the pleasing fancies in which his thoughts
reveled. The changing images stood out against the bright sky, vague and
fleeting in the hallucination of his eye, while the swallows, darting
through space in ceaseless flight, seemed trying to efface them as if
with strokes of a pen.
He found nothing. All these half-seen visions resembled things that
he had already done; all the women appeared to be the daughters or the
sisters of those that had already been born of his artistic fancy; and
the vague fear, that had haunted him for a year, that he had lost the
power to create, had made the round of all subjects and exhausted
his inspiration, outlined itself distinctly before this review of his
work--this lack of power to dream anew, to discover the unknown.
He arose quietly to look among his unfinished sketches, hoping to find
something that would inspire him with a new idea.
Still puffing at his cigarette, he proceeded to turn over the sketches,
drawings, and rough drafts that he kept in a large old closet; but, soon
becoming disgusted with this vain quest, and feeling depressed by the
lassitude of his spirits, he tossed away his cigarette, whistled a
popular street-song, bent down and picked up a heavy dumb-bell that lay
under a chair. Having raised with the other hand a curtain that draped a
mirror, which served him in judging the accuracy of a pose, in verifying
his perspectives and testing the truth, he placed himself in front of it
and began to swing the dumb-bell, meanwhile looking intently at himself.
He had been celebrated in the studios for his strength; then, in the gay
world, for his good looks. But now the weight of years was making him
heavy. Tall, with broad shoulders and full chest, he had acquired the
protruding stomach of an old wrestler, although he kept up his fencing
every day and rode his horse with assiduity. His head was still
remarkable and as handsome as ever, although in a style different from
that of his earlier days. His thick and short white hair set off
the black eyes beneath heavy gray eyebrows, while his luxuriant
moustache--the moustache of an old soldier--had remained quite dark, and
it gave to his countenance a rare characteristic of energy and pride.
Standing before the mirror, with heels together and body erect, he went
through the usual movements with the two iron balls, which he held out
at the end of his muscular arm, watching with a complacent expression
its evidence of quiet power.
But suddenly, in the glass, which reflected the whole studio, he saw
one of the portieres move; then appeared a woman's head--only a head,
peeping in. A voice behind him asked:
"Present!" he responded promptly, turning around. Then, throwing his
dumb-bell on the floor, he hastened toward the door with an appearance
of youthful agility that was slightly affected.
A woman entered attired in a light summer costume. They shook hands.
"You were exercising, I see," said the lady.
"Yes," he replied; "I was playing peacock, and allowed myself to be
The lady laughed, and continued:
"Your concierge's lodge was vacant, and as I know you are always alone
at this hour I came up without being announced."
He looked at her.
"Heavens, how beautiful you are! What chic!"
"Yes, I have a new frock. Do you think it pretty?"
"Charming, and perfectly harmonious. We can certainly say that nowadays
it is possible to give expression to the lightest textiles."
He walked around her, gently touching the material of the gown,
adjusting its folds with the tips of his fingers, like a man that knows
a woman's toilet as the modiste knows it, having all his life employed
his artist's taste and his athlete's muscles in depicting with slender
brush changing and delicate fashions, in revealing feminine grace
enclosed within a prison of velvet and silk, or hidden by snowy laces.
He finished his scrutiny by declaring: "It is a great success, and it
becomes you perfectly!"
The lady allowed herself to be admired, quite content to be pretty and
to please him.
No longer in her first youth, but still beautiful, not very tall,
somewhat plump, but with that freshness which lends to a woman of forty
an appearance of having only just reached full maturity, she seemed like
one of those roses that flourish for an indefinite time up to the moment
when, in too full a bloom, they fall in an hour.
Beneath her blonde hair she possessed the shrewdness to preserve all the
alert and youthful grace of those Parisian women who never grow old; who
carry within themselves a surprising vital force, an indomitable
power of resistance, and who remain for twenty years triumphant and
indestructible, careful above all things of their bodies and ever
watchful of their health.
She raised her veil and murmured:
"Well, you do not kiss me!"
"I have been smoking."
"Pooh!" said the lady. Then, holding up her face, she added, "So much
Their lips met.
He took her parasol and divested her of her spring jacket with the
prompt, swift movement indicating familiarity with this service. As she
seated herself on the divan, he asked with an air of interest:
"Is all going well with your husband?"
"Very well; he must be making a speech in the House at this very
"Ah! On what, pray?"
"Oh--no doubt on beets or on rape-seed oil, as usual!"
Her husband, the Comte de Guilleroy, deputy from the Eure, made a
special study of all questions of agricultural interest.
Perceiving in one corner a sketch that she did not recognize, the lady
walked across the studio, asking, "What is that?"
"A pastel that I have just begun--the portrait of the Princesse de
"You know," said the lady gravely, "that if you go back to painting
portraits of women I shall close your studio. I know only too well to
what that sort of thing leads!"
"Oh, but I do not make twice a portrait of Any!" was the answer.
"I hope not, indeed!"
She examined the newly begun pastel sketch with the air of a woman that
understands the technic of art. She stepped back, advanced, made a shade
of her hand, sought the place where the best light fell on the sketch,
and finally expressed her satisfaction.
"It is very good. You succeed admirably with pastel work."
"Do you think so?" murmured the flattered artist.
"Yes; it is a most delicate art, needing great distinction of style. It
cannot be handled by masons in the art of painting."
For twelve years the Countess had encouraged the painter's leaning
toward the distinguished in art, opposing his occasional return to
the simplicity of realism; and, in consideration of the demands of
fashionable modern elegance, she had tenderly urged him toward an ideal
of grace that was slightly affected and artificial.
"What is the Princess like?" she asked.
He was compelled to give her all sorts of details--those minute details
in which the jealous and subtle curiosity of women delights, passing
from remarks upon her toilet to criticisms of her intelligence.
Suddenly she inquired: "Does she flirt with you?"
He laughed, and declared that she did not.
Then, putting both hands on the shoulders of the painter, the Countess
gazed fixedly at him. The ardor of her questioning look caused a quiver
in the pupils of her blue eyes, flecked with almost imperceptible black
points, like tiny ink-spots.
Again she murmured: "Truly, now, she is not a flirt?"
"No, indeed, I assure you!"
"Well, I am quite reassured on another account," said the Countess. "You
never will love anyone but me now. It is all over for the others. It is
too late, my poor dear!"
The painter experienced that slight painful emotion which touches
the heart of middle-aged men when some one mentions their age; and he
murmured: "To-day and to-morrow, as yesterday, there never has been in
my life, and never will be, anyone but you, Any."
She took him by the arm, and turning again toward the divan made him sit
"Of what were you thinking?" she asked.
"I am looking for a subject to paint."
"I don't know, you see, since I am still seeking it."
"What have you been doing lately?"
He was obliged to tell her of all the visits he had received, about
all the dinners and soirees he had attended, and to repeat all the
conversations and chit-chat. Both were really interested in all these
futile and familiar details of fashionable life. The little rivalries,
the flirtations, either well known or suspected, the judgments, a
thousand times heard and repeated, upon the same persons, the same
events and opinions, were bearing away and drowning both their minds in
that troubled and agitated stream called Parisian life. Knowing everyone
in all classes of society, he as an artist to whom all doors were open,
she as the elegant wife of a Conservative deputy, they were experts
in that sport of brilliant French chatter, amiably satirical, banal,
brilliant but futile, with a certain shibboleth which gives a particular
and greatly envied reputation to those whose tongues have become supple
in this sort of malicious small talk.
"When are you coming to dine?" she asked suddenly.
"Whenever you wish. Name your day."
"Friday. I shall have the Duchesse de Mortemain, the Corbelles, and
Musadieu, in honor of my daughter's return--she is coming this evening.
But do not speak of it, my friend. It is a secret."
"Oh, yes, I accept. I shall be charmed to see Annette again. I have not
seen her in three years."
"Yes, that is true. Three years!"
Though Annette, in her earliest years, had been brought up in Paris in
her parents' home, she had become the object of the last and passionate
affection of her grandmother, Madame Paradin, who, almost blind,
lived all the year round on her son-in-law's estate at the castle of
Roncieres, on the Eure. Little by little, the old lady had kept the
child with her more and more, and as the De Guilleroys passed almost
half their time in this domain, to which a variety of interests,
agricultural and political, called them frequently, it ended in taking
the little girl to Paris on occasional visits, for she herself preferred
the free and active life of the country to the cloistered life of the
For three years she had not visited Paris even once, the Countess having
preferred to keep her entirely away from it, in order that a new taste
for its gaieties should not be awakened in her before the day fixed for
her debut in society. Madame de Guilleroy had given her in the country
two governesses, with unexceptionable diplomas, and had visited her
mother and her daughter more frequently than before. Moreover, Annette's
sojourn at the castle was rendered almost necessary by the presence of
the old lady.
Formerly, Olivier Bertin had passed six weeks or two months at Roncieres
every year; but in the past three years rheumatism had sent him to
watering-places at some distance, which had so much revived his love for
Paris that after his return he could not bring himself to leave it.
As a matter of custom, the young girl should not have returned home
until autumn, but her father had suddenly conceived a plan for her
marriage, and sent for her that she might meet immediately the Marquis
de Farandal, to whom he wished her to be betrothed. But this plan was
kept quite secret, and Madame de Guilleroy had told only Olivier Bertin
of it, in strict confidence.
"Then your husband's idea is quite decided upon?" said he at last.
"Yes; I even think it a very happy idea."
Then they talked of other things.
She returned to the subject of painting, and wished to make him decide
to paint a Christ. He opposed the suggestion, thinking that there
was already enough of them in the world; but she persisted, and grew
impatient in her argument.
"Oh, if I knew how to draw I would show you my thought: it should be
very new, very bold. They are taking him down from the cross, and the
man who has detached the hands has let drop the whole upper part of the
body. It has fallen upon the crowd below, and they lift up their arms to
receive and sustain it. Do you understand?"
Yes, he understood; he even thought the conception quite original; but
he held himself as belonging to the modern style, and as his fair friend
reclined upon the divan, with one daintily-shod foot peeping out,
giving to the eye the sensation of flesh gleaming through the almost
transparent stocking, he said: "Ah, that is what I should paint! That is
life--a woman's foot at the edge of her skirt! Into that subject one may
put everything--truth, desire, poetry. Nothing is more graceful or more
charming than a woman's foot; and what mystery it suggests: the hidden
limb, lost yet imagined beneath its veiling folds of drapery!"
Sitting on the floor, _a la Turque_, he seized her shoe and drew it off,
and the foot, coming out of its leather sheath, moved about quickly,
like a little animal surprised at being set free.
"Isn't that elegant, distinguished, and material--more material than the
hand? Show me your hand, Any!"
She wore long gloves reaching to the elbow. In order to remove one she
took it by the upper edge and slipped it down quickly, turning it inside
out, as one would skin a snake. The arm appeared, white, plump, round,
so suddenly bared as to produce an idea of complete and bold nudity.
She gave him her hand, which drooped from her wrist. The rings sparkled
on her white fingers, and the narrow pink nails seemed like amorous
claws protruding at the tips of that little feminine paw.
Olivier Bertin handled it tenderly and admiringly. He played with the
fingers as if they were live toys, while saying:
"What a strange thing! What a strange thing! What a pretty little
member, intelligent and adroit, which executes whatever one
wills--books, laces, houses, pyramids, locomotives, pastry, or caresses,
which last is its pleasantest function."
He drew off the rings one by one, and as the wedding-ring fell in its
turn, he murmured smilingly:
"The law! Let us salute it!"
"Nonsense!" said the Countess, slightly wounded.
Bertin had always been inclined to satirical banter, that tendency of
the French to mingle irony with the most serious sentiments, and he had
often unintentionally made her sad, without knowing how to understand
the subtle distinctions of women, or to discern the border of sacred
ground, as he himself said. Above all things it vexed her whenever he
alluded with a touch of familiar lightness to their attachment, which
was an affair of such long standing that he declared it the most
beautiful example of love in the nineteenth century. After a silence,
"Will you take Annette and me to the varnishing-day reception?"
Then she asked him about the best pictures to be shown in the next
exposition, which was to open in a fortnight.
Suddenly, however, she appeared to recollect something she had
"Come, give me my shoe," she said. "I am going now."
He was playing dreamily with the light shoe, turning it over
abstractedly in his hands. He leaned over, kissed the foot, which
appeared to float between the skirt and the rug, and which, a little
chilled by the air, no longer moved restlessly about; then he slipped
on the shoe, and Madame de Guilleroy, rising, approached the table,
on which were scattered papers, open letters, old and recent, beside
a painter's inkstand, in which the ink had dried. She looked at it all
with curiosity, touched the papers, and lifted them to look underneath.
Bertin approached her, saying:
"You will disarrange my disorder."
Without replying to this, she inquired:
"Who is the gentleman that wishes to buy your _Baigneuses_?"
"An American whom I do not know."
"Have you come to an agreement about the _Chanteuse des rues_?"
"Yes. Ten thousand."
"You did well. It was pretty, but not exceptional. Good-by, dear."
She presented her cheek, which he brushed with a calm kiss; then she
disappeared through the portieres, saying in an undertone:
"Friday--eight o'clock. I do not wish you to go with me to the door--you
know that very well. Good-by!"
When she had gone he first lighted another cigarette, then he began
to pace slowly to and fro in his studio. All the past of this liaison
unrolled itself before him. He recalled all its details, now long
remote, sought them and put them together, interested in this solitary
pursuit of reminiscences.
It was at the moment when he had just risen like a star on the horizon
of artistic Paris, when the painters were monopolizing the favor of the
public, and had built up a quarter with magnificent dwellings, earned by
a few strokes of the brush.
After his return from Rome, in 1864, he had lived for some years without
success or renown; then suddenly, in 1868, he exhibited his _Cleopatra_,
and in a few days was being praised to the skies by both critics and
In 1872, after the war, and after the death of Henri Regnault had made
for all his brethren, a sort of pedestal of glory, a _Jocaste_ a bold
subject, classed Bertin among the daring, although his wisely original
execution made him acceptable even to the Academicians. In 1873 his
first medal placed him beyond competition with his _Juive d'Alger_,
which he exhibited on his return from a trip to Africa, and a portrait
of the Princesse de Salia, in 1874, made him considered by the
fashionable world the first portrait painter of his day. From that time
he became the favorite painter of Parisian women of that class, the most
skilful and ingenious interpreter of their grace, their bearing, and
their nature. In a few months all the distinguished women in Paris
solicited the favor of being reproduced by his brush. He was hard to
please, and made them pay well for that favor.
After he had become the rage, and was received everywhere as a man of
the world he saw one day, at the Duchesse de Mortemain's house, a young
woman in deep mourning, who was just leaving as he entered, and who, in
this chance meeting in a doorway, dazzled him with a charming vision of
grace and elegance.
On inquiring her name, he learned that she was the Comtesse de
Guilleroy, wife of a Normandy country squire, agriculturist and deputy;
that she was in mourning for her husband's father; and that she was very
intellectual, greatly admired, and much sought after.
Struck by the apparition that had delighted his artist's eye, he said:
"Ah, there is some one whose portrait I should paint willingly!"
This remark was repeated to the young Countess the next day; and that
evening Bertin received a little blue-tinted note, delicately perfumed,
in a small, regular handwriting, slanting a little from left to right,
"The Duchesse de Mortemain, who has just left my house, has assured
me that you would be disposed to make, from my poor face, one of your
masterpieces. I would entrust it to you willingly if I were certain that
you did not speak idly, and that you really see in me something that you
could reproduce and idealize.
"Accept, Monsieur, my sincere regards.
"ANNE DE GUILLEROY."
He answered this note, asking when he might present himself at the
Countess's house, and was very simply invited to breakfast on the
It was on the first floor of a large and luxurious modern house in the
Boulevard Malesherbes. Traversing a large salon with blue silk walls,
framed in white and gold, the painter was shown into a sort of boudoir
hung with tapestries of the last century, light and coquettish, those
tapestries _a la Watteau_, with their dainty coloring and graceful
figures, which seem to have been designed and executed by workmen
dreaming of love.
He had just seated himself when the Countess appeared. She walked so
lightly that he had not heard her coming through the next room, and was
surprised when he saw her. She extended her hand in graceful welcome.
"And so it is true," said she, "that you really wish to paint my
"I shall be very happy to do so, Madame."
Her close-fitting black gown made her look very slender and gave her a
youthful appearance though a grave air, which was belied, however,
by her smiling face, lighted up by her bright golden hair. The Count
entered, leading by the hand a little six-year-old girl.
Madame de Guilleroy presented him, saying, "My husband."
The Count was rather short, and wore no moustache; his cheeks were
hollow, darkened under the skin by his close-shaven beard. He had
somewhat the appearance of a priest or an actor; his hair was long and
was tossed back carelessly; his manner was polished, and around the
mouth two large circular lines extended from the cheeks to the chin,
seeming to have been acquired from the habit of speaking in public.
He thanked the painter with a flourish of phrases that betrayed the
orator. He had wished for a long time to have a portrait of his wife,
and certainly he would have chosen M. Olivier Bertin, had he not feared
a refusal, for he well knew that the painter was overwhelmed with
It was arranged, then, with much ceremony on both sides, that the Count
should accompany the Countess to the studio the next day. He asked,
however, whether it would not be better to wait, because of the
Countess's deep mourning; but the painter declared that he wished to
translate the first impression she had made upon him, and the striking
contrast of her animated, delicate head, luminous under the golden hair,
with the austere black of her garments.
She came, then, the following day, with her husband, and afterward
with her daughter, whom the artist seated before a table covered with
Olivier Bertin, following his usual custom, showed himself very
reserved. Fashionable women made him a little uneasy, for he hardly knew
them. He supposed them to be at once immoral and shallow, hypocritical
and dangerous, futile and embarrassing. Among the women of the
demi-monde he had had some passing adventures due to his renown, his
lively wit, his elegant and athletic figure, and his dark and animated
face. He preferred them, too; he liked their free ways and frank speech,
accustomed as he was to the gay and easy manners of the studios and
green-rooms he frequented. He went into the fashionable world for the
glory of it, but his heart was not in it; he enjoyed it through his
vanity, received congratulations and commissions, and played the gallant
before charming ladies who flattered him, but never paid court to any.
As he did not allow himself to indulge in daring pleasantries and spicy
jests in their society, he thought them all prudes, and himself was
considered as having good taste. Whenever one of them came to pose at
his studio, he felt, in spite of any advances she might make to please
him, that disparity of rank which prevents any real unity between
artists and fashionable people, no matter how much they may be thrown
together. Behind the smiles and the admiration which among women are
always a little artificial, he felt the indefinable mental reserve of
the being that judges itself of superior essence. This brought about in
him an abnormal feeling of pride, which showed itself in a bearing of
haughty respect, dissembling the vanity of the parvenu who is treated
as an equal by princes and princesses, who owes to his talent the
honor accorded to others by their birth. It was said of him with slight
surprise: "He is really very well bred!" This surprise, although it
flattered him, also wounded him, for it indicated a certain social
The admirable and ceremonious gravity of the painter a little annoyed
Madame de Guilleroy, who could find nothing to say to this man, so cold,
yet with a reputation for cleverness.
After settling her little daughter, she would come and sit in an
armchair near the newly begun sketch, and tried, according to the
artist's recommendation, to give some expression to her physiognomy.
In the midst of the fourth sitting, he suddenly ceased painting and
"What amuses you more than anything else in life?"
She appeared somewhat embarrassed.
"Why, I hardly know. Why this question?"
"I need a happy thought in those eyes, and I have not seen it yet."
"Well, try to make me talk; I like very much to chat."
"Are you gay?"
"Well, then, let us chat, Madame."
He had said "Let us chat, Madame," in a very grave tone; then, resuming
his painting, he touched upon a variety of subjects, seeking something
on which their minds could meet. They began by exchanging observations
on the people that both knew; then they talked of themselves--always the
most agreeable and fascinating subject for a chat.
When they met again the next day they felt more at ease, and Bertin,
noting that he pleased and amused her, began to relate some of the
details of his artist life, allowing himself to give free scope to his
reminiscences, in a fanciful way that was peculiar to him.
Accustomed to the dignified presence of the literary lights of the
salons, the Countess was surprised by this almost wild gaiety, which
said unusual things quite frankly, enlivening them with irony; and
presently she began to answer in the same way, with a grace at once
daring and delicate.
In a week's time she had conquered and charmed him by her good humor,
frankness, and simplicity. He had entirely forgotten his prejudices
against fashionable women, and would willingly have declared that they
alone had charm and fascination. As he painted, standing before his
canvas, advancing and retreating, with the movements of a man fighting,
he allowed his fancy to flow freely, as if he had known for a long
time this pretty woman, blond and black, made of sunlight and mourning,
seated before him, laughing and listening, answering him gaily with so
much animation that she lost her pose every moment.
Sometimes he would move far away from her, closing one eye, leaning over
for a searching study of his model's pose; then he would draw very near
to her to note the slightest shadows of her face, to catch the most
fleeting expression, to seize and reproduce that which is in a woman's
face beyond its more outward appearance; that emanation of ideal beauty,
that reflection of something indescribable, that personal and intimate
charm peculiar to each, which causes her to be loved to distraction by
one and not by another.
One afternoon the little girl advanced, and, planting herself before the
canvas, inquired with childish gravity:
"That is mamma, isn't it?"
The artist took her in his arms to kiss her, flattered by that na´ve
homage to the resemblance of his work.
Another day, when she had been very quiet, they suddenly heard her say,
in a sad little voice:
"Mamma, I am so tired of this!"
The painter was so touched by this first complaint that he ordered a
shopful of toys to be brought to the studio the following day.
Little Annette, astonished, pleased, and always thoughtful, put them in
order with great care, that she might play with them one after another,
according to the desire of the moment. From the date of this gift,
she loved the painter as little children love, with that caressing,
animal-like affection which makes them so sweet and captivating.
Madame de Guilleroy began to take pleasure in the sittings. She was
almost without amusement or occupation that winter, as she was in
mourning; so that, for lack of society and entertainments, her chief
interest was within the walls of Bertin's studio.
She was the daughter of a rich and hospitable Parisian merchant, who had
died several years earlier, and of his ailing wife, whose lack of health
kept her in bed six months out of the twelve, and while still very young
she had become a perfect hostess, knowing how to receive, to smile, to
chat, to estimate character, and how to adapt herself to everyone; thus
she early became quite at her ease in society, and was always far-seeing
and compliant. When the Count de Guilleroy was presented to her as her
betrothed, she understood at once the advantages to be gained by such a
marriage, and, like a sensible girl, admitted them without constraint,
knowing well that one cannot have everything and that in every situation
we must strike a balance between good and bad.
Launched in the world, much sought because of her beauty and brilliance,
she was admired and courted by many men without ever feeling the least
quickening of her heart, which was as reasonable as her mind.
She possessed a touch of coquetry, however, which was nevertheless
prudent and aggressive enough never to allow an affair to go too far.
Compliments pleased her, awakened desires, fed her vanity, provided she
might seem to ignore them; and when she had received for a whole evening
the incense of this sort of homage, she slept quietly, as a woman who
has accomplished her mission on earth. This existence, which lasted
seven years, did not weary her nor seem monotonous, for she adored the
incessant excitement of society, but sometimes she felt that she
desired something different. The men of her world, political advocates,
financiers, or wealthy idlers, amused her as actors might; she did not
take them too seriously, although she appreciated their functions, their
stations, and their titles.
The painter pleased her at first because such a man was entirely a
novelty to her. She found the studio a very amusing place, laughed
gaily, felt that she, too, was clever, and felt grateful to him for the
pleasure she took in the sittings. He pleased her, too, because he was
handsome, strong, and famous, no woman, whatever she may pretend, being
indifferent to physical beauty and glory. Flattered at having been
admired by this expert, and disposed, on her side, to think well of him,
she had discovered in him an alert and cultivated mind, delicacy, fancy,
the true charm of intelligence, and an eloquence of expression that
seemed to illumine whatever he said.
A rapid friendship sprang up between them, and the hand-clasp exchanged
every day as she entered seemed more and more to express something of
the feeling in their hearts.
Then, without deliberate design, with no definite determination, she
felt within her heart a growing desire to fascinate him, and yielded to
it. She had foreseen nothing, planned nothing; she was only coquettish
with added grace, as a woman always is toward a man who pleases her more
than all others; and in her manner with him, in her glances and smiles,
was that seductive charm that diffuses itself around a woman in whose
breast has awakened a need of being loved.
She said flattering things to him which meant "I find you very
agreeable, Monsieur;" and she made him talk at length in order to show
him, by her attention, how much he aroused her interest. He would cease
to paint and sit beside her; and in that mental exaltation due to an
intense desire to please, he had crises of poetry, of gaiety or of
philosophy, according to his state of mind that day.
She was merry when he was gay; when he became profound she tried to
follow his discourse, though she did not always succeed; and when her
mind wandered to other things, she appeared to listen with so perfect
an air of comprehension and such apparent enjoyment of this initiation,
that he felt his spirit exalted in noting her attention to his words,
and was touched to have discovered a soul so delicate, open, and docile,
into which thought fell like a seed.
The portrait progressed, and was likely to be good, for the painter had
reached the state of emotion that is necessary in order to discover all
the qualities of the model, and to express them with that convincing
ardor which is the inspiration of true artists.
Leaning toward her, watching every movement of her face, all the tints
of her flesh, every shadow of her skin, all the expression and the
translucence of her eyes, every secret of her physiognomy, he had
become saturated with her personality as a sponge absorbs water; and, in
transferring to canvas that emanation of disturbing charm which his eye
seized, and which flowed like a wave from his thought to his brush,
he was overcome and intoxicated by it, as if he had drunk deep of the
beauty of woman.
She felt that he was drawn toward her, and was amused by this game, this
victory that was becoming more and more certain, animating even her own
A new feeling gave fresh piquancy to her existence, awaking in her a
mysterious joy. When she heard him spoken of her heart throbbed faster,
and she longed to say--a longing that never passed her lips--"He is in
love with me!" She was glad when people praised his talent, and perhaps
was even more pleased when she heard him called handsome. When she was
alone, thinking of him, with no indiscreet babble to annoy her, she
really imagined that in him she had found merely a good friend, one that
would always remain content with a cordial hand-clasp.
Often, in the midst of a sitting, he would suddenly put down his palette
on the stool and take little Annette in his arms, kissing her tenderly
on her hair, and his eyes, while gazing at the mother, said, "It is you,
not the child, that I kiss in this way."
Occasionally Madame de Guilleroy did not bring her daughter, but came
alone. On these days he worked very little, and the time was spent in
One afternoon she was late. It was a cold day toward the end of
February. Olivier had come in early, as was now his habit whenever she
had an appointment with him, for he always hoped she would arrive before
the usual hour. While waiting he paced to and fro, smoking, and asking
himself the question that he was surprised to find himself asking for
the hundredth time that week: "Am I in love?" He did not know, never
having been really in love. He had had his caprices, certainly, some of
which had lasted a long time, but never had he mistaken them for love.
To-day he was astonished at the emotion that possessed him.
Did he love her? He hardly desired her, certainly, never having dreamed
of the possibility of possessing her. Heretofore, as soon as a woman
attracted him he had desired to make a conquest of her, and had held out
his hand toward her as if to gather fruit, but without feeling his heart
affected profoundly by either her presence or her absence.
Desire for Madame de Guilleroy hardly occurred to him; it seemed to be
hidden, crouching behind another and more powerful feeling, which was
still uncertain and hardly awakened. Olivier had believed that love
began with reveries and with poetic exaltations. But his feeling, on the
contrary, seemed to come from an indefinable emotion, more physical
than mental. He was nervous and restless, as if under the shadow of
threatening illness, though nothing painful entered into this fever of
the blood which by contagion stirred his mind also. He was quite aware
that Madame de Guilleroy was the cause of his agitation; that it was due
to the memories she left him and to the expectation of her return. He
did not feel drawn to her by an impulse of his whole being, but he
felt her always near him, as if she never had left him; she left to
him something of herself when she departed--something subtle and
inexpressible. What was it? Was it love? He probed deep in his heart in
order to see, to understand. He thought her charming, but she was not
at all the type of ideal woman that his blind hope had created. Whoever
calls upon love has foreseen the moral traits and physical charms of her
who will enslave him; and Madame de Guilleroy, although she pleased him
infinitely, did not appear to him to be that woman.
But why did she thus occupy his thought, above all others, in a way so
different, so unceasing? Had he simply fallen into the trap set by her
coquetry, which he had long before understood, and, circumvented by his
own methods, was he now under the influence of that special fascination
which gives to women the desire to please?
He paced here and there, sat down, sprang up, lighted cigarettes and
threw them away, and his eyes every instant looked at the clock, whose
hands moved toward the usual hour in slow, unhurried fashion.
Several times already he had almost raised the convex glass over the
two golden arrows turning so slowly, in order to push the larger one on
toward the figure it was approaching so lazily. It seemed to him that
this would suffice to make the door open, and that the expected one
would appear, deceived and brought to him by this ruse. Then he smiled
at this childish, persistent, and unreasonable desire.
At last he asked himself this question: "Could I become her lover?"
This idea seemed strange to him, indeed hardly to be realized or even
pursued, because of the complications it might bring into his life. Yet
she pleased him very much, and he concluded: "Decidedly I am in a very
strange state of mind."
The clock struck, and this reminder of the hour made him start, striking
on his nerves rather than his soul. He awaited her with that impatience
which delay increases from second to second. She was always prompt, so
that before ten minutes should pass he would see her enter. When the ten
minutes had elapsed, he felt anxious, as at the approach of some grief,
then irritated because she had made him lose time; finally, he realized
that if she failed to come it would cause him actual suffering. What
should he do? Should he wait for her? No; he would go out, so that if,
by chance, she should arrive very late, she would find the studio empty.
He would go out, but when? What latitude should he allow her? Would
it not be better to remain and to make her comprehend, by a few coldly
polite words, that he was not one to be kept waiting. And suppose she
did not come? Then he would receive a despatch, a card, a servant or
a messenger. If she did not come, what should he do? It would be a day
lost; he could not work. Then? Well, then he would go to seek news of
her, for see her he must!
It was quite true; he felt a profound, tormenting, harassing necessity
for seeing her. What did it mean? Was it love? But he felt no mental
exaltation, no intoxication of the senses; it awakened no reverie of
the soul, when he realized that if she did not come that day he should
The door-bell rang on the stairway of the little hotel, and Olivier
Bertin suddenly found himself somewhat breathless, then so joyous that
he executed a pirouette and flung his cigarette high in the air.
She entered; she was alone! Immediately he was seized with a great
"Do you know what I asked myself while waiting for you?"
"No, indeed, I do not."
"I asked myself whether I were not in love with you?"
"In love with me? You must be mad!"
But she smiled, and her smile said: That is very pretty; I am glad to
hear it! However, she said: "You are not serious, of course; why do you
make such a jest?"
"On the contrary, I am absolutely serious," he replied. "I do not
declare that I am in love with you; but I ask myself whether I am not
well on the way to become so."
"What has made you think so?"
"My emotion when you are not here; my happiness when you arrive."
She seated herself.
"Oh, don't disturb yourself over anything so trifling! As long as you
sleep well and have an appetite for dinner, there will be no danger!"
He began to laugh.
"And if I lose my sleep and no longer eat?"
"Let me know of it."
"I will allow you to recover yourself in peace."
"A thousand thanks!"
And on the theme of this uncertain love they spun theories and fancies
all the afternoon. The same thing occurred on several successive days.
Accepting his statement as a sort of jest, of no real importance, she
would say gaily on entering: "Well, how goes your love to-day?"
He would reply lightly, yet with perfect seriousness, telling her of the
progress of his malady, in all its intimate details, and of the depth of
the tenderness that had been born and was daily increasing. He analyzed
himself minutely before her, hour by hour, since their separation the
evening before, with the air of a professor giving a lecture; and she
listened with interest, a little moved, and somewhat disturbed by this
story which seemed that in a book of which she was the heroine. When
he had enumerated, in his gallant and easy manner, all the anxieties of
which he had become the prey, his voice sometimes trembled in expressing
by a word, or only by an intonation, the tender aching of his heart.
And she persisted in questioning him, vibrating with curiosity, her eyes
fixed upon him, her ear eager for those things that are disturbing to
know but charming to hear.
Sometimes when he approached her to alter a pose he would seize her
hand and try to kiss it. With a swift movement she would draw away her
fingers from his lips, saying, with a slight frown:
He would begin his work again, but within five minutes she would ask
some adroit question that led him back to the sole topic that interested
By this time she began to feel some fear deep in her heart. She longed
to be loved--but not too much! Sure of not being led away, she yet
feared to allow him to venture too far, thereby losing him, since
then she would be compelled to drive him to despair after seeming to
encourage him. Yet, should it become necessary to renounce this tender
and delicate friendship, this stream of pleasant converse which rippled
along bearing nuggets of love like a river whose sand is full of gold,
it would cause her great sorrow--a grief that would be heart-breaking.
When she set out from her own home to go to the painter's studio, a wave
of joy, warm and penetrating, overflowed her spirit, making it light and
happy. As she laid her hand on Olivier's bell, her breast throbbed with
impatience, and the stair-carpet seemed the softest her feet ever had
pressed. But Bertin became gloomy, a little nervous, often irritable. He
had his moments of impatience, soon repressed, but frequently recurring.
One day, when she had just entered, he sat down beside her instead of
beginning to paint, saying:
"Madame, you can no longer ignore the fact that what I have said is not
a jest, and that I love you madly."
Troubled by this beginning and seeing that the dreaded crisis had
arrived, she tried to stop him, but he listened to her no longer.
Emotion overflowed his heart, and she must hear him, pale, trembling,
and anxious as she listened. He spoke a long time, demanding nothing,
tenderly, sadly, with despairing resignation; and she allowed him to
take her hands, which he kept in his. He was kneeling before her without
her taking any notice of his attitude, and with a far-away look upon
his face he begged her not to work him any harm. What harm? She did not
understand nor try to understand, overcome by the cruel grief of seeing
him suffer, yet that grief was almost happiness. Suddenly she saw tears
in his eyes and was so deeply moved that she exclaimed: "Oh!"--ready to
embrace him as one embraces a crying child. He repeated in a very soft
tone: "There, there! I suffer too much;" then, suddenly, won by his
sorrow, by the contagion of tears, she sobbed, her nerves quivering, her
arms trembling, ready to open.
When she felt herself suddenly clasped in his embrace and kissed
passionately on the lips, she wished to cry out, to struggle, to repulse
him; but she judged herself lost, for she consented while resisting, she
yielded even while she struggled, pressing him to her as she cried: "No,
no, I will not!"
Then she was overcome with the emotion of that moment; she hid her face
in her hands, then she suddenly sprang to her feet, caught up her hat
which had fallen to the floor, put it on her head and rushed away, in
spite of the supplications of Olivier, who held a fold of her skirt.
As soon as she was in the street, she had a desire to sit down on the
curbstone, her limbs were so exhausted and powerless. A cab was passing;
she called to it and said to the driver: "Drive slowly, and take me
wherever you like." She threw herself into the carriage, closed the
door, sank back in one corner, feeling herself alone behind the raised
windows--alone to think.
For some minutes she heard only the sound of the wheels and the jarring
of the cab. She looked at the houses, the pedestrians, people in cabs
and omnibuses, with a blank gaze that saw nothing; she thought of
nothing, as if she were giving herself time, granting herself a respite
before daring to reflect upon what had happened.
Then, as she had a practical mind and was not lacking in courage, she
said to herself: "I am a lost woman!" For some time she remained under
that feeling of certainty that irreparable misfortune had befallen her,
horror-struck, like a man fallen from a roof, knowing that his legs are
broken but dreading to prove it to himself.
But, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the anticipation of suffering,
her heart remained calm and peaceful after this catastrophe; it beat
slowly, softly, after the fall that had terrified her soul, and seemed
to take no part in the perturbation of her mind.
She repeated aloud, as if to understand and convince herself: "Yes, I am
a lost woman." No echo of suffering responded from her heart to this cry
of her conscience.
She allowed herself to be soothed for some time by the movement of the
carriage, putting off a little longer the necessity of facing this cruel
situation. No, she did not suffer. She was afraid to think, that was
all; she feared to know, to comprehend, and to reflect; on the contrary,
in that mysterious and impenetrable being created within us by the
incessant struggle between our desires and our will, she felt an
After perhaps half an hour of this strange repose, understanding at
last that the despair she had invoked would not come, she shook off her
torpor and murmured: "It is strange: I am hardly sorry even!"
Then she began to reproach herself. Anger awakened within her against
her own blindness and her weakness. How had she not foreseen this, not
comprehended that the hour for that struggle must come; that this man
was so dear to her as to render her cowardly, and that sometimes in
the purest hearts desire arises like a gust of wind, carrying the will
But, after she had judged and reprimanded herself severely, she asked
herself what would happen next?
Her first resolve was to break with the painter and never to see him
again. Hardly had she formed this resolution before a thousand reasons
sprang up as quickly to combat it. How could she explain such a break?
What should she say to her husband? Would not the suspected truth be
whispered, then spread abroad?
Would it not be better, for the sake of appearances, to act, with
Olivier Bertin himself, the hypocritical comedy of indifference and
forgetfulness, to show him that she had effaced that moment from her
memory and from her life?
But could she do it? Would she have the audacity to appear to recollect
nothing, to assume a look of indignant astonishment in saying: "What
would you with me?" to the man with whom she had actually shared that
swift and ardent emotion?
She reflected a long time, and decided that any other solution was
She would go to him courageously the next day, and make him understand
as soon as she could what she desired him to do. She must not use a
word, an allusion, a look, that could recall to him that moment of
After he had suffered--for assuredly he would have his share of
suffering, as a loyal and upright man--he would remain in future that
which he had been up to the present.
As soon as this new resolution was formed, she gave her address to the
coachman and returned home, profoundly depressed, with a desire to take
to her bed, to see no one, to sleep and forget. Having shut herself up
in her room, she remained there until the dinner hour, lying on a couch,
benumbed, not wishing to agitate herself longer with that thought so
full of danger.
She descended at the exact hour, astonished to find herself so calm, and
awaited her husband with her ordinary demeanor. He appeared, carrying
their little one in his arms; she pressed his hand and kissed the child,
and felt no pang of anguish.
Monsieur de Guilleroy inquired what she had been doing. She replied
indifferently that she had been posing, as usual.
"And the portrait--is it good?" he asked.
"It is coming on very well."
He spoke of his own affairs, in his turn; he enjoyed talking, while
dining, of the sitting of the Chamber, and of the discussion of the
proposed law on the adulteration of food-stuffs.
This rather tiresome talk, which she usually endured amiably, now
irritated her, and made her look with closer attention at the man who
was vulgarly loquacious in his interest in such things; but she smiled
as she listened, and replied pleasantly, more gracious even than
usual, more indulgent toward these banalities. As she looked at him she
thought: "I have deceived him! He is my husband, and I have deceived
him! How strange it is! Nothing can change that fact, nothing can
obliterate it! I closed my eyes. I submitted for a few seconds, a few
seconds only, to a man's kisses, and I am no longer a virtuous woman. A
few seconds in my life--seconds that never can be effaced--have brought
into it that little irreparable fact, so grave, so short, a crime, the
most shameful one for a woman--and yet I feel no despair! If anyone had
told me that yesterday, I should not have believed it. If anyone had
convinced me that it would indeed come to pass, I should have thought
instantly of the terrible remorse that would fill my heart to-day."
Monsieur de Guilleroy went out after dinner, as he did almost every
evening. Then the Countess took her little daughter on her lap, weeping
over her and kissing her; the tears she shed were sincere, coming from
her conscience, not from her heart.
But she slept very little. Amid the darkness of her room, she tormented
herself afresh as to the dangers of the attitude toward the painter that
she purposed to assume; she dreaded the interview that must take place
the following day, and the things that he must say to her, looking her
in the face meanwhile.
She arose early, but remained lying on her couch all the morning,
forcing herself to foresee what it was she had to fear and what she must
say in reply, in order to be ready for any surprise.
She went out early, that she might yet think while walking.
He hardly expected her, and had been asking himself, since the evening
before, what he should do when he met her.
After her hasty departure--that flight which he had not dared to
oppose--he had remained alone, still listening, although she was already
far away, for the sound of her step, the rustle of her skirt, and the
closing of the door, touched by the timid hand of his goddess.
He remained standing, full of deep, ardent, intoxicating joy. He had
won her, _her_! That had passed between them! Was it possible? After the
surprise of this triumph, he gloated over it, and, to realize it more
keenly, he sat down and almost lay at full length on the divan where he
had made her yield to him.
He remained there a long time, full of the thought that she was his
mistress, and that between them, between the woman he had so much
desired and himself, had been tied in a few moments that mysterious bond
which secretly links two beings to each other. He retained in his still
quivering body the piercingly sweet remembrance of that wild, fleeting
moment when their lips had met, when their beings had united and
mingled, thrilling together with the deepest emotion of life.
He did not go out that evening, in order to live over again that
rapturous moment; he retired early, his heart vibrating with happiness.
He had hardly awakened the next morning before he asked himself what he
should do. To a _cocotte_ or an actress he would have sent flowers
or even a jewel; but he was tortured with perplexity before this new
He wished to express, in delicate and charming terms, the gratitude of
his soul, his ecstasy of mad tenderness, his offer of a devotion that
should be eternal; but in order to intimate all these passionate
and high-souled thoughts he could find only set phrases, commonplace
expressions, vulgar and puerile.
Assuredly, he must write--but what? He scribbled, erased, tore up and
began anew twenty letters, all of which seemed to him insulting, odious,
He gave up the idea of writing, therefore, and decided to go to see her,
as soon as the hour for the sitting had passed, for he felt very sure
that she would not come.
Shutting himself up in his studio, he stood in mental exaltation before
the portrait, his lips longing to press themselves on the painting,
whereon something of herself was fixed; and again and again he looked
out of the window into the street. Every gown he saw in the distance
made his heart throb quickly. Twenty times he believed that he saw her;
then when the approaching woman had passed he sat down again, as if
overcome by a deception.
Suddenly he saw her, doubted, then took his opera-glass, recognized her,
and, dizzy with violent emotion, sat down once more to await her.
When she entered he threw himself on his knees and tried to take her
hands, but she drew them away abruptly, and, as he remained at her feet,
filled with anguish, his eyes raised to hers, she said haughtily:
"What are you doing, Monsieur? I do not understand that attitude."
"Oh, Madame, I entreat you--"
She interrupted him harshly:
"Rise! You are ridiculous!"
He rose, dazed, and murmured:
"What is the matter? Do not treat me in this way--I love you!"
Then, in a few short, dry phrases, she signified her wishes, and decreed
"I do not understand what you wish to say. Never speak to me of your
love, or I shall leave this studio never to return. If you forget for a
single moment this condition of my presence here, you never will see me
He looked at her, crushed by this unexpected harshness; then he
understood, and murmured:
"I shall obey, Madame."
"Very well," she rejoined; "I expected that of you! Now work, for you
are long in finishing that portrait."
He took up his palette and began to paint, but his hand trembled, his
troubled eyes looked without seeing; he felt a desire to weep, so deeply
wounded was his heart.
He tried to talk to her; she barely answered him. When he attempted to
pay her some little compliment on her color, she cut him short in a tone
so brusque that he felt suddenly one of those furies of a lover that
change tenderness to hatred. Through soul and body he felt a nervous
shock, and in a moment he detested her. Yes, yes, that was, indeed,
woman! She, too, was like all the others! Why not? She, too, was false,
changeable, and weak, like all of them. She had attracted him, seduced
him with girlish ruses, trying to overcome him without intending to
give him anything in return, enticing him only to refuse him, employing
toward him all the tricks of cowardly coquettes who seem always on the
point of yielding so long as the man who cringes like a dog before them
dares not carry out his desire.
But the situation was the worse for her, after all; he had taken her,
he had overcome her. She might try to wash away that fact and answer
him insolently; she could efface nothing, and he--he would forget it!
Indeed, it would have been a fine bit of folly to embarrass himself
with this sort of mistress, who would eat into his artist life with the
capricious teeth of a pretty woman.
He felt a desire to whistle, as he did in the presence of his models,
but realized that his nerve was giving way and feared to commit
some stupidity. He cut short the sitting under pretense of having an
appointment. When they bowed at parting they felt themselves farther
apart than the day they first met at the Duchesse de Mortemain's.
As soon as she had gone, he took his hat and topcoat and went out. A
cold sun, in a misty blue sky, threw over the city a pale, depressing,
After he had walked a long time, with rapid and irritated step, elbowing
the passers-by that he need not deviate from a straight line, his great
fury against her began to change into sadness and regret. After he
had repeated to himself all the reproaches he had poured upon her, he
remembered, as he looked at the women that passed him, how pretty and
charming she was. Like many others who do not admit it, he had always
been waiting to meet the "impossible she," to find the rare, unique,
poetic and passionate being, the dream of whom hovers over our hearts.
Had he not almost found it? Was it not she who might have given him
this almost impossible happiness? Why, then, is it true that nothing
is realized? Why can one seize nothing of that which he pursues, or can
succeed only in grasping a phantom, which renders still more grievous
this pursuit of illusions?
He was no longer resentful toward her; it was life itself that made him
bitter. Now that he was able to reason, he asked himself what cause
for anger he had against her? With what could he reproach her, after
all?--with being amiable, kind, and gracious toward him, while she
herself might well reproach him for having behaved like a villain!
He returned home full of sadness. He would have liked to ask her pardon,
to devote himself to her, to make her forget; and he pondered as to how
he might enable her to comprehend that henceforth, until death, he would
be obedient to all her wishes.
The next day she arrived, accompanied by her daughter, with a smile so
sad, an expression so pathetic, that the painter fancied he could see in
those poor blue eyes, that had always been so merry, all the pain, all
the remorse, all the desolation of that womanly heart. He was moved to
pity, and, in order that she might forget, he showed toward her with
delicate reserve the most thoughtful attentions. She acknowledged them
with gentleness and kindness, with the weary and languid manner of a
woman who suffers.
And he, looking at her, seized again with a mad dream of loving and
of being loved, asked himself why she was not more indignant at his
conduct, how she could still come to his studio, listen to him and
answer him, with that memory between them.
Since she could bear to see him again, however, could endure to hear
his voice, having always in her mind the one thought which she could not
escape, it must be that this thought had not become intolerable to her.
When a woman hates the man who has conquered her thus, she cannot remain
in his presence without showing her hatred, but that man never can
remain wholly indifferent to her. She must either detest him or pardon
him. And when she pardons that transgression, she is not far from love!
While he painted slowly, he arrived at this conclusion by small
arguments, precise, clear, and sure; he now felt himself strong,
steady, and master of the situation. He had only to be prudent, patient,
devoted, and one day or another she would again be his.
He knew how to wait. In order to reassure her and to conquer her once
more, he practised ruses in his turn; he assumed a tenderness restrained
by apparent remorse, hesitating attentions, and indifferent attitudes.
Tranquil in the certainty of approaching happiness, what did it matter
whether it arrived a little sooner, a little later? He even experienced
a strange, subtle pleasure in delay, in watching her, and saying to
himself, "She is afraid!" as he saw her coming always with her child.
He felt that between them a slow work of reconciliation was going
on, and thought that in the Countess's eyes was something strange:
constraint, a sweet sadness, that appeal of a struggling soul, of a
faltering will, which seems to say: "But--conquer me, then!"
After a while she came alone once more, reassured by his reserve. Then
he treated her as a friend, a comrade; he talked to her of his life, his
plans, his art, as to a brother.
Deluded by this attitude, she assumed joyfully the part of counselor,
flattered that he distinguished her thus above other women, and
convinced that his talent would gain in delicacy through this
intellectual intimacy. But, from consulting her and showing deference to
her, he caused her to pass naturally from the functions of a counselor
to the sacred office of inspirer. She found it charming to use her
influence thus over the great man, and almost consented that he should
love her as an artist, since it was she that gave him inspiration for
It was one evening, after a long talk about the loves of illustrious
painters, that she let herself glide into his arms. She rested there
this time, without trying to escape, and gave him back his kisses.
She felt no remorse now, only the vague consciousness of a fall; and to
stifle the reproaches of her reason she attributed it to fatality.
Drawn toward him by her virgin heart and her empty soul, the flesh
overcome by the slow domination of caresses, little by little she
attached herself to him, as do all tender women who love for the first
With Olivier it was a crisis of acute love, sensuous and poetic. It
seemed to him sometimes that one day he had taken flight, with hands
extended, and that he had been able to clasp in full embrace that winged
and magnificent dream which is always hovering over our hopes.
He had finished the Countess's portrait, the best, certainly, that
he ever had painted, for he had discovered and crystallized
that inexpressible something which a painter seldom succeeds in
unveiling--that reflection, that mystery, that physiognomy of the soul,
which passes intangibly across a face.
Months rolled by, then years, which hardly loosened the tie that united
the Comtesse de Guilleroy and the painter, Olivier Bertin. With him
it was no longer the exaltation of the beginning, but a calm, deep
affection, a sort of loving friendship that had become a habit.
With her, on the contrary, the passionate, persistent attachment of
certain women who give themselves to a man wholly and forever was always
growing. Honest and straight in adulterous love as they might have been
in marriage, they devote themselves to a single object with a tenderness
from which nothing can turn them. Not only do they love the lover, but
they wish to love him, and, with eyes on him alone, they so fill their
hearts with thoughts of him that nothing strange can thenceforth enter
there. They have bound their lives resolutely, as one who knows how to
swim, yet wishes to die, ties his hands together before leaping from a
high bridge into the water.
But from the moment when the Countess had yielded, she was assailed by
fears for Bertin's constancy. Nothing held him but his masculine will,
his caprice, his passing fancy for a woman he had met one day just as
he had already met so many others! She realized that he was so free,
so susceptible to temptation--he who lived without duties, habits, or
scruples, like all men! He was handsome, celebrated, much sought after,
having, to respond to his easily awakened desires, fashionable women,
whose modesty is so fragile, women of the demi-monde of the theater,
prodigal of their favors with such men as he. One of them, some evening
after supper, might follow him and please him, take him and keep him.
Thus she lived in terror of losing him, watching his manner, his
attitudes, startled by a word, full of anguish when he admired another
woman, praised the charm of her countenance or her grace of bearing. All
of which she was ignorant in his life made her tremble, and all of which
she was cognizant alarmed her. At each of their meetings she questioned
him ingeniously, without his perceiving it, in order to make him express
his opinion on the people he had seen, the houses where he had dined, in
short, the lightest expression of his mind. As soon as she fancied
she detected the influence of some other person, she combated it with
prodigious astuteness and innumerable resources.
Oh, how often did she suspect those brief intrigues, without depth,
lasting perhaps a week or two, from time to time, which come into the
life of every prominent artist!
She had, as it were, an intuition of danger, even before she detected
the awakening of a new desire in Olivier, by the look of triumph in his
eyes, the expression of a man when swayed by a gallant fancy.
Then she would suffer; her sleep would be tortured by doubts. In order
to surprise him, she would appear suddenly in his studio, without giving
him notice of her coming, put questions that seemed na´ve, tested his
tenderness while listening to his thoughts, as we test while listening
to detect hidden illness in the body. She would weep as soon as she
found herself sure that some one would take him from her this time,
robbing her of that love to which she clung so passionately because
she had staked upon it all her will, her strength of affection, all her
hopes and dreams.
Then, when she saw that he came back to her, after these brief
diversions, she experienced, as she drew close to him again, took
possession of him as of something lost and found, a deep, silent
happiness which sometimes, when she passed a church, urged her go in and
Her preoccupation in ever making herself pleasing to him above all
others, and of guarding him against all others, had made her whole life
become a combat interrupted by coquetry. She had ceaselessly struggled
for him, and before him, with her grace, her beauty and elegance. She
wished that wherever he went he should hear her praised for her charm,
her taste, her wit, and her toilets. She wished to please others for his
sake, and to attract them so that he should be both proud and jealous of
her. And every time that she succeeded in arousing his jealousy, after
making him suffer a little, she allowed him the triumph of winning her
back, which revived his love in exciting his vanity. Then, realizing
that it was always possible for a man to meet in society a woman whose
physical charm would be greater than her own, being a novelty, she
resorted to other means: she flattered and spoiled him. Discreetly
but continuously she heaped praises upon him; she soothed him with
admiration and enveloped him in flattery, so that he might find all
other friendship, all other love, even, a little cold and incomplete,
and that if others also loved him he would perceive at last that she
alone of them all understood him.
She made the two drawing-rooms in her house, which he entered so often,
a place as attractive to the pride of the artist as to the heart of the
man, the place in all Paris where he liked best to come, because there
all his cravings were satisfied at the same time.
Not only did she learn to discover all his tastes, in order that,
while gratifying them in her own house, she might give him a feeling of
well-being that nothing could replace, but she knew how to create new
tastes, to arouse appetites of all kinds, material and intellectual,
habits of little attentions, of affections, of adoration and flattery!
She tried to charm his eye with elegance, his sense of smell with
perfumes, and his taste with delicate food.
But when she had planted in the soul and in the senses of a selfish
bachelor a multitude of petty, tyrannical needs, when she had become
quite certain that no mistress would trouble herself as she did to watch
over and maintain them, in order to surround him with all the little
pleasures of life, she suddenly feared, as she saw him disgusted with
his own home, always complaining of his solitary life, and, being
unable to come into her home except under all the restraints imposed
by society, going to the club, seeking every means to soften his lonely
lot--she feared lest he thought of marriage.
On some days she suffered so much from all these anxieties that she
longed for old age, to have an end of this anguish and rest in a cooler
and calmer affection.
Years passed, however, without disuniting them. The chain wherewith she
had attached him to her was heavy, and she made new links as the old
ones wore away. But, always solicitous, she watched over the painter's
heart as one guards a child crossing a street full of vehicles, and
day by day she lived in expectation of the unknown danger, the dread of
which always hung over her.
The Count, without suspicion or jealousy, found this intimacy of his
wife with a famous and popular artist a perfectly natural thing. Through
continually meeting, the two men, becoming accustomed to each other,
finally became excellent friends.