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Chapter 3

A FLAME REKINDLED


"_When will you come, my friend? I have not seen you for three days, and
that seems a long time to me. My daughter occupies much of my time, but
you know that I can no longer do without you._"


The painter, who was drawing sketches, ever seeking a new subject
re-read the Countess's note, then, opening the drawer of a writing-desk,
he deposited it on a heap of other letters, which had been accumulating
there since the beginning of their love-affair.

Thanks to the opportunities given them by the customs of fashionable
society, they had grown used to seeing each other almost every day. Now
and then she visited him, and sat for an hour or two in the armchair in
which she had posed, while he worked. But, as she had some fear of the
criticisms of the servants, she preferred to receive him at her own
house, or to meet him elsewhere, for that daily interview, that small
change of love.

These meetings would be agreed upon beforehand, and always seemed
perfectly natural to M. de Guilleroy.

Twice a week at least the painter dined at the Countess's house, with
a few friends; on Monday nights he visited her in her box at the Opera;
then they would agree upon a meeting at such or such a house, to which
chance led them at the same hour. He knew the evenings that she did
not go out, and would call then to have a cup of tea with her, feeling
himself very much at home even near the folds of her robe, so tenderly
and so surely settled in that ripe affection, so fixed in the habit of
finding her somewhere, of passing some time by her side, or exchanging
a few words with her and of mingling a few thoughts, that he felt,
although the glow of his passion had long since faded, an incessant need
of seeing her.

The desire for family life, for a full and animated household, for the
family table, for those evenings when one talks without fatigue with
old friends, that desire for contact, for familiarity, for human
intercourse, which dwells dormant in every human heart, and which every
old bachelor carries from door to door to his friends, where he installs
something of himself, added a strain of egoism to his sentiments of
affection. In that house, where he was loved and spoiled, where he found
everything, he could still rest and nurse his solitude.

For three days he had not seen his friends, who must be very much
occupied by the return of the daughter of the house; and he was already
feeling bored, and even a little offended because they had not sent for
him sooner, but not wishing, as a matter of discretion, to be the first
to make an approach.

The Countess's letter aroused him like the stroke of a whip. It was
three o'clock in the afternoon. He decided to go immediately to her
house, that he might find her before she went out.

The valet appeared, summoned by the sound of Olivier's bell.

"What sort of weather is it, Joseph?"

"Very fine, Monsieur."

"Warm?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"White waistcoat, blue jacket, gray hat."

He always dressed with elegance, but although his tailor turned him out
in correct styles, the very way in which he wore his clothes, his manner
of walking, his comfortable proportions encased in a white waistcoat,
his high gray felt hat, tilted a little toward the back of his head,
seemed to reveal at once that he was both an artist and a bachelor.

When he reached the Countess's house, he was told that she was dressing
for a drive in the Bois. He was a little vexed at this, and waited.

According to his habit, he began to pace to and fro in the drawing-room,
going from one seat to another, or from the windows to the wall, in the
large drawing-room darkened by the curtains. On the light tables with
gilded feet, trifles of various kinds, useless, pretty, and costly, lay
scattered about in studied disorder. There were little antique boxes of
chased gold, miniature snuff-boxes, ivory statuettes, objects in dull
silver, quite modern, of an exaggerated severity, in which English taste
appeared: a diminutive kitchen stove, and upon it a cat drinking from a
pan, a cigarette-case simulating a loaf of bread, a coffee-pot to hold
matches, and in a casket a complete set of doll's jewelry--necklaces,
bracelets, rings, brooches, ear-rings set with diamonds, sapphires,
rubies, emeralds, a microscopic fantasy that seemed to have been
executed by Lilliputian jewelers.

From time to time he touched some object, given by himself on some
anniversary; he lifted it, handled it, examining it with dreamy
indifference, then put it back in its place.

In one corner some books that were luxuriously bound but seldom
opened lay within easy reach on a round table with a single leg for a
foundation, which stood before a little curved sofa. The _Revue des Deux
Mondes_ lay there also, somewhat worn, with turned-down pages, as if it
had been read and re-read many times; other publications lay near it,
some of them uncut: the _Arts modernes_, which is bought only because of
its cost, the subscription price being four hundred francs a year; and
the _Feuille libre_, a thin volume between blue covers, in which appear
the more recent poets, called "_les enerves_."

Between the windows stood the Countess's writing-desk, a coquettish
piece of furniture of the last century, on which she wrote replies to
those hurried questions handed to her during her receptions. A few books
were on that, also, familiar books, index to the heart and mind of a
woman: Musset, Manon Lescaut, Werther; and, to show that she was not a
stranger to the complicated sensations and mysteries of psychology,
_Les Fleurs du Mal_, _Le Rouge et le Noir_, _La Femme au XVIII Siecle_,
_Adolphe_.

Beside the books lay a charming hand-mirror, a masterpiece of the
silversmith's art, the glass being turned down upon a square of
embroidered velvet, in order to allow one to admire the curious gold and
silver workmanship on the back. Bertin took it up and looked at his
own reflection. For some years he had been growing terribly old
in appearance, and although he thought that his face showed more
originality than when he was younger, the sight of his heavy cheeks and
increasing wrinkles saddened him.

A door opened behind him.

"Good morning, Monsieur Bertin," said Annette.

"Good morning, little one; are you well?"

"Very well; and you?"

"What, are you not saying 'thou' to me, then, after all?"

"No, indeed! It would really embarrass me."

"Nonsense!"

"Yes, it would. You make me feel timid."

"And why, pray?"

"Because--because you are neither young enough nor old enough--"

The painter laughed.

"After such a reason as that I will insist no more."

She blushed suddenly, up to the white brow, where the waves of hair
began to ripple, and resumed, with an air of slight confusion:

"Mamma told me to say to you that she will be down immediately, and to
ask you whether you will go to the Bois de Boulogne with us."

"Yes, certainly. You are alone?"

"No; with the Duchesse de Mortemain."

"Very well; I will go."

"Then will you allow me to go and put on my hat?"

"Yes, go, my child."

As Annette left the room the Countess entered, veiled, ready to set
forth. She extended her hands cordially.

"We never see you any more. What are you doing?" she inquired.

"I did not wish to trouble you just at this time," said Bertin.

In the tone with which she spoke the word "Olivier!" she expressed all
her reproaches and all her attachment.

"You are the best woman in the world," he said, touched by the tender
intonation of his name.

This little love-quarrel being finished and settled, the Countess
resumed her light, society tone.

"We shall pick up the Duchess at her hotel and then make a tour of the
Bois. We must show all that sort of thing to Nanette, you know."

The landau awaited them under the porte-cochere.

Bertin seated himself facing the two ladies, and the carriage
departed, the pawing of the horses making a resonant sound against the
over-arching roof of the porte-cochere.

Along the grand boulevard descending toward the Madeleine all the gaiety
of the springtime seemed to have fallen upon the tide of humanity.

The soft air and the sunshine lent to the men a festive air, to the
women a suggestion of love; the bakers' boys deposited their baskets on
the benches to run and play with their brethren, the street urchins; the
dogs appeared in a great hurry to go somewhere; the canaries hanging in
the boxes of the concierges trilled loudly; only the ancient cab-horses
kept their usual sedate pace.

"Oh, what a beautiful day! How good it is to live!" murmured the
Countess.

The painter contemplated both mother and daughter in the dazzling light.
Certainly, they were different, but at the same time so much alike that
the latter was veritably a continuation of the former, made of the same
blood, the same flesh, animated by the same life. Their eyes, above all,
those blue eyes flecked with tiny black drops, of such a brilliant blue
in the daughter, a little faded in the mother, fixed upon him a look so
similar that he expected to hear them make the same replies. And he was
surprised to discover, as he made them laugh and talk, that before him
were two very distinct women, one who had lived and one who was about
to live. No, he did not foresee what would become of that child when her
young mind, influenced by tastes and instincts that were as yet dormant,
should have expanded and developed amid the life of the world. This was
a pretty little new person, ready for chances and for love, ignored and
ignorant, who was sailing out of port like a vessel, while her mother
was returning, having traversed life and having loved!

He was touched at the thought that she had chosen himself, and that she
preferred him still, this woman who had remained so pretty, rocked in
that landau, in the warm air of springtime.

As he expressed his gratitude to her in a glance, she divined it, and he
thought he could feel her thanks in the rustle of her robe.

In his turn he murmured: "Oh, yes, what a beautiful day!"

When they had taken up the Duchess, in the Rue de Varenne, they spun
along at a swift pace toward the Invalides, crossed the Seine, and
reached the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, going up toward the Arc de
triomphe de l'Etoile in the midst of a sea of carriages.

The young girl was seated beside Olivier, riding backward, and she
opened upon this stream of equipages wide and wondering eager eyes.
Occasionally, when the Duchess and the Countess acknowledged a
salutation with a short movement of the head, she would ask "Who is
that?" Bertin answered: "The Pontaiglin," "the Puicelci," "the Comtesse
de Lochrist," or "the beautiful Madame Mandeliere."

Now they were following the Avenue of the Bois de Boulogne, amid the
noise and the rattling of wheels. The carriages, a little less crowded
than below the Arc de Triomphe, seemed to struggle in an endless race.
The cabs, the heavy landaus, the solemn eight-spring vehicles, passed
one another over and over again, distanced suddenly by a rapid victoria,
drawn by a single trotter, bearing along at a reckless pace, through
all that rolling throng, _bourgeois_ and aristocratic, through all
societies, all classes, all hierarchies, an indolent young woman, whose
bright and striking toilette diffused among the carriages it touched in
passing a strange perfume of some unknown flower.

"Who is that lady?" Annette inquired.

"I don't know," said Bertin, at which reply the Duchess and the Countess
exchanged a smile.

The leaves were opening, the familiar nightingales of that Parisian
garden were singing already among the tender verdure, and when, as the
carriage approached the lake, it joined the long file of other vehicles
at a walk, there was an incessant exchange of salutations, smiles, and
friendly words, as the wheels touched. The procession seemed now like
the gliding of a flotilla in which were seated very well-bred ladies and
gentlemen. The Duchess, who was bowing every moment before raised hats
or inclined heads, appeared to be passing them in review, calling
to mind what she knew, thought, or supposed of these people, as they
defiled before her.

"Look, dearest, there is the lovely Madame Mandeliere again--the beauty
of the Republic."

In a light and dashing carriage, the beauty of the Republic allowed to
be admired, under an apparent indifference to this indisputable glory,
her large dark eyes, her low brow beneath a veil of dusky hair, and her
mouth, which was a shade too obstinate in its lines.

"Very beautiful, all the same," said Bertin.

The Countess did not like to hear him praise other women. She shrugged
her shoulders slightly, but said nothing.

But the young girl, in whom the instinct of rivalry suddenly awoke,
ventured to say: "I do not find her beautiful at all."

"What! You do not think her beautiful?" said the painter.

"No; she looks as if she had been dipped in ink."

The Duchess, delighted, burst into laughter.

"Bravo, little one!" she cried. "For the last six years half the men
in Paris have been swooning at the feet of that negress! I believe that
they sneer at us. Look at the Comtesse de Lochrist instead."

Alone, in a landau with a white poodle, the Countess, delicate as a
miniature, a blond with brown eyes, whose grace and beauty had served
for five or six years as the theme for the admiration of her partisans,
bowed to the ladies, with a fixed smile on her lips.

But Nanette exhibited no greater enthusiasm than before.

"Oh," she said, "she is no longer young!"

Bertin, who usually did not at all agree with the Countess in the daily
discussions of these two rivals, felt a sudden irritation at the stupid
intolerance of this little simpleton.

"Nonsense!" he said. "Whether one likes her or not, she is charming; and
I only hope that you may become as pretty as she."

"Pooh! pooh!" said the Duchess. "You notice women only after they have
passed the thirtieth year. The child is right. You admire only _passee_
beauty."

"Pardon me!" he exclaimed; "a woman is really beautiful only after
maturing, when the expression of her face and eyes has become fully
developed!"

He enlarged upon this idea that the first youthful freshness is only the
gloss of riper beauty; he demonstrated that men of the world were wise
in paying but little attention to young girls in their first season, and
that they were right in proclaiming them beautiful only when they passed
into their later period of bloom.

The Countess, flattered, murmured: "He is right; he speaks as an artist.
The youthful countenance is very charming, but it is always a trifle
commonplace."

The painter continued to urge his point, indicating at what moment a
face that was losing, little by little, the undecided grace of youth,
really assumed its definite form, its true character and physiognomy.

At each word the Countess said "Yes," with a little nod of conviction;
and the more he affirmed, with all the heat of a lawyer making a plea,
with the animation of the accused pleading his own cause, the more she
approved, by glance and gesture, as if they two were allied against
some danger, and must defend themselves against some false and menacing
opinion. Annette hardly heard them, she was so engrossed in looking
about her. Her usually smiling face had become grave, and she said no
more, carried away by the pleasure of the rapid driving. The sunlight,
the trees, the carriage, this delightful life, so rich and gay--all this
was for her!

Every day she might come here, recognized in her turn, saluted and
envied; and perhaps the men, in pointing her out to one another, would
say that she was beautiful. She noticed all those that appeared to
her distinguished among the throng and inquired their names, without
thinking of anything beyond the mere sound of the syllables, though
sometimes they awoke in her an echo of respect and admiration, when she
realized that she had seen them often in the newspapers or heard stories
concerning them. She could not become accustomed to this long procession
of celebrities; it seemed unreal to her, as if she were a part of some
stage spectacle. The cabs filled her with disdain mingled with disgust;
they annoyed and irritated her, and suddenly she said:

"I think they should not allow anything but private carriages to come
here."

"Indeed, Mademoiselle!" said Bertin; "and then what becomes of our
equality, liberty and fraternity?"

Annette made a moue that signified "Don't talk about that!" and
continued:

"They should have a separate drive for cabs--that of Vincennes, for
instance."

"You are behind the times, little one, and evidently do not know that we
are swimming in the full tide of democracy. But, if you wish to see this
place free from any mingling of the middle class, come in the morning,
and then you will find only the fine flower of society."

He proceeded to describe graphically, as he knew well how to do, the
Bois in the morning hours with its gay cavaliers and fair Amazons, that
club where everyone knows everyone else by their Christian names, their
pet names, their family connections, titles, qualities, and vices, as if
they all lived in the same neighborhood or in the same small town.

"Do you come here often at that hour?" Annette inquired.

"Very often; there is no more charming place in Paris."

"Do you come on horseback in the mornings?"

"Yes."

"And in the afternoon you pay visits?"

"Yes."

"Then, when do you work?"

"Oh, I work--sometimes; and besides, you see, I have chosen a special
entertainment suited to my tastes. As I paint the portraits of
beautiful women, it is necessary that I should see them and follow them
everywhere."

"On foot and on horseback!" murmured Annette, with a perfectly serious
face.

He threw her a sidelong glance of appreciation, which seemed to say:
"Ah! you are witty, even now! You will do very well."

A breath of cold air from far away, from the country that was hardly
awake as yet, swept over the park, and the whole Bois, coquettish,
frivolous, and fashionable, shivered under its chill. For some seconds
it caused the tender leaves to tremble on the trees, and garments on
shoulders. All the women, with a movement almost simultaneous, drew up
over their arms and chests their wraps lying behind them; and the horses
began to trot, from one end of the avenue to the other, as if the keen
wind had flicked them like a whip.

The Countess's party returned quickly, to the silvery jingle of the
harness, under the slanting red rays of the setting sun.

"Shall you go home?" inquired the Countess of Bertin, with whose habits
she was familiar.

"No, I am going to the club."

"Then, shall we set you down there in passing?"

"Thank you, that will be very convenient."

"And when shall you invite us to breakfast with the Duchess?"

"Name your day."

This painter in ordinary to the fair Parisians, whom his admirers
christened "a Watteau realist" and his detractors a "photographer
of gowns and mantles," often received at breakfast or at dinner the
beautiful persons whose feature he had reproduced, as well as the
celebrated and the well known, who found very amusing these little
entertainments in a bachelor's establishment.

"The day after to-morrow, then. Will the day after to-morrow suit you,
my dear Duchess?" asked Madame de Guilleroy.

"Yes, indeed; you are charming! Monsieur Bertin never thinks of me
when he has his little parties. It is quite evident that I am no longer
young."

The Countess, accustomed to consider the artist's home almost the same
as her own, replied:

"Only we four, the four of the landau--the Duchess, Annette, you and I,
eh, great artist?"

"Only ourselves," said he, alighting from the carriage, "and I will have
prepared for you some crabs _a l'alsacienne_."

"Oh, you will awaken a desire for luxury in the little one!"

He bowed to them, standing beside the carriage door, then entered
quickly the vestibule of the main entrance to the club, threw his
topcoat and cane to a group of footmen, who had risen like soldiers at
the passing of an officer; mounted the broad stairway, meeting another
brigade of servants in knee-breeches, pushed open a door, feeling
himself suddenly as alert as a young man, as he heard at the end of the
corridor a continuous clash of foils, the sound of stamping feet, and
loud exclamations: _"Touche!" "A moi." "Passe!" "J'en ai!" "Touche!" "A
vous!"_

In the fencing-hall the swordsmen, dressed in gray linen, with leather
vests, their trousers tight around the ankles, a sort of apron falling
over the front of the body, one arm in the air, with the hand thrown
backward, and in the other hand, enormous in a large fencing-glove, the
thin, flexible foil, extended and recovered with the agile swiftness of
mechanical jumping-jacks.

Others rested and chatted, still out of breath, red and perspiring, with
handkerchief in hand to wipe off faces and necks; others, seated on
a square divan that ran along the four sides of the hall, watched the
fencing--Liverdy against Landa, and the master of the club, Taillade,
against the tall Rocdiane.

Bertin, smiling, quite at home, shook hands with several men.

"I choose you!" cried the Baron de Baverie.

"I am with you, my dear fellow," said Bertin, passing into the
dressing-room to prepare himself.

He had not felt so agile and vigorous for a long time, and, guessing
that he should fence well that day, he hurried as impatiently as a
schoolboy ready for play. As soon as he stood before his adversary he
attacked him with great ardor, and in ten minutes he had touched him
eleven times and had so fatigued him that the Baron cried for quarter.
Then he fenced with Punisimont, and with his colleague, Amaury Maldant.

The cold douche that followed, freezing his palpitating flesh, reminded
him of the baths of his twentieth year, when he used to plunge head
first into the Seine from the bridges in the suburbs, in order to amaze
the bourgeois passers-by.

"Shall you dine here?" inquired Maldant.

"Yes."

"We have a table with Liverdy, Rocdiane, and Landa; make haste; it is a
quarter past seven."

The dining-room was full, and there was a continuous hum of men's
voices.

There were all the nocturnal vagabonds of Paris, idlers and workers, all
those who from seven o'clock in the evening know not what to do and dine
at the club, ready to catch at anything or anybody that chance may offer
to amuse them.

When the five friends were seated the banker Liverdy, a vigorous and
hearty man of forty, said to Bertin:

"You were in fine form this evening."

"Yes, I could have done surprising things to-day," Bertin replied.

The others smiled, and the landscape painter, Amaury Maldant, a thin
little bald-headed man with a gray beard, said, with a sly expression:

"I, too, always feel the rising of the sap in April; it makes me bring
forth a few leaves--half a dozen at most--then it runs into sentiment;
there never is any fruit."

The Marquis de Rocdiane and the Comte Landa sympathized with him. Both
were older than he, though even a keen eye could not guess their age;
clubmen, horsemen, swordsmen, whose incessant exercise had given them
bodies of steel, they boasted of being younger in every way than the
enervated good-for-nothings of the new generation.

Rocdiane, of good family, with the entree to all salons, though
suspected of financial intrigues of many kinds (which, according
to Bertin, was not surprising, since he had lived so much in the
gaming-houses), married, but separated from his wife, who paid him an
annuity, a director of Belgian and Portuguese banks, carried boldly upon
his energetic, Don Quixote-like face the somewhat tarnished honor of a
gentleman, which was occasionally brightened by the blood from a thrust
in a duel.

The Comte de Landa, a good-natured colossus, proud of his figure and
his shoulders, although married and the father of two children, found it
difficult to dine at home three times a week; he remained at the club on
the other days, with his friends, after the session in the fencing-hall.

"The club is a family," he said, "the family of those who as yet have
none, of those who never will have one, and of those who are bored by
their own."

The conversation branched off on the subject of women, glided from
anecdotes to reminiscences, from reminiscences to boasts, and then to
indiscreet confidences.

The Marquis de Rocdiane allowed the names of his inamoratas to be
guessed by unmistakable hints--society women whose names he did not
utter, so that their identity might be the better surmised. The banker
Liverdy indicated his flames by their first names. He would say: "I was
at that time the best of friends with the wife of a diplomat. Now,
one evening when I was leaving her, I said to her, 'My little
Marguerite'"--then he checked himself, amid the smiles of his fellows,
adding "Ha! I let something slip. One should form a habit of calling all
women Sophie."

Olivier Bertin, very reserved, was accustomed to declare, when
questioned:

"For my part, I content myself with my models."

They pretended to believe him, and Landa, who was frankly a libertine,
grew quite excited at the idea of all the pretty creatures that walked
the streets and all the young persons who posed undraped before the
painter at ten francs an hour.

As the bottle became empty, all these gray-beards, as the younger
members of the club called them, acquired red faces, and their kindling
ardor awakened new desires.

Rocdiane, after the coffee, became still more indiscreet, and forgot the
society women to celebrate the charms of simple cocottes.

"Paris!" said he, a glass of kummel in his hand, "The only city where
a man never grows old, the only one where, at fifty, if he is sound and
well preserved, he will always find a young girl, as pretty as an angel,
to love him."

Landa, finding again his Rocdiane after the liqueurs, applauded him
enthusiastically, and mentioned the young girls who still adored him
every day.

But Liverdy, more skeptical, and pretending to know exactly what women
were worth, murmured: "Yes, they tell you that they adore you!"

"They prove it to me, my dear fellow," exclaimed Landa.

"Such proofs don't count."

"They suffice me!"

"But, _sacrebleu!_ they do mean it," cried Rocdiane. "Do you believe
that a pretty little creature of twenty, who has been going the rounds
in Paris for five or six years already, where all our moustaches have
taught her kisses and spoiled her taste for them, still knows how to
distinguish a man of thirty from a man of sixty? Pshaw! what nonsense!
She has seen and known too many of them. Now, I'll wager that, down in
the bottom of her heart, she actually prefers an old banker to a young
stripling. Does she know or reflect upon that? Have men any age here?
Oh, my dear fellow, we grow young as we grow gray, and the whiter our
hair becomes the more they tell us they love us, the more they show it,
and the more they believe it."

They rose from the table, their blood warmed and lashed by alcohol,
ready to make any conquest; and they began to deliberate how to spend
the evening, Bertin mentioning the Cirque, Rocdiane the Hippodrome,
Maldant the Eden, and Landa the Folies-Bergere, when a light and distant
sound of the tuning of violins reached their ears.

"Ah, there is music at the club to-day, it seems," said Rocdiane.

"Yes," Bertin replied. "Shall we listen for ten minutes before going
out?"

"Agreed."

They crossed a salon, a billiard-room, a card-room, and finally reached
a sort of box over the gallery of the musicians. Four gentlemen,
ensconced in armchairs, were waiting there already, in easy attitudes,
while below, among rows of empty seats, a dozen others were chatting,
sitting or standing.

The conductor tapped his desk with his bow; the music began.

Olivier adored music as an opium-eater adores opium. It made him dream.

As soon as the sonorous wave from the instruments reached him he felt
himself borne away in a sort of nervous intoxication, which thrilled
body and mind indescribably. His imagination ran riot, made drunk
by melody, and carried him along through sweet dreams and charming
reveries. With closed eyes, legs crossed, and folded arms, he listened
to the strains, and gave himself up to the visions that passed before
his eyes and into his mind.

The orchestra was playing one of Haydn's symphonies, and when Bertin's
eyelids drooped over his eyes, he saw again the Bois, the crowd of
carriages around him, and facing him in the landau the Countess and her
daughter. He heard their voices, followed their words, felt the movement
of the carriage, inhaled the air, filled with the odor of young leaves.

Three times, his neighbor, speaking to him, interrupted this vision,
which three times he began again, as the rolling of the vessel seems to
continue when, after crossing the ocean, one lies motionless in bed.

Then it extended itself to a long voyage, with the two women always
seated before him, sometimes on the railway, again at the table
of strange hotels. During the whole execution of the symphony they
accompanied him, as if, while driving with him in the sunshine, they had
left the image of their two faces imprinted on his vision.

Silence followed; then came a noise of seats being moved and chattering
of voices, which dispelled this vapor of a dream, and he perceived,
dozing around him, his four friends, relaxed from a listening attitude
to the comfortable posture of sleep.

"Well, what shall we do now?" he asked, after he had roused them.

"I should like to sleep here a little longer," replied Rocdiane frankly.

"And I, too," said Landa.

Bertin rose.

"Well, I shall go home," he said. "I am rather tired."

He felt very animated, on the contrary, but he wished to go, fearing
the end of the evening around the baccarat-table of the club, which
unfortunately he knew so well.

He went home, therefore, and the following day, after a nervous night,
one of those nights that put artists in that condition of cerebral
activity called inspiration, he decided not to go out, but to work until
evening.

It was an excellent day, one of those days of facile production, when
ideas seem to descend into the hands and fix themselves upon the canvas.

With doors shut, far from the world, in the quiet of his own dwelling,
closed to everyone, in the friendly peace of his studio, with clear eye,
lucid mind, enthusiastic, alert, he tasted that happiness given only
to artists, the happiness of bringing forth their work in joy. Nothing
existed any more for him in such hours of work except the piece of
canvas on which was born an image under the caress of his brush; and he
experienced, in these crises of productiveness, a strange and delicious
sensation of abounding life which intoxicated him. When evening came he
was exhausted as by healthful fatigue, and went to sleep with agreeable
anticipation of his breakfast the next morning.

The table was covered with flowers, the menu was carefully chosen, for
Madame de Guilleroy's sake, as she was a refined epicure; and in spite
of strong but brief resistance, the painter compelled his guests to
drink champagne.

"The little one will get intoxicated," protested the Countess.

"Dear me! there must be a first time," replied the indulgent Duchess.

Everyone, as the party returned to the studio, felt stirred by that
light gaiety which lifts one as if the feet had wings.

The Duchess and the Countess, having an engagement at a meeting of the
Committee of French Mothers, were to take Annette home before going to
the meeting; but Bertin offered to take her for a walk, and then to the
Boulevard Malesherbes; so both ladies left them.

"Let us take the longest way," said Annette.

"Would you like to stroll about the Monceau Park?" asked Bertin. "It is
a very pretty place; we will look at the babies and nurses."

"Yes, I should like that."

They passed through the Avenue Velasquez and entered the gilded and
monumental gate that serves as a sign and an entrance to that exquisite
jewel of a park, displaying in the heart of Paris its verdant and
artificial beauty, surrounded by a belt of princely mansions.

Along the wide walks, which unroll their massive and artistic curves
through grassy lawns, throngs of people, sitting on iron chairs, watch
the passers; while in the little paths, deep in shade and winding like
streams, groups of children crawl in the sand, run about, or jump the
rope under the indolent eyes of nurses or the anxious watchfulness
of mothers. Two enormous trees, rounded into domes, like monuments of
leaves, the gigantic horse-chestnuts, whose heavy verdure is lighted up
by red and white clusters, the showy sycamores, the graceful plane-trees
with their trunks designedly polished, set off in a charming perspective
the tall, undulating grass.

The weather was warm, the turtle-doves were cooing among the branches,
and flying to meet one another from the tree-tops, while the sparrows
bathed in the rainbow formed by the sunshine and the spray thrown over
the smooth turf. White statues on their pedestals seemed happy in the
midst of the green freshness. A little marble boy was drawing from his
foot an invisible thorn, as if he had just pricked himself in running
after the Diana fleeing toward the little lake, imprisoned by the woods
that screened the ruins of a temple.

Other statues, amorous and cold, embraced one another on the borders of
the groves, or dreamed there, holding one knee in the hand. A cascade
foamed and rolled over the pretty rocks; a tree, truncated like a
column, supported an ivy; a tombstone bore an inscription. The stone
shafts erected on the lawns hardly suggest better the Acropolis than
this elegant little park recalled wild forests. It is the charming
and artificial place where city people go to look at flowers grown in
hot-houses, and to admire, as one admires the spectacle of life at the
theater, that agreeable representation of the beauties of nature given
in the heart of Paris.

Olivier Bertin had come almost every day for years to this favorite spot
to look at the fair Parisians moving in their appropriate setting. "It
is a park made for toilettes," he would say; "Badly dressed people are
horrible in it." He would rove about there for hours, knowing all the
plants and all the habitual visitors.

He now strolled beside Annette along the avenues, his eye distracted by
the motley and animated crowd in the gardens.

"Oh, the little love!" exclaimed Annette. She was gazing at a tiny boy
with blond curls, who was looking at her with his blue eyes full of
surprise and delight.

Then she passed all the children in review, and the pleasure she felt in
seeing those living dolls, decked out in their dainty ribbons, made her
talkative and communicative.

She walked slowly, chatting to Bertin, giving him her reflections on the
children, the nurses, and the mothers. The larger children drew from
her little exclamations of joy, while the little pale ones touched her
sympathy.

Bertin listened, more amused by her than by the little ones, and, always
remembering his work, he murmured, "That is delicious!" thinking that
he must make an exquisite picture, with one corner of this park and a
bouquet of nurses, mothers and children. Why had he never thought of it
before?

"You like those little ones?" he inquired.

"I adore them!"

He felt, from her manner of looking at them, that she longed to take
them in her arms, to hug and kiss them--the natural and tender longing
of a future mother; and he was surprised at this secret instinct hidden
in this little woman.

As she appeared ready to talk, he questioned her about her tastes. She
admitted, with pretty naivete, that she had hopes of social success and
glory, and that she desired to have fine horses, which she knew almost
as well as a horse-dealer, for a part of the farm at Roncieres was
devoted to breeding; but she appeared to trouble her head no more about
a fiance than one is concerned about an apartment, which is always to be
found among the multitude of houses to rent.

They approached the lake, where two swans and six ducks were quietly
floating, as clean and calm as porcelain birds, and they passed before
a young woman sitting in a chair, with an open book lying on her knees,
her eyes gazing upward, her soul having apparently taken flight in a
dream.

She was as motionless as a wax figure. Plain, humble, dressed as a
modest girl who has no thought of pleasing, she had gone to the land of
Dreams, carried away by a phrase or a word that had bewitched her heart.
Undoubtedly she was continuing, according to the impulse of her hopes,
the adventure begun in the book.

Bertin paused, surprised. "How beautiful to dream like that!" said he.

They had passed before her; now they turned and passed her again without
her perceiving them, so attentively did she follow the distant flight of
her thought.

"Tell me, little one," said the painter to Annette, "would it bore you
very much to pose for me once or twice?"

"No, indeed! Quite the contrary."

"Look well at that young lady who is roaming in the world of fancy."

"The lady there, in that chair?"

"Yes. Well, you, too, will sit on a chair, you will have an open book
on your knee, and you will try to do as she does. Have you ever had
daydreams?"

"Yes, indeed."

"Of what?"

He tried to confess her as to her aerial flights, but she would make
no reply, evaded his questions, looked at the ducks swimming after some
bread thrown to them by a lady, and seemed embarrassed, as if he had
touched upon a subject that was a sensitive point with her.

Then, to change the conversation, she talked about her life at
Roncieres, spoke of her grandmother, to whom she read aloud a long time
every day, and who must now feel very lonely and sad.

As he listened, the painter felt as gay as a bird, gay as he never
had been. All that she had said, all the doings, the trifling everyday
details of the simple life of a young girl, amused and interested him.

"Let us sit down," he said.

They seated themselves near the water, and the two swans came floating
toward them, expecting some fresh dainty.

Bertin felt recollections awakening within him--those faded remembrances
that are drowned in forgetfulness, and which suddenly return, one knows
not why. They surged up rapidly, of all sorts, and so numerous at the
same time that it seemed to him a hand was stirring the miry depths of
his memory.

He tried to guess the reasons of this rising up of his former life which
several times already, though never so insistently as to-day, he had
felt and remarked. A cause always existed for these sudden evocations--a
natural and simple cause, an odor, perhaps, often a perfume. How
many times a woman's draperies had thrown to him in passing, with the
evaporating breath of some essence, a host of forgotten events. At the
bottom of old perfume-bottles he had often found bits of his former
existence; and all wandering odors--of streets, fields, houses,
furniture, sweet or unsavory, the warm odors of summer evenings, the
cold breath of winter nights, revived within him far-off reminiscences,
as if odors kept embalmed within him these dead-and-gone memories, as
aromatics preserve mummies.

Was it the damp grass or the chestnut blossoms that thus reanimated the
past? No. What, then?

Was it his eye to which he owed this alertness? What had he seen?
Nothing. Among the persons he had met, perhaps one might have resembled
some one he had known, and, although he had not recognized it, it might
have rung in his heart all the chords of the past.

Was it not a sound, rather? Very often he had heard by chance a piano,
an unknown voice, even a hand-organ in the street playing some old
air, which had suddenly made him feel twenty years younger, filling his
breast with tender recollections, long buried.

But this appeal, continued, incessant, intangible, almost irritating!
What was there near him to revive thus his extinct emotions?

"It is growing a little cool; we must go home," he said.

They rose, and resumed their walk.

He looked at the poor people sitting on benches, for whom a chair was
too great an expense.

Annette also observed them, and felt disturbed at the thought of their
lives, their occupations, surprised that they should come to lounge in
this beautiful public garden, when their own appearance was so forlorn.

More than ever was Olivier now dreaming over past years. It seemed to
him that a fly was humming in his ear, filling it with a buzzing song of
bygone days.

The young girl, observing his dreamy air, asked:

"What is the matter? You seem sad."

His heart thrilled within him. Who had said that? She or her mother?
Not her mother with her present voice but with her voice of long ago, so
changed that he had only just recognized it.

"Nothing," he replied, smiling. "You entertain me very much; you are
very charming, and you remind me of your mother."

How was it that he had not sooner remarked this strange echo of a voice
once so familiar, now coming from these fresh lips?

"Go on talking," he said.

"Of what?"

"Tell me what your teachers have taught you. Did you like them?"

She began again to chat pleasantly. He listened, stirred by a growing
anxiety; he watched and waited to detect, among the phrases of this
young girl, almost a stranger to his heart, a word, a sound, a laugh,
that seemed to have been imprisoned in her throat since her mother's
youth. Certain intonations made him tremble with astonishment. Of course
there were differences in their tones, the resemblance of which he had
not remarked immediately, and which were in some ways so dissimilar that
he had not confounded them at all; but these differences rendered all
the more striking this sudden reproduction of the maternal speech. He
had noted their facial resemblance with a friendly and curious eye, but
now the mystery of this resuscitated voice mingled them in such a way
that, turning away his head that he might no longer see the young girl,
he asked himself whether it were not the Countess who was speaking thus
to him, twelve years earlier.

Then when he had woven this hallucination, he turned toward her again,
and found, as their eyes met, a little of the shy hesitation with which
the mother's gaze had met his in the first days of their love.

They had already walked three times around the park, passing always
before the same persons, the same nurses and children.

Annette was now inspecting the buildings surrounding the garden,
inquiring the names of their owners. She wished to know all about them,
asked questions with eager curiosity, seeming to fill her feminine mind
with these details, and, with interested face, listening with her eyes
as much as with her ears.

But when they arrived at the pavilion that separates the two gates of
the outer boulevard, Bertin perceived that it was almost four o'clock.

"Oh," he said, "we must go home."

They walked slowly toward the Boulevard Malesherbes.

After the painter had left Annette at her home he proceeded toward the
Place de la Concorde.

He sang to himself softly, longed to run, and would have been glad to
jump over the benches, so agile did he feel. Paris seemed radiant to
him, more beautiful than ever. "Decidedly the springtime revarnishes the
whole world," was his reflection.

He was in one of those periods of mental excitement when one understands
everything with more pleasure, when the vision is clearer and more
comprehensive, when one feels a keener joy in seeing and feeling, as if
an all-powerful hand had brightened all the colors of earth, reanimated
all living creatures, and had wound up in us, as in a watch that has
stopped, the activity of sensation.

He thought, as his glance took in a thousand amusing things: "And I said
that there were moments when I could no longer find subjects to paint!"

He felt such a sensation of freedom and clear-sightedness that all his
artistic work seemed commonplace to him, and he conceived a new way of
expressing life, truer and more original; and suddenly he was seized
with a desire to return home and work, so he retraced his steps and shut
himself up in his studio.

But as soon as he was alone, before a newly begun picture, the ardor
that had burned in his blood began to cool. He felt tired, sat down on
his divan, and again gave himself up to dreaming.

The sort of happy indifference in which he lived, that carelessness of
the satisfied man whose almost every need is gratified, was leaving his
heart by degrees, as if something were still lacking. He realized that
his house was empty and his studio deserted. Then, looking around him,
he fancied he saw pass by him the shadow of a woman whose presence was
sweet. For a long time he had forgotten the sensation of impatience
that a lover feels when awaiting the coming of his mistress, and now he
suddenly felt that she was far away, and he longed, with the ardor of a
young man, to have her near him.

He was moved in thinking how much they had loved each other; and in
that vast apartment he found once more, where she had come so often,
innumerable reminders of her, her gestures, words, and kisses. He
recalled certain days, certain hours, certain moments, and he felt
around him the sweetness of her early caresses.

He got up, unable to sit quietly any longer, and began to walk, thinking
again that, in spite of this intimacy that had so filled his life, he
still remained alone, always alone. After the long hours of work, when
he looked around him, dazed by the reawakening of the man who returns to
life, he saw and felt only walls within reach of his hand and voice.
Not having any woman in his home, and not being able to meet the one he
loved except with the precautions of a thief, he had been compelled to
spend his leisure time in public places where one finds or purchases the
means of killing time. He was accustomed to going to the club, to the
Cirque and the Hippodrome, on fixed days, to the Opera, and to all sorts
of places, so that he should not be compelled to go home, where no doubt
he would have lived in perfect happiness had he only had her beside him.

Long before, in certain hours of tender abandon, he had suffered cruelly
because he could not take her and keep her with him; then, as his ardor
cooled, he had accepted quietly their separation and his own liberty;
now he regretted them once more, as if he were again beginning to love
her. And this return of tenderness invaded his heart so suddenly, almost
without reason, because the weather was fine, and possibly because a
little while ago he had recognized the rejuvenated voice of that woman!
How slight a thing it takes to move a man's heart, a man who is growing
old, with whom remembrance turns into regret!

As in former days, the need of seeing her again came to him, entering
body and mind, like a fever; and he began to think after the fashion of
a young lover, exalting her in his heart, and feeling himself exalted in
his desire for her; then he decided, although he had seen her only that
morning, to go and ask for a cup of tea that same evening.

The hours seemed long to him, and as he set out for the Boulevard
Malesherbes he was seized with a fear of not finding her, which would
force him still to pass the evening alone, as he had passed so many
others.

To his query: "Is the Countess at home?" the servant's answer, "Yes,
Monsieur," filled him with joy.

He said, with a radiant air: "It is I again!" as he appeared at the
threshold of the smaller drawing-room where the two ladies were working,
under the pink shade of a double lamp of English metal, on a high and
slender standard.

"What, is it you? How fortunate!" exclaimed the Countess.

"Well, yes. I feel very lonely, so I came."

"How nice of you!"

"You are expecting someone?"

"No--perhaps--I never know."

He had seated himself and now looked scornfully at the gray
knitting-work that mother and daughter were swiftly making from heavy
wool, working at it with long needles.

"What is that?" he asked.

"Coverlets."

"For the poor?"

"Yes, of course."

"It is very ugly."

"It is very warm."

"Possibly, but it is very ugly, especially in a Louis Fifteenth
apartment, where everything else charms the eye. If not for your poor,
you really ought to make your charities more elegant, for the sake of
your friends."

"Oh, heavens, these men!" said the Countess, with a shrug of her
shoulders. "Why, everyone is making this kind of coverlets just now."

"I know that; I know it only too well! Once cannot make an evening call
now without seeing that frightful gray stuff dragged over the prettiest
gowns and the most elegant furniture. Bad taste seems to be the fashion
this spring."

To judge whether he spoke the truth, the Countess spread out her
knitting on a silk-covered chair beside her; then she assented
indifferently:

"Yes, you are right--it is ugly."

Then she resumed her work. Upon the two bent heads fell a stream
of light; a rosy radiance from the lamp illumined their hair and
complexions, extending to their skirts and their moving fingers. They
watched their work with that attention, light but continuous, given
by women to this labor of the fingers which the eye follows without a
thought.

At the four corners of the room four other lamps of Chinese porcelain,
borne by ancient columns of gilded wood, shed upon the hangings a soft,
even light, modified by lace shades thrown over the globes.

Bertin took a very low seat, a dwarf armchair, in which he could barely
seat himself, but which he had always preferred when talking with the
Countess because it brought him almost at her feet.

"You took a long walk with Nane this afternoon in the park," said the
Countess.

"Yes. We chatted like old friends. I like your daughter very much. She
resembles you very strongly. When she pronounces certain phrases, one
would believe that you had left your voice in her mouth."

"My husband has already said that very often."

He watched the two women work, bathed in the lamplight, and the thought
that had often made him suffer, which had given him suffering that day,
even--the recollection of his desolate home, still, silent, and cold,
whatever the weather, whatever fire might be lighted in chimney or
furnace--saddened him as if he now understood his bachelor's isolation
for the first time.

Oh, how deeply he longed to be the husband of this woman, and not her
lover! Once he had desired to carry her away, to take her from that man,
to steal her altogether. To-day he was jealous of him, that deceived
husband who was installed beside her forever, in the habits of her
household and under the sweet influence of her presence. In looking at
her he felt his heart full of old things revived, of which he wished
to speak. Certainly, he still loved her very much, even a little more
to-day than he had for some time; and the desire to tell her of this
return of youthful feeling, which would be sure to delight her, made him
wish that she would send the young girl to bed as soon as possible.

Obsessed by this strong desire to be alone with her, to sit near her and
lay his head on her knee, to take the hands from which would slip the
quilt for the poor, the needles, and the ball of wool, which would roll
under a sofa at the end of a long, unwound thread, he looked at the
time, relapsed into almost complete silence, and thought that it was
a great mistake to allow young girls to pass the evening with grown-up
persons.

Presently a sound of footsteps was heard in the next room, and a servant
appeared at the door announcing:

"Monsieur de Musadieu."

Olivier Bertin felt a spasm of anger, and when he shook hands with
the Inspector of Fine Arts he had a great desire to take him by the
shoulders and throw him into the street.

Musadieu was full of news; the ministry was about to fall, and there
was a whisper of scandal about the Marquis de Rocdiane. He looked at the
young girl, adding: "I will tell you about that a little later."

The Countess raised her eyes to the clock and saw that it was about to
strike ten.

"It is time to go to bed, my child," she said to her daughter.

Without replying, Annette folded her knitting-work, rolled up her ball
of wool, kissed her mother on the cheeks, gave her hand to the
two gentlemen, and departed quickly, as if she glided away without
disturbing the air as she went.

"Well, what is your scandal?" her mother demanded, as soon as she had
gone.

It appeared that rumor said that the Marquis de Rocdiane, amicably
separated from his wife, who paid to him an allowance that he considered
insufficient, had discovered a sure if singular means to double it.
The Marquise, whom he had had watched, had been surprised _in flagrante
delictu_, and was compelled to buy off, with an increased allowance, the
legal proceedings instituted by the police commissioner.

The Countess listened with curious gaze, her idle hands holding the
interrupted needle-work on her knee.

Bertin, who was still more exasperated by Musadieu's presence since
Annette had gone, was incensed at this recital, and declared, with the
indignation of one who had known of the scandal but did not wish to
speak of it to anyone, that the story was an odious falsehood, one of
those shameful lies which people of their world ought neither to listen
to nor repeat. He appeared greatly wrought up over the matter, as he
stood leaning against the mantelpiece and speaking with the excited
manner of a man disposed to make a personal question of the subject
under discussion.

Rocdiane was his friend, he said; and, though he might be criticised for
frivolity in certain respects, no one could justly accuse him or even
suspect him of any really unworthy action. Musadieu, surprised and
embarrassed, defended himself, tried to explain and to excuse himself.

"Allow me to say," he remarked at last, "that I heard this story just
before I came here, in the drawing-room of the Duchesse de Mortemain."

"Who told it to you? A woman, no doubt," said Bertin.

"No, not at all; it was the Marquis de Farandal."

The painter, irritated still further, retorted: "That does not astonish
me--from him!"

There was a brief silence. The Countess took up her work again.
Presently Olivier said in a calmer voice: "I know for a fact that that
story is false."

In reality, he knew nothing whatever about it, having heard it mentioned
then for the first time.

Musadieu thought it wise to prepare the way for his retreat, feeling
the situation rather dangerous; and he was just beginning to say that
he must pay a visit at the Corbelles' that evening when the Comte de
Guilleroy appeared, returning from dining in the city.

Bertin sat down again, overcome, and despairing now of getting rid of
the husband.

"You haven't heard, have you, of the great scandal that is running all
over town this evening?" inquired the Count pleasantly.

As no one answered, he continued: "It seems that Rocdiane surprised
his wife in a criminal situation, and has made her pay dearly for her
indiscretion."

Then Bertin, with his melancholy air, with grief in voice and gesture,
placing one hand on Guilleroy's shoulder, repeated in a gentle and
amicable manner all that he had just said so roughly to Musadieu.

The Count, half convinced, annoyed to have allowed himself to repeat
so lightly a doubtful and possibly compromising thing, pleaded his
ignorance and his innocence. The gossips said so many false and wicked
things!

Suddenly, all agreed upon this statement: the world certainly accused,
suspected, and calumniated with deplorable facility! All four appeared
to be convinced, during the next five minutes, that all the whispered
scandals were lies; that the women did not have the lovers ascribed to
them; that the men never committed the sins they were accused of; and,
in short, that the outward appearance of things was usually much worse
than the real situation.

Bertin, who no longer felt vexed with Musadieu since De Guilleroy's
arrival, was now very pleasant to him, led him to talk on his favorite
subjects, and opened the sluices of his eloquence. The Count wore the
contented air of a man who carries everywhere with him an atmosphere of
peace and cordiality.

Two servants noiselessly entered the drawing-room, bearing the
tea-table, on which the boiling water steamed in a pretty, shining
kettle over the blue flame of an alcohol lamp.

The Countess rose, prepared the hot beverage with the care and
precaution we have learned from the Russians, then offered a cup to
Musadieu, another to Bertin, following this with plates containing
sandwiches of _pate de foies gras_ and little English and Austrian
cakes.

The Count approached the portable table, where was also an assortment of
syrups, liqueurs, and glasses; he mixed himself a drink, then discreetly
disappeared into the next room.

Bertin found himself again facing Musadieu, and felt once more the
sudden desire to thrust outside this bore, who, now put on his mettle,
talked at great length, told stories, repeated jests, and made some
himself. The painter glanced continually at the clock, the hands of
which approached midnight. The Countess noticed his glances, understood
that he wished to speak to her alone, and, with that ability of a clever
woman of the world to change by indescribable shades of tone the whole
atmosphere of a drawing-room, to make it understood, without saying
anything, whether one is to remain or to go, she diffused about her,
by her attitude alone, by the bored expression of her face and eyes, a
chill as if she had just opened a window.

Musadieu felt this chilly current freezing his flow of ideas; and,
without asking himself the reason, he felt a sudden desire to rise and
depart.

Bertin, as a matter of discretion, followed his example. The two men
passed through both drawing-rooms together, followed by the Countess,
who talked to the painter all the while. She detained him at the
threshold of the ante-chamber to make some trifling explanation, while
Musadieu, assisted by a footman, put on his topcoat. As Madame de
Guilleroy continued to talk to Bertin, the Inspector of Fine Arts,
having waited some seconds before the front door, held open by another
servant, decided to depart himself rather than stand there facing the
footman any longer.

The door was closed softly behind him, and the Countess said to the
artist in a perfectly easy tone:

"Why do you go so soon? It is not yet midnight. Stay a little longer."

They reentered the smaller drawing-room together and seated themselves.

"My God! how that animal set my teeth on edge!" said Bertin.

"Why, pray?"

"He took you away from me a little."

"Oh, not very much."

"Perhaps not, but he irritated me."

"Are you jealous?"

"It is not being jealous to find a man a bore."

He had taken his accustomed armchair, and seated close beside her now
he smoothed the folds of her robe with his fingers as he told her of the
warm breath of tenderness that had passed through his heart that day.

The Countess listened, surprised, charmed, and gently laid her hand on
his white locks, which she caressed tenderly, as if to thank him.

"I should like so much to live always near you!" he sighed.

He was thinking of her husband, who had retired to rest, asleep, no
doubt, in some neighboring chamber, and he continued:

"It is undoubtedly true that marriage is the only thing that really
unites two lives."

"My poor friend!" she murmured, full of pity for him and also for
herself.

He had laid his cheek against the Countess's knees, and he looked up at
her with a tenderness touched with sadness, less ardently than a short
time before, when he had been separated from her by her daughter, her
husband, and Musadieu.

"Heavens! how white your hair has grown!" said the Countess with a
smile, running her fingers lightly over Olivier's head. "Your last black
hairs have disappeared."

"Alas! I know it. Everything goes so soon!"

She was concerned lest she had made him sad.

"Oh, but your hair turned gray very early, you know," she said. "I have
always known you with pepper-and-salt locks."

"Yes, that is true."

In order to dispel altogether the slight cloud of regret she had evoked,
she leaned over him and, taking his head between her hands, kissed him
slowly and tenderly on the forehead, with long kisses that seemed as if
they never would end. Then they gazed into each other's eyes, seeking
therein the reflection of their mutual fondness.

"I should like so much to pass a whole day with you," Bertin continued.
He felt himself tormented obscurely by an inexpressible necessity
for close intimacy. He had believed, only a short time ago, that the
departure of those who had been present would suffice to realize the
desire that had possessed him since morning; and now that he was alone
with his mistress, now that he felt on his brow the touch of her hands,
and, against his cheek, through the folds of her skirt, the warmth of
her body, he felt the same agitation reawakened, the same longing for
a love hitherto unknown and ever fleeing him. He now fancied that, away
from that house--perhaps in the woods where they would be absolutely
alone--this deep yearning of his heart would be calmed and satisfied.

"What a boy you are!" said the Countess. "Why, we see each other almost
every day."

He begged her to devise a plan whereby she might breakfast with him, in
some suburb of Paris, as she had already done four or five times.

The Countess was astonished at his caprice, so difficult to realize now
that her daughter had returned. She assured him that she would try to
do it as soon as her husband should go to Ronces; but that it would be
impossible before the varnishing-day reception, which would take place
the following Saturday.

"And until then when shall I see you?" he asked.

"To-morrow evening at the Corbelles'. Come over here Thursday, at three
o'clock, if you are free; and I believe that we are to dine together
with the Duchess on Friday."

"Yes, exactly."

He arose.

"Good-by!"

"Good-by, my friend."

He remained standing, unable to decide to go, for he had said almost
nothing of all that he had come to say, and his mind was still full of
unsaid things, his heart still swelled with vague desires which he could
not express.

"Good-bye!" he repeated, taking her hands.

"Good-by, my friend!"

"I love you!"

She gave him one of those smiles with which a woman shows a man, in a
single instant, all that she has given him.

With a throbbing heart he repeated for the third time, "Good-by!" and
departed.

Guy de Maupassant

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