P-BOOKS • Cosmopolis, Complete • Paul Bourget • 2 (2023)

P-BOOKS • Cosmopolis, Complete • Paul Bourget • 2 (1)

"See," said the former broker of Berlin and of Paris, now an enlightened amateur—"see, how that charlatan of a Fossati has taken care not to increase the number of trinkets now that we are in the reception-rooms. These armchairs seem to await invited guests. They are known. They have been illustrated in a magazine of decorative art in Paris. And that dining-room through that door, with all the silver on the table, would you not think a fete had been prepared?"

"Baron," said Madame Gorka, "look at this material; it is of the eighteenth century, is it not?"

"Baron," asked Madame Maitland, "is this cup with the lid old Vienna or Capadimonte?"

"Baron," said Florent Chapron, "is this armor of Florentine or Milanese workmanship?"

The eyeglass was raised to the Baron's thin nose, his small eyes glittered, his lips were pursed up, and he replied, in words as exact as if he had studied all the details of the catalogue verbatim. Their thanks were soon followed by many other questions, in which two voices alone did not join, that of Alba Steno and that of Dorsenne. Under any other circumstances, the latter would have tried to dissipate the increasing sadness of the young girl, who said no more to him after he repulsed her amicable anxiety. In reality, he attached no great importance to it. Those transitions from excessive gayety to sudden depression were so habitual with the Contessina, above all when with him. Although they were the sign of a vivid sentiment, the young man saw in them only nervous unrest, for his mind was absorbed with other thoughts.

He asked himself if, at any hazard, after the manner in which Madame Gorka had spoken, it would not be more prudent to acquaint Lincoln Maitland with the secret return of his rival. Perhaps the drama had not yet taken place, and if only the two persons threatened were warned, no doubt Hafner would put Countess Steno upon her guard. But when would he see her? What if he, Dorsenne, should at once tell Maitland's brother-in-law of Gorka's return, to that Florent Chapron whom he saw at the moment glancing at all the objects of the princely exposition? The step was an enormous undertaking, and would have appeared so to any one but Julien, who knew that the relations between Florent Chapron and Lincoln Maitland were of a very exceptional nature. Julien knew that Florent—sent when very young to the Jesuits of Beaumont, in England, by a father anxious to spare him the humiliation which his blood would call down upon him in America—had formed a friendship with Lincoln, a pupil in the same school. He knew that the friendship for the schoolmate had turned to enthusiasm for the artist, when the talent of his old comrade had begun to reveal itself. He knew that the marriage, which had placed the fortune of Lydia at the service of the development of the painter, had been the work of that enthusiasm at an epoch when Maitland, spoiled by the unwise government of his mother, and unappreciated by the public, was wrung by despair. The exceptional character of the marriage would have surprised a man less heeding of moral peculiarities than was Dorsenne, who had observed, all too frequently, the silence and reserve of that sister not to look upon her as a sacrifice. He fancied that admiration for his brother-in-law's genius had blinded Florent to such a degree that he was the first cause of the sacrifice.

"Drama for drama," said he to himself, as the visit drew near its close, and after a long debate with himself. "I should prefer to have it one rather than the other in that family. I should reproach myself all my life for not having tried every means." They were in the last room, and Baron Hafner was just fastening the strings of an album of drawings, when the conviction took possession of the young man in a definite manner. Alba Steno, who still maintained silence, looked at him again with eyes which revealed the struggle of her interest for him and of her wounded pride. She longed, without doubt, at the moment they were about to separate, to ask him, according to their intimate and charming custom, when they should meet again. He did not heed her—any more than he did the other pair of eyes which told him to be more prudent, and which were those of the Baron; any more than he did the observation of Madame Gorka, who, having remarked the ill-humor of Alba, was seeking the cause, which she had long since divined was the heart of the young girl; any more than the attitude of Madame Maitland, whose eyes at times shot fire equal to her brother's gentleness. He took the latter by the arm, and said to him aloud:

"I should like to have your opinion on a small portrait I have noticed in the other room, my dear Chapron." Then, when they were before the canvas which had served as a pretext for the aside, he continued, in a low voice: "I heard very strange news this morning. Do you know Boleslas Gorka is in Rome unknown to his wife?"

"That is indeed strange," replied Maitland's brother-in-law, adding simply, after a silence: "Are you certain of it?"

"As certain as that we are here," said Dorsenne. "One of my friends, Marquis de Montfanon, met him this morning."

A fresh silence ensued between the two, during which Julien felt that the arm upon which he rested trembled. Then they joined the party, while Florent said aloud: "It is an excellent piece of painting, which has, unfortunately, been revarnished too much."

"May I have done right!" thought Julien. "He understood me."


Hardly ten minutes had passed since Dorsenne had spoken as he had to Florent Chapron, and already the imprudent novelist began to wonder whether it would not have been wiser not to interfere in any way in an adventure in which his intervention was of the least importance.

The apprehension of an immediate drama which had possessed him, for the first time, after the conversation with Montfanon, for the second time, in a stronger manner, by proving the ignorance of Madame Gorka on the subject of the husband's return—that frightful and irresistible evocation in a clandestine chamber, suddenly deluged with blood, was banished by the simplest event. The six visitors exchanged their last impressions on the melancholy and magnificence of the Castagna apartments, and they ended by descending the grand staircase with the pillars, through the windows of which staircase smiled beneath the scorching sun the small garden which Dorsenne had compared to a face. The young man walked a little in advance, beside Alba Steno, whom he now tried, but in vain, to cheer. Suddenly, at the last turn of the broad steps which tempered the decline gradually, her face brightened with surprise and pleasure. She uttered a slight cry and said: "There is my mother!" And Julien saw the Madame Steno, whom he had seen, in an access of almost delirious anxiety, surprised, assassinated by a betrayed lover. She was standing upon the gray and black mosaic of the peristyle, dressed in the most charming morning toilette. Her golden hair was gathered up under a large hat of flowers, over which was a white veil; her hand toyed with the silver handle of a white parasol, and in the reflection of that whiteness, with her clear, fair complexion, with her lovely blue eyes in which sparkled passion and intelligence, with her faultless teeth which gleamed when she smiled, with her form still slender notwithstanding the fulness of her bust, she seemed to be a creature so youthful, so vigorous, so little touched by age that a stranger would never have taken her to be the mother of the tall young girl who was already beside her and who said to her—

"What imprudence! Ill as you were this morning, to go out in this sun. Why did you do so?"

"To fetch you and to take you home!" replied the Countess gayly. "I was ashamed of having indulged myself! I rose, and here I am. Good-day, Dorsenne. I hope you kept your eyes open up there. A story might be written on the Ardea affair. I will tell it to you. Good-day, Maud. How kind of you to make lazy Alba exercise a little! She would have quite a different color if she walked every morning. Goodday, Florent. Good-day, Lydia. The master is not here? And you, old friend, what have you done with Fanny?"

She distributed these simple "good-days" with a grace so delicate, a smile so rare for each one—tender for her daughter, spirituelle for the author, grateful for Madame Gorka, amicably surprised for Chapron and Madame Maitland, familiar and confiding for her old friend, as she called the Baron. She was evidently the soul of the small party, for her mere presence seemed to have caused animation to sparkle in every eye.

All talked at once, and she replied, as they walked toward the carriages, which waited in a court of honor capable of holding seventy gala chariots. One after the other these carriages advanced. The horses pawed the ground; the harnesses shone; the footmen and coachmen were dressed in perfect liveries; the porter of the Palais Castagna, with his long redingote, on the buttons of which were the symbolical chestnuts of the family, had beneath his laced hat such a dignified bearing that Julien suddenly found it absurd to have imagined an impassioned drama in connection with such people. The last one left, while watching the others depart, he once more experienced the sensation so common to those who are familiar with the worst side of the splendor of society and who perceive in them the moral misery and ironical gayety.

"You are becoming a great simpleton, my friend, Dorsenne," said he, seating himself more democratically in one of those open cabs called in Rome a botte. "To fear a tragical adventure for the woman who is mistress of herself to such a degree is something like casting one's self into the water to prevent a shark from drowning. If she had not upon her lips Maitland's kisses, and in her eyes the memory of happiness, I am very much mistaken. She came from a rendezvous. It was written for me, in her toilette, in the color upon her cheeks, in her tiny shoes, easy to remove, which had not taken thirty steps. And with what mastery she uttered her string of falsehoods! Her daughter, Madame Gorka, Madame Maitland, how quickly she included them all! That is why I do not like the theatre, where one finds the actress who employs that tone to utter her: 'Is the master not here?'"

He laughed aloud, then his thoughts, relieved of all anxiety, took a new course, and, using the word of German origin familiar to Cosmopolitans, to express an absurd action, he said: "I have made a pretty schlemylade, as Hafner would say, in relating to Florent Gorka's unexpected arrival. It was just the same as telling him that Maitland was the Countess's lover. That is a conversation at which I should like to assist, that which will take place between the two brothers-in-law. Should I be very much surprised to learn that this unattached negro is the confidant of his great friend? It is a subject to paint, which has never been well treated; the passionate friendships of a Tattet for a Musset, of an Eckermann for a Goethe, of an Asselineau for a Beaudelaire, the total absorption of the admirer in the admired. Florent found that the genius of the great painter had need of a fortune, and he gave him his sister. Were he to find that that genius required a passion in order to develop still more, he would not object. My word of honor! He glanced at the Countess just now with gratitude! Why not, after all? Lincoln is a colorist of the highest order, although his desire to be with the tide has led him into too many imitations. But it is his race. Young Madame Maitland has as much sense as the handle of a basket; and Madame Steno is one of those extraordinary women truly created to exalt the ideals of an artist. Never has he painted anything as he painted the portrait of Alba. I can hear this dialogue:

"'You know the Pole has returned? What Pole? The Countess's. What? You believe those calumnies?' Ah, what comedies here below! 'Gad! The cabman has also committed his 'schlemylade'. I told him Rue Sistina, near La Trinite-des-Monts, and here he is going through Place Barberini instead of cutting across Capo le Case. It is my fault as well. I should not have heeded it had there been an earthquake. Let us at least admire the Triton of Bernin. What a sculptor that man was! yet he never thought of nature except to falsify it."

These incoherent remarks were made with a good-nature decidedly optimistic, as could be seen, when the fiacre finally drew up at the given address. It was that of a very modest restaurant decorated with this signboard: 'Trattoria al Marzocco.' And the 'Marzocco', the lion symbolical of Florence, was represented above the door, resting his paw on the escutcheon ornamented with the national lys. The appearance of that front did not justify the choice which the elegant Dorsenne had made of the place at which to dine when he did not dine in society. But his dilettantism liked nothing better than those sudden leaps from society, and M. Egiste Brancadori, who kept the Marzocco, was one of those unconscious buffoons of whom he was continually in search in real life, one of those whom he called his "Thebans", in reference to King Lear. "I'll talk a word with this same learned Theban," cried the mad king, one knows not why, when he meets "poor Tom" on the heath.

That Dorsenne's Parisian friends, the Casals, the Machaults, the De Vardes, those habitues of the club, might not judge him too severely, he explained that the Theban born in Florence was a cook of the first order and that the modest restaurant had its story. It amused so paradoxical an observer as Julien was. He often said, "Who will ever dare to write the truth of the history?" This, for example: Pope Pius IX, having asked the Emperor to send him some troops to protect his dominions, the latter agreed to do so—an occupation which bore two results: a Corsican hatred of the half of Italy against France and the founding of the Marzocco by Egiste Brancadori, says the Theban or the doctor. It was one of the pleasantries of the novelist to pretend to have cured his dyspepsia in Italy, thanks to the wise and wholesome cooking of the said Egiste. In reality, and more simply, Brancadori was the old cook of a Russian lord, one of the Werekiews, the cousin of pretty Alba Steno's real father. That Werekiew, renowned in Rome for the daintiness of his dinners, died suddenly in 1866. Several of the frequenters of his house, advised by a French officer of the army of occupation, and tired of clubs, hotels, and ordinary restaurants, determined to form a syndicate and to employ his former cook. They, with his cooperation, established a sort of superior cafe, to which with some pride they gave the name of the Culinary Club. By assuring to each one a minimum of sixteen meals for seven francs, they kept for four years an excellent table, at which were to be found all the distinguished tourists in Rome. The year 1870 had disbanded that little society of connoisseurs and of conversationalists, and the club was metamorphosed into a restaurant, almost unknown, except to a few artists or diplomats who were attracted by the ancient splendors of the place, and, above all, by the knowledge of the "doctor's" talents.

It was not unusual at eight o'clock for the three small rooms which composed the establishment to be full of men in white cravats, white waistcoats and evening coats. To cosmopolitan Dorsenne this was a singularly interesting sight; a member of the English embassy here, of the Russian embassy farther on, two German attaches elsewhere, two French secretaries near at hand from St. Siege, another from the Quirinal. What interested the novelist still more was the conversation of the doctor himself, genial Brancadori, who could neither read nor write. But he had preserved a faithful remembrance of all his old customers, and when he felt confidential, standing erect upon the threshold of his kitchen, of the possession of which he was so insolently proud, he repeated curious stories of Rome in the days of his youth. His gestures, so conformable to the appearance of things, his mobile face and his Tuscan tongue, which softened into h all the harsh e's between two vowels, gave a savor to his stories which delighted a seeker after local truths. It was in the morning especially, when there was no one in the restaurant, that he voluntarily left his ovens to chat, and if Dorsenne gave the address of the Marzocco to his cabman, it was in the hope that the old cook would in his manner sketch for him the story of the ruin of Ardea. Brancadori was standing by the bar where was enthroned his niece, Signorina Sabatina, with a charming Florentine face, chin a trifle long, forehead somewhat broad, nose somewhat short, a sinuous mouth, large, black eyes, an olive complexion and waving hair, which recalled in a forcible manner the favorite type of the first of the Ghirlandajos.

"Uncle," said the young girl, as soon as she perceived Dorsenne, "where have you put the letter brought for the Prince?"

In Italy every foreigner is a prince or a count, and the profound good-nature which reigns in the habit gives to those titles, in the mouths of those who employ them, an amiability often free from calculation. There is no country in the world where there is a truer, a more charming familiarity of class for class, and Brancadori immediately gave a proof of it in addressing as "Carolei"—that is to say, "my dear"—him whom his daughter had blazoned with a coronet, and he cried, fumbling in the pockets of the alpaca waistcoat which he wore over his apron of office:

"The brain is often lacking in a gray head. I put it in the pocket of my coat in order to be more sure of not forgetting it. I changed my coat, because it was warm, and left it with the letter in my apartments."

"You can look for it after lunch," said Dorsenne.

"No," replied the young girl, rising, "it is not two steps from here; I will go. The concierge of the palace where your Excellency lives brought it himself, and said it must be delivered immediately."

"Very well, go and fetch it," replied Julien, who could not suppress a smile at the honor paid his dwelling, "and I will remain here and talk with my doctor, while he gives me the prescription for this morning—that is to say, his bill of fare. Guess whence I come, Brancadori," he added, assured of first stirring the cook's curiosity, then his power of speech. "From the Palais Castagna, where they are selling everything."

"Ah! Per Bacco!" exclaimed the Tuscan, with evident sorrow upon his old parchment-like face, scorched from forty years of cooking. "If the deceased Prince Urban can see it in the other world, his heart will break, I assure you. The last time he came to dine here, about ten years ago, on Saint Joseph's Day, he said to me: 'Make me some fritters, Egiste, like those we used to have at Monsieur d'Epinag's, Monsieur Clairin's, Fortuny's, and poor Henri Regnault's.' And he was happy! 'Egiste,' said he to me, 'I can die contented! I have only one son, but I shall leave him six millions and the palace. If it was Gigi I should be less easy, but Peppino!' Gigi was the other one, the elder, who died, the gay one, who used to come here every day—a fine fellow, but bad! You should have heard him tell of his visit to Pius Ninth on the day upon which he converted an Englishman. Yes, Excellency, he converted him by lending him by mistake a pious book instead of a novel. The Englishman took the book, read it, read another, a third, and became a Catholic. Gigi, who was not in favor at the Vatican, hastened to tell the Holy Father of his good deed. 'You see, my son,' said Pius Ninth, 'what means our Lord God employs!' Ah, he would have used those millions for his amusement, while Peppino! They were all squandered in signatures. Just think, the name of Prince d'Ardea meant money! He speculated, he lost, he won, he lost again, he drew up bills of exchange after bills of exchange. And every time he made a move such as I am making with my pencil—only I can not sign my name—it meant one hundred, two hundred thousand francs to go into the world. And now he must leave his house and Rome. What will he do, Excellency, I ask you?" With a shake of his head he added: "He should reconstruct his fortune abroad. We have this saying: 'He who squanders gold with his hands will search for it with his feet.' But Sabatino is coming! She has been as nimble as a cat."

The good man's invaluable mimetic art, his proverbs, the story of the fete of St. Joseph, the original evocation of the heir of the Castagnas continually signing and signing, the coarse explanation of his ruin—very true, however—everything in the recital had amused Dorsenne. He knew enough Italian to appreciate the untranslatable passages of the language of the man of the people. He was again on the verge of laughter, when the fresco madonna, as he sometimes designated the young girl, handed him an envelope the address upon which soon converted his smile into an undisguised expression of annoyance. He pushed aside the day's bill of fare which the old cook presented to him and said, brusquely: "I fear I can not remain to breakfast." Then, opening the letter: "No, I can not; adieu." And he went out, in a manner so precipitate and troubled that the uncle and niece exchanged smiling glances. Those typical Southerners could not think of any other trouble in connection with so handsome a man as Dorsenne than that of the heart.

"Chi ha l'amor nel petto," said Signorina Sabatina.

"Ha lo spron nei fianchi," replied the uncle.

That naive adage which compares the sharp sting which passion drives into our breasts to the spurring given the flanks of a horse, was not true of Dorsenne. The application of the proverb to the circumstance was not, however, entirely erroneous, and the novelist commented upon it in his passion, although in another form, by repeating to himself, as he went along the Rue Sistina: "No, no, I can not interfere in that affair, and I shall tell him so firmly."

He examined again the note, the perusal of which had rendered him more uneasy than he had been twice before that morning. He had not been mistaken in recognizing on the envelope the handwriting of Boleslas Gorka, and these were the terms, teeming with mystery under the circumstances, in which the brief message was worded:

"I know you to be such a friend to me, dear Julien, and I have for your character, so chivalrous and so French, such esteem that I have determined to turn to you in an era of my life thoroughly tragical. I wish to see you immediately. I shall await you at your lodging. I have sent a similar note to the Cercle de la Chasse, another to the bookshop on the Corso, another to your antiquary's. Wheresoever my appeal finds you, leave all and come at once. You will save more for me than life. For a reason which I will tell you, my return is a profound secret. No one, you understand, knows of it but you. I need not write more to a friend as sincere as you are, and whom I embrace with all my heart."

"It is unequalled!" said Dorsenne, crumpling the letter with rising anger. "He embraces me with all his heart. I am his most sincere friend! I am chivalrous, French, the only person he esteems! What disagreeable commission does he wish me to undertake for him? Into what scrape is he about to ask me to enter, if he has not already got me into it? I know that school of protestation. We are allied for life and death, are we not? Do me a favor! And they upset your habits, encroach upon your time, embark you in tragedies, and when you say 'No' to them-then they squarely accuse you of selfishness and of treason! It is my fault, too. Why did I listen to his confidences? Have I not known for years that a man who relates his love-affairs on so short an acquaintance as ours is a scoundrel and a fool? And with such people there can be no possible connection. He amused me at the beginning, when he told me his sly intrigue, without naming the person, as they all do at first. He amused me still more by the way he managed to name her without violating that which people in society call honor. And to think that the women believe in that honor and that discretion! And yet it was the surest means of entering Steno's, and approaching Alba.... I believe I am about to pay for my Roman flirtation. If Gorka is a Pole, I am from Lorraine, and the heir of the Castellans will only make me do what I agree to, nothing more."

In such an ill-humor and with such a resolution, Julien reached the door of his house. If that dwelling was not the palace alluded to by Signorina Sabatina, it was neither the usually common house as common today in new Rome as in contemporary Paris, modern Berlin, and in certain streets of London opened of late in the neighborhood of Hyde Park. It was an old building on the Place de la Trinite-des-Monts, at an angle of the two streets Sistina and Gregoriana. Although reduced to the state of a simple pension, more or less bourgeoise, that house had its name marked in certain guide-books, and like all the corners of ancient Rome it preserved the traces of a glorious, artistic history. The small columns of the porch gave it the name of the tempietto, or little temple, while several personages dear to litterateurs had lived there, from the landscape painter Claude Lorrain to the poet Francois Coppee. A few paces distant, almost opposite, lived Poussin, and one of the greatest among modern English poets, Keats, died quite near by, the John Keats whose tomb is to be seen in Rome, with that melancholy epitaph upon it, written by himself:

Here lies one whose name was writ in water.

It was seldom that Dorsenne returned home without repeating to himself the translation he had attempted of that beautiful 'Ci-git un don't le nom, jut ecrit sur de l'eau'.

Sometimes he repeated, at evening, this delicious fragment:

The sky was tinged with tender green and pink.

This time he entered in a more prosaic manner; for he addressed the concierge in the tone of a jealous husband or a debtor hunted by creditors:

"Have you given the key to any one, Tonino?" he asked.

"Count Gorka said that your Excellency asked him to await you here," replied the man, with a timidity rendered all the more comical by the formidable cut of his gray moustache and his imperial, which made him a caricature of the late King Victor Emmanuel.

He had served in '59 under the Galantuomo, and he paid the homage of a veteran of Solferino to that glorious memory. His large eyes rolled with fear at the least confusion, and he repeated:

"Yes, he said that your Excellency asked him to wait," while Dorsenne ascended the staircase, saying aloud: "More and more perfect. But this time the familiarity passes all bounds; and it is better so. I have been so surprised and annoyed from the first that I shall be easily able to refuse the imprudent fellow what he will ask of me." In his anger the novelist sought to arm himself against his weakness, of which he was aware—not the weakness of insufficient will, but of a too vivid perception of the motives which the person with whom he was in conflict obeyed. He, however, was to learn that there is no greater dissolvent of rancor than intelligent curiosity. His was, indeed, aroused by a simple detail, which consisted in ascertaining under what conditions the Pole had travelled; his dressing-case, his overcoat and his hat, still white with the dust of travel, were lying upon the table in the antechamber.

Evidently he had come direct from Warsaw to the Place de la Trinite-des-Monts. A prey to what delirium of passion? Dorsenne had not time to ask the question any more than he had presence of mind to compose his manner to such severity that it would cut short all familiarity on the part of his strange visitor. At the noise made by the opening of the antechamber door, Boleslas started up. He seized both hands of the man into whose apartments he had obtruded himself. He pressed them. He gazed at him with feverish eyes, with eyes which had not closed for hours, and he murmured, drawing the novelist into the tiny salon:

"You have come, Julien, you are here! Ah, I thank you for having answered my call at once! Let me look at you, for I am sure I have a friend beside me, one in whom I can trust, with whom I can speak frankly, upon whom I can depend. If this solitude had lasted much longer I should have become mad."

Although Madame Steno's lover belonged to the class of excitable, nervous people who exaggerate their feelings by an unconscious wildness of tone and of manner, his face bore the traces of a trouble too deep not to be startling.

Julien, who had seen him set out, three months before, so radiantly handsome, was struck by the change which had taken place during such a brief absence. He was the same Boleslas Gorka, that handsome man, that admirable human animal, so refined and so strong, in which was embodied centuries of aristocracy—the Counts de Gorka belong to the ancient house of Lodzia, with which are connected so many illustrious Polish families, the Opalenice-Opalenskis, the Bnin-Bninskis, the Ponin-Poniniskis and many others—but his cheeks were sunken beneath his long, brown beard, in which were glints of gold; his eyes were heavy as if from wakeful nights, his nostrils were pinched and his face was pale. The travel-stains upon his face accentuated the alteration.

Yet the native elegance of that face and form gave grace to his lassitude. Boleslas, in the vigorous and supple maturity of his thirty-four years, realized one of those types of manly beauty so perfect that they resist the strongest tests. The excesses of emotion, as those of libertinism, seem only to invest the man with a new prestige; the fact is that the novelist's room, with its collection of books, photographs, engravings, paintings and moldings, invested that form, tortured by the bitter sufferings of passion, with a poesy to which Dorsenne could not remain altogether insensible. The atmosphere, impregnated with Russian tobacco and the bluish vapor which filled the room, revealed in what manner the betrayed lover had diverted his impatience, and in the centre of the writing-table a cup with a bacchanal painted in red on a black ground, of which Julien was very proud, contained the remains of about thirty cigarettes, thrown aside almost as soon as lighted. Their paper ends had been gnawed with a nervousness which betrayed the young man's condition, while he repeated, in a tone so sad that it almost called forth a shudder:

"Yes, I should have gone mad."

"Calm yourself, my dear Boleslas, I implore you," replied Dorsenne. What had become of his ill-humor? How could he preserve it in the presence of a person so evidently beside himself? Julien continued, speaking to his companion as one speaks to a sick child: "Come, be seated. Be a little more tranquil, since I am here, and you have reason to count on my friendship. Speak to me. Explain to me what has happened. If there is any advice to give you, I am ready. I am prepared to render you a service. My God! In what a state you are!"

"Is it not so?" said the other, with a sort of ironical pride. It was sufficient that he had a witness of his grief for him to display it with secret vanity. "Is it not so?" he continued. "Could you only know how I have suffered. This is nothing," said he, alluding to his haggard appearance. "It is here that you should read," he struck his breast, then passing his hands over his brow and his eyes, as if to exorcise a nightmare. "You are right. I must be calm, or I am lost."

After a prolonged silence, during which he seemed to have gathered together his thoughts and to collect his will, for his voice had become decided and sharp, he began: "You know that I am here unknown to any one, even to my wife."

"I know it," replied Dorsenne. "I have just left the Countess. This morning I visited the Palais Castagna with her, Hafner, Madame Maitland, Florent Chapron." He paused and added, thinking it better not to lie on minor points, "Madame Steno and Alba were there, too."

"Any one else?" asked Boleslas, with so keen a glance that the author had to employ all his strength to reply:

"No one else."

There was a silence between the two men.

Dorsenne anticipated from his question toward what subject the conversation was drifting. Gorka, now lying rather than sitting upon the divan in the small room, appeared like a beast that, at any moment, might bound. Evidently he had come to Julien's a prey to the mad desire to find out something, which is to jealousy what thirst is to certain punishments. When one has tasted the bitter draught of certainty, one does not suffer less. Yet one walks toward it, barefooted, on the heated pavement, heedless of the heat. The motives which led Boleslas to choose the French novelist as the one from whom to obtain his information, demonstrated that the feline character of his physiognomy was not deceptive. He understood Dorsenne much better than Dorsenne understood him. He knew him to be nervous, on the one hand, and perspicacious on the other. If there was an intrigue between Maitland and Madame Steno, Julien had surely observed it, and, approached in a certain manner, he would surely betray it. Moreover—for that violent and crafty nature abounded in perplexities—Boleslas, who passionately admired the author's talent, experienced a sort of indefinable attraction in exhibiting himself before him in the role of a frantic lover. He was one of the persons who would have his photograph taken on his deathbed, so much importance did he attach to his person. He would, no doubt, have been insulted, if the author of 'Une Eglogue Mondaine' had portrayed in a book himself and his love for Countess Steno, and yet he had only approached the author, had only chosen him as a confidant with the vague hope of impressing him. He had even thought of suggesting to him some creation resembling himself. Yes, Gorka was very complex, for he was not contented with deceiving his wife, he allowed the confiding creature to form a friendship with the daughter of her husband's mistress. Still, he deceived her with remorse, and had never ceased bearing her an affection as sorrowful as it was respectful. But it required Dorsenne to admit the like anomalies, and the rare sensation of being observed in his passionate frenzy attracted the young man to some one who was at once a sure confidant, a possible portrayer, a moral accomplice. It was necessary now, but it would not be an easy matter, to make of him his involuntary detective.

"You see," resumed he suddenly, "to what miserable, detailed inquiries I have descended, I who always had a horror of espionage, as of some terrible degradation. I shall question you frankly, for you are my friend. And what a friend! I intended to use artifice with you at first, but I was ashamed. Passion takes possession of me and distorts me. No matter what infamy presents itself, I rush into it, and then I am afraid. Yes, I am afraid of myself! But I have suffered so much! You do not understand? Well! Listen," continued he, covering Dorsenne with one of those glances so scrutinizing that not a gesture, not a quiver of his eyelids, escaped him, "and tell me if you have ever imagined for one of your romances a situation similar to mine. You remember the mortal fear in which I lived last winter, with the presence of my brother-in-law, and the danger of his denouncing me to my poor Maud, from stupidity, from a British sense of virtue, from hatred. You remember, also, what that voyage to Poland cost me, after those long months of anxiety? The press of affairs and the illness of my aunt coming just at the moment when I was freed from Ardrahan, inspired me with miserable forebodings. I have always believed in presentiments. I had one. I was not mistaken. From the first letter I received—from whom you can guess—I saw that there was taking place in Rome something which threatened me in what I held dearest on earth, in that love for which I sacrificed all, toward which I walked by trampling on the noblest of hearts. Was Catherine ceasing to love me? When one has spent two years of one's life in a passion—and what years!—one clings to it with every fibre! I will spare you the recital of those first weeks spent in going here and there, in paying visits to relatives, in consulting lawyers, in caring for my sick aunt, in fulfilling my duty toward my son, since the greater part of the fortune will go to him. And always with this firm conviction: She no longer writes to me as formerly, she no longer loves me. Ah! if I could show you the letter she wrote when I was absent once before. You have a great deal of talent, Julien, but you have never composed anything more beautiful."

He paused, as if the part of the confession he was approaching cost him a great effort, while Dorsenne interpolated:

"A change of tone in correspondence is not, however, sufficient to explain the fever in which I see you."

"No," resumed Gorka, "but it was not merely a change of tone. I complained. For the first time my complaint found no echo. I threatened to cease writing. No reply. I wrote to ask forgiveness. I received a letter so cold that in my turn I wrote an angry one. Another silence! Ah! You can imagine the terrible effect produced upon me by an unsigned letter which I received fifteen days since. It arrived one morning. It bore the Roman postmark. I did not recognize the handwriting. I opened it. I saw two sheets of paper on which were pasted cuttings from a French journal. I repeat it was unsigned; it was an anonymous letter."

"And you read it?" interrupted Dorsenne. "What folly!"

"I read it," replied the Count. "It began with words of startling truth relative to my own situation. That our affairs are known to others we may be sure, since we know theirs. We should, consequently, remember that we are at the mercy of their indiscretion, as they are at ours. The beginning of the note served as a guarantee of the truth of the end, which was a detailed, minute recital of an intrigue which Madame Steno had been carrying on during my absence, and with whom? With the man whom I always mistrusted, that dauber who wanted to paint Alba's portrait—but whose desires I nipped in the bud—with the fellow who degraded himself by a shameful marriage for money, and who calls himself an artist—with that American—with Lincoln Maitland!"

Although the childish and unjust hatred of the jealous—the hatred which degrades us in lowering the one we love-had poisoned his discourse with its bitterness, he did not cease watching Dorsenne. He partly raised himself on the couch and thrust his head forward as he uttered the name of his rival, glancing keenly at the novelist meanwhile. The latter fortunately had been rendered indignant at the news of the anonymous letter, and he repeated, with an astonishment which in no way aided his interlocutor:

"Wait," resumed Boleslas; "that was merely a beginning. The next day I received another letter, written and sent under the same conditions; the day after, a third. I have twelve of them—do you hear? twelve—in my portfolio, and all composed with the same atrocious knowledge of the circle in which we move, as was the first. At the same time I was receiving letters from my poor wife, and all coincided, in the terrible series, in a frightful concordance. The anonymous letter told me: 'To-day they were together two hours and a quarter,' while Maud wrote: 'I could not go out to-day, as agreed upon, with Madame Steno, for she had a headache.' Then the portrait of Alba, of which they told me incidentally. The anonymous letters detailed to me the events, the prolongation of sitting, while my wife wrote: 'We again went to see Alba's portrait yesterday. The painter erased what he had done.' Finally it became impossible for me to endure it. With their abominable minuteness of detail, the anonymous letters gave me even the address of their rendezvous! I set out. I said to myself, 'If I announce my arrival to my wife they will find it out, they will escape me.' I intended to surprise them. I wanted—Do I know what I wanted? I wanted to suffer no longer the agony of uncertainty. I took the train. I stopped neither day nor night. I left my valet yesterday in Florence, and this morning I was in Rome.

"My plan was made on the way. I would hire apartments near theirs, in the same street, perhaps in the same house. I would watch them, one, two days, a week. And then—would you believe it? It was in the cab which was bearing me directly toward that street that I saw suddenly, clearly within me, and that I was startled. I had my hand upon this revolver." He drew the weapon from his pocket and laid it upon the divan, as if he wished to repulse any new temptation. "I saw myself as plainly as I see you, killing those two beings like two animals, should I surprise them. At the same time I saw my son and my wife. Between murder and me there was, perhaps, just the distance which separated me from the street, and I felt that it was necessary to fly at once—to fly that street, to fly from the guilty ones, if they were really guilty; to fly from myself! I thought of you, and I have come to say to you, 'My friend, this is how things are; I am drowning, I am lost; save me.'"

"You have yourself found the salvation," replied Dorsenne. "It is in your son and your wife. See them first, and if I can not promise you that you will not suffer any more, you will no longer be tempted by that horrible idea." And he pointed to the pistol, which gleamed in the sunlight that entered through the casement. Then he added: "And you will have the idea still less when you will have been able to prove 'de visu' what those anonymous letters were worth. Twelve letters in fifteen days, and cuttings from how many papers? And they claim that we invent heinousness in our books! If you like, we will search together for the person who can have elaborated that little piece of villany. It must be a Judas, a Rodin, an Iago—or Iaga. But this is not the moment to waste in hypotheses.

"Are you sure of your valet? You must send him a despatch, and in that despatch the copy of another addressed to Madame Gorka, which your man will send this very evening. You will announce your arrival for tomorrow, making allusion to a letter written, so to speak, from Poland, and which was lost. This evening from here you will take the train for Florence, from which place you will set out again this very night. You will be in Rome again to-morrow morning. You will have avoided, not only the misfortune of having become a murderer, though you would not have surprised any one, I am sure, but the much more grave misfortune of awakening Madame Gorka's suspicions. Is it a promise?"

Dorsenne rose to prepare a pen and paper: "Come, write the despatch immediately, and render thanks to your good genius which led you to a friend whose business consists in imagining the means of solving insoluble situations."

"You are quite right," Boleslas replied, after taking in his hand the pen which he offered to the other, "it is fortunate." Then, casting aside the pen as he had the revolver, "I can not. No, I can not, as long as I have this doubt within me. Ah, it is too horrible! I can see them plainly. You speak to me of my wife; but you forget that she loves me, and at the first glance she would read me, as you did. You can not imagine what an effort it has cost me for two years never to arouse suspicion. I was happy, and it is easy to deceive when one has nothing to hide but happiness. To-day we should not be together five minutes before she would seek, and she would find. No, no; I can not. I need something more."

"Unfortunately," replied Julien, "I cannot give it to you. There is no opium to lull asleep doubts such as those horrible anonymous letters have awakened. What I know is this, that if you do not follow my advice Madame Gorka will not have a suspicion, but certainty. It is now perhaps too late. Do you wish me to tell you what I concealed from you on seeing you so troubled? You did not lose much time in coming from the station hither, and probably you did not look out of your cab twice. But you were seen. By whom? By Montfanon. He told me so this morning almost on the threshold of the Palais Castagna. If I had not gathered from some words uttered by your wife that she was ignorant of your presence in Rome, I—do you hear?—I should have told her of it. Judge now of your situation!"

He spoke with an agitation which was not assumed, so much was he troubled by the evidence of danger which Gorka's obstinacy presented. The latter, who had begun to collect himself, had a strange light in his eyes. Without doubt his companion's nervousness marked the moment he was awaiting to strike a decisive blow. He rose with so sudden a start that Dorsenne drew back. He seized both of his hands, but with such force that not a quiver of the muscles escaped him:

"Yes, Julien, you have the means of consoling me, you have it," said he in a voice again hoarse with emotion.

"What is it?" asked the novelist.

"What is it? You are an honest man, Dorsenne; you are a great artist; you are my friend, and a friend allied to me by a sacred bond, almost a brother-in-arms; you, the grandnephew of a hero who shed his blood by the side of my grandfather at Somo-Sierra. Give me your word of honor that you are absolutely certain Madame Steno is not Maitland's mistress, that you never thought it, have never heard it said, and I will believe you, I will obey you! Come," continued he, pressing the writer's hand with more fervor, "I see you hesitate!"

"No," said Julien, disengaging himself from the wild grasp, "I do not hesitate. I am sorry for you. Were I to give you that word, would it have any weight with you for five minutes? Would you not be persuaded immediately that I was perjuring myself to avoid a misfortune?"

"You hesitate," interrupted Boleslas. Then, with a burst of wild laughter, he said, "It is then true! I like that better! It is frightful to know it, but one suffers less—To know it' As if I did not know she had lovers before me, as if it were not written on Alba's every feature that she is Werekiew's child, as if I had not heard it said seventy times before knowing her that she had loved Branciforte, San Giobbe, Strabane, ten others. Before, during, or after, what difference does it make? Ah, I was sure on knocking at your door—at this door of honor—I should hear the truth, that I would touch it as I touch this object," and he laid his hand upon a marble bust on the table.

"You see I hear it like a man. You can speak to me now. Who knows? Disgust is a great cure for passion. I will listen to you. Do not spare me!"

"You are mistaken, Gorka," replied Dorsenne. "What I have to say to you, I can say very simply. I was, and I am, convinced that in a quarter of an hour, in an hour, tomorrow, the day after, you will consider me a liar or an imbecile. But, since you misinterpreted my silence, it is my duty to speak, and I do so. I give you my word of honor I have never had the least suspicion of a connection between Madame Steno and Maitland, nor have their relations seemed changed to me for a second since your absence. I give you my word of honor that no one, do you hear, no one has spoken of it to me. And, now, act as you please, think as you please. I have said all I can say."

The novelist uttered those words with a feverish energy which was caused by the terrible strain he was making upon his conscience. But Gorka's laugh had terrified him so much the more as at the same instant the jealous lover's disengaged hand was voluntarily or involuntarily extended toward the weapon which gleamed upon the couch. The vision of an immediate catastrophe, this time inevitable, rose before Julien. His lips had spoken, as his arm would have been out stretched, by an irresistible instinct, to save several lives, and he had made the false statement, the first and no doubt the last in his life, without reflecting. He had no sooner uttered it than he experienced such an excess of anger that he would at that moment almost have preferred not to be believed. It would indeed have been a comfort to him if his visitor had replied by one of those insulting negations which permit one man to strike another, so great was his irritation. On the contrary, he saw the face of Madame Steno's lover turned toward him with an expression of gratitude upon it. Boleslas's lips quivered, his hands were clasped, two large tears gushed from his burning eyes and rolled down his cheeks. When he was able to speak, he moaned:

"Ah, my friend, how much good you have done me! From what a nightmare you have relieved me. Ah! Now I am saved! I believe you, I believe you. You are intimate with them. You see them every day. If there had been anything between them you would know it. You would have heard it talked of. Ah! Thanks! Give me your hand that I may press it. Forget all I said to you just now, the slander I uttered in a moment of delirium. I know very well it was untrue. And now, let me embrace you as I would if you had really saved me from drowning. Ah, my friend, my only friend!"

And he rushed up to clasp to his bosom the novelist, who replied with the words uttered at the beginning of this conversation: "Calm yourself, I beseech you, calm yourself!" and repeating to himself, brave and loyal man that he was: "I could not act differently, but it is hard!"



"I could not act differently," repeated Dorsenne on the evening of that eventful day. He had given his entire afternoon to caring for Gorka. He made him lunch. He made him lie down. He watched him. He took him in a closed carriage to Portonaccio, the first stopping-place on the Florence line. Indeed, he made every effort not to leave alone for a moment the man whose frenzy he had rather suspended than appeased, at the price, alas, of his own peace of mind! For, once left alone, in solitude and in the apartments on the Place de la Trinite, where twenty details testified to the visit of Gorka, the weight of the perjured word of honor became a heavy load to the novelist, so much the more heavy when he discovered the calculating plan followed by Boleslas. His tardy penetration permitted him to review the general outline of their conversation. He perceived that not one of his interlocutor's sentences, not even the most agitated, had been uttered at random. From reply to reply, from confidence to confidence, he, Dorsenne, had become involved in the dilemma without being able to foresee or to avoid it; he would either have had to accuse a woman or to lie with one of those lies which a manly conscience does not easily pardon. He did not forgive himself for it.

"It is so much worse," said he to himself, "as it will prevent nothing. A person vile enough to pen anonymous letters will not stop there. She will find the means of again unchaining the madman.... But who wrote those letters? Gorka may have forged them in order to have an opportunity to ask me the question he did.... And yet, no.... There are two indisputable facts—his state of jealousy and his extraordinary return. Both would lead one to suppose a third, a warning. But given by whom?... He told me of twelve anonymous letters.... Let us assume that he received one or two.... But who is the author of those?"

The immediate development of the drama in which Julien found himself involved was embodied in the answer to the question. It was not easy to formulate. The Italians have a proverb of singular depth which the novelist recalled at that moment. He had laughed a great deal when he heard sententious Egiste Brancadori repeat it. He repeated it to himself, and he understood its meaning. 'Chi non sa fingersi amico, non sa essere nemico. "He who does not know how to disguise himself as a friend, does not know how to be an enemy." In the little corner of society in which Countess Steno, the Gorkas and Lincoln Maitland moved, who was hypocritical and spiteful enough to practise that counsel?

"It is not Madame Steno," thought Julien; "she has related all herself to her lover. I knew a similar case. But it involved degraded Parisians, not a Dogesse of the sixteenth century found intact in the Venice of today, like a flower of that period preserved. Let us strike her off. Let us strike off, too, Madame Gorka, the truthful creature who could not even condescend to the smallest lie for a trinket which she desires. It is that which renders her so easily deceived. What irony!... Let us strike off Florent. He would allow himself to be killed, if necessary, like a Mameluke at the door of the room where his genial brother-in-law was dallying with the Countess.... Let us strike off the American himself. I have met such a case, a lover weary of a mistress, denouncing himself to her in order to be freed from his love-affair. But he was a roue, and had nothing in common with this booby, who has a talent for painting as an elephant has a trunk—what irony! He married this octoroon to have money. But it was a base act which freed him from commerce, and permitted him to paint all he wanted, as he wanted. He allows Steno to love him because she is diabolically pretty, notwithstanding her forty years, and then she is, in spite of all, a real noblewoman, which flattered him. He has not one dollar's-worth of moral delicacy in his heart. But he has an abundance of knavery.... Let us, too, strike out his wife. She is such a veritable slave whom the mere presence of a white person annihilates to such a degree that she dares not look her husband in the face.... It is not Hafner. The sly fox is capable of doing anything by cunning, but is he capable of undertaking a useless and dangerous piece of rascality? Never.... Fanny is a saint escaped from the Golden Legend, no matter what Montfanon thinks! I have now reviewed the entire coterie.... I was about to forget Alba.... It is too absurd even to think of her.... Too absurd? Why?"

Dorsenne was, on formulating that fantastic thought, upon the point of retiring. He took up, as was his habit, one of the books on his table, in order to read a few pages, when once in bed. He had thus within his reach the works by which he strengthened his doctrine of intransitive intellectuality; they were Goethe's Memoirs; a volume of George Sand's correspondence, in which were the letters to Flaubert; the 'Discours de la Methode' by Descartes, and the essay by Burckhart on the Renaissance.

But, after turning over the leaves of one of those volumes, he closed it without having read twenty lines. He extinguished his lamp, but he could not sleep. The strange suspicion which crossed his mind had something monstrous about it, applied thus to a young girl. What a suspicion and what a young girl! The preferred friend of his entire winter, she on whose account he had prolonged his stay in Rome, for she was the most graceful vision of delicacy and of melancholy in the framework of a tragical and solemn past. Any other than Dorsenne would not have admitted such an idea without being inspired with horror. But Dorsenne, on the contrary, suddenly began to dive into that sinister hypothesis, to help it forward, to justify it. No one more than he suffered from a moral deformity which the abuse of a certain literary work inflicts on some writers. They are so much accustomed to combining artificial characters with creations of their imaginations that they constantly fulfil an analogous need with regard to the individuals they know best. They have some friend who is dear to them, whom they see almost daily, who hides nothing from them and from whom they hide nothing. But if they speak to you of him you are surprised to find that, while continuing to love that friend, they trace to you in him two contradictory portraits with the same sincerity and the same probability.

They have a mistress, and that woman, even in the space sometimes of one day, sees them, with fear, change toward her, who has remained the same. It is that they have developed in them to a very intense degree the imagination of the human soul, and that to observe is to them only a pretext to construe. That infirmity had governed Julien from early maturity. It was rarely manifested in a manner more unexpected than in the case of charming Alba Steno, who was possibly dreaming of him at the very moment when, in the silence of the night, he was forcing himself to prove that she was capable of that species of epistolary parricide.

"After all," he said to himself, for there is iconoclasm in the excessively intellectual, and they delight in destroying their dearest moral or sentimental idols, the better to prove their strength, "after all, have I really understood her relations toward her mother? When I came to Rome in November, when I was to be presented to the Countess, what did not only one, but nine or ten persons tell me? That Madame Steno had a liaison with the husband of her daughter's best friend, and that the little one was grieving about it. I went to the house. I saw the child. She was sad that evening. I had the curiosity to wish to read her heart.... It is six months since then. We have met almost daily, often twice a day. She is so hermetically sealed that I am no farther advanced than I was on the first day. I have seen her glance at her mother as she did this morning, with loving, admiring eyes. I have seen her turn pale at a word, a gesture, on her part. I have seen her embrace Maud Gorka, and play tennis with that same friend so gayly, so innocently. I have seen that she could not bear the presence of Maitland in a room, and yet she asked the American to take her portrait.... Is she guileless?... Is she a hypocrite? Or is she tormented by doubt-divining, not divining-believing, not believing in-her mother? Is she underhand in any case, with her eyes the color of the sea? Has she the ambiguous mind at once of a Russian and an Italian?... This would be a solution of the problem, that she was a girl of extraordinary inward energy, who, both aware of her mother's intrigues and detesting them with an equal hatred, had planned to precipitate the two men upon each other. For a young girl the undertaking is great. I will go to the Countess's to-morrow night, and I will amuse myself by watching Alba, to see... If she is innocent, my deed will be inoffensive. If perchance she is not?"

It is vain to profess to one's own heart a complaisant dandyism of misanthropy. Such reflections leave behind them a tinge of a remorse, above all when they are, as these, absolutely whimsical and founded on a simple paradox of dilettantism. Dorsenne experienced a feeling of shame when he awoke the following morning, and, thinking of the mystery of the letters received by Gorka, he recalled the criminal romance he had constructed around the charming and tender form of his little friend; happily for his nerves, which were strained by the consideration of the formidable problem. If it is not some one in the Countess's circle, who has written those letters? He received, on rising, a voluminous package of proofs with the inscription: "Urgent." He was preparing to give to the public a collection of his first articles, under the title of 'Poussiere d'Idees.'

Dorsenne was a faithful literary worker. Usually, involved titles serve to hide in a book-stall shop—made goods, and romance writers or dramatic authors who pride themselves on living to write, and who seek inspiration elsewhere than in regularity of habits and the work-table, have their efforts marked from the first by sterility. Obscure or famous, rich or poor, an artist must be an artisan and practise these fruitful virtues—patient application, conscientious technicality, absorption in work. When he seated himself at his table Dorsenne was heart and soul in his business. He closed his door, he opened no letters nor telegrams, and he spent ten hours without taking anything but two eggs and some black coffee, as he did on this particular day, when looking over the essays of his twenty-fifth year with the talent of his thirty-fifth, retouching here a word, rewriting an entire page, dissatisfied here, smiling there at his thought. The pen flew, carrying with it all the sensibility of the intellectual man who had completely forgotten Madame Steno, Gorka, Maitland, and the calumniated Contessina, until he should awake from his lucid intoxication at nightfall. As he counted, in arranging the slips, the number of articles prepared, he found there were twelve.

"Like Gorka's letters," said he aloud, with a laugh. He now felt coursing through his veins the lightness which all writers of his kind feel when they have labored on a work they believe good. "I have earned my evening," he added, still in a loud voice. "I must now dress and go to Madame Steno's. A good dinner at the doctor's. A half-hour's walk. The night promises to be divine. I shall find out if they have news of the Palatine,"—the name he gave Gorka in his moments of gayety. "I shall talk in a loud voice of anonymous letters. If the author of those received by Boleslas is there, I shall be in the best position to discover him; provided that it is not Alba.... Decidedly—that would be sad!"

It was ten o'clock in the evening, when the young man, faithful to his programme, arrived at the door of the large house on the Rue du Vingt Septembre occupied by Madame Steno. It was an immense modern structure, divided into two distinct parts; to the left a revenue building and to the right a house on the order of those which are to be seen on the borders of Park Monceau. The Villa Steno, as the inscription in gold upon the black marble door indicated, told the entire story of the Countess's fortune—that fortune appraised by rumor, with its habitual exaggeration, now at twenty, now at thirty, millions. She had in reality two hundred and fifty thousand francs' income. But as, in 1873, Count Michel Steno, her husband, died, leaving only debts, a partly ruined palace at Venice and much property heavily mortgaged, the amount of that income proved the truth of the title, "superior woman," applied by her friends to Alba's mother. Her friends likewise added: "She has been the mistress of Hafner, who has aided her with his financial advice," an atrocious slander which was so much the more false as it was before ever knowing the Baron that she had begun to amass her wealth. This is how she managed it:

At the close of 1873, when, as a young widow, living in retirement in the sumptuous and ruined dwelling on the Grand Canal, she was struggling with her creditors, one of the largest bankers in Rome came to propose to her a very advantageous scheme. It dealt with a large piece of land which belonged to the Steno estate, a piece of land in Rome, in one of the suburbs, between the Porta Salara and the Porta Pia, a sort of village which the deceased Cardinal Steno, Count Michel's uncle, had begun to lay out. After his demise, the land had been rented in lots to kitchen-gardeners, and it was estimated that it was worth about forty centimes a square metre. The financier offered four francs for it, under the pretext of establishing a factory on the site. It was a large sum of money. The Countess required twenty-four hours in which to consider, and, at the end of that time, she refused the offer, which won for her the admiration of the men of business who knew of the refusal. In 1882, less than ten years later, she sold the same land for ninety francs a metre. She saw, on glancing at a plan of Rome, and in recalling the history of modern Italy, first, that the new masters of the Eternal City would centre all their ambition in rebuilding it, then that the portion comprised between the Quirinal and the two gates of Salara and Pia would be one of the principal points of development; finally, that if she waited she would obtain a much greater sum than the first offer. And she had waited, applying herself to watching the administration of her possessions like the severest of intendants, depriving herself, stopping up gaps with unhoped-for profits. In 1875, she sold to the National Gallery a suite of four panels by Carpaccio, found in one of her country houses, for one hundred and twenty thousand francs. She had been as active and practical in her material life as she had been light and audacious in her sentimental experiences. The story circulated of her infidelity to Steno with Werekiew at St. Petersburg, where the diplomatist was stationed, after one year of marriage, was confirmed by the wantonness of her conduct, of which she gave evidence as soon as free.

At Rome, where she lived a portion of the year after the sale of her land, out of which she retained enough to build the double house, she continued to increase her fortune with the same intelligence. A very advantageous investment in Acqua Marcia enabled her to double in five years the enormous profits of her first operation. And what proved still more the exceptional good sense with which the woman was endowed, when love was not in the balance, she stopped on those two gains, just at the time when the Roman aristocracy, possessed by the delirium of speculation, had begun to buy stocks which had reached their highest value.

To spend the evening at the Villa Steno, after spending all the morning of the day before at the Palais Castagna, was to realize one of those paradoxes of contradictory sensations such as Dorsenne loved, for poor Ardea had been ruined in having attempted to do a few years later that which Countess Catherine had done at the proper moment. He, too, had hoped for an increase in the value of property. Only he had bought the land at seventy francs a metre, and in '90 it was not worth more than twenty-five. He, too, had calculated that Rome would improve, and on the high-priced land he had begun to build entire streets, imagining he could become like the Dukes of Bedford and of Westminster in London, the owner of whole districts. His houses finished, they did not rent, however. To complete the rest he had to borrow. He speculated in order to pay his debts, lost, and contracted more debts in order to pay the difference. His signature, as the proprietor of the Marzocco had said, was put to innumerable bills of exchange. The result was that on all the walls of Rome, including that of the Rue Vingt Septembre on which was the Villa Steno, were posted multi-colored placards announcing the sale, under the management of Cavalier Fossati, of the collection of art and of furniture of the Palais Castagna.

"To foresee is to possess power," said Dorsenne to himself, ringing at Madame Steno's door and summing up thus the invincible association of ideas which recalled to him the palace of the ruined Roman Prince at the door of the villa of the triumphant Venetian: "It is the real Alpha and Omega."

The comparison between the lot of Madame Steno and that of the heir of the Castagnas had almost caused the writer to forget his plan of inquiry as to the author of the anonymous letters. It was to be impressed upon him, however, when he entered the hall where the Countess received every evening. Ardea himself was there, the centre of a group composed of Alba Steno, Madame Maitland, Fanny Hafner and the wealthy Baron, who, standing aloof and erect, leaning against a console, seemed like a beneficent and venerable man in the act of blessing youth. Julien was not surprised on finding so few persons in the vast salon, any more than he was surprised at the aspect of the room filled with old tapestry, bric-a-brac, furniture, flowers, and divans with innumerable cushions.

He had had the entire winter in which to observe the interior of that house, similar to hundreds of others in Vienna, Madrid, Florence, Berlin, anywhere, indeed, where the mistress of the house applies herself to realizing an ideal of Parisian luxury. He had amused himself many an evening in separating from the almost international framework local features, those which distinguished the room from others of the same kind. No human being succeeds in being absolutely factitious in his home or in his writings. The author had thus noted that the salon bore a date, that of the Countess's last journey to Paris in 1880. It was to be seen in the plush and silk of the curtains. The general coloring, in which green predominated, a liberty egotistical in so brilliant a blonde, had too warm a tone and betrayed the Italian. Italy was also to be found in the painted ceiling and in the frieze which ran all around, as well as in several paintings scattered about. There were two panels by Moretti de Brescia in the second style of the master, called his silvery manner, on account of the delicate and transparent fluidity of the coloring; a 'Souper chez le Pharisien' and a 'Jesus ressuscite sur le rivage', which could only have come from one of the very old palaces of a very ancient family. Dorsenne knew all that, and he knew, too, for what reasons he found almost empty at that time of the year the hall so animated during the entire winter, the hall through which he had seen pass a veritable carnival of visitors: great lords, artists, political men, Russians and Austrians, English and French—pellmell. The Countess was far from occupying in Rome the social position which her intelligence, her fortune and her name should have assured her. For, having been born a Navagero, she combined on her escutcheon the cross of gold of the Sebastien Navagero who was the first to mount the walls of Lepante, with the star of the grand Doge Michel.

But one particular trait of character had always prevented her from succeeding on that point. She could not bear ennui nor constraint, nor had she any vanity. She was positive and impassioned, in the manner of the men of wealth to whom their meditated—upon combinations serve to assure the conditions of their pleasures. Never had Madame Steno displayed diplomacy in the changes of her passions, and they had been numerous before the arrival of Gorka, to whom she had remained faithful two years, an almost incomprehensible thing! Never had she, save in her own home, observed the slightest bounds when there was a question of reaching the object of her desire. Moreover, she had not in Rome to support her any member of the family to which she belonged, and she had not joined either of the two sets into which, since 1870, the society of the city was divided. Of too modern a mind and of a manner too bold, she had not been received by the admirable woman who reigns at the Quirinal, and who had managed to gather around her an atmosphere of such noble elevation.

These causes would have brought about a sort of semi-ostracism, had the Countess not applied herself to forming a salon of her own, the recruits for which were almost altogether foreigners. The sight of new faces, the variety of conversation, the freedom of manner, all in that moving world, pleased the thirst for diversion which, in that puissant, spontaneous, and almost manly immoral nature, was joined with very just clear-sightedness. If Julien paused for a moment surprised at the door of the hall, it was not, therefore, on finding it empty at the end of the season; it was on beholding there, among the inmates, Peppino Ardea, whom he had not met all winter. Truly, it was a strange time to appear in new scenes when the hammer of the appraiser was already raised above all which had been the pride and the splendor of his name. But the grand-nephew of Urban VII, seated between sublime Fanny Hafner, in pale blue, and pretty Alba Steno, in bright red, opposite Madame Maitland, so graceful in her mauve toilette, had in no manner the air of a man crushed by adversity.

The subdued light revealed his proud manly face, which had lost none of its gay hauteur. His eyes, very black, very brilliant, and very unsteady, seemed almost in the same glance to scorn and to smile, while his mouth, beneath its brown moustache, wore an expression of disdain, disgust, and sensuality. The shaven chin displayed a bluish shade, which gave to the whole face a look of strength, belied by the slender and nervous form. The heir of the Castagnas was dressed with an affectation of the English style, peculiar to certain Italians. He wore too many rings on his fingers, too large a bouquet in his buttonhole, and above all he made too many gestures to allow for a moment, with his dark complexion, of any doubt as to his nationality. It was he who, of all the group, first perceived Julien, and he said to him, or rather called out familiarly:

"Ah, Dorsenne! I thought you had gone away. We have not seen you at the club for fifteen days."

"He has been working," replied Hafner, "at some new masterpiece, at a romance which is laid in Roman society, I am sure. Mistrust him, Prince, and you, ladies, disarm the portrayer."

"I," resumed Ardea, laughing pleasantly, "will give him notes upon myself, if he wants them, as long as this, and I will illustrate his romance into the bargain with photographs which I once had a rage for taking.... See, Mademoiselle," he added, turning to Fanny, "that is how one ruins one's self. I had a mania for the instantaneous ones. It was very innocent, was it not? It cost me thirty thousand francs a year, for four years."

Dorsenne had heard that it was a watchword between Peppino Ardea and his friends to take lightly the disaster which came upon the Castagna family in its last and only scion. He was not expecting such a greeting. He was so disconcerted by it that he neglected to reply to the Baron's remark, as he would have done at any other time. Never did the founder of the 'Credit Austyr-Dalmate' fail to manifest in some such way his profound aversion for the novelist. Men of his species, profoundly cynical and calculating, fear and scorn at the same time a certain literature. Moreover, he had too much tact not to be aware of the instinctive repulsion with which he inspired Julien. But to Hafner, all social strength was tariffed, and literary success as much as any other. As he was afraid, as on the staircase of the Palais Castagna, that he had gone too far, he added, laying his hand with its long, supple fingers familiarly upon the author's shoulder:

"This is what I admire in him: It is that he allows profane persons, such as we are, to plague him, without ever growing angry. He is the only celebrated author who is so simple.... But he is better than an author; he is a veritable man-of-the-world."

"Is not the Countess here?" asked Dorsenne, addressing Alba Steno, and without replying any more to the action, so involuntarily insulting, of the Baron than he had to his sly malice or to the Prince's facetious offer. Madame Steno's absence had again inspired him with an apprehension which the young girl dissipated by replying:

"My mother is on the terrace.... We were afraid it was too cool for Fanny.".... It was a very simple phrase, which the Contessina uttered very simply, as she fanned herself with a large fan of white feathers. Each wave of it stirred the meshes of her fair hair, which she wore curled upon her rather high forehead. Julien understood her too well not to perceive that her voice, her gestures, her eyes, her entire being, betrayed a nervousness at that moment almost upon the verge of sadness.

Was she still reserved from the day before, or was she a prey to one of those inexplicable transactions, which had led Dorsenne in his meditations of the night to such strange suspicions? Those suspicions returned to him with the feeling that, of all the persons present, Alba was the only one who seemed to be aware of the drama which undoubtedly was brewing. He resolved to seek once more for the solution of the living enigma which that singular girl was. How lovely she appeared to him that evening with, those two expressions which gave her an almost tragical look! The corners of her mouth drooped somewhat; her upper lip, almost too short, disclosed her teeth, and in the lower part of her pale face was a bitterness so prematurely sad! Why? It was not the time to ask the question. First of all, it was necessary for the young man to go in search of Madame Steno on the terrace, which terminated in a paradise of Italian voluptuousness, the salon furnished in imitation of Paris. Shrubs blossomed in large terra-cotta vases. Statuettes were to be seen on the balustrade, and, beyond, the pines of the Villa Bonaparte outlined their black umbrellas against a sky of blue velvet, strewn with large stars. A vague aroma of acacias, from a garden near by, floated in the air, which was light, caressing, and warm. The soft atmosphere sufficed to convict of falsehood the Contessina, who had evidently wished to justify the tete-a-tete of her mother and of Maitland. The two lovers were indeed together in the perfume, the mystery and the solitude of the obscure and quiet terrace.

It took Dorsenne, who came from the bright glare of the salon, a moment to distinguish in the darkness the features of the Countess who, dressed all in white, was lying upon a willow couch with soft cushions of silk. She was smoking a cigarette, the lighted end of which, at each breath she drew, gave sufficient light to show that, notwithstanding the coolness of the night, her lovely neck, so long and flexible, about which was clasped a collar of pearls, was bare, as well as her fair shoulders and her perfect arms, laden with bracelets, which were visible through her wide, flowing sleeves. On advancing, Julien recognized, through the vegetable odors of that spring night, the strong scent of the Virginian tobacco which Madame Steno had used since she had fallen in love with Maitland, instead of the Russian "papyrus" to which Gorka had accustomed her. It is by such insignificant traits that amorous women recognize a love profoundly, insatiably sensual, the only one of which the Venetian was capable. Their passionate desire to give themselves up still more leads them to espouse, so to speak, the slightest habits of the men whom they love in that way. Thus are explained those metamorphoses of tastes, of thoughts, even of appearance, so complete, that in six months, in three months of separation they become like different people. By the side of that graceful and supple vision, Lincoln Maitland was seated on a low chair. But his broad shoulders, which his evening coat set off in their amplitude, attested that before having studied "Art"—and even while studying it—he had not ceased to practise the athletic sports of his English education. As soon as he was mentioned, the term "large" was evoked. Indeed, above the large frame was a large face, somewhat red, with a large, red moustache, which disclosed, in broad smiles, his large, strong teeth.

Large rings glistened on his large fingers. He presented a type exactly opposite to that of Boleslas Gorka. If the grandson of the Polish Castellan recalled the dangerous finesse of a feline, of a slender and beautiful panther, Maitland could be compared to one of those mastiffs in the legends, with a jaw and muscles strong enough to strangle lions. The painter in him was only in the eye and in the hand, in consequence of a gift as physical as the voice to a tenor. But that instinct, almost abnormal, had been developed, cultivated to excess, by the energy of will in refinement, a trait so marked in the Anglo-Saxons of the New World when they like Europe, instead of detesting it. For the time being, the longing for refinement seemed reduced to the passionate inhalations of that divine, fair rose of love which was Madame Steno, a rose almost too full-blown, and which the autumn of forty years had begun to fade. But she was still charming. And how little Maitland heeded the fact that his wife was in the room near by, the windows of which cast forth a light which caused to stand out more prominently the shadow of the voluptuous terrace! He held his mistress's hand within his own, but abandoned it when he perceived Dorsenne, who took particular pains to move a chair noisily on approaching the couple, and to say, in a loud voice, with a merry laugh:

"I should have made a poor gallant abbe of the last century, for at night I can really see nothing. If your cigarette had not served me as a beacon-light I should have run against the balustrade."

"Ah, it is you, Dorsenne," replied Madame Steno, with a sharpness contrary to her habitual amiability, which proved to the novelist that first of all he was the "inconvenient third" of the classical comedies, then that Hafner had reported his imprudent remarks of the day before.

"So much the better," thought he, "I shall have forewarned her. On reflection she will be pleased. It is true that at this moment there is no question of reflection." As he said those words to himself, he talked aloud of the temperature of the day, of the probabilities of the weather for the morrow, of Ardea's good-humor. He made, indeed, twenty trifling remarks, in order to manage to leave the terrace and to leave the lovers to their tete-a-tete, without causing his withdrawal to become noticeable by indiscreet haste, as disagreeable as suggestive.

"When may we come to your atelier to see the portrait finished, Maitland?" he asked, still standing, in order the better to manage his retreat.

"Finished?" exclaimed the Countess, who added, employing a diminutive which she had used for several weeks: "Do you then not know that Linco has again effaced the head?"

"Not the entire head," said the painter, "but the face is to be done over. You remember, Dorsenne, those two canvases by Pier delta Francesca, which are at Florence, Duc Federigo d'Urbino and his wife Battista Sforza. Did you not see them in the same room with La Calomnie by Botticelli, with a landscape in the background? It is drawn like this," and he made a gesture with his thumb, "and that is what I am trying to obtain, the necessary curve on which all faces depend. There is no better painter in Italy."

"And Titian and Raphael?" interrupted Madame Steno.

"And the Sienese and the Lorenzetti, of whom you once raved? You wrote to me of them, with regard to my article on your exposition of 'eighty-six; do you remember?" inquired the writer.

"Raphael?" replied Maitland.... "Do you wish me to tell you what Raphael really was? A sublime builder. And Titian? A sublime upholsterer. It is true, I admired the Sienese very much," he added, turning toward Dorsenne. "I spent three months in copying the Simone Martini of the municipality, the Guido Riccio, who rides between two strongholds on a gray heath, where there is not a sign of a tree or a house, but only lances and towers. Do I remember Lorenzetti? Above all, the fresco at San Francesco, in which Saint Francois presents his order to the Pope, that was his best work.... Then, there is a cardinal, with his fingers on his lips, thus!" another gesture. "Well, I remember it, you see, because there is an anecdote. It is portrayed on a wall—oh, a grand portrayal, but without the subject, flutt!".... and he made a hissing sound with his lips, "while Pier della Francesca, Carnevale, Melozzo,".... he paused to find a word which would express the very complicated thought in his head, and he concluded: "That is painting."

"But the Assumption by Titian, and the Transfiguration by Raphael," resumed the Countess, who added in Italian, with an accent of enthusiasm: "Ah, the bellezza!"

P-BOOKS • Cosmopolis, Complete • Paul Bourget • 2 (2)


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