Autumn had come. The Du Roys had spent the entire summer in Paris, leading _igorous campaign in "La Vie Francaise," in favor of the new cabinet. Althoug_t was only the early part of October, the chamber was about to resume it_essions, for affairs in Morocco were becoming menacing. The celebrated speec_ade by Count de Lambert Sarrazin had furnished Du Roy with material for te_rticles on the Algerian colony. "La Vie Francaise" had gained considerabl_restige by its connection with the power; it was the first to give politica_ews, and every newspaper in Paris and the provinces sought information fro_t. It was quoted, feared, and began to be respected: it was no longer th_rgan of a group of political intriguers, but the avowed mouthpiece of th_abinet. Laroche-Mathieu was the soul of the journal and Du Roy his speaking- trumpet. M. Walter retired discreetly into the background. Madeleine's salo_ecame an influential center in which several members of the cabinet met ever_eek. The president of the council had even dined there twice; the minister o_oreign affairs was quite at home at the Du Roys; he came at any hour, bringing dispatches or information, which he dictated either to the husband o_ife as if they were his secretaries. After the minister had departed, when D_oy was alone with Madeleine, he uttered threats and insinuations against the
"parvenu," as he called him. His wife simply shrugged her shoulder_cornfully, repeating: "Become a minister and you can do the same; until then, be silent."
His reply was: "No one knows of what I am capable; perhaps they will find ou_ome day."
She answered philosophically: "He who lives will see."
The morning of the reopening of the Chamber, Du Roy lunched with Laroche- Mathieu in order to receive instructions from him, before the session, for _olitical article the following day in "La Vie Francaise," which was to be _ort of official declaration of the plans of the cabinet. After listening t_aroche-Mathieu's eloquence for some time with jealousy in his heart, Du Ro_auntered slowly toward the office to commence his work, for he had nothing t_o until four o'clock, at which hour he was to meet Mme. de Marelle at Rue d_onstantinople. They met there regularly twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays.
On entering the office, he was handed a sealed dispatch; it was from Mme.
Walter, and read thus:
"It is absolutely necessary that I should see you to-day. It is important.
Expect me at two o'clock at Rue de Constantinople. I can render you a grea_ervice; your friend until death,"
He exclaimed: "Heavens! what a bore!" and left the office at once, too muc_nnoyed to work.
For six weeks he had ineffectually tried to break with Mme. Walter. At thre_uccessive meetings she had been a prey to remorse, and had overwhelmed he_over with reproaches. Angered by those scenes and already weary of th_ramatic woman, he had simply avoided her, hoping that the affair would end i_hat way.
But she persecuted him with her affection, summoned him at all times b_elegrams to meet her at street corners, in shops, or public gardens. She wa_ery different from what he had fancied she would be, trying to attract him b_ctions ridiculous in one of her age. It disgusted him to hear her call him:
"My rat—my dog—my treasure—my jewel—my blue-bird"—and to see her assume a kin_f childish modesty when he approached. It seemed to him that being the mothe_f a family, a woman of the world, she should have been more sedate, and hav_ielded With tears if she chose, but with the tears of a Dido and not of _uliette. He never heard her call him "Little one" or "Baby," without wishin_o reply "Old woman," to take his hat with an oath and leave the room.
At first they had often met at Rue de Constantinople, but Du Roy, who feare_n encounter with Mme. de Marelle, invented a thousand and one pretexts i_rder to avoid that rendezvous. He was therefore obliged to either lunch o_ine at her house daily, when she would clasp his hand under cover of th_able or offer him her lips behind the doors. Above all, Georges enjoyed bein_hrown so much in contact with Suzanne; she made sport of everything an_verybody with cutting appropriateness. At length, however, he began to fee_n unconquerable repugnance to the love lavished upon him by the mother; h_ould no longer see her, hear her, nor think of her without anger. He cease_alling upon her, replying to her letters, and yielding to her appeals. Sh_inally divined that he no longer loved her, and the discovery caused he_nutterable anguish; but she watched him, followed him in a cab with draw_linds to the office, to his house, in the hope of seeing him pass by. H_ould have liked to strangle her, but he controlled himself on account of hi_osition on "La Vie Francaise" and he endeavored by means of coldness, an_ven at times harsh words, to make her comprehend that all was at an en_etween them.
Then, too, she persisted in devising ruses for summoning him to Rue d_onstantinople, and he was in constant fear that the two women would some da_eet face to face at the door.
On the other hand, his affection for Mme. de Marelle had increased during th_ummer. They were both Bohemians by nature; they took excursions together t_rgenteuil, Bougival, Maisons, and Poissy, and when he was forced to retur_nd dine at Mme. Walter's, he detested his mature mistress more thoroughly, a_e recalled the youthful one he had just left. He was congratulating himsel_pon having freed himself almost entirely from the former's clutches, when h_eceived the telegram above mentioned.
He re-read it as he walked along. He thought: "What does that old owl wan_ith me? I am certain she has nothing to tell me except that she adores me.
However, I will see, perhaps there is some truth in it. Clotilde is coming a_our, I must get rid of the other one at three or soon after, provided they d_ot meet. What jades women are!"
As he uttered those words he was reminded of his wife, who was the only on_ho did not torment him; she lived by his side and seemed to love him ver_uch at the proper time, for she never permitted anything to interfere wit_er ordinary occupations of life. He strolled toward the appointed place o_eeting, mentally cursing Mme. Walter.
"Ah, I will receive her in such a manner that she will not tell me anything.
First of all, I will give her to understand that I shall never cross he_hreshold again."
He entered to await her. She soon arrived and, seeing him, exclaimed: "Ah, yo_eceived my dispatch! How fortunate!"
"Yes, I received it at the office just as I was setting out for the Chamber.
What do you want?" he asked ungraciously.
She had raised her veil in order to kiss him, and approached him timidly an_umbly with the air of a beaten dog.
"How unkind you are to me; how harshly you speak! What have I done to you? Yo_o not know what I have suffered for you!"
He muttered: "Are you going to begin that again?"
She stood near him awaiting a smile, a word of encouragement, to cast hersel_nto his arms, and whispered: "You need not have won me to treat me thus; yo_ight have left me virtuous and happy. Do you remember what you said to me i_he church and how you forced me to enter this house? And now this is the wa_ou speak to me, receive me! My God, my God, how you maltreat me!"
He stamped his foot and said violently: "Enough, be silent! I can never se_ou a moment without hearing that refrain. You were mature when you gav_ourself to me. I am much obliged to you; I am infinitely grateful, but I nee_ot be tied to your apron-strings until I die! You have a husband and I _ife. Neither of us is free; it was all a caprice, and now it is at an end!"
She said: "How brutal you are, how coarse and villainous! No, I was no longe_ young girl, but I had never loved, never wavered in my dignity."
He interrupted her: "I know it, you have told me that twenty times; but yo_ave had two children."
She drew back as if she had been struck: "Oh, Georges!" And pressing her hand_o her heart, she burst into tears.
When she began to weep, he took his hat: "Ah, you are crying again! Goo_vening! Is it for this that you sent for me?"
She took a step forward in order to bar the way, and drawing a handkerchie_rom her pocket she wiped her eyes. Her voice grew steadier: "No, I came to—t_ive you—political news—to give you the means of earning fifty thousan_rancs—or even more if you wish to."
Suddenly softened he asked: "How?"
"By chance last evening I heard a conversation between my husband and Laroche.
Walter advised the minister not to let you into the secret for you woul_xpose it."
Du Roy placed his hat upon a chair and listened attentively.
"They are going to take possession of Morocco!"
"Why, I lunched with Laroche this morning, and he told me the cabinet'_lans!"
"No, my dear, they have deceived you, because they feared their secret woul_e made known."
"Sit down," said Georges.
He sank into an armchair, while she drew up a stool and took her seat at hi_eet. She continued:
"As I think of you continually, I pay attention to what is talked of aroun_e," and she proceeded to tell him what she had heard relative to th_xpedition to Tangiers which had been decided upon the day that Laroch_ssumed his office; she told him how they had little by little bought up, through agents who aroused no suspicions, the Moroccan loan, which had falle_o sixty-four or sixty-five francs; how when the expedition was entered upo_he French government would guarantee the debt, and their friends would mak_ifty or sixty millions.
He cried: "Are you sure of that?"
She replied: "Yes, I am sure."
He continued: "That is indeed fine! As for that rascal of a Laroche, let hi_eware! I will get his ministerial carcass between my fingers yet!"
Then, after a moment's reflection, he muttered: "One might profit by that!"
"You too can buy some stock," said she; "it is only seventy-two francs."
He replied: "But I have no ready money."
She raised her eyes to his—eyes full of supplication.
"I have thought of that, my darling, and if you love me a little, you will le_e lend it to you."
He replied abruptly, almost harshly: "No, indeed."
She whispered imploringly: "Listen, there is something you can do withou_orrowing money. I intended buying ten thousand francs' worth of the stock; instead, I will take twenty thousand and you can have half. There will b_othing to pay at once. If it succeeds, we will make seventy thousand francs; if not, you will owe me ten thousand which you can repay at your pleasure."
He said again: "No, I do not like those combinations."
She tried to persuade him by telling him that she advanced nothing—that th_ayments were made by Walter's bank. She pointed out to him that he had le_he political campaign in "La Vie Francaise," and that he would be very simpl_ot to profit by the results he had helped to bring about. As he stil_esitated, she added: "It is in reality Walter who will advance the money, an_ou have done enough for him to offset that sum."
"Very well," said he, "I will do it. If we lose I will pay you back te_housand francs."
She was so delighted that she rose, took his head between her hands, an_issed him. At first he did not repulse her, but when she grew more lavis_ith her caresses, he said:
"Come, that will do."
She gazed at him sadly. "Oh, Georges, I can no longer even embrace you."
"No, not to-day. I have a headache."
She reseated herself with docility at his feet and asked:
"Will you dine with us to-morrow? It would give me such pleasure,"
He hesitated at first, but dared not refuse.
"Thank you, dearest." She rubbed her cheek against the young man's vest; a_he did so, one of her long black hairs caught on a button; she twisted i_ightly around, then she twisted another around another button and so on. Whe_e rose, he would tear them out of her head, and would carry away with hi_nwittingly a lock of her hair. It would be an invisible bond between them.
Involuntarily he would think, would dream of her; he would love her a littl_ore the next day.
Suddenly he said: "I must leave you, for I am expected at the Chamber for th_lose of the session. I cannot be absent to-day."
She sighed: "Already!" Then adding resignedly: "Go, my darling, but you wil_ome to dinner tomorrow"; she rose abruptly. For a moment she felt a sharp, stinging pain, as if needles had been stuck into her head, but she was glad t_ave suffered for him.
"Adieu," said she.
He took her in his arms and kissed her eyes coldly; then she offered him he_ips which he brushed lightly as he said: "Come, come, let us hurry; it i_fter three o'clock."
She passed out before him saying: "To-morrow at seven"; he repeated her word_nd they separated.
Du Roy returned at four o'clock to await his mistress. She was somewhat lat_ecause her husband had come home for a week. She asked:
"Can you come to dinner to-morrow? He will be delighted to see you."
"No; I dine at the Walters. We have a great many political and financia_atters to talk over."
She took off her hat. He pointed to a bag on the mantelpiece: "I bought yo_ome sweetmeats."
She clapped her hands. "What a darling you are!" She took them, tasted one, and said: "They are delicious. I shall not leave one. Come, sit down in th_rmchair, I will sit at your feet and eat my bonbons."
He smiled as he saw her take the seat a short while since occupied by Mme.
Walter. She too, called him "darling, little one, dearest," and the word_eemed to him sweet and caressing from her lips, while from Mme. Walter's the_rritated and nauseated him.
Suddenly he remembered the seventy thousand francs he was going to make, an_luntly interrupting Mme. de Marelle's chatter, he said:
"Listen, my darling; I am going to intrust you with a message to your husband.
Tell him from me to buy to-morrow ten thousand francs' worth of Moroccan stoc_hich is at seventy-two, and I predict that before three months are passed h_ill have made eighty thousand francs. Tell him to maintain absolute silence.
Tell him that the expedition to Tangiers, is decided upon, and that the Frenc_overnment will guarantee the Moroccan debt. It is a state secret I a_onfiding to you, remember!"
She listened to him gravely and murmured:
"Thank you. I will tell my husband this evening. You may rely upon him; h_ill not speak of it; he can be depended upon; there is no danger."
She had eaten all of her bonbons and began to toy with the buttons on hi_est. Suddenly she drew a long hair out of the buttonhole and began to laugh.
"See! Here is one of Madeleine's hairs; you are a faithful husband!" The_rowing serious, she examined the scarcely perceptible thread more closely an_aid: "It is not Madeleine's, it is dark."
He smiled. "It probably belongs to the housemaid."
But she glanced at the vest with the care of a police-inspector and found _econd hair twisted around a second button; then she saw a third; and turnin_ale and trembling somewhat, she exclaimed: "Oh, some woman has left hair_round all your buttons."
In surprise, he stammered: "Why you—you are mad."
She continued to unwind the hairs and cast them upon the floor. With he_oman's instinct she had divined their meaning and gasped in her anger, read_o cry:
"She loves you and she wished you to carry away with you something of hers.
Oh, you are a traitor." She uttered a shrill, nervous cry: "Oh, it is an ol_oman's hair—here is a white one—you have taken a fancy to an old woman now.
Then you do not need me—keep the other one." She rose.
He attempted to detain her and stammered: "No—Clo—you are absurd—I do not kno_hose it is—listen—stay—see—stay—"
But she repeated: "Keep your old woman—keep her—have a chain made of he_air—of her gray hair—there is enough for that—"
Hastily she donned her hat and veil, and when he attempted to touch her sh_truck him in the face, and made her escape while he was stunned by the blow.
When he found that he was alone, he cursed Mme. Walter, bathed his face, an_ent out vowing vengeance. That time he would not pardon. No, indeed.
He strolled to the boulevard and stopped at a jeweler's to look at _hronometer he had wanted for some time and which would cost eighteen hundre_rancs. He thought with joy: "If I make my seventy thousand francs, I can pa_or it"—and he began to dream of all the things he would do when he got th_oney. First of all he would become a deputy; then he would buy th_hronometer; then he would speculate on 'Change, and then, and then—he did no_nter the office, preferring to confer with Madeleine before seeing Walte_gain and writing his article; he turned toward home. He reached Rue Drouo_hen he paused; he had forgotten to inquire for Count de Vaudrec, who lived o_haussee d'Antin. He retraced his steps with a light heart, thinking of _housand things—of the fortune he would make,—of that rascal of a Laroche, an_f old Walter.
He was not at all uneasy as to Clotilde's anger, knowing that she would soo_orgive him.
When he asked the janitor of the house in which Count de Vaudrec lived: "Ho_s M. de Vaudrec? I have heard that he has been ailing of late," the ma_eplied; "The Count is very ill, sir; they think he will not live through th_ight; the gout has reached his heart."
Du Roy was so startled he did not know what to do! Vaudrec dying! H_tammered: "Thanks—I will call again"—unconscious of what he was saying. H_umped into a cab and drove home. His wife had returned. He entered her roo_ut of breath: "Did you know? Vaudrec is dying!"
She was reading a letter and turning to him asked: "What did you say?"
"I said that Vaudrec is dying of an attack of gout."
Then he added: "What shall you do?"
She rose; her face was livid; she burst into tears and buried her face in he_ands. She remained standing, shaken by sobs, torn by anguish. Suddenly sh_onquered her grief and wiping her eyes, said: "I am going to him—do not worr_bout me—I do not know what time I shall return—do not expect me."
He replied: "Very well. Go."
They shook hands and she left in such haste that she forgot her gloves.
Georges, after dining alone, began to write his article. He wrote it accordin_o the minister's instructions, hinting to the readers that the expedition t_orocco would not take place. He took it, when completed, to the office, conversed several moments with M. Walter, and set out again, smoking, with _ight heart, he knew not why.
His wife had not returned. He retired and fell asleep. Toward midnigh_adeleine came home. Georges sat up in bed and asked: "Well?"
He had never seen her so pale and agitated. She whispered: "He is dead!"
"Ah—and—he told you nothing?"
"Nothing. He was unconscious when I arrived."
Questions which he dared not ask arose to Georges' lips.
"Lie down and rest," said he.
She disrobed hastily and slipped into bed.
He continued: "Had he any relatives at his death-bed?"
"Only a nephew."
"Ah! Did he often see that nephew?"
"They had not met for ten years."
"Had he other relatives?"
"No, I believe not."
"Will that nephew be his heir?"
"I do not know."
"Was Vaudrec very rich?"
"Do you know what he was worth?"
"No, not exactly—one or two millions perhaps."
He said no more. She extinguished the light. He could not sleep. He looke_pon Mme. Walter's promised seventy thousand francs as very insignificant.
Suddenly he thought he heard Madeleine crying. In order to insure himself h_sked: "Are you asleep?"
"No." Her voice was tearful and unsteady.
He continued: "I forgot to tell you that your minister has deceived us."
He gave her a detailed account of the combination prepared by Laroche an_alter. When he concluded she asked: "How did you know that?"
He replied: "Pardon me if I do not tell you! You have your means of obtainin_nformation into which I do not inquire; I have mine which I desire to keep. _an vouch at any rate for the truth of my statements."
She muttered: "It may be possible. I suspected that they were doing somethin_ithout our knowledge."
As she spoke Georges drew near her; she paid no heed to his proximity, however, and turning toward the wall, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.