He went home and, without lighting his candle, flung himself on his bed. Bu_e got no sleep till morning; he lay hour after hour tossing, thinking, wondering; his mind had never been so active. It seemed to him his friend ha_aid on him in those last moments a heavy charge and had expressed hersel_lmost as handsomely as if she had listened complacently to an assurance o_is love. It was neither easy nor delightful thoroughly to understand her; bu_ittle by little her perfect meaning sank into his mind and soothed it with _ense of opportunity which somehow stifled his sense of loss. For, to begi_ith, she meant that she could love him in no degree or contingency, in n_maginable future. This was absolute—he knew he could no more alter it than h_ould pull down one of the constellations he lay gazing at through his ope_indow. He wondered to what it was, in the background of her life, she had s_edicated herself. A conception of duty unquenchable to the end? A love tha_o outrage could stifle? "Great heaven!" he groaned; "is the world so rich i_he purest pearls of passion that such tenderness as that can be wasted fo_ver—poured away without a sigh into bottomless darkness?" Had she, in spit_f the detestable present, some precious memory that still kept the door o_ossibility open? Was she prepared to submit to everything and yet to believe?
Was it strength, was it weakness, was it a vulgar fear, was it conviction, conscience, constancy?
Longmore sank back with a sigh and an oppressive feeling that it was vain t_uess at such a woman's motives. He only felt that those of this one wer_uried deep in her soul and that they must be of the noblest, must contai_othing base. He had his hard impression that endless constancy was all he_aw—a constancy that still found a foothold among crumbling ruins. "She ha_oved once," he said to himself as he rose and wandered to his window; "an_hat's for ever. Yes, yes—if she loved again she'd be COMMON!" He stood for _ong time looking out into the starlit silence of the town and forest an_hinking of what life would have been if his constancy had met her own i_arlier days. But life was this now, and he must live. It was living, really, to stand there with such a faith even in one's self still flung over one b_uch hands. He was not to disappoint her, he was to justify a conception i_ad beguiled her weariness to form. His imagination embraced it; he threw bac_is head and seemed to be looking for his friend's conception among th_linking mocking stars. But it came to him rather on the mild night- win_andering in over the house-tops which covered the rest of so many heavy huma_earts. What she asked he seemed to feel her ask not for her own sake—sh_eared nothing, she needed nothing—but for that of his own happiness and hi_wn character. He must assent to destiny. Why else was he young and strong, intelligent and resolute? He mustn't give it to her to reproach him wit_hinking she had had a moment's attention for his love, give it to her t_lead, to argue, to break off in bitterness. He must see everything fro_bove, her indifference and his own ardour; he must prove his strength, mus_o the handsome thing, must decide that the handsome thing was to submit t_he inevitable, to be supremely delicate, to spare her all pain, to stifle hi_assion, to ask no compensation, to depart without waiting and to try t_elieve that wisdom is its own reward. All this, neither more nor less, it wa_ matter of beautiful friendship with him for her to expect of him. And wha_hould he himself gain by it? He should have pleased her! Well, he flun_imself on his bed again, fell asleep at last and slept till morning.
Before noon next day he had made up his mind to leave Saint-Germain at once.
It seemed easiest to go without seeing her, and yet if he might ask for _rain of "compensation" this would be five minutes face to face with her. H_assed a restless day. Wherever he went he saw her stand before him in th_usky halo of evening, saw her look at him with an air of still negation mor_ntoxicating than the most passionate self-surrender. He must certainly go, and yet it was hideously hard. He compromised and went to Paris to spend th_est of the day. He strolled along the boulevard and paused sightlessly befor_he shops, sat a while in the Tuileries gardens and looked at the shabb_nfortunates for whom this only was nature and summer; but simply felt afresh, as a result of it all, the dusty dreary lonely world to which Madame de Mauve_ad consigned him.
In a sombre mood he made his way back to the centre of motion and sat down a_ table before a cafe door, on the great plain of hot asphalt. Night arrived, the lamps were lighted, the tables near him found occupants, and Paris bega_o wear that evening grimace of hers that seems to tell, in the flare of plat_lass and of theatre-doors, the muffled rumble of swift-rolling carriages, ho_his is no world for you unless you have your pockets lined and you_elicacies perverted. Longmore, however, had neither scruples nor desires; h_ooked at the great preoccupied place for the first time with an easy sense o_epaying its indifference. Before long a carriage drove up to the pavemen_irectly in front of him and remained standing for several minutes withou_ign from its occupant. It was one of those neat plain coupes, drawn by _ingle powerful horse, in which the flaneur figures a pale handsome woma_uried among silk cushions and yawning as she sees the gas-lamps glittering i_he gutters. At last the door opened and out stepped Richard de Mauves. H_topped and leaned on the window for some time, talking in an excited manne_o a person within. At last he gave a nod and the carriage rolled away. H_tood swinging his cane and looking up and down the boulevard, with the air o_ man fumbling, as one might say, the loose change of time. He turned towar_he cafe and was apparently, for want of anything better worth his attention, about to seat himself at one of the tables when he noticed Longmore. H_avered an instant and then, without a shade of difference in his careles_ait, advanced to the accompaniment of a thin recognition. It was the firs_ime they had met since their encounter in the forest after Longmore's fals_tart for Brussels. Madame Clairin's revelations, as he might have regarde_hem, had not made the Count especially present to his mind; he had ha_nother call to meet than the call of disgust. But now, as M. de Mauves cam_oward him he felt abhorrence well up. He made out, however, for the firs_ime, a cloud on this nobleman's superior clearness, and a delight at findin_he shoe somewhere at last pinching HIM, mingled with the resolve to be blan_nd unaccommodating, enabled him to meet the occasion with due promptness.
M. de Mauves sat down, and the two men looked at each other across the table, exchanging formal remarks that did little to lend grace to their encounter.
Longmore had no reason to suppose the Count knew of his sister's variou_nterventions. He was sure M. de Mauves cared very little about his opinions, and yet he had a sense of something grim in his own New York face which woul_ave made him change colour if keener suspicion had helped it to be rea_here. M. de Mauves didn't change colour, but he looked at his wife's s_ddly, so more than naturally (wouldn't it be?) detached friend with a_ntentness that betrayed at once an irritating memory of the episode in th_ois de Boulogne and such vigilant curiosity as was natural to a gentleman wh_ad entrusted his "honour" to another gentleman's magnanimity—or to hi_rtlessness.
It might appear that these virtues shone out of our young man less engagingl_r reassuringly than a few days before; the shadow at any rate fell darke_cross the brow of his critic, who turned away and frowned while lighting _igar. The person in the coupe, he accordingly judged, whether or no the sam_erson as the heroine of the episode of the Bois de Boulogne, was not a sourc_f unalloyed delight. Longmore had dark blue eyes of admirable clarity, settled truth-telling eyes which had in his childhood always made his harshes_askmasters smile at his notion of a subterfuge. An observer watching the tw_en and knowing something of their relations would certainly have said tha_hat he had at last both to recognise and to miss in those eyes must not _ittle have puzzled and tormented M. de Mauves. They took possession of him, they laid him out, they measured him in that state of flatness, they triumphe_ver him, they treated him as no pair of eyes had perhaps ever treated an_ember of his family before. The Count's scheme had been to provide for _ositive state of ease on the part of no one save himself, but here wa_ongmore already, if appearances perhaps not appreciable to the vulgar mean_nything, primed as for some prospect of pleasure more than Parisian. Was thi_andid young barbarian but a faux bonhomme after all? He had never reall_uite satisfied his occasional host, but was he now, for a climax, to leav_im almost gaping?
M. de Mauves, as if hating to seem preoccupied, took up the evening paper t_elp himself to seem indifferent. As he glanced over it he threw off som_erfunctory allusion to the crisis—the political—which enabled Longmore t_eply with perfect veracity that, with other things to think about, he had ha_o attention to spare for it. And yet our hero was in truth far from secur_gainst rueful reflexion. The Count's ruffled state was a comfort so far as i_ointed to the possibility that the lady in the coupe might be proving to_any for him; but it ministered to no vindictive sweetness for Longmore so fa_s it should perhaps represent rising jealousy. It passed through his min_hat jealousy is a passion with a double face and that on one of its sides i_ay sometimes almost look generous. It glimmered upon him odiously M. d_auves might grow ashamed of his political compact with his wife, and he fel_ow far more tolerable it would be in future to think of him as alway_mpertinent than to think of him as occasionally contrite. The two me_retended meanwhile for half an hour to outsit each other conveniently; an_he end—at that rate—might have been distant had not the tension in som_egree yielded to the arrival of a friend of M. de Mauves—a tall pal_onsumptive-looking dandy who filled the air with the odour of heliotrope. H_ooked up and down the boulevard wearily, examined the Count's garments i_ome detail, then appeared to refer restlessly to his own, and at las_nnounced resignedly that the Duchess was in town. M. de Mauves must come wit_im to call; she had abused him dreadfully a couple of evenings before—a sur_ign she wanted to see him. "I depend on you," said with an infantine draw_his specimen of an order Longmore felt he had never had occasion s_ntimately to appreciate, "to put her en train."
M. de Mauves resisted, he protested that he was d'une humeur massacrante; bu_t last he allowed himself to be drawn to his feet and stood lookin_wkwardly—awkwardly for M. de Mauves—at Longmore. "You'll excuse me," h_ppeared to find some difficulty in saying; "you too probably have occupatio_or the evening?"
"None but to catch my train." And our friend looked at his watch.
"Ah you go back to Saint-Germain?"
"In half an hour."
M. de Mauves seemed on the point of disengaging himself from his companion'_rm, which was locked in his own; but on the latter's uttering some persuasiv_urmur he lifted his hat stiffly and turned away.
Longmore the next day wandered off to the terrace to try and beguile th_estlessness with which he waited for the evening; he wished to see Madame d_auves for the last time at the hour of long shadows and pale reflected ambe_ights, as he had almost always seen her. Destiny, however, took no account o_his humble plea for poetic justice; it was appointed him to meet her seate_y the great walk under a tree and alone. The hour made the place almos_mpty; the day was warm, but as he took his place beside her a light breez_tirred the leafy edges of their broad circle of shadow. She looked at hi_lmost with no pretence of not having believed herself already rid of him, an_e at once told her that he should leave Saint-Germain that evening, but mus_irst bid her farewell. Her face lighted a moment, he fancied, as he spoke; but she said nothing, only turning it off to far Paris which lay twinkling an_lashing through hot exhalations. "I've a request to make of you," he added.
"That you think of me as a man who has felt much and claimed little."
She drew a long breath which almost suggested pain. "I can't think of you a_nhappy. That's impossible. You've a life to lead, you've duties, talents, inspirations, interests. I shall hear of your career. And then," she pursue_fter a pause, though as if it had before this quite been settled betwee_hem, "one can't be unhappy through having a better opinion of a frien_nstead of a worse."
For a moment he failed to understand her. "Do you mean that there can b_arying degrees in my opinion of you?"
She rose and pushed away her chair. "I mean," she said quickly, "that it'_etter to have done nothing in bitterness—nothing in passion." And she bega_o walk.
Longmore followed her without answering at first. But he took off his hat an_ith his pocket-handkerchief wiped his forehead. "Where shall you go? wha_hall you do?" he simply asked at last.
"Do? I shall do as I've always done—except perhaps that I shall go for a whil_o my husband's old home."
"I shall go to MY old one. I've done with Europe for the present," the youn_an added.
She glanced at him as he walked beside her, after he had spoken these words, and then bent her eyes for a long time on the ground. But suddenly, as i_ware of her going too far she stopped and put out her hand. "Good-bye. Ma_ou have all the happiness you deserve!"
He took her hand with his eyes on her, but something was at work in him tha_ade it impossible to deal in the easy way with her touch. Something o_nfinite value was floating past him, and he had taken an oath, with which an_uch case interfered, not to raise a finger to stop it. It was borne by th_trong current of the world's great life and not of his own small one. Madam_e Mauves disengaged herself, gathered in her long scarf and smiled at hi_lmost as you would do at a child you should wish to encourage. Severa_oments later he was still there watching her leave him and leave him. Whe_he was out of sight he shook himself, walked at once back to his hotel and, without waiting for the evening train, paid his bill and departed.
Later in the day M. de Mauves came into his wife's drawing-room, where she sa_aiting to be summoned to dinner. He had dressed as he usually didn't dres_or dining at home. He walked up and down for some moments in silence, the_ang the bell for a servant and went out into the hall to meet him. He ordere_he carriage to take him to the station, paused a moment with his hand on th_nob of the door, dismissed the servant angrily as the latter lingere_bserving him, re-entered the drawing- room, resumed his restless walk and a_ast stopped abruptly before his wife, who had taken up a book. "May I ask th_avour," he said with evident effort, in spite of a forced smile as o_llusion to a large past exercise of the very best taste, "of having _uestion answered?"
"It's a favour I never refused," she replied.
"Very true. Do you expect this evening a visit from Mr. Longmore?"
"Mr. Longmore," said his wife, "has left Saint-Germain." M. de Mauves waited, but his smile expired. "Mr. Longmore," his wife continued, "has gone t_merica."
M. de Mauves took it—a rare thing for him—with confessed, if momentary, intellectual indigence. But he raised, as it were, the wind. "Has anythin_appened?" he asked, "Had he a sudden call?" But his question received n_nswer. At the same moment the servant threw open the door and announce_inner; Madame Clairin rustled in, rubbing her white hands, Madame de Mauve_assed silently into the dining-room, but he remained outside—outside of mor_hings, clearly, than his mere salle-a-manger. Before long he went forth t_he terrace and continued his uneasy walk. At the end of a quarter of an hou_he servant came to let him know that his carriage was at the door. "Send i_way," he said without hesitation. "I shan't use it." When the ladies ha_alf-finished dinner he returned and joined them, with a formal apology to hi_ife for his inconsequence.
The dishes were brought back, but he hardly tasted them; he drank on the othe_and more wine than usual. There was little talk, scarcely a convivial soun_ave the occasional expressive appreciative "M-m-m!" of Madame Clairin ove_he succulence of some dish. Twice this lady saw her brother's eyes, fixed o_er own over his wineglass, put to her a question she knew she should have t_rritate him later on by not being able to answer. She replied, for th_resent at least, by an elevation of the eyebrows that resembled even to he_wn humour the vain raising of an umbrella in anticipation of a storm. M. d_auves was left alone to finish his wine; he sat over it for more than an hou_nd let the darkness gather about him. At last the servant came in with _etter and lighted a candle. The letter was a telegram, which M. de Mauves, when he had read it, burnt at the candle. After five minutes' meditation h_rote a message on the back of a visiting-card and gave it to the servant t_arry to the office. The man knew quite as much as his master suspected abou_he lady to whom the telegram was addressed; but its contents puzzled him; they consisted of the single word "Impossible." As the evening passed withou_er brother's reappearing in the drawing-room Madame Clairin came to him wher_e sat by his solitary candle. He took no notice of her presence for som_ime, but this affected her as unexpected indulgence. At last, however, h_poke with a particular harshness. "Ce jeune mufle has gone home at an hour'_otice. What the devil does it mean?"
Madame Clairin now felt thankful for her umbrella. "It means that I've _ister-in-law whom I've not the honour to understand."
He said nothing more and silently allowed her, after a little, to depart. I_ad been her duty to provide him with an explanation, and he was disguste_ith her blankness; but she was—if there was no more to come—getting of_asily. When she had gone he went into the garden and walked up and down wit_is cigar. He saw his wife seated alone on the terrace, but remained below, wandering, turning, pausing, lingering. He remained a long time. It grew lat_nd Madame de Mauves disappeared. Toward midnight he dropped upon a bench, tired, with a long vague exhalation of unrest. It was sinking into his spiri_hat he too didn't understand Madame Clairin's sister-in-law.
Longmore was obliged to wait a week in London for a ship. It was very hot, an_e went out one day to Richmond. In the garden of the hotel at which he dine_e met his friend Mrs. Draper, who was staying there. She made eager enquir_bout Madame de Mauves; but Longmore at first, as they sat looking out at th_amous view of the Thames, parried her questions and confined himself to othe_opics. At last she said she was afraid he had something to conceal; whereupon, after a pause, he asked her if she remembered recommending him, i_he letter she had addressed him at Saint-Germain, to draw the sadness fro_er friend's smile. "The last I saw of her was her smile," he said—"when _ade her good-bye."
"I remember urging you to 'console' her," Mrs. Draper returned, "and _ondered afterwards whether—model of discretion as you are—I hadn't cut yo_ut work for which you wouldn't thank me."
"She has her consolation in herself," the young man said; "she needs none tha_ny one else can offer her. That's for troubles for which—be it more, be i_ess—our own folly has to answer. Madame de Mauves hasn't a grain of foll_eft."
"Ah don't say that!"—Mrs. Draper knowingly protested. "Just a little folly'_ften very graceful."
Longmore rose to go—she somehow annoyed him. "Don't talk of grace," he said,
"till you've measured her reason!"
For two years after his return to America he heard nothing of Madame d_auves. That he thought of her intently, constantly, I need hardly say; mos_eople wondered why such a clever young man shouldn't "devote" himself t_omething; but to himself he seemed absorbingly occupied. He never wrote t_er; he believed she wouldn't have "liked" it. At last he heard that Mrs.
Draper had come home and he immediately called on her. "Of course," she sai_fter the first greetings, "you're dying for news of Madame de Mauves. Prepar_ourself for something strange. I heard from her two or three times during th_ear after your seeing her. She left Saint-Germain and went to live in th_ountry on some old property of her husband's. She wrote me very kind littl_otes, but I felt somehow that—in spite of what you said about
'consolation'—they were the notes of a wretched woman. The only advice I coul_ave given her was to leave her scamp of a husband and come back to her ow_and and her own people. But this I didn't feel free to do, and yet it made m_o miserable not to be able to help her that I preferred to let ou_orrespondence die a natural death. I had no news of her for a year. Las_ummer, however, I met at Vichy a clever young Frenchman whom I accidentall_earned to be a friend of that charming sister of the Count's, Madame Clairin.
I lost no time in asking him what he knew about Madame de Mauves—_ountrywoman of mine and an old friend. 'I congratulate you on the friendshi_f such a person,' he answered. 'That's the terrible little woman who kille_er husband.' You may imagine I promptly asked for an explanation, and he tol_e—from his point of view—what he called the whole story. M. de Mauves ha_ait quelques folies which his wife had taken absurdly to heart. He ha_epented and asked her forgiveness, which she had inexorably refused. She wa_ery pretty, and severity must have suited her style; for, whether or no he_usband had been in love with her before, he fell madly in love with her now.
He was the proudest man in France, but he had begged her on his knees to b_e-admitted to favour. All in vain! She was stone, she was ice, she wa_utraged virtue. People noticed a great change in him; he gave up society, ceased to care for anything, looked shockingly. One fine day they discovere_e had blown out his brains. My friend had the story of course from Madam_lairin."
Longmore was strongly moved, and his first impulse after he had recovered hi_omposure was to return immediately to Europe. But several years have passed, and he still lingers at home. The truth is that, in the midst of all th_rdent tenderness of his memory of Madame de Mauves, he has become consciou_f a singular feeling—a feeling of wonder, of uncertainty, of awe.