MADAME was born in Baltimore, and at the age of eighteen she became acquainted with Baron R—, who accompanied the French minister to this country. She was younger than the handsome foreigner by three years, and such washer beauty and wealth that he loved her devotedly at once. Amid much stir and golden bustle they were married with Protestant rites, and the happy girl departed for France with a train of her worshiping school-mates. The day on which they bade their adieux was one of the rarest of the year. The air had a Sicilian softness, the sky was unblemished by a single cloud, the glowing expanse of the sea invited, and a whole city came to bid them godspeed. Her name was upon every lip, and they who beheld her upon the deck of the ship always remembered her radiant face. It was a picture which filled their eyes and their hearts. The young republican was full of serene ecstasy, and her warm glance fell now upon her brave husband, now upon her thronging friends, and now upon her beloved land. People brought their children to be kissed by the “ baroness; ” the gardeners adorned her surroundings with flowers ; the mothers and grandmothers prayed for her in secret.
In the interval between her departure and her return there occurred the coupd'état of Napoleon III. The husband, the Baron R-, was an Imperialist; therefore his star was in the ascendant. People in America rejoiced at the splendid fortunes of the wife, and the glory of those marvelous days was transmitted across the ocean. It. was gallant news to hear; that of fêtes, journeys, and royal excursions, and of splendid preferments. The name of the beautiful American was always prominent; it was constantly coupled with that of the empress, and it seemed that they were good friends. Travelers who returned from abroad brought accounts of the exile, and it appeared that her career was what might be called a luminous one, so filled was it with the delights of a happy and prosperous court.
The interval I have referred to was one of twenty-five years. At the end of that time the baroness returned to this country, arriving in New York. She was bent, she hobbled with a cane, and she brought two trunks.
A policeman procured a carriage and she begged him to purchase a newspaper for her. She examined its crowded columns, and she thrust a pin into a notice of lodgings to let in a private hotel. She bade the driver hasten thither and draw up opposite the house so that she might examine it.
Then she sank back into the farthest corner of the carriage, and drew her shawls about her. The day was stormy, the street was sombre, and the pavement was covered with mud. Now and then the horses came to a stop in the midst of a mob of drays, and the shouts and oaths of the drivers filled the air. The feeble and unresisting lady was tossed here and there by the rude collisions, and she was stunned by the noise. The terrible clangor of wheels, bells, and voices benumbed her ears, the hurry of everything confused her eyes, and her thoughts, distracted and fragmentary, overwhelmed her brain and made a child of her.
Her destination was three miles off, and on the western side of the city. When she arrived she lowered the window-sash and contemplated the house. It had several excellent qualities. It was retired; that is, it was in a quiet street. It had a low basement, which would obviate the necessity of climbing a long flight of steps — an important advantage. Several of the blinds were closed, which indicated that the house was not thronged. Two neat maids were cleansing the windows; a proof that the landlord was particular: two men were just finishing the storing of a load of coke instead of coal under the sidewalk; an indication that he was economical and that his prices were not great.
The lady installed herself under this roof. She occupied a parlor on the first floor; she would have gone higher, had site been younger and had she been richer. She at once established herself.
She sent out and purchased two or three prints and two or three vases and a handful of flowers. She also purchased one of those bedsteads which may be folded up in the day-time. She secreted her somneau . and her trunks behind a screen of figured baize, and thus she eked a chamber out of her drawing-room.
She procured the services of a maid; engaged her meals from a neighboring hotel; arranged that a carriage should come at eleven o’clock on each warm day, and made a list of the best physicians upon a bit of paper which she kept in the fly-leaves of her book of Common Prayer. She contracted this routine. She arose at nine, listened while her maid read the lessons of the day, ate a breakfast of rice and toast and marmalade, was dressed for out-ofdoors, and after her return from a ride she rested and dozed before a fire until dinner-time at six, when she ate frugally, and then retired to bed again.
Now and then a splendid equipage would arrive with aged visitors for her, and it was always noticed that they wept as they went away, and that they never came again. It was also noticed that after these calls Madame walked for a while without a cane, and that she walked a great deal. They seemed to arouse her and quicken her spirit.
One day she received a letter from France. It was in a blue envelope.
Presently the wife of the landlord was sent for. She had never entered the room before.
She beheld her lodger seated in a deep chair which almost touched the ground, laughing heartily. Tears ran down her wrinkled cheeks, and the lace upon her cap trembled as if agitated by a breeze.
She cried out suddenly with a harsh and penetrating voice,—
“ He is coming! He is coming! ”
She shook the letter. The maid stood behind her, nervously knotting the fringe of the chair. The woman, who was shrewd and experienced, diverted her attention to something else.
“ I don’t think your seat can be a comfortable one, Madame. It is too low. I think it would be easier if you were to raise it with a cushion.”
“Yes—yes, that is true. Give me your hands and I will get up.”
She was assisted to her feet and her cane was given to her. She fixed it on the floor and endeavored to steady herself, but her arms and limbs trembled. This was something new. A deep gravity overspread her face while she was thus struggling with herself. She looked down and attentively regarded the involuntary agitation of the skirts of her dress. The steel point of the cane which touched the hearth beat a tattoo. Presently she looked up with a significant smile and said to the landlady, —
“ You see that I want another cane. One is not enough; I must have two.”
Thereafter she walked at a snail’s pace and like a quadruped. The landlady heard no more of the letter from France, neither did the maid; it disappeared, and the old lady kept her own counsel.
Shortly after this she declared on one beautiful morning, when the air was warm and the sun was bright, that she was tired, and she refused to ride. The maid, whose eyes were wide open, regarded this infringement upon old habits with solicitude. She remarked that her mistress now fell asleep more easily than before, and that it was harder to arouse her.
There were two amusements which occupied the invalid’s time in her wakeful hours, one being a pretty game of solitaire, and the other the sorting and rearranging of numerous pieces of lace of delicate and intricate fabrication. In the early part of the afternoons she would dissolve Some lumps of sugar in a glass of water, place it ready to her hand, and then trifle with her cards, gathering them and distributing them, until she fell asleep. After her sleep she would have her boxes brought, and would tenderly separate, smooth out, and quietly admire her few yards of treasure.
One day she asked her maid, —
“ Is not this the thirtieth of September? ”
“ Yes, Madame.”
“ Then it is high time I should he prepared. Take these — there is a eap, a collar, and a pair of sleeves—and place them where you can reach them at a moment’s notice; to-morrow, when I am not so tired, I will select a dress, and you will put that with the lace. Be ready to dress me in them at any time.”
Pretty soon the old lady deemed it wasteful to require that a carriage should be brought to the door only to be sent away again empty, and so she stopped it. She compensated for this pleasure by sending for a physician every day.
Now and then, while moving her thinning hands, a ring would drop off and roll away upon the carpet. “Ah!” she would say, half aloud, “ the vanity of gold and vanity of flesh begin to desert the skeleton at the same time.”
It did not appear that her present abode was a resting-place only. She never hinted of going away; she never spoke of unfulfilled desires, or projected designs. She seemed tranquil and fixed.
Seated, hour in and hour out, in her deeply hollowed chair, she pursued a melancholy pastime. When her cards and her laces palled upon -her, she searched for evidences of her failure, for flaws in her health. She examined with unrelenting persistence the little trifles which went to show that her death was approaching.
When she fancied she perceived a whiter pallor in her cheeks, she spent the day with a hand-glass. If she imagined that the cords in her neck were stiffening a little, she would endeavor to catch the old studied poses that she had used in the days of her coquetry. If she dreamed that her memory was something less active, she would chant and hum the most ancient of her songs, the most difficult of the foreign airs and roundelays, and perhaps in the midst of them would begin to nod and would fall asleep.
She forbore to interest herself about the other inmates of the house until one day when she was at a loss. She was seized with a desire to ride, but it was stormy and therefore impossible. She began to gossip with the landlady, who had come in to inquire after her health.
“ There is a lady up-stairs who interests me,” said the visitor, “ she Seems to be very poor, but I cannot bring myself to treat her harshly.”
“ Tell me,” said Madame in a pleasant voice.
“She is a Cuban,” continued the landlady, “ and her name is Aldama. She has a husband in France, and he is coming to see her pretty soon. She has been here nearly three months, and she has reached the top of the house. She commenced by living in the parlors over this one, but as her stock of money decreased she ascended, and she is now just under the roof. She has a pretty child, five years of age, and she is very beautiful herself.”
“ And what does she do all these long hours ? ”
“ Oh,” responded the other, “ she tries her fate upon a little table with a pack of cards. It takes up her time, and it amuses her to decide something either one way or the other.”
“ Do you think she would like to come and visit me here? ”
“ Yes,” replied the other, “ I think she would.”
“ Then arrange it for us.”
When the invited lady entered Madnme’s apartment, she found her in good spirits. She arose with great effort from her chair, and after poising herself she put out one of her small hands and smiled more warmly than she had upon any one. The lady pleased her.
She was small and pale, and she was dressed in black. Her rich hair adorned her head, not burdened it. Her countenance betrayed a profound sadness of heart and at the same time a divine sweetness of spirit. The carriage of her head, the attitude of her body, and her very step, which was tardy and gentle, was that of one who had suffered deeply.
She advanced toward her aged hostess with the indescribable manner of one who flies to repose, or who hastens to a shelter.
The timid hand-clasp became a kiss; the kiss became an embrace; it was the confluence of two hearts; that of a mother, and that of a daughter.
There was a fire upon the hearth, and they sat down before it with their chairs close together. They entered at once upon that sudden intimacy which is obtainable only by perfect accordance. Nothing can equal the love generated by first glances.
On one hand the questions were, Why do you suffer so much? Why did you leave your home to come to this barren land? How much longer must you wait for relief? On the other: Why are you here? you who have been so great, so admired, so honored. What terrible disaster has befallen you, the divine baroness? tell me, so that I may take heart again.
By degrees the answers came from either side, and they were not given as answers, but as complete and voluntary expositions.
One said: “I am here because my husband has got tired of me. He has thrown away my fortune and has not loved me in return. The title of 'baroness,’ I found, did not fill the heart. In all the glory of a life at court my spirit failed because I was alone. At home they believed I was happy, but it was a mistake, a great mistake. I followed my husband hither and thither, except when he bade me stay in my hotel, and I supplied him with money; that was enough for him. Now I learn that he is coming here in search of me; his letter says that he comes repentant, but I know that he comes poor. I am not desirous of meeting him again, even though I have possessed his name for a quarter of a century. Woman’s constancy is famous, but man’s villainy is more famous still. I am going to die here.”
Madame indicated the bare room with a motion of her hand.
The Cuban told this much: “My husband is a Frenchman too.”
“ What, with the name of Aldama? ”
“ Yes,” persisted the other, but with a blush. Madame noticed the blush and quietly reflected upon it. The story proceeded. “ He came to Havana on a mission from his government. I met him at Puerto Principe. He was over forty years of age, and he was handsome, and his breast was covered with decorations. That delighted me. I married him; I left my home to do so, but we were married for all that. In one year he went away to France. He said the government wanted him, and I could not help thinking he was a great deal of a slave. But he wrote to me every month. Pretty soon there was a revolution in our country. Then I became poor, as the Spaniards seized our estates. I remained in Havana until I was warned away. Then I came here.”
This was the substance of a long story delivered with a broken voice and in a broken tongue. Madame’s eyes rested upon her with tenderness but with great persistence. Now and then she shed a few tears, and frequently a soft convulsion would stir her wrinkled face.
One day the poor girl placed her hand in that of her friend, and cried despairingly, —
“ I weet for heem and he doos not coom. I grow tired, I tink he cheat mee, den I pray for deeth. My moder has gone away, my fader has gone away, and de cruel Spaniards, dey have shot my good broder—O mye!—O mye! — O mye! I loove my hoosband and my leetle babe, but dere is no one to loove me.”
The young wife and the old wife mourned together. It became the daily custom for the Cuban to descend from her dismal garret to the warm parlors, with her child, and there to sit until night returned.
Within Madame’s bosom there had been generated an overwhelming suspicion. If it troubled her, she did not show it; if it occupied most of her thoughts, she concealed it beneath the surface.
She augmented her misery by a certain exchange of whispers with her visitor. On one occasion, after a long account of her disappointments, the recital of which had wrought her companion into a paroxysm of tears, and herself into a paroxysm of anger, she suddenly pressed her lips to the ear of her hearer and said,—
“ They tell me, too, that he has married a countrywoman of yours: that, since my hair has grown white with the anguish I have endured, he has profaned his oaths. Can the spirit of affliction deal me another blow? ”
“ Dey make de same whisper to me,” returned the other; “ dey say dat I, too, have a rival, some greet leedy; but I try hard to sheek my heed.”
This answered for verification. Madame held her breath for a moment, but she was a good soldier under a fire of surprises; she encountered shocks imperturbably. The face of her friend had grown terribly pale, an effect of her own words.
Madame now wished for proof positive. She waited for three days, until all was calm again. Then with great tact she induced the Cuban to describe her husband.
The Baron R-was presented.
For the rest of the day Madame withdrew, and in the secrecy of her screened apartment she communed and debated with her inmost heart. First she considered her friend and her child; then she considered herself. She was grave, rigid, and motionless. She forgot her cards, her sugared water, her dinner; she omitted her prayers.
At dusk she called her servant; she had made up her mind.
On the next day she seemed to have grown younger by ten years; that is, during the first hours of her friend’s presence. Her eyes were bright, her smile delightful, and her language quick and full of vivacious sentiment. She related many reminiscences of her life at the French court; of the well-known gay journey to Algiers, for instance, when the empress was most beautiful and the emperor was most an emperor. She detailed the fetes and the banquets. She told what great personages sat on her right hand and who on her left hand. She laughed as she recalled the disputes concerning precedence. It amused her to remember the dresses that were worn and the dishes that were eaten. She gossiped with an odd intermingling of French and English, her light tongue catching at the titles and names of the élégants with curious pleasure.
Then again she would become graphic and vivid when she spoke, for example, of the march of a corps of the Brand Army before Napoleon and Changarnier just previous to the coup d'état. It seemed to her that that was a sublime moment; at first the cheers were timid and the eagles were barely drooped. It was a question whether the soldiers were for the old general or the politician. Napoleon on his horse was at one point; Changarnier was on his horse at another. Every new platoon was braver than its predecessor. The tumult swelled. It roared for the Imperialist. The great ladies who were there fluttered like birds; the uproar of drums and voices filled the air, and a fanfare of trumpets arose from all the field. It was on the night following that day that all the ministers were taken from their beds and thrown into prison.
Madame was pleased to see the rapt look which rested upon the listener’s face at these recitals. She was bent upon making a sweet intimacy, a cheery confidence, a warm and keen sympathy between them. She wished to draw this young and tender heart close to her old one. She tried hard to smile and to be kind. She made curious little confessions of petty sins and weaknesses, she related her minute sorrows, she described her utmost pleasures, and at rare times she descanted by contrasts upon her deep afflictions.
For example: one day when she seemed to be in good heart and when she looked her best in a black robe, she described an incident of her earlier life in France. She possessed a face of matchless dignity and delicacy of outline. Time had sharpened the profile, hollowed the cheek, lengthened the nostril, empurpled the region of the eye, but there remained the ashes of the incomparable flower ; a visage already shaded by the coming repose, yet retaining the east of the old perfection.
She took her friend’s hand into her own with a smile. “My husband,” said she, “ was appointed the commandant of Fontainebleau, when the distribution of rewards was made to those who had espoused the cause of the emperor. The palace and gardens then needed a great deal of repair and alteration, and as soon as the place was made habitable we took up our quarters there. The palace received its name from a fountain of water which in former times had been celebrated for its sweetness and beauty, but which had been overgrown and lost during the many changes of ownership which the palace had experienced. It had been an ambition of the later occupants to rediscover this spring, which now was half fabulous, but all attempts had failed, and finally very few persons could be found who believed that it had ever existed.
“ One bright afternoon nearly all of our little world was strolling in the gardens. There were a few gentlemen but a great many ladies, and we were all dressed for a little fête champêtre which was about to be given in honor of a Russian princess. I was a great favorite at that time; they admired the young Americaine and they made a pet of me. I was walking down a grassy mound with the Duchesse de B-on one side and the Marchioness L-on the other; we had our arms interlocked, and we were trying to skip together, laughing and shrieking all the while. I remember how full of birds the trees were, and how many millions of butterflies there seemed to be in the air. The atmosphere was filled with the perfume of the wide flower-beds, and the shadows of the great trees were so dark and cool that they seemed to be huge caverns opening into the ground. I think there must have been fifty of us, all half mad with our freedom, and all running here and there like school-girls. Suddenly we heard some gardeners who were digging in a spot where there had been a broad drive-way, crying out to the chamberlain who was riding by. They seemed very much excited. We stopped to listen, all the gay groups became silent, and all the bright colors which had been flying over the lawns stood still. From a long distance we thought we heard them shout : —
‘ Oh la fontaine! La fontaine! La fontaine, c’est trouvée! ’
“We looked at one another. The sounds were repeated. We clapped our hands, and I think I jumped up and down; then somebody began to run towards the spot. Somebody pulled upon my arm. It was the marchioness. Then the duchess began to dash off, then so did I. Then we all ran, princesses, countesses, ladies in waiting, dukes, and all. Oh what a mad race that was! You should have seen me, I ran the fastest. It was so much like a flock of silk geese of all colors. They screamed and laughed like children, and bent their heads down and flourished their skirts in the air as if they were just out of school. There was an old abbé with a gold cane, and two generals of our army; and they ran too. You should have seen the birds fly out of the shrubs in clouds as we rushed by. The grasshoppers jumped up into our faces and alighted on our dresses, and the locusts made a terrible hum. When we came to the end all red and panting, we found that it was true enough. The fountain had been discovered, and that was a great glory. There was a great stone basin, and an iron dipper still fastened with a rusty chain. Then we had splendid ceremonies; we had our little banquet served in the excavation they had made, and each of us dug a spade-full of earth from off the longhidden treasure. And now,” said Madame, bending her eyes upon her hearer’s face, “ and now tell me, should I not have been happy on such a day as that? ”
“ Yes, you should be happee!" replied the other, fervently.
Madame raised her hands to her mouth for an instant, and then swept one of them over her head. She transformed herself into a withered and haggard centenarian. She had robbed her mouth of its mock glories and her temples of the silvered rolls of hair; Her lips retreated, the lines of her cheeks became deep, the protuberances of her head became prominent, and in place of the cap, that graceful screen of deformity which always excites veneration, there was a skull which was red (as if it blushed) and which was thinly covered with a few white hairs, which fell on either side and which were gathered into a ball as small as a nut, behind.
The lady turned her eyes tranquilly upon the distressed and astonished countenance of her friend.
“ Oh, whye deed you show mee! ” exclaimed the other, burying her face in her hands.
“Look at me again,” responded Madame in the sharp and unmelodious voice which was compelled by her condition. The other obeyed, and then sadly shaking her head she burst into tears. Madame called her maid, and in a moment or two she was restored to her usual appearance.
“ I did that to show you what had been begun when I was the happy baroness who lived at Fontainebleau,” said she, whispering in the ear of the weeping girl. “And I did it also to warn you. You may be attacked with a fierce heart-burn which may wither you as it has withered me, and I chose to show what such a heart-burn can do.”
“ What do you mean? do you speak to mee?” asked the other, in an agitated voice.
“ Yes,” was the response.
Madame caressed her with her hands, and with the undefinable manner of one who is about to administer a blow. “ Do you love me? ” she asked.
“ Weeth mye whole heeart! ” passionately replied the Cuban, pressing her cheek against that of her companion.
Madame produced a letter from her bosom and unfolded it carefully.
“This,” said she before exhibiting it, “ comes from the Baron R-, who is my husband. It announces to me that he has recently fought a duel with a political enemy, and that he will require twenty thousand francs to procure immunity front imprisonment. I have sent it to him and he will escape, He wrote this letter after our separation. After he has made me an alien, after he has robbed me of my peace and filled me with sorrow, he becomes an extortioner. After he has starved my spirit he begins to starve my body. Look at this letter; remember, it is from my husband.”
Madame exhibited the paper, and at the same time she placed her arm about the Cuban’s neck and pressed her lips to her hair. She encircled her in an attitude of sympathy and protection.
No sooner had the Cuban’s eyes fairly rested upon the closely written page than she uttered a piercing scream and fell forward into Madame’s lap, trembling in every limb. The other bent over her as if she were mourning for her.
There passed a moment of supreme silence; one of those calm periods which follow every blow, and which seem to be occupied by the entering of the new grief into the various chambers of the heart.
Presently the sufferer withdrew from beneath the hands of her friend and rose to her feet. She was pallid. She walked with an erect head towards the door. Gradually her pace increased. Then she hurried; she passed out into the hall and then she ran. Madame heard her fly up the stairs crying the name of her boy with increased wildness, until both the steps and the voice were lost in the distance.
For five hours Madame sat rigidly upright in her chair, gazing towards her little fire, but with eyes that saw nothing. Her hands were clasped upon her lap, her lips were immovably closed, and there had settled upon her features a placidity which, in the eccentric and varying light of the flames, seemed dreadful.
Her maid, impelled by increasing fear, finally disturbed her.
She aroused herself and said,'—
** To-morrow you may dress me in the clothing you have laid aside ; I have been told that the ship will arrive to-night. If it does, he will come to see me at once.”
There came an interval of twenty hours. The two women conversed in whispers, as people do in cases where it is imagined that even a voice may disturb the poise of matters. The sweet-voiced bell of the clock transfixed them when it struck, and they gazed upon the tell-tale with startled eyes. They paused an hundred times at innocent noises from the street. The rumble of the hucksters’ carts made them tremble; the steps of children filled them with terror.
At night-fall the baron arrived. He was announced. The maid lighted several candles, closed the broad shutters of the windows, and placed a seat beside the door; not a chair for a friend, but a chair for a stranger.
The Cuban uttered a long-drawn sigh and approached Madame, who was seated before the fire, calmly surveying the motions of the girl; she seated herself at Madame’s feet and fixed her eyes upon the door.
Madame adjusted the nearest candles with her own hand, carefully arranged the pillows which supported her, and drew the folds of her dress so that it embellished her figure to its best degree. During these preparations it seemed as if the fire of youth had again descended upon her; her head arose, her eyes burned, and a new energy was imparted to all her motions.
The light fell upon the persons of the two ladies and also the chair beside the door. All the rest of the apartment was in partial obscurity. Madame bade the girl admit the visitor and then to withdraw.
There then ensued one of those moments whose intensity provokes the blood, oppresses the brain, and sharpens the ear and eye; one in which the walls seem to live, the timber-worms to crunch, and particles of dust to murmur as they float in the air.
A step approached. Madame’s body' was seized by a convulsion in spite of herself, and site closed her fingers upon the freezing hand of the Cuban.
There entered a slight man of medium height, whose hair was somewhat gray and whose bearing was that of a soldier. He wore a long gray coat, and he carried his hat and his cane in his hand. He had a quick eye, a small moustache, and a face of faultless outline.
He was easy but not careless. His glance rested for an instant upon the white and clear-cut visage of his aged wife, who regarded him steadfastly, and then he bowed deeply.
After an instant of quiet he again raised his eyes, and encountered those of the Cuban.
He retreated a step, parted his lips as if about to make an exclamation, raised his hand and his hat a few inches but here he caught himself. The man subsided again, and the courtier came to the surface. He bowed for the second time and remained in that position. He seemed to expect an outburst.
The two women in close embrace contemplated him as if he were an apparition. Their faces were outwardly illuminated by the candles, but their keen vitality emanated from within. Their features radiated upon the baron all the heats of sublime scorn; their eyes gave out flames of bitterness; their placid, waxen, and immovable visages emitted the very spirit of reproach, even though the smallest muscles lay undisturbed.
The profound silence was occupied by that subtle graduating of tempers which finally leads to speech; that unconscious descent to a level where the heart may declare itself.
But Madame restrained the growing impulse; it seemed as if she were resisting a flood. She permitted only a few words to pass her lips. She addressed the baron: —
“ You see that we two have encountered each other.”
“Yes,” replied the baron, in good English, and with an undisturbed voice, “ I see that you are there.”
“Then I presume that what appears to be true, is true ? ” inquired the wife.
“Perfectly,” responded the other.
The hands of the two women clasped more tightly, and another significant pause ensued. The guest retained his position; he still kept his face secreted, and still presented the top of his head to the light. He did not move a hair’s breadth; he seemed to take refuge behind himself.
Madame produced from beneath a napkin on the table a small decorated porcelain box, ornamented with elaborate edges of gilded metal. She placed it on the side of the table which was nearest the baron, saying at the same time in a soft and equable voice: —
“ Here, Lucien, is something I desire to present to you. The box contains some jewels, and perhaps you, who are to remain in the world some time longer, may find them useful. They are the last I have, and I think they are valuable. Come and take them now, for I wish our connection to be severed by this final surrender of the remnant of the pillage. I cannot rise and give them to you. Come and take them.”
The man. after an instant, advanced slowly with an easy tread. He laid his hand upon the box. He raised it an inch, but it slipped. His fingers trembled, though his face was immovable. His perturbation appeared, as it were, through a crevice.
He seized the casket a second time, and then he retired backwards to his first position. He smiled, and he now regarded the two women with a steady scrutiny. He rose superior to them; he had achieved his best object without a conflict, and he had encountered the worst that could possibly befall him; the door and his carriage were close at hand; France and Paris lay beyond. He had but to turn his back to rid himself forever of two disagreeables, therefore he looked leniently upon their final attacks.
The Cuban was prostrated; her sobs and sighs filled the air, and the convulsions of her face and hands afforded the only stir in the quiet apartment.
Madame’s little flush of strength began to fade even after this short trial, and what suffering had done reappeared above what she had assumed. The scars which she had hidden came to the view again. Her back grew bowed, the hollow in her neck grew deep, her head nodded, and her hands shook from side to side in her lap.
She kept, her eyes fixed upon her husband.
“ We have come to the end, at last, Lucien,” said she in a low and uncertain under-tone, “and for me nothing more remains. I have lived; I have performed my task; I have borne my burden ; there are no more blows or joys to be given to me. But I am still alive; I have my senses and my reason. Let me see if I cannot do something more.” (She looked down for an instant at the girl at her feet, and tenderly placed a hand upon her head.) “Yes,” she continued, 'I can prevent people from saying of this poor child, 'She and another are the wives of an adventurer. ’ How they may regard me does not matter now; I do not care; it is all one if they discover that I have no proof of my marriage. It pleases me to imagine I can vanish, and by so doing add to the reality of her position towards you. If they should say to her child, 'You come from a wrongful marriage,’ ho will be enabled to say, 'That is false.’ I have not been a wife of yours for twenty years. The child you took and bore away and robbed of her fair life, and who now speaks, an old and haggard woman, declares that the obligations and spirit of her marriage were annulled long before you met this other unhappy one. She alone is your wife. The church records are nothing beside the convictions impressed by so much neglect and cruelty. What the ministers performed for us was the falsehood; today the truth becomes known to every one. I am about to perform a little act which is insignificant beside what I have declared, but which proves me to be sincere. I throw my marriage certificate into the fire.”
This little touch of the drama was inspired by what was left of her old love of the surprising and the picturesque. She had married and unmarried with the baron with the same impulses.
She had thrown a folded paper upon the coals in spite of the Cuban’s shriek and leap, and it had burned to ashes. Madame turned to her visitor again. There was an indescribable feebleness in the action. It seemed as if her eyes almost failed to penetrate to the corner where the baron stood.
“ Remember always that you have but one wife. Forget me; I am nothing: I am going. The beautiful girl, the baroness, the old and garrulous complainer, are all passing away with me. I leave nothing behind, no child, no grief, no identity. I am lost from nowhere. The Lord has led me hither so that I might do one more service, and that being completed I must depart. You are going back to France; you are going among your old friends, and you will enjoy yourself. You will leave behind you a wife who will be a teacher of languages and a child whom you have never seen. Be careful that you do not act now so that your memory shall be a curse to you; be careful of ” —
A sound was heard beside the door. Madame raised her hand to her forehead in order to shield off the light. The baron was going away.
He was slipping out. He was departing like a robber, careful of his steps and circumspect in his course. He was creeping away from difficulties and perplexities. The atmosphere of reproaches and obligations did not please him. He wanted to get into the sunshine again.
Madame suddenly struggled to rise. She grasped the arms of the chair with great haste. It was a contest with her infirmities. The Cuban assisted her.
She cried after the baron, who bad gained the door, —
“ But your wife here! You have not spoken to her ! She ” —
The baron looked back and shook his head with a smile: —
“ Oh no, she wishes me away, and I am going.”
Madame took a step forward with her head raised, uttering at the same time a sound which might have been taken equally well for a laugh or an outburst of grief.
“ Then ask about your boy. Say something; leave some message! He is very beautiful; I am sure you would like to see him. His eyes are like his mother’s, but his mouth— You would admire him; I do. What! will you not mention him? I will tell him faithfully. You will not? No? ”
He disappeared in the dark hall. Presently they heard him rattling at the bolts of the outer door.
Madame rushed forward with gathered strength. She cried in a terrible voice, “ Lucien! Lucien! ”
As she reached the door of the apartment, her vigor spent itself. She seized the glistening bolt with both hands and listened with protruding eyes and parted lips. The noise of the closing of the outer door resounded like thunder.
Madame whispered to the Cuban with such intensity that the chamber was filled with the voice, —
“ He has gone! he has gone! ”
The Cuban caught her as she was about to fall, and laid her in lier lounging-chair.
Madame’s death occurred twelve hours after the departure of her husband. In an interval of reason she arranged that the small income of a certain unconvertible property that she possessed should be devoted to the support and education of her husband’s child. She was unable to do more than this. As she was finally sinking back into the arms of her beloved companion, she was partially aroused by a rapid jarring of her frail bed. This was caused by the porters, who were piling trunks in the hall.
The Cuban rained tears upon the shrunken face, and clasped the stiffened hands to her bosom. One wreck vanished; another began its crippled journey.
The grave of Madame is at Greenwood. It is designated by a square tablet which has been thrown on one side by the frosts. Upon it. is her maiden name. It obliges the beholder to think that she died unmarried. Beside it is an enormous pile of white marble reared to the memory of a politician. People gather every day to inspect the monstrous construction, for it cost an immense sum, and to see it in all its aspects they are compelled to trample the earth over the adjacent grave; therefore when the weather is bad there is a little bog in front of the stone, and when the day is hot there is a surface of powdered dust. The violets placed there never live the day out; they are pulverized with the earth, though they are as often renewed.
Albert Webster, Jr.