Observer, Volume XVI, Issue 961, 29 May 1897, Page 6
■j^°^^^b . . he alighted from the cab and disappeared iff^S-i^W^V in the home. Then she opened the, door on ™^ t^ ie ground floor, en"^^nipLsJ^t^ tered quickly, and fr / jrorllPllil? leaned against the mantelpiece, after she ' had taken off her veil. She stood here for a minute, pale, with closed eyes, shaken with chills, almost fainting. Then she stepped into the second room and looked about her. The Countess, with her strange,dark eyes, was the embodied picture of anxiety. "Without moving, she said in a loud voice : 1 What reply will he make ?' Again from three to four minutes passed in dead, icy silence. Then a key grated in the lock, and a remarkable change came over the Countess. Women are wonderful performers. As Henri Servain entered she smiled. He took her in his arms and kissed her long and passionately. One might have thought that these two beings forgot the world in thia endless, fervent embrace. But Fernande smiled too long to have forgotten. She soon freed herself from his arms, and took a seat in an armchair. He sat down on a cushion at her feet, while she began in a low, gentle voice — ' It seems an eternity since I saw you last, and yet it was only yesterday. Tell me that you love me.' 'I adore you!' ' Just as you did a year ago ?' ' More !' 'Already a year? Ah, aud I am so jealous. You meet with so many temptations. You are young and famous. There are so many women whom your music inspires, and who make love to you — even if only to rob me of you.' He did not feel the bitterness that lay iv her words. He divined nothing, and repeated — ' I adore you !' ' I don't even speak of the theatres you must visit, 1 she went on. ' How flid the rehearsal of your opera go to-day ?' 1 Very well.' She broke into a loud laugh. ' Jeanne paid me a visit recently. She told me that the pretty singer of the leading part — what's her name — the debutante ?' ' Louise Plantier.' ' Yes, that's it. She told me she was in love with you and that you find her very pretty — indeed, very, very pretty. She wanted to plague me. That's quite natural — she's my best friend.' Henri now looked away. This elegant, intelligent man, with the honest eyes, did not like to lie. ' I am sure you have never deceived me. And yet, I repeat to you, I am always afraid. Isn't it so ; you have never troubled yourself about this songstress ?' 'Why, no.' ' Really not ?' 'Really, I assure you.' ' You know I love in you the nobility of character as much as the nobility of talent. Give me your word of honour that you are not deceiving me, and I will believe you.' ' I give you my word of honour !' She sprang up shaking with anger, and cried out, letting the mask of tenderness fall— ' Ah, recreant ! recreant ! recreant ! You are in love with this woman ! You have written to her I See — here is the letter ! Had you acknoNyledged the truth to me I would have forgiven you for an aberration of mind. But yot have sullied your honour — you have lied like a caught lackey. Have I ever lied to you ? Have I not told you all ? .My unhappy marriage — the temptations I defied until the day I found you ? I have loved you — loved you with the whole ardour of my soul. I have gladly staked everything. I have dared everything for you with rapture. All Paris knows of our love — my husband, our friends — in short, everybody. That was indifferent to me, for you loved me, and I loved you What did I care for my honour as I put it to sleep in my love ?' Henri made a quick movement. ' Well, then, yes !' he cried. ' I have lied to you in a dastardly way. I was afraid I would lose you. But I love you — I love you — I cannot live without you !' ' Yet you will have to do so. 1 love you no longer, and I despise you. Farewell ' He rushed toward the door with outstretched arms.) ' Here me!' he cried. 'You know me; if you do not forgive me, I will kill myself !' She burst out laughing — but the laugh sounded cruel and painful. ' Do it — do ! One does such a thing, but one dosen't speak of it.' Henri stepped aside, and said in a cold tone — 'Very well. Go !'
As was his custom, M. de Ryant returned home at 8 o'clock. He was informed that the Countess had a headache and wished to receive no one. He appeared to be vexed, indeed very much vexed. He was even angry with the headache, this obliging malady. Egotists never understand the nervousness of others. Strange to say this king of the financial world, who was celebrated for his millions, his stable for riding horses, and his three newspapers, was alone this evening. His usual household was wanting. He went to dine at his club. The next day he received at breakfast and dinner the same answer — 4 Her Ladyship the Countess is unwell and wishes to see nobody.' !Not until the third day did Fernande consent tc appear in the drawing-room. She looked pale, and deep rings shaded her eyes. ' I beg you to excuse me,' she said to her husband, ' but I was ill.' "Without making any reply, M. de Ryant kissed her hand, offered her his arm, and led her to the dining-room. A sunbeam broke through the windows— that February sun which resembles a sad smile. The Count ate with appetite, like a man who works a great deal. Man and wife exchang* d only a few words in the presence of the servants. Usually the Count left the breakfast table at 11. H0., took leave of his wife, sind returned to his apartmants, where he received until 3 o'clock. To day, however, he said in a rather careless tone — ' I have something to say to you, my dear. Will you allow me to accompany you to your little salon ?' Fernande made a movement of surprise. During a married life of ten years the Count departed for the first time from his habits. • You haven't forgotten that the first performance of " Francillon" takes fplace this evening ?' he continued. ' 1 would be very much pleased if you would go to the theatre.' On reaching the little salon Fernande sat down and contemplated her husband — this big. cold, frigidly calm man with the steel-blue eyes and polite smile. ' My dear Fernande,' he began, ' allow me to remind you of your position. When I married you you were poor. I did not beg for your love, but for your friendship, and received from you what I dared expect, for I was double your age. You brought me your charming beauty, your incomparable vivacity, your thorough education, and so my drawing-room belongs to the three or four generally mentioned. I, in return, believe I have faithfully kept the tacit agreement made between us. You are entirely free. " You have your relations just as I have mine. And only one thing did I beg of you. if you have friends — friends who please you better than the others — then these friends must please me also. I must do you this justice — until now I had nothing to reproach you with. The gentlemen and ladies you receive are all charming. You are fond of intelligent and sprightly people, like M. de Rouvray, artists like Henri Servian. I see nothing at all ill in that.' Fernande trembled, but quietly and clearly her husband went on — ' This Rouvray is very amusing ; he is so full of life and tact. He made love to you quite passionately, did he not? Well, don't blush. lam not jealous. He has shown himself so little for a year back. Poor Rouvray ! Probably he doesn't take any interest in music, for a great deal of music is played in your apartments. Your friend Henri Servian certainly bored him terribly. Another charming fellow, and so talented ! Oh, exceedingly talented ! Unfortunately, he is somewhat proud, somewhat haughty. Since you are his friend, why don't you advise him to be a little less offish and more tolerant in the commonplace things of life ? He despises money a little too much. That's very humiliating for my poor millions — do you understand '! Rouvray always spoke of his horses ; Servian speakes continually only of music. Bless me, I also fancy music ; but what will yoa ? I must also guide myself in some measure according to others "Were Servian as amiable as Rouvray. I assure you he would not displease me.' Fernande understood. A chill ran through her ; but she soon collected herself, and was on the point of answering when her husband, who had remained standing until then, sat down beside her, and, with his everlasting mysterious smile, went on — ' And, since I beg you to give your friend a piece of advice, you will be so kind as to permit me to give you some also. Do you know what I hate most in the world, my dear Fernande ?— The drama ! Behind the drama lurks always scandal. The world, as is known, forgives everything but scandal To respect public opinion, that is the secret of life. I see you are nervous —
indeed, even ill. Calm yourself. :So, until this evening, my dear Fernande.' : He kissed her hand and left the salon. Hia face had again assumed tbe'mask of impenetrability. He went through the two drawing-rooms and the long gallery, whose walls were thickly hung with pictures, to which he paid no attention. A lackey stood by the door of his study, and announced — ' The mail of M. le Comte lies on the table.' M. de Ryant entered and found about fifty letters addressed to him personally. He opened the same and read them through quickly, one after the other. He threw almost all of them into a waste-paper basket, but a few which appeared to him to be worth answering he laid aside. When he had read almost all he started suddenly, for the letter he held there in his hands began with the words, ' My darling.' He turned over the envelope quickly' and read the name of his wife. His eyes lighted up like a flash as he read — My Darling,— You will receive this letter toward 12 o'clock. At that moment you are always alone. I will wait for you until 3 o'clock in the Avenue Kleber. If you do not come and do not forgive me, then I will kill myself. Henri. Again the Count's eyes lighted up, and his thin lips quivered scornfully. He stuck the letter in his pocket, rose, rang for the lackey and called out — ' The carriage.' 111. Pednande had just finished dressing. It was 5 o'clock. Since breakfast tormenting thoughts racked her soul. Little by little jealoxisy outweighed the pain. Love began to revive in her heart. How empty and desolate the world seemed to her, as Henri no longer filled it. Suddenly M. de Ryant appeared. ' Pardon me for coming unannounced,' he said ; ' but I was in a hurry to make good an error. This letter was delivered to me just nq»? by mistake. I opened it inadvertently. Here it is.' Therewith he handed her Henri's letter, looking at her fixedly. Her husband had read the letter. A thousand thoughts whirled through Fernande's head. She had a presentiment of the drama that must now be enacted, and suddenly the conversation of this morning came to her mind. No,,her husband would cause no exposure. But if that was only a trap! What if he drove her out of his house ? Very well, then she would forgive the faithless one. aod both would seek their happiness in some corner of the earth. She also looked the Count now firmly in the eye. Then she read. At the last lines she uttered a scream, and cried out with trembling voice — ' Henri !' ' Dead,' said the Count, coldly. She pitched herself forward like a struck bird. But she soon raised herself again, and slowly, mechanically, without speaking a word, without shedding a tear, she walked through the rooms into the salons. She went through the apartments like a wanderer of the night. On reaching the court she hurried through the high gateway. A cab was passing; she hailed it. -To the Samaritan !' she called to the driver in a hollow voice. When the cab stopped on the quay she alighted automatically, and stepped upon the little bridge. Here she made a halt and looked at the stones. Then she let herself slip slowly into the river, and the water closed over her head. On the quay all had been noticed, and two boatmen drew her out. Half an hour later Fernande lay. wrapped in woollen blaokets, on a hard bed of the Samaritan Hospital. M. de Ryant, who had followed the Counttess, had witnessed all. He now entered the room, came to an understanding with the commissary of police, thanked the two rescuers, laid discreetly a thousand franc note on the table, and had his wife removed to a carriage, which conveyed both back to their beautiful home. Not until she found herself in her own bed did the unfortunate woman remember what had happened. She looked about her with confused glances. A lamp burned in the room, and she felt how her husband's cold eye rested on her. 'You haven't forgotten, my dear, I hope Vhe said slowly. * The performance of ' Francillon ' begins in two hours— all Paris must see it.' She was seized with terror. M. de Ryant continued in a curt, imperious tone — 'You undestand — I must not appear laughable — your maids are ready. They will dress you.' And, in fact, she let everything be done with her; indeed, she no longer had the strength to resist. The second act of ' Francillon ' was just beginning as the Count and Countess de Ryant entered their box, the box No. 27. A murmur ran through the theatre. People had told each other so much about the death of the composer. So the Counte»s knew nothing of the suicide ? Then they had been deceived ? M. de Servian was not her lover ? At that moment M. de Ryant leaned toward the Countess and said in a low tone 1 of voice —
' Courage, Fernande l Public opinion ! They are looking at us !' , ' '' In fact, several opera glasses were turned toward box No. 27. In one of the rows of reserved seats some young men whispered together. ' Ah, he was certainly not her lover,' said the first one. ' Who knows ?' smiled the second. ' I will tell about the affair afterwards in her box !' cried the third, with a malicious smile. l Only watch the Countess strictly, and you will see what a face she makes !'