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    Chapter 14

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    Chapter 14
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    Jean had trudged afoot up the hill of Bellevue. Evening was falling. The village street ran upwards between low walls, brambles and thistles lining the roadway on either side. In front the woods melted into a far-off blue haze; below him stretched the city, with its river, its roofs, its towers and domes, the vast, smoky town which had kindled Servien's aspirations at the flaring lights of its theatres and nurtured his feverish longings in the dust of its streets. In the west a broad streak of purple lay between heaven and earth. A sweet sense of peace descended on the landscape as the first stars twinkled faintly in the sky. But it was not peace Jean Servien had come to find.

    A few more paces on the stony high road and there stood the gate festooned with the tendrils of a wild vine, just as it had been described to him.

    He gazed long, in a trance of adoration. Peering through the bars, between the sombre boughs of a Judas tree, he saw a pretty little white house with a flight of stone steps before the front door, flanked by two blue vases. Everything was still, nobody at the windows, nobody stirring on the gravel of the drive; not a voice, not a whisper, not a footfall. And yet, after a long, long look, he turned away almost happy, his heart filled with satisfaction.

    He waited under the old walnut trees of the avenue till the windows lighted up one by one in the darkness, and then retraced his steps. As he passed the railway station, to which people were hurrying to catch an incoming train, he saw amid the confusion a tall woman in a mantilla kiss a young girl who was taking her leave. The pale face under the mantilla, the long, delicate hands, that seemed ungloved out of a voluptuous caprice, how well he knew them! How he saw the woman from head to foot in a flash! His knees bent under him. He felt an exquisite languor, as if he would die there and then! No, he never believed she was so beautiful, so beyond price! And he had thought to forget her! He had imagined he could live without her, as if she did not sum up in herself the world and life and everything!

    She turned into the lane leading to her house, walking at a smart pace, with her dress trailing and catching on the brambles, from which with a backward sweep of the hand and a rough pull she would twitch it clear.

    Jean followed her, pushing his way deliberately through the same bramble bushes and exulting to feel the thorns scratch and tear his flesh.

    She stopped at the gate, and Jean saw her profile, in its purity and dignity, clearly defined in the pale moonlight. She was a long time in turning the key, and Jean could watch her face, the more enthralling to the senses for the absence of any tokens of disturbing intellectual effort. He groaned in grief and rage to think how in another second the iron bars would be close between her and him.

    No, he would not have it so; he darted forward, seized her by the hand, which he pressed in his own and kissed.

    She gave a loud cry of terror, the cry of a frightened animal. Jean was on his knees on the stone step, chafing the hand he held against his teeth, forcing the rings into the flesh of his lips.

    A servant, a lady's maid, came running up, holding a candle that had blown out.

    "What is all this?" she asked breathlessly.

    Jean released the hand, which bore the mark of his violence in a drop of blood, and got to his feet.

    Gabrielle, panting and holding the wounded hand against her bosom, leant against the gate for support.

    "I want to speak to you; I must," cried Jean.

    "Here's pretty manners!" shrilled the maid-servant. "Go your ways," and she pointed with her candlestick first to one end, then to the other of the street.

    The actress's face was still convulsed with the shock of her terror. Her lips were trembling and drawn back so as to show the teeth glittering. But she realized that she had nothing to fear.

    "What do you want with me?" she demanded.

    He had lost his temerity since he had dropped her hand. It was in a very gentle voice he said:

    "Madame, I beg and beseech you, let me say one word to you alone."

    "Rosalie," she ordered, after a moment's hesitation, "take a turn or two in the garden. Now speak, sir," and she remained standing on the step, leaving the gate half-way open, as it had been at the moment he had kissed her hand.

    He spoke in all the sincerity of his inmost heart:

    "All I have to say to you, Madame, is that you must not, you ought not, to repulse me, for I love you too well to live without you."

    She appeared to be searching in her memory.

    "Was it not you," she asked, "who sent me some verses?"

    He said it was, and she resumed:

    "You followed me one evening. It is not right, sir, not the right thing, to follow ladies in the street."

    "I only followed _you_, and that was because I could not help it."

    "You are very young."

    "Yes, but it was long ago I began to love you."

    "It came upon you all in a moment, did it not?"

    "Yes, when I saw you."

    "That is what I thought. You are inflammable, so it seems."

    "I do not know, Madame. I love you and I am very unhappy. I have lost the heart to live, and I cannot bear to die, for then I should not see you any more. Let me be near you sometimes. It must be so heavenly!"

    "But, sir, I know nothing about you."

    "That is my misfortune. But how _can_ I be a stranger for you? You are no stranger, no stranger in my eyes. I do not know any woman, for me there is no other woman in the world but you."

    And again he took her hand, which she let him kiss. Then:

    "It is all very pretty," she said, "but it is not an occupation, being in love. What are you? What do you do?"

    He answered frankly enough:

    "My father is in trade; he is looking out for a post for me."

    The actress understood the truth; here was a little bourgeois, living contentedly on next to nothing, reared in habits of penuriousness, a hidebound, mean creature, like the petty tradesmen who used to come to her whining for their bills, and whom she encountered of a Sunday in smart new coats in the Meudon woods. She could feel no interest in him, such as he might have inspired, whether as a rich man with bouquets and jewels to offer her, or a poor wretch so hungry and miserable as to bring tears to her eyes. Dazzle her eyes or stir her compassion, it must be one or the other! Then she was used to young fellows of a more enterprising mettle. She thought of a young violinist at the Conservatoire who, one evening, when she was entertaining company, had pretended to leave with the rest and concealed himself in her dressing-room; as she was undressing, thinking herself alone, he burst from his hiding-place, a bottle of champagne in either hand and laughing like a mad-man. The new lover was less diverting. However, she asked him his name.

    "Jean Servien."

    "Well, Monsieur Jean Servien, I am sorry, very sorry, to have made you unhappy, as you say you are."

    At the bottom of her heart she was more flattered than grieved at the mischief she had done, so she repeated several times over how very sorry she was.

    She added:

    "I cannot bear to hurt people. Every time a young man is unhappy because of me, I am so distressed; but, honour bright, what do you want me to do for you? Take yourself off, and be sensible. It's no use your coming back to see me. Besides, it would be ridiculous. I have a life of my own to live, quite private, and it is out of the question for me to receive strange visitors."

    He assured her between his sobs:

    "Oh! how I wish you were poor and forsaken. I would come to you then and we should be happy."

    She was a good deal surprised he did not take her by the waist or think of dragging her into the garden under the clump of trees where there was a bench. She was a trifle disappointed and in a way embarrassed not to have to defend her virtue. Finding the conclusion of the interview did not match the beginning and the young man was getting tedious, she slammed the gate in his face and slipped back into the garden, where he saw her vanish in the darkness.

    She bore on her hand, beside a sapphire on her ring finger, a drop of blood. In her chamber, as she emptied a jug of water over her hands to wash away the stain, she could not help reflecting how every drop of blood in this young man's veins would be shed for her whenever she should give the word. And the thought made her smile. At that moment, if he had been there, in that room, at her side, it may be she would not have sent him away.
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