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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 16
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    The finger-glasses had been handed round the table, and the ladies
    were daintily wiping their hands. A momentary silence reigned, while
    Madame Deberle gazed on either side to see if every one had finished;
    then, without speaking, she rose, and amidst a noisy pushing back of
    chairs, her guests followed her example. An old gentleman who had been
    seated at her right hand hastened to offer her his arm.

    "No, no," she murmured, as she led him towards a doorway. "We will now
    have coffee in the little drawing-room."

    The guests, in couples, followed her. Two ladies and two gentlemen,
    however, lagged behind the others, continuing their conversation,
    without thought of joining the procession. The drawing-room reached,
    all constraint vanished, and the joviality which had marked the
    dessert made its reappearance. The coffee was already served on a
    large lacquer tray on a table. Madame Deberle walked round like a
    hostess who is anxious to satisfy the various tastes of her guests.
    But it was Pauline who ran about the most, and more particularly
    waited on the gentlemen. There were a dozen persons present, about the
    regulation number of people invited to the house every Wednesday, from
    December onwards. Later in the evening, at ten o'clock, a great many
    others would make their appearance.

    "Monsieur de Guiraud, a cup of coffee," exclaimed Pauline, as she
    halted in front of a diminutive, bald-headed man. "Ah! no, I remember,
    you don't take any. Well, then, a glass of Chartreuse?"

    But she became confused in discharging her duties, and brought him a
    glass of cognac. Beaming with smiles, she made the round of the
    guests, perfectly self-possessed, and looking people straight in the
    face, while her long train dragged with easy grace behind her. She
    wore a magnificent gown of white Indian cashmere trimmed with
    swan's-down, and cut square at the bosom. When the gentlemen were all
    standing up, sipping their coffee, each with cup in hand and chin high
    in the air, she began to tackle a tall young fellow named Tissot, whom
    she considered rather handsome.

    Helene had not taken any coffee. She had seated herself apart, with a
    somewhat wearied expression on her face. Her black velvet gown,
    unrelieved by any trimming, gave her an air of austerity. In this
    small drawing-room smoking was allowed, and several boxes of cigars
    were placed beside her on the pier-table. The doctor drew near; as he
    selected a cigar he asked her: "Is Jeanne well?"

    "Yes, indeed," she replied. "We walked to the Bois to-day, and she
    romped like a madcap. Oh, she must be sound asleep by now."

    They were both chatting in friendly tones, with the smiling intimacy
    of people who see each other day after day, when Madame Deberle's
    voice rose high and shrill:

    "Stop! stop! Madame Grandjean can tell you all about it. Didn't I come
    back from Trouville on the 10th of September? It was raining, and the
    beach had become quite unbearable!"

    Three or four of the ladies were gathered round her while she rattled
    on about her holdiday at the seaside. Helene found it necessary to
    rise and join the group.

    "We spent a month at Dinard," said Madame de Chermette. "Such a
    delightful place, and such charming society!"

    "Behind our chalet was a garden, and we had a terrace overlooking the
    sea," went on Madame Deberle. "As you know, I decided on taking my
    landau and coachman with me. It was very much handier when I wanted a
    drive. Then Madame Levasseur came to see us--"

    "Yes, one Sunday," interrupted that lady. "We were at Cabourg. Your
    establishment was perfect, but a little too dear, I think."

    "By the way," broke in Madame Berthier, addressing Juliette, "didn't
    Monsieur Malignon give you lessons in swimming?"

    Helene noticed a shadow of vexation, of sudden annoyance, pass over
    Madame Deberle's face. Several times already she had fancied that, on
    Malignon's name being brought unexpectedly into the conversation,
    Madame Deberle suddenly seemed perturbed. However, the young woman
    immediately regained her equanimity.

    "A fine swimmer, indeed!" she exclaimed. "The idea of him ever giving
    lessons to any one! For my part, I have a mortal fear of cold water
    --the very sight of people bathing curdles my blood."

    She gave an eloquent shiver, with a shrug of her plump shoulders, as
    though she were a duck shaking water from her back.

    "Then it's a fable?" questioned Madame de Guiraud.

    "Of course; and one, I presume, of his own invention. He detests me
    since he spent a month with us down there."

    People were now beginning to pour in. The ladies, with clusters of
    flowers in their hair, and round, plump arms, entered smiling and
    nodding; while the men, each in evening dress and hat in hand, bowed
    and ventured on some commonplace remark. Madame Deberle, never ceasing
    her chatter for a moment, extended the tips of her fingers to the
    friends of the house, many of whom said nothing, but passed on with a
    bow. However, Mademoiselle Aurelie had just appeared on the scene, and
    at once went into raptures over Juliette's dress, which was of
    dark-blue velvet, trimmed with faille silk. At this all the ladies
    standing round seemed to catch their first glimpse of the dress, and
    declared it was exquisite, truly exquisite. It came, they learned,
    from Worth's, and they discussed it for five minutes. The guests who
    had drunk their coffee had placed their empty cups here and there on
    the tray and on the pier-tables; only one old gentleman had not yet
    finished, as between every mouthful he paused to converse with a lady.
    A warm perfume, the aroma of the coffee and the ladies' dresses
    intermingled, permeated the apartment.

    "You know I have had nothing," remonstrated young Monsieur Tissot with
    Pauline, who had been chatting with him about an artist to whose
    studio her father had escorted her with a view to examining the

    "What! have you had nothing? Surely I brought you a cup of coffee?"

    "No, mademoiselle, I assure you."

    "But I insist on your having something. See, here is some Chartreuse."

    Madame Deberle had just directed a meaning nod towards her husband.
    The doctor, understanding her, thereupon opened the door of a large
    drawing-room, into which they all filed, while a servant removed the
    coffee-tray. There was almost a chill atmosphere in this spacious
    apartment, through which streamed the white light of six lamps and a
    chandelier with ten wax candles. There were already some ladies there,
    sitting in a semi-circle round the fireplace, but only two or three
    men were present, standing amidst the sea of outspread skirts. And
    through the open doorway of the smaller drawing-room rang the shrill
    voice of Pauline, who had lingered behind in company with young

    "Now that I have poured it out, I'm determined you shall drink it.
    What would you have me do with it? Pierre has carried off the tray."

    Then she entered the larger room, a vision in white, with her dress
    trimmed with swan's-down. Her ruddy lips parted, displaying her teeth,
    as she smilingly announced: "Here comes Malignon, the exquisite!"

    Hand-shaking and bowing were now the order of the day. Monsieur
    Deberle had placed himself near the door. His wife, seated with some
    other ladies on an extremely low couch, rose every other second. When
    Malignon made his appearance, she affected to turn away her head. He
    was dressed to perfection; his hair had been curled, and was parted
    behind, down to his very neck. On the threshold he had stuck an
    eye-glass in his right eye with a slight grimace, which, according to
    Pauline, was just the thing; and now he cast a glance around the room.
    Having nonchalantly and silently shaken hands with the doctor, he made
    his way towards Madame Deberle, in front of whom he respectfully bent
    his tall figure.

    "Oh, it's you!" she exclaimed, in a voice loud enough to be heard by
    everybody. "It seems you go in for swimming now."

    He did not guess her meaning, but nevertheless replied, by way of a

    "Certainly; I once saved a Newfoundland dog from drowning."

    The ladies thought this extremely funny, and even Madame Deberle
    seemed disarmed.

    "Well, I'll allow you to save Newfoundlands," she answered, "but you
    know very well I did not bathe once at Trouville."

    "Oh! you're speaking of the lesson I gave you!" he exclaimed. "Didn't
    I tell you one night in your dining-room how to move your feet and
    hands about?"

    All the ladies were convulsed with mirth--he was delightful! Juliette
    shrugged her shoulders; it was impossible to engage him in a serious
    talk. Then she rose to meet a lady whose first visit this was to her
    house, and who was a superb pianist. Helene, seated near the fire, her
    lovely face unruffled by any emotion, looked on and listened.
    Malignon, especially, seemed to interest her. She saw him execute a
    strategical movement which brought him to Madame Deberle's side, and
    she could hear the conversation that ensued behind her chair. Of a
    sudden there was a change in the tones, and she leaned back to gather
    the drift of what was being said.

    "Why didn't you come yesterday?" asked Malignon. "I waited for you
    till six o'clock."

    "Nonsense; you are mad," murmured Juliette.

    Thereupon Malignon loudly lisped: "Oh! you don't believe the story
    about my Newfoundland! Yet I received a medal for it, and I'll show it
    to you."

    Then he added, in a whisper: "You gave me your promise--remember."

    A family group now entered the drawing-room, and Juliette broke into
    complimentary greetings, while Malignon reappeared amongst the ladies,
    glass in eye. Helene had become quite pale since overhearing those
    hastily spoken words. It was as though a thunderbolt, or something
    equally unforeseen and horrible, had fallen on her. How could thoughts
    of treachery enter into the mind of that woman whose life was so
    happy, whose face betrayed no signs of sorrow, whose cheeks had the
    freshness of the rose? She had always known her to be devoid of
    brains, displaying an amiable egotism which seemed a guarantee that
    she would never commit a foolish action. And over such a fellow as
    Malignon, too! The scenes in the garden of an afternoon flashed back
    on her memory--she recalled Juliette smiling lovingly as the doctor
    kissed her hair. Their love for one another had seemed real enough. An
    inexplicable feeling of indignation with Juliette now pervaded Helene,
    as though some wrong had been done herself. She felt humiliated for
    Henri's sake; she was consumed with jealous rage; and her perturbed
    feelings were so plainly mirrored in her face that Mademoiselle
    Aurelie asked her: "What is the matter with you? Do you feel ill?"

    The old lady had sunk into a seat beside her immediately she had
    observed her to be alone. She had conceived a lively friendship for
    Helene, and was charmed with the kindly manner in which so sedate and
    lovely a woman would listen for hours to her tittle-tattle.

    But Helene made no reply. A wild desire sprang up within her to gaze
    on Henri, to know what he was doing, and what was the expression of
    his face. She sat up, and glancing round the drawing-room, at last
    perceived him. He stood talking with a stout, pale man, and looked
    completely at his ease, his face wearing its customary refined smile.
    She scanned him for a moment, full of a pity which belittled him
    somewhat, though all the while she loved him the more with an
    affection into which entered some vague idea of watching over him. Her
    feelings, still in a whirl of confusion, inspired her with the thought
    that she ought to bring him back the happiness he had lost.

    "Well, well!" muttered Mademoiselle Aurelie; "it will be pleasant if
    Madame de Guiraud's sister favors us with a song. It will be the tenth
    time I have heard her sing the 'Turtle-Doves.' That is her stock song
    this winter. You know that she is separated from her husband. Do you
    see that dark gentleman down there, near the door? They are most
    intimate together, I believe. Juliette is compelled to have him here,
    for otherwise she wouldn't come!"

    "Indeed!" exclaimed Helene.

    Madame Deberle was bustling about from one group to another,
    requesting silence for a song from Madame de Guiraud's sister. The
    drawing-room was now crowded, some thirty ladies being seated in the
    centre whispering and laughing together; two, however, had remained
    standing, and were talking loudly and shrugging their shoulders in a
    pretty way, while five or six men sat quite at home amongst the fair
    ones, almost buried beneath the folds of their skirts and trains. A
    low "Hush!" ran round the room, the voices died away, and a stolid
    look of annoyance crept into every face. Only the fans could be heard
    rustling through the heated atmosphere.

    Madame de Guiraud's sister sang, but Helene never listened. Her eyes
    were now riveted on Malignon, who feigned an intense love of music,
    and appeared to be enraptured with the "Turtle Doves." Was it
    possible? Could Juliette have turned a willing ear to the amorous
    chatter of the young fop? It was at Trouville, no doubt, that some
    dangerous game had been played. Malignon now sat in front of Juliette,
    marking the time of the music by swaying to and fro with the air of
    one who is enraptured. Madame Deberle's face beamed in admiring
    complacency, while the doctor, good-natured and patient, silently
    awaited the last notes of the song in order to renew his talk with the
    stout, pale man.

    There was a murmur of applause as the singer's voice died away, and
    two or three exclaimed in tones of transport: "Delightful!

    Malignon, however, stretching his arms over the ladies' head-dresses,
    noiselessly clapped his gloved hands, and repeated "Brava! brava!" in
    a voice that rose high above the others.

    The enthusiasm promptly came to an end, every face relaxed and smiled,
    and a few of the ladies rose, while, with the feeling of general
    relief, the buzz of conversation began again. The atmosphere was
    growing much warmer, and the waving fans wafted an odor of musk from
    the ladies' dresses. At times, amidst the universal chatter, a peal of
    pearly laughter would ring out, or some word spoken in a loud tone
    would cause many to turn round. Thrice already had Juliette swept into
    the smaller drawing-room to request some gentleman who had escaped
    thither not to desert the ladies in so rude a fashion. They returned
    at her request, but ten minutes afterwards had again vanished.

    "It's intolerable," she muttered, with an air of vexation; "not one of
    them will stay here."

    In the meantime Mademoiselle Aurelie was running over the ladies'
    names for Helene's benefit, as this was only the latter's second
    evening visit to the doctor's house. The most substantial people of
    Passy, some of them rolling in riches, were present. And the old maid
    leaned towards Helene and whispered in her ear: "Yes, it seems it's
    all arranged. Madame de Chermette is going to marry her daughter to
    that tall fair fellow with whom she has flirted for the last eighteen
    months. Well, never mind, that will be one mother-in-law who'll be
    fond of her son-in-law."

    She stopped short, and then burst out in a tone of intense surprise:
    "Good gracious! there's Madame Levasseur's husband speaking to that
    man. I thought Juliette had sworn never to have them here together."

    Helene's glances slowly travelled round the room. Even amongst such
    seemingly estimable and honest people as these could there be women of
    irregular conduct? With her provincial austerity she was astounded at
    the manner in which wrongdoing was winked at in Paris. She railed at
    herself for her own painful repugnance when Juliette had shaken hands
    with her. Madame Deberle had now seemingly become reconciled with
    Malignon; she had curled up her little plump figure in an easy-chair,
    where she sat listening gleefully to his jests. Monsieur Deberle
    happened to pass them.

    "You're surely not quarrelling to-night?" asked he.

    "No," replied Juliette, with a burst of merriment. "He's talking too
    much silly nonsense. If you had heard all the nonsense he's been

    There now came some more singing, but silence was obtained with
    greater difficulty. The aria selected was a duet from _La Favorita_,
    sung by young Monsieur Tissot and a lady of ripened charms, whose hair
    was dressed in childish style. Pauline, standing at one of the doors,
    amidst a crowd of black coats, gazed at the male singer with a look of
    undisguised admiration, as though she were examining a work of art.

    "What a handsome fellow!" escaped from her lips, just as the
    accompaniment subsided into a softer key, and so loud was her voice
    that the whole drawing-room heard the remark.

    As the evening progressed the guests' faces began to show signs of
    weariness. Ladies who had occupied the same seat for hours looked
    bored, though they knew it not,--they were even delighted at being
    able to get bored here. In the intervals between the songs, which were
    only half listened to, the murmur of conversation again resounded, and
    it seemed as though the deep notes of the piano were still echoing.
    Monsieur Letellier related how he had gone to Lyons for the purpose of
    inspecting some silk he had ordered, and how he had been greatly
    impressed by the fact that the Saone did not mingle its waters with
    those of the Rhone. Monsieur de Guiraud, who was a magistrate, gave
    vent to some sententious observations on the need of stemming the vice
    of Paris. There was a circle round a gentleman who was acquainted with
    a Chinaman, and was giving some particulars of his friend. In a corner
    two ladies were exchanging confidences about the failings of their
    servants; whilst literature was being discussed by those among whom
    Malignon sat enthroned. Madame Tissot declared Balzac to be
    unreadable, and Malignon did not deny it, but remarked that here and
    there, at intervals far and few, some very fine passages occurred in

    "A little silence, please!" all at once exclaimed Pauline; "she's just
    going to play."

    The lady whose talent as a musician had been so much spoken of had
    just sat down to the piano. In accordance with the rules of
    politeness, every head was turned towards her. But in the general
    stillness which ensued the deep voices of the men conversing in the
    small drawing-room could be heard. Madame Deberle was in despair.

    "They are a nuisance!" she muttered. "Let them stay there, if they
    don't want to come in; but at least they ought to hold their tongues!"

    She gave the requisite orders to Pauline, who, intensely delighted,
    ran into the adjacent apartment to carry out her instructions.

    "You must know, gentlemen, that a lady is going to play," she said,
    with the quiet boldness of a maiden in queenly garb. "You are
    requested to keep silence."

    She spoke in a very loud key, her voice being naturally shrill. And,
    as she lingered with the men, laughing and quizzing, the noise grew
    more pronounced than ever. There was a discussion going on among these
    males, and she supplied additional matter for argument. In the larger
    drawing-room Madame Deberle was in agony. The guests, moreover, had
    been sated with music, and no enthusiasm was displayed; so the pianist
    resumed her seat, biting her lips, notwithstanding the laudatory
    compliments which the lady of the house deemed it her duty to lavish
    on her.

    Helene was pained. Henri scarcely seemed to see her; he had made no
    attempt to approach her, and only at intervals smiled to her from
    afar. At the earlier part of the evening she had felt relieved by his
    prudent reserve; but since she had learnt the secret of the two others
    she wished for something--she knew not what--some display of
    affection, or at least interest, on his part. Her breast was stirred
    with confused yearnings, and every imaginable evil thought. Did he no
    longer care for her, that he remained so indifferent to her presence?
    Oh! if she could have told him everything! If she could apprise him of
    the unworthiness of the woman who bore his name! Then, while some
    short, merry catches resounded from the piano, she sank into a dreamy
    state. She imagined that Henri had driven Juliette from his home, and
    she was living with him as his wife in some far-away foreign land, the
    language of which they knew not.

    All at once a voice startled her.

    "Won't you take anything?" asked Pauline.

    The drawing-room had emptied, and the guests were passing into the
    dining-room to drink some tea. Helene rose with difficulty. She was
    dazed; she thought she had dreamt it all--the words she had heard,
    Juliette's secret intrigue, and its consequences. If it had all been
    true, Henri would surely have been at her side and ere this both would
    have quitted the house.

    "Will you take a cup of tea?"

    She smiled and thanked Madame Deberle, who had kept a place for her at
    the table. Plates loaded with pastry and sweetmeats covered the cloth,
    while on glass stands arose two lofty cakes, flanking a large
    _brioche_. The space was limited, and the cups of tea were crowded
    together, narrow grey napkins with long fringes lying between each
    two. The ladies only were seated. They held biscuits and preserved
    fruits with the tips of their ungloved fingers, and passed each other
    the cream-jugs and poured out the cream with dainty gestures. Three or
    four, however, had sacrificed themselves to attend on the men, who
    were standing against the walls, and, while drinking, taking all
    conceivable precautions to ward off any push which might be
    unwittingly dealt them. A few others lingered in the two
    drawing-rooms, waiting for the cakes to come to them. This was the
    hour of Pauline's supreme delight. There was a shrill clamor of noisy
    tongues, peals of laughter mingled with the ringing clatter of silver
    plate, and the perfume of musk grew more powerful as it blended with
    the all-pervading fragrance of the tea.

    "Kindly pass me some cake," said Mademoiselle Aurelie to Helene, close
    to whom she happened to find herself. "These sweetmeats are frauds!"

    She had, however, already emptied two plates of them. And she
    continued, with her mouth full:

    "Oh! some of the people are beginning to go now. We shall be a little
    more comfortable."

    In truth, several ladies were now leaving, after shaking hands with
    Madame Deberle. Many of the gentlemen had already wisely vanished, and
    the room was becoming less crowded. Now came the opportunity for the
    remaining gentlemen to sit down at table in their turn. Mademoiselle
    Aurelie, however, did not quit her place, though she would much have
    liked to secure a glass of punch.

    "I will get you one," said Helene, starting to her feet.

    "No, no, thank you. You must not inconvenience yourself so much."

    For a short time Helene had been watching Malignon. He had just shaken
    hands with the doctor, and was now bidding farewell to Juliette at the
    doorway. She had a lustrous face and sparkling eyes, and by her
    complacent smile it might have been imagined that she was receiving
    some commonplace compliments on the evening's success. While Pierre
    was pouring out the punch at a sideboard near the door, Helene stepped
    forward in such wise as to be hidden from view by the curtain, which
    had been drawn back. She listened.

    "I beseech you," Malignon was saying, "come the day after to-morrow. I
    shall wait for you till three o'clock."

    "Why cannot you talk seriously," replied Madame Deberle, with a laugh.
    "What foolish things you say!"

    But with greater determination he repeated: "I shall wait for you--the
    day after to-morrow."

    Then she hurriedly gave a whispered reply:

    "Very well--the day after to-morrow."

    Malignon bowed and made his exit. Madame de Chermette followed in
    company with Madame Tissot. Juliette, in the best of spirits, walked
    with them into the hall, and said to the former of these ladies with
    her most amiable look:

    "I shall call on you the day after to-morrow. I have a lot of calls to
    make that day."

    Helene stood riveted to the floor, her face quite white. Pierre, in
    the meanwhile, had poured out the punch, and now handed the glass to
    her. She grasped it mechanically and carried it to Mademoiselle
    Aurelie, who was making an inroad on the preserved fruits.

    "Oh, you are far too kind!" exclaimed the old maid. "I should have
    made a sign to Pierre. I'm sure it's a shame not offering the punch to
    ladies. Why, when people are my age--"

    She got no further, however, for she observed the ghastliness of
    Helene's face. "You surely are in pain! You must take a drop of

    "Thank you, it's nothing. The heat is so oppressive--"

    She staggered, and turned aside into the deserted drawing-room, where
    she dropped into an easy-chair. The lamps were shedding a reddish
    glare; and the wax candles in the chandelier, burnt to their sockets,
    threatened imminent destruction to the crystal sconces. From the
    dining-room were wafted the farewells of the departing guests. Helene
    herself had lost all thoughts of going; she longed to linger where she
    was, plunged in thought. So it was no dream after all; Juliette would
    visit that man the day after to-morrow--she knew the day. Then the
    thought struck her that she ought to speak to Juliette and warn her
    against sin. But this kindly thought chilled her to the heart, and she
    drove it from her mind as though it were out of place, and deep in
    meditation gazed at the grate, where a smouldering log was crackling.
    The air was still heavy and oppressive with the perfumes from the
    ladies' hair.

    "What! you are here!" exclaimed Juliette as she entered. "Well, you
    are kind not to run away all at once. At last we can breathe!"

    Helene was surprised, and made a movement as though about to rise; but
    Juliette went on: "Wait, wait, you are in no hurry. Henri, get me my

    Three or four persons, intimate friends, had lingered behind the
    others. They sat before the dying fire and chatted with delightful
    freedom, while the vast room wearily sank into a doze. The doors were
    open, and they saw the smaller drawing-room empty, the dining-room
    deserted, the whole suite of rooms still lit up and plunged in
    unbroken silence. Henri displayed a tender gallantry towards his wife;
    he had run up to their bedroom for her smelling-salts, which she
    inhaled with closed eyes, whilst he asked her if she had not fatigued
    herself too much. Yes, she felt somewhat tired; but she was delighted
    --everything had gone off so well. Next she told them that on her
    reception nights she could not sleep, but tossed about till six
    o'clock in the morning. Henri's face broke into a smile, and some
    quizzing followed. Helene looked at them, and quivered amidst the
    benumbing drowsiness which little by little seemed to fall upon the
    whole house.

    However, only two guests now remained. Pierre had gone in search of a
    cab. Helene remained the last. One o'clock struck. Henri, no longer
    standing on ceremony, rose on tiptoe and blew out two candles in the
    chandelier which were dangerously heating their crystal sconces. As
    the lights died out one by one, it seemed like a bedroom scene, the
    gloom of an alcove spreading over all.

    "I am keeping you up!" exclaimed Helene, as she suddenly rose to her
    feet. "You must turn me out."

    A flush of red dyed her face; her blood, racing through her veins,
    seemed to stifle her. They walked with her into the hall, but the air
    there was chilly, and the doctor was somewhat alarmed for his wife in
    her low dress.

    "Go back; you will do yourself harm. You are too warm."

    "Very well; good-bye," said Juliette, embracing Helene, as was her
    wont in her most endearing moments. "Come and see me oftener."

    Henri had taken Helene's fur coat in his hand, and held it
    outstretched to assist her in putting it on. When she had slipped her
    arms into the sleeves, he turned up the collar with a smile, while
    they stood in front of an immense mirror which covered one side of the
    hall. They were alone, and saw one another in the mirror's depths. For
    three months, on meeting and parting they had simply shaken hands in
    friendly greeting; they would fain that their love had died. But now
    Helene was overcome, and sank back into his arms. The smile vanished
    from his face, which became impassioned, and, still clasping her, he

    kissed her on the neck. And she, raising her head, returned his kiss.
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