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    Chapter 19

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    Chapter 19
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    Leaning back in an easy-chair, with his legs stretched out before the
    huge, blazing fire, Malignon sat waiting. He had considered it a good
    idea to draw the window-curtains and light the wax candles. The outer
    room, in which he had seated himself, was brilliantly illuminated by a
    small chandelier and a pair of candelabra; whilst the other apartment
    was plunged in shadow, the swinging crystal lamp alone casting on the
    floor a twilight gleam. Malignon drew out his watch.

    "The deuce!" he muttered. "Is she going to keep me waiting again?"

    He gave vent to a slight yawn. He had been waiting for an hour
    already, and it was small amusement to him. However, he rose and cast
    a glance over his preparations.

    The arrangement of the chairs did not please him, and he rolled a
    couch in front of the fireplace. The cretonne hangings had a ruddy
    glow, as they reflected the light of the candles; the room was warm,
    silent, and cozy, while outside the wind came and went in sudden
    gusts. All at once the young man heard three hurried knocks at the
    door. It was the signal.

    "At last!" he exclaimed aloud, his face beaming jubilantly.

    He ran to open the door, and Juliette entered, her face veiled, her
    figure wrapped in a fur mantle. While Malignon was gently closing the
    door, she stood still for a moment, with the emotion that checked the
    words on her lips undetected.

    However, before the young man had had time to take her hand, she
    raised her veil, and displayed a smiling face, rather pale, but quite
    unruffled.

    "What! you have lighted up the place!" she exclaimed. "Why? I thought
    you hated candles in broad daylight!"

    Malignon, who had been making ready to clasp her with a passionate
    gesture that he had been rehearsing, was put somewhat out of
    countenance by this remark, and hastened to explain that the day was
    too wretched, and that the windows looked on to waste patches of
    ground. Besides, night was his special delight.

    "Well, one never knows how to take you," she retorted jestingly. "Last
    spring, at my children's ball, you made such a fuss, declaring that
    the place was like some cavern, some dead-house. However, let us say
    that your taste has changed."

    She seemed to be paying a mere visit, and affected a courage which
    slightly deepened her voice. This was the only indication of her
    uneasiness. At times her chin twitched somewhat, as though she felt
    some uneasiness in her throat. But her eyes were sparkling, and she
    tasted to the full the keen pleasure born of her imprudence. She
    thought of Madame de Chermette, of whom such scandalous stories were
    related. Good heavens! it seemed strange all the same.

    "Let us have a look round," she began.

    And thereupon she began inspecting the apartment. He followed in her
    footsteps, while she gazed at the furniture, examined the walls,
    looked upwards, and started back, chattering all the time.

    "I don't like your cretonne; it is so frightfully common!" said she.
    "Where did you buy that abominable pink stuff? There's a chair that
    would be nice if the wood weren't covered with gilding. Not a picture,
    not a nick-nack--only your chandelier and your candelabra, which are
    by no means in good style! Ah well, my dear fellow; I advise you to
    continue laughing at my Japanese pavilion!"

    She burst into a laugh, thus revenging herself on him for the old
    affronts which still rankled in her breast.

    "Your taste is a pretty one, and no mistake! You don't know that my
    idol is worth more than the whole lot of your things! A draper's
    shopman wouldn't have selected that pink stuff. Was it your idea to
    fascinate your washerwoman?"

    Malignon felt very much hurt, and did not answer. He made an attempt
    to lead her into the inner room; but she remained on the threshold,
    declaring that she never entered such gloomy places. Besides, she
    could see quite enough; the one room was worthy of the other. The
    whole of it had come from the Saint-Antoine quarter.

    But the hanging lamp was her special aversion. She attacked it with
    merciless raillery--what a trashy thing it was, such as some little
    work-girl with no furniture of her own might have dreamt of! Why,
    lamps in the same style could be bought at all the bazaars at seven
    francs fifty centimes apiece.

    "I paid ninety francs for it," at last ejaculated Malignon in his
    impatience.

    Thereupon she seemed delighted at having angered him.

    On his self-possession returning, he inquired: "Won't you take off
    your cloak?"

    "Oh, yes, I will," she answered; "it is dreadfully warm here."

    She took off her bonnet as well, and this with her fur cloak he
    hastened to deposit in the next room. When he returned, he found her
    seated in front of the fire, still gazing round her. She had regained
    her gravity, and was disposed to display a more conciliatory demeanor.

    "It's all very ugly," she said; "still, you are not amiss here. The
    two rooms might have been made very pretty."

    "Oh! they're good enough for my purpose!" he thoughtlessly replied,
    with a careless shrug of the shoulders.

    The next moment, however, he bitterly regretted these silly words. He
    could not possibly have been more impertinent or clumsy. Juliette hung
    her head, and a sharp pang darted through her bosom. Then he sought to
    turn to advantage the embarrassment into which he had plunged her.

    "Juliette!" he said pleadingly, as he leaned towards her.

    But with a gesture she forced him to resume his seat. It was at the
    seaside, at Trouville, that Malignon, bored to death by the constant
    sight of the sea, had hit upon the happy idea of falling in love. One
    evening he had taken hold of Juliette's hand. She had not seemed
    offended; in fact, she had at first bantered him over it. Soon, though
    her head was empty and her heart free, she imagined that she loved
    him. She had, so far, done nearly everything that her friends did
    around her; a lover only was lacking, and curiosity and a craving to
    be like the others had impelled her to secure one. However, Malignon
    was vain enough to imagine that he might win her by force of wit, and
    allowed her time to accustom herself to playing the part of a
    coquette. So, on the first outburst, which took place one night when
    they stood side by side gazing at the sea like a pair of lovers in a
    comic opera, she had repelled him, in her astonishment and vexation
    that he should spoil the romance which served as an amusement to her.

    On his return to Paris Malignon had vowed that he would be more
    skilful in his attack. He had just reacquired influence over her,
    during a fit of boredom which had come on with the close of a wearying
    winter, when the usual dissipations, dinners, balls, and first-night
    performances were beginning to pall on her with their dreary monotony.
    And at last, her curiosity aroused, allured by the seeming mystery and
    piquancy of an intrigue, she had responded to his entreaties by
    consenting to meet him. However, so wholly unruffled were her
    feelings, that she was as little disturbed, seated here by the side of
    Malignon, as when she paid visits to artists' studios to solicit
    pictures for her charity bazaars.

    "Juliette! Juliette!" murmured the young man, striving to speak in
    caressing tones.

    "Come, be sensible," she merely replied; and taking a Chinese fan from
    the chimney-piece, she resumed--as much at her ease as though she had
    been sitting in her own drawing-room: "You know we had a rehearsal
    this morning. I'm afraid I have not made a very happy choice in Madame
    Berthier. Her 'Mathilda' is a snivelling, insufferable affair. You
    remember that delightful soliloquy when she addresses the purse--'Poor
    little thing, I kissed you a moment ago'? Well! she declaims it like a
    school-girl who has learnt a complimentary greeting. It's so
    vexatious!"

    "And what about Madame de Guiraud?" he asked, as he drew his chair
    closer and took her hand.

    "Oh! she is perfection. I've discovered in her a 'Madame de Lery,'
    with some sarcasm and animation."

    While speaking she surrendered her hand to the young man, and he
    kissed it between her sentences without her seeming to notice it.

    "But the worst of it all, you know," she resumed, "is your absence. In
    the first place, you might say something to Madame Berthier; and
    besides, we shall not be able to get a good _ensemble_ if you never
    come."

    He had now succeeded in passing his arm round her waist.

    "But as I know my part," he murmured.

    "Yes, that's all very well; but there's the arrangement of the scenes
    to look after. It is anything but obliging on your part to refuse to
    give us three or four mornings."

    She was unable to continue, for he was raining a shower of kisses on
    her neck. At this she could feign ignorance no longer, but pushed him
    away, tapping him the while with the Chinese fan which she still
    retained in her hand. Doubtless, she had registered a vow that she
    would not allow any further familiarity. Her face was now flushed by
    the heat reflected from the fire, and her lips pouted with the very
    expression of an inquisitive person whom her feelings astonish.
    Moreover, she was really getting frightened.

    "Leave me alone," she stammered, with a constrained smile. "I shall
    get angry."

    But he imagined that he had moved her, and once more took hold of her
    hands. To her, however, a voice seemed to be crying out, "No!" It was
    she herself protesting before she had even answered her own heart.

    "No, no!" she said again. "Let me go; you are hurting me!" And
    thereupon, as he refused to release her, she twisted herself violently
    from his grasp. She was acting in obedience to some strange emotion;
    she felt angry with herself and with him. In her agitation some
    disjointed phrases escaped her lips. Yes, indeed, he rewarded her
    badly for her trust. What a brute he was! She even called him a
    coward. Never in her life would she see him again. But he allowed her
    to talk on, and ran after her with a wicked and brutal laugh. And at
    last she could do no more than gasp in the momentary refuge which she
    had sought behind a chair. They were there, gazing at one another, her
    face transformed by shame and his by passion, when a noise broke
    through the stillness. At first they did not grasp its significance. A
    door had opened, some steps crossed the room, and a voice called to
    them:

    "Fly! fly! You will be caught!"

    It was Helene. Astounded, they both gazed at her. So great was their
    stupefaction that they lost consciousness of their embarrassing
    situation. Juliette indeed displayed no sign of confusion.

    "Fly! fly!" said Helene again. "Your husband will be here in two
    minutes."

    "My husband!" stammered the young woman; "my husband!--why--for what
    reason?"

    She was losing her wits. Her brain was in a turmoil. It seemed to her
    prodigious that Helene should be standing there speaking to her of her
    husband.

    But Helene made an angry gesture.

    "Oh! if you think I've time to explain," said she,--"he is on the way
    here. I give you warning. Disappear at once, both of you."

    Then Juliette's agitation became extraordinary. She ran about the
    rooms like a maniac, screaming out disconnected sentences.

    "My God! my God!--I thank you.--Where is my cloak?--How horrid it is,
    this room being so dark!--Give me my cloak.--Bring me a candle, to
    help me to find my cloak.--My dear, you mustn't mind if I don't stop
    to thank you.--I can't get my arms into the sleeves--no, I can't get
    them in--no, I can't!"

    She was paralyzed with fear, and Helene was obliged to assist her with
    her cloak. She put her bonnet on awry, and did not even tie the
    ribbons. The worst of it, however, was that they lost quite a minute
    in hunting for her veil, which had fallen on the floor. Her words came
    with a gasp; her trembling hands moved about in bewilderment, fumbling
    over her person to ascertain whether she might be leaving anything
    behind which might compromise her.

    "Oh, what a lesson! what a lesson! Thank goodness, it is well over!"

    Malignon was very pale, and made a sorry appearance. His feet beat a
    tattoo on the ground, as he realized that he was both scorned and
    ridiculous. His lips could only give utterance to the wretched
    question:

    "Then you think I ought to go away as well?"

    Then, as no answer was vouchsafed him, he took up his cane, and went
    on talking by way of affecting perfect composure. They had plenty of
    time, said he. It happened that there was another staircase, a small
    servants' staircase, now never used, but which would yet allow of
    their descent. Madame Deberle's cab had remained at the door; it would
    convey both of them away along the quays. And again he repeated: "Now
    calm yourself. It will be all right. See, this way."

    He threw open a door, and the three dingy, dilapidated, little rooms,
    which had not been repaired and were full of dirt, appeared to view. A
    puff of damp air entered the boudoir. Juliette, ere she stepped
    through all that squalor, gave final expression to her disgust.

    "How could I have come here?" she exclaimed in a loud voice. "What a
    hole! I shall never forgive myself."

    "Be quick, be quick!" urged Helene, whose anxiety was as great as her
    own.

    She pushed Juliette forward, but the young woman threw herself sobbing
    on her neck. She was in the throes of a nervous reaction. She was
    overwhelmed with shame, and would fain have defended herself, fain
    have given a reason for being found in that man's company. Then
    instinctively she gathered up her skirts, as though she were about to
    cross a gutter. With the tip of his boot Malignon, who had gone on
    first, was clearing away the plaster which littered the back
    staircase. The doors were shut once more.

    Meantime, Helene had remained standing in the middle of the
    sitting-room. Silence reigned there, a warm, close silence, only
    disturbed by the crackling of the burnt logs. There was a singing in
    her ears, and she heard nothing. But after an interval, which seemed
    to her interminable, the rattle of a cab suddenly resounded. It was
    Juliette's cab rolling away.

    Then Helene sighed, and she made a gesture of mute gratitude. The
    thought that she would not be tortured by everlasting remorse for
    having acted despicably filled her with pleasant and thankful
    feelings. She felt relieved, deeply moved, and yet so weak, now that
    this awful crisis was over, that she lacked the strength to depart in
    her turn. In her heart she thought that Henri was coming, and that he
    must meet some one in this place. There was a knock at the door, and
    she opened it at once.

    The first sensation on either side was one of bewilderment. Henri
    entered, his mind busy with thoughts of the letter which he had
    received, and his face pale and uneasy. But when he caught sight of
    her a cry escaped his lips.

    "You! My God! It was you!"

    The cry betokened more astonishment than pleasure. But soon there came
    a furious awakening of his love.

    "You love me, you love me!" he stammered. "Ah! it was you, and I did
    not understand."

    He stretched out his arm as he spoke; but Helene, who had greeted his
    entrance with a smile, now started back with wan cheeks. Truly she had
    waited for him; she had promised herself that they would be together
    for a moment, and that she would invent some fiction. Now, however,
    full consciousness of the situation flashed upon her; Henri believed
    it to be an assignation. Yet she had never for one moment desired such
    a thing, and her heart rebelled.

    "Henri, I pray you, release me," said she.

    He had grasped her by the wrists, and was drawing her slowly towards
    him, as though to kiss her. The love that had been surging within him
    for months, but which had grown less violent owing to the break in
    their intimacy, now burst forth more fiercely than ever.

    "Release me," she resumed. "You are frightening me. I assure you, you
    are mistaken."

    His surprise found voice once more.

    "Was it not you then who wrote to me?" he asked.

    She hesitated for a second. What could she say in answer?

    "Yes," she whispered at last.

    She could not betray Juliette after having saved her. An abyss lay
    before her into which she herself was slipping. Henri was now glancing
    round the two rooms in wonderment at finding them illumined and
    furnished in such gaudy style. He ventured to question her.

    "Are these rooms yours?" he asked.

    But she remained silent.

    "Your letter upset me so," he continued. "Helene, you are hiding
    something from me. For mercy's sake, relieve my anxiety!"

    She was not listening to him; she was reflecting that he was indeed
    right in considering this to be an assignation. Otherwise, what could
    she have been doing there? Why should she have waited for him? She
    could devise no plausible explanation. She was no longer certain
    whether she had not given him this rendezvous. A network of chance and
    circumstance was enveloping her yet more tightly; there was no escape
    from it. Each second found her less able to resist.

    "You were waiting for me, you were waiting for me!" he repeated
    passionately, as he bent his head to kiss her. And then as his lips
    met hers she felt it beyond her power to struggle further; but, as
    though in mute acquiescence, fell, half swooning and oblivious of the
    world, upon his neck.
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    Chapter 19
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