Chapter 3 - The History Of Madame Diard
By the time that the quartermaster had fulfilled all the long and dilatory formalities without which no French soldier can be married, he was passionately in love with Juana di Mancini, and Juana had had time to think of her coming destiny.
An awful destiny! Juana, who felt neither esteem nor love for Diard, was bound to him forever, by a rash but necessary promise. The man was neither handsome nor well-made. His manners, devoid of all distinction, were a mixture of the worst army tone, the habits of his province, and his own insufficient education. How could she love Diard, she, a young girl all grace and elegance, born with an invincible instinct for luxury and good taste, her very nature tending toward the sphere of the higher social classes? As for esteeming him, she rejected the very thought precisely because he had married her. This repulsion was natural. Woman is a saintly and noble creature, but almost always misunderstood, and nearly always misjudged because she is misunderstood. If Juana had loved Diard she would have esteemed him. Love creates in a wife a new woman; the woman of the day before no longer exists on the morrow. Putting on the nuptial robe of a passion in which life itself is concerned, the woman wraps herself in purity and whiteness. Reborn into virtue and chastity, there is no past for her; she is all future, and should forget the things behind her to relearn life. In this sense the famous words which a modern poet has put into the lips of Marion Delorme is infused with truth,--
"And Love remade me virgin."
That line seems like a reminiscence of a tragedy of Corneille, so truly does it recall the energetic diction of the father of our modern theatre. Yet the poet was forced to sacrifice it to the essentially vaudevillist spirit of the pit.
So Juana loveless was doomed to be Juana humiliated, degraded, hopeless. She could not honor the man who took her thus. She felt, in all the conscientious purity of her youth, that distinction, subtle in appearance but sacredly true, legal with the heart's legality, which women apply instinctively to all their feelings, even the least reflective. Juana became profoundly sad as she saw the nature and the extent of the life before her. Often she turned her eyes, brimming with tears proudly repressed, upon Perez and Dona Lagounia, who fully comprehended, both of them, the bitter thoughts those tears contained. But they were silent: of what good were reproaches now; why look for consolations? The deeper they were, the more they enlarged the wound.
One evening, Juana, stupid with grief, heard through the open door of her little room, which the old couple had thought shut, a pitying moan from her adopted mother.
"The child will die of grief."
"Yes," said Perez, in a shaking voice, "but what can we do? I cannot now boast of her beauty and her chastity to Comte d'Arcos, to whom I hoped to marry her."
"But a single fault is not vice," said the old woman, pitying as the angels.
"Her mother gave her to this man," said Perez.
"Yes, in a moment; without consulting the poor child!" cried Dona Lagounia.
"She knew what she was doing."
"But oh! into what hands our pearl is going!"
"Say no more, or I shall seek a quarrel with that Diard."
"And that would only lead to other miseries."
Hearing these dreadful words Juana saw the happy future she had lost by her own wrongdoing. The pure and simple years of her quiet life would have been rewarded by a brilliant existence such as she had fondly dreamed,--dreams which had caused her ruin. To fall from the height of Greatness to Monsieur Diard! She wept. At times she went nearly mad. She floated for a while between vice and religion. Vice was a speedy solution, religion a lifetime of suffering. The meditation was stormy and solemn. The next day was the fatal day, the day for the marriage. But Juana could still remain free. Free, she knew how far her misery would go; married, she was ignorant of where it went or what it might bring her.
Religion triumphed. Dona Lagounia stayed beside her child and prayed and watched as she would have prayed and watched beside the dying.
"God wills it," she said to Juana.
Nature gives to woman alternately a strength which enables her to suffer and a weakness which leads her to resignation. Juana resigned herself; and without restriction. She determined to obey her mother's prayer, and cross the desert of life to reach God's heaven, knowing well that no flowers grew for her along the way of that painful journey.
She married Diard. As for the quartermaster, though he had no grace in Juana's eyes, we may well absolve him. He loved her distractedly. The Marana, so keen to know the signs of love, had recognized in that man the accents of passion and the brusque nature, the generous impulses, that are common to Southerners. In the paroxysm of her anger and her distress she had thought such qualities enough for her daughter's happiness.
The first days of this marriage were apparently happy; or, to express one of those latent facts, the miseries of which are buried by women in the depths of their souls, Juana would not cast down her husband's joy,--a double role, dreadful to play, but to which, sooner or later, all women unhappily married come. This is a history impossible to recount in its full truth. Juana, struggling hourly against her nature, a nature both Spanish and Italian, having dried up the source of her tears by dint of weeping, was a human type, destined to represent woman's misery in its utmost expression, namely, sorrow undyingly active; the description of which would need such minute observations that to persons eager for dramatic emotions they would seem insipid. This analysis, in which every wife would find some one of her own sufferings, would require a volume to express them all; a fruitless, hopeless volume by its very nature, the merit of which would consist in faintest tints and delicate shadings which critics would declare to be effeminate and diffuse. Besides, what man could rightly approach, unless he bore another heart within his heart, those solemn and touching elegies which certain women carry with them to their tomb; melancholies, misunderstood even by those who cause them; sighs unheeded, devotions unrewarded,--on earth at least,--splendid silences misconstrued; vengeances withheld, disdained; generosities perpetually bestowed and wasted; pleasures longed for and denied; angelic charities secretly accomplished,--in short, all the religions of womanhood and its inextinguishable love.
Juana knew that life; fate spared her nought. She was wholly a wife, but a sorrowful and suffering wife; a wife incessantly wounded, yet forgiving always; a wife pure as a flawless diamond,--she who had the beauty and the glow of the diamond, and in that beauty, that glow, a vengeance in her hand; for she was certainly not a woman to fear the dagger added to her "dot."
At first, inspired by a real love, by one of those passions which for the time being change even odious characters and bring to light all that may be noble in a soul, Diard behaved like a man of honor. He forced Montefiore to leave the regiment and even the army corps, so that his wife might never meet him during the time they remained in Spain. Next, he petitioned for his own removal, and succeeded in entering the Imperial Guard. He desired at any price to obtain a title, honors, and consideration in keeping with his present wealth. With this idea in his mind, he behaved courageously in one of the most bloody battles in Germany, but, unfortunately, he was too severely wounded to remain in the service. Threatened with the loss of a leg, he was forced to retire on a pension, without the title of baron, without those rewards he hoped to win, and would have won had he not been Diard.
This event, this wound, and his thwarted hopes contributed to change his character. His Provencal energy, roused for a time, sank down. At first he was sustained by his wife, in whom his efforts, his courage, his ambition had induced some belief in his nature, and who showed herself, what women are, tender and consoling in the troubles of life. Inspired by a few words from Juana, the retired soldier came to Paris, resolved to win in an administrative career a position to command respect, bury in oblivion the quartermaster of the 6th of the line, and secure for Madame Diard a noble title. His passion for that seductive creature enabled him to divine her most secret wishes. Juana expressed nothing, but he understood her. He was not loved as a lover dreams of being loved; he knew this, and he strove to make himself respected, loved, and cherished. He foresaw a coming happiness, poor man, in the patience and gentleness shown on all occasions by his wife; but that patience, that gentleness, were only the outward signs of the resignation which had made her his wife. Resignation, religion, were they love? Often Diard wished for refusal where he met with chaste obedience; often he would have given his eternal life that Juana might have wept upon his bosom and not disguised her secret thoughts behind a smiling face which lied to him nobly. Many young men --for after a certain age men no longer struggle--persist in the effort to triumph over an evil fate, the thunder of which they hear, from time to time, on the horizon of their lives; and when at last they succumb and roll down the precipice of evil, we ought to do them justice and acknowledge these inward struggles.
Like many men Diard tried all things, and all things were hostile to him. His wealth enabled him to surround his wife with the enjoyments of Parisian luxury. She lived in a fine house, with noble rooms, where she maintained a salon, in which abounded artists (by nature no judges of men), men of pleasure ready to amuse themselves anywhere, a few politicians who swelled the numbers, and certain men of fashion, all of whom admired Juana. Those who put themselves before the eyes of the public in Paris must either conquer Paris or be subject to it. Diard's character was not sufficiently strong, compact, or persistent to command society at that epoch, because it was an epoch when all men were endeavoring to rise. Social classifications ready-made are perhaps a great boon even for the people. Napoleon has confided to us the pains he took to inspire respect in his court, where most of the courtiers had been his equals. But Napoleon was Corsican, and Diard Provencal. Given equal genius, an islander will always be more compact and rounded than the man of terra firma in the same latitude; the arm of the sea which separates Corsica from Provence is, in spite of human science, an ocean which has made two nations.
Diard's mongrel position, which he himself made still more questionable, brought him great troubles. Perhaps there is useful instruction to be derived from the almost imperceptible connection of acts which led to the finale of this history.
In the first place, the sneerers of Paris did not see without malicious smiles and words the pictures with which the former quartermaster adorned his handsome mansion. Works of art purchased the night before were said to be spoils from Spain; and this accusation was the revenge of those who were jealous of his present fortune. Juana comprehended this reproach, and by her advice Diard sent back to Tarragona all the pictures he had brought from there. But the public, determined to see things in the worst light, only said, "That Diard is shrewd; he has sold his pictures." Worthy people continued to think that those which remained in the Diard salons were not honorably acquired. Some jealous women asked how it was that a DIARD (!) had been able to marry so rich and beautiful a young girl. Hence comments and satires without end, such as Paris contributes. And yet, it must be said, that Juana met on all sides the respect inspired by her pure and religious life, which triumphed over everything, even Parisian calumny; but this respect stopped short with her, her husband received none of it. Juana's feminine perception and her keen eye hovering over her salons, brought her nothing but pain.
This lack of esteem was perfectly natural. Diard's comrades, in spite of the virtues which our imaginations attribute to soldiers, never forgave the former quartermaster of the 6th of the line for becoming suddenly so rich and for attempting to cut a figure in Paris. Now in Paris, from the last house in the faubourg Saint-Germain to the last in the rue Saint-Lazare, between the heights of the Luxembourg and the heights of Montmartre, all that clothes itself and gabbles, clothes itself to go out and goes out to gabble. All that world of great and small pretensions, that world of insolence and humble desires, of envy and cringing, all that is gilded or tarnished, young or old, noble of yesterday or noble from the fourth century, all that sneers at a parvenu, all that fears to commit itself, all that wants to demolish power and worships power if it resists,--ALL those ears hear, ALL those tongues say, ALL those minds know, in a single evening, where the new-comer who aspires to honor among them was born and brought up, and what that interloper has done, or has not done, in the course of his life. There may be no court of assizes for the upper classes of society; but at any rate they have the most cruel of public prosecutors, an intangible moral being, both judge and executioner, who accuses and brands. Do not hope to hide anything from him; tell him all yourself; he wants to know all and he will know all. Do not ask what mysterious telegraph it was which conveyed to him in the twinkling of an eye, at any hour, in any place, that story, that bit of news, that scandal; do not ask what prompts him. That telegraph is a social mystery; no observer can report its effects. Of many extraordinary instances thereof, one may suffice: The assassination of the Duc de Berry, which occurred at the Opera-house, was related within ten minutes in the Ile-Saint-Louis. Thus the opinion of the 6th of the line as to its quartermaster filtered through society the night on which he gave his first ball.
Diard was therefore debarred from succeeding in society. Henceforth his wife alone had the power to make anything of him. Miracle of our strange civilization! In Paris, if a man is incapable of being anything himself, his wife, when she is young and clever, may give him other chances for elevation. We sometimes meet with invalid women, feeble beings apparently, who, without rising from sofas or leaving their chambers, have ruled society, moved a thousand springs, and placed their husbands where their ambition or their vanity prompted. But Juana, whose childhood was passed in her retreat in Tarragona, knew nothing of the vices, the meannesses, or the resources of Parisian society; she looked at that society with the curiosity of a girl, but she learned from it only that which her sorrow and her wounded pride revealed to her.
Juana had the tact of a virgin heart which receives impressions in advance of the event, after the manner of what are called "sensitives." The solitary young girl, so suddenly become a woman and a wife, saw plainly that were she to attempt to compel society to respect her husband, it must be after the manner of Spanish beggars, carbine in hand. Besides, the multiplicity of the precautions she would have to take, would they meet the necessity? Suddenly she divined society as, once before, she had divined life, and she saw nothing around her but the immense extent of an irreparable disaster. She had, moreover, the additional grief of tardily recognizing her husband's peculiar form of incapacity; he was a man unfitted for any purpose that required continuity of ideas. He could not understand a consistent part, such as he ought to play in the world; he perceived it neither as a whole nor in its gradations, and its gradations were everything. He was in one of those positions where shrewdness and tact might have taken the place of strength; when shrewdness and tact succeed, they are, perhaps, the highest form of strength.
Now Diard, far from arresting the spot of oil on his garments left by his antecedents, did his best to spread it. Incapable of studying the phase of the empire in the midst of which he came to live in Paris, he wanted to be made prefect. At that time every one believed in the genius of Napoleon; his favor enhanced the value of all offices. Prefectures, those miniature empires, could only be filled by men of great names, or chamberlains of H.M. the emperor and king. Already the prefects were a species of vizier. The myrmidons of the great man scoffed at Diard's pretensions to a prefecture, whereupon he lowered his demand to a sub-prefecture. There was, of course, a ridiculous discrepancy between this latter demand and the magnitude of his fortune. To frequent the imperial salons and live with insolent luxury, and then to abandon that millionaire life and bury himself as sub-prefect at Issoudun or Savenay was certainly holding himself below his position. Juana, too late aware of our laws and habits and administrative customs, did not enlighten her husband soon enough. Diard, desperate, petitioned successively all the ministerial powers; repulsed everywhere, he found nothing open to him; and society then judged him as the government judged him and as he judged himself. Diard, grievously wounded on the battlefield, was nevertheless not decorated; the quartermaster, rich as he was, was allowed no place in public life, and society logically refused him that to which he pretended in its midst.
Finally, to cap all, the luckless man felt in his own home the superiority of his wife. Though she used great tact--we might say velvet softness if the term were admissible--to disguise from her husband this supremacy, which surprised and humiliated herself, Diard ended by being affected by it.
At a game of life like this men are either unmanned, or they grow the stronger, or they give themselves to evil. The courage or the ardor of this man lessened under the reiterated blows which his own faults dealt to his self-appreciation, and fault after fault he committed. In the first place he had to struggle against his own habits and character. A passionate Provencal, frank in his vices as in his virtues, this man whose fibres vibrated like the strings of a harp, was all heart to his former friends. He succored the shabby and spattered man as readily as the needy of rank; in short, he accepted everybody, and gave his hand in his gilded salons to many a poor devil. Observing this on one occasion, a general of the empire, a variety of the human species of which no type will presently remain, refused his hand to Diard, and called him, insolently, "my good fellow" when he met him. The few persons of really good society whom Diard knew, treated him with that elegant, polished contempt against which a new-made man has seldom any weapons. The manners, the semi- Italian gesticulations, the speech of Diard, his style of dress,--all contributed to repulse the respect which careful observation of matters of good taste and dignity might otherwise obtain for vulgar persons; the yoke of such conventionalities can only be cast off by great and unthinkable powers. So goes the world.
These details but faintly picture the many tortures to which Juana was subjected; they came upon her one by one; each social nature pricked her with its own particular pin; and to a soul which preferred the thrust of a dagger, there could be no worse suffering than this struggle in which Diard received insults he did not feel and Juana felt those she did not receive. A moment came, an awful moment, when she gained a clear and lucid perception of society, and felt in one instant all the sorrows which were gathering themselves together to fall upon her head. She judged her husband incapable of rising to the honored ranks of the social order, and she felt that he would one day descend to where his instincts led him. Henceforth Juana felt pity for him.
The future was very gloomy for this young woman. She lived in constant apprehension of some disaster. This presentiment was in her soul as a contagion is in the air, but she had strength of mind and will to disguise her anguish beneath a smile. Juana had ceased to think of herself. She used her influence to make Diard resign his various pretensions and to show him, as a haven, the peaceful and consoling life of home. Evils came from society--why not banish it? In his home Diard found peace and respect; he reigned there. She felt herself strong to accept the trying task of making him happy,--he, a man dissatisfied with himself. Her energy increased with the difficulties of life; she had all the secret heroism necessary to her position; religion inspired her with those desires which support the angel appointed to protect a Christian soul--occult poesy, allegorical image of our two natures!
Diard abandoned his projects, closed his house to the world, and lived in his home. But here he found another reef. The poor soldier had one of those eccentric souls which need perpetual motion. Diard was one of the men who are instinctively compelled to start again the moment they arrive, and whose vital object seems to be to come and go incessantly, like the wheels mentioned in Holy Writ. Perhaps he felt the need of flying from himself. Without wearying of Juana, without blaming Juana, his passion for her, rendered tranquil by time, allowed his natural character to assert itself. Henceforth his days of gloom were more frequent, and he often gave way to southern excitement. The more virtuous a woman is and the more irreproachable, the more a man likes to find fault with her, if only to assert by that act his legal superiority. But if by chance she seems really imposing to him, he feels the need of foisting faults upon her. After that, between man and wife, trifles increase and grow till they swell to Alps.
But Juana, patient and without pride, gentle and without that bitterness which women know so well how to cast into their submission, left Diard no chance for planned ill-humor. Besides, she was one of those noble creatures to whom it is impossible to speak disrespectfully; her glance, in which her life, saintly and pure, shone out, had the weight of a fascination. Diard, embarrassed at first, then annoyed, ended by feeling that such high virtue was a yoke upon him. The goodness of his wife gave him no violent emotions, and violent emotions were what he wanted. What myriads of scenes are played in the depths of his souls, beneath the cold exterior of lives that are, apparently, commonplace! Among these dramas, lasting each but a short time, though they influence life so powerfully and are frequently the forerunners of the great misfortune doomed to fall on so many marriages, it is difficult to choose an example. There was a scene, however, which particularly marked the moment when in the life of this husband and wife estrangement began. Perhaps it may also serve to explain the finale of this narrative.
Juana had two children, happily for her, two sons. The first was born seven months after her marriage. He was called Juan, and he strongly resembled his mother. The second was born about two years after her arrival in Paris. The latter resembled both Diard and Juana, but more particularly Diard. His name was Francisque. For the last five years Francisque had been the object of Juana's most tender and watchful care. The mother was constantly occupied with that child; to him her prettiest caresses; to him the toys, but to him, especially, the penetrating mother-looks. Juana had watched him from his cradle; she had studied his cries, his motions; she endeavored to discern his nature that she might educate him wisely. It seemed at times as if she had but that one child. Diard, seeing that the eldest, Juan, was in a way neglected, took him under his own protection; and without inquiring even of himself whether the boy was the fruit of that ephemeral love to which he owed his wife, he made him his Benjamin.
Of all the sentiments transmitted to her through the blood of her grandmothers which consumed her, Madame Diard accepted one alone,-- maternal love. But she loved her children doubly: first with the noble violence of which her mother the Marana had given her the example; secondly, with grace and purity, in the spirit of those social virtues the practice of which was the glory of her life and her inward recompense. The secret thought, the conscience of her motherhood, which gave to the Marana's life its stamp of untaught poesy, was to Juana an acknowledged life, an open consolation at all hours. Her mother had been virtuous as other women are criminal,--in secret; she had stolen a fancied happiness, she had never really tasted it. But Juana, unhappy in her virtue as her mother was unhappy in her vice, could enjoy at all moments the ineffable delights which her mother had so craved and could not have. To her, as to her mother, maternity comprised all earthly sentiments. Each, from differing causes, had no other comfort in their misery. Juana's maternal love may have been the strongest because, deprived of all other affections, she put the joys she lacked into the one joy of her children; and there are noble passions that resemble vice; the more they are satisfied the more they increase. Mothers and gamblers are alike insatiable.
When Juana saw the generous pardon laid silently on the head of Juan by Diard's fatherly affection, she was much moved, and from the day when the husband and wife changed parts she felt for him the true and deep interest she had hitherto shown to him as a matter of duty only. If that man had been more consistent in his life; if he had not destroyed by fitful inconstancy and restlessness the forces of a true though excitable sensibility, Juana would doubtless have loved him in the end. Unfortunately, he was a type of those southern natures which are keen in perceptions they cannot follow out; capable of great things over-night, and incapable the next morning; often the victim of their own virtues, and often lucky through their worst passions; admirable men in some respects, when their good qualities are kept to a steady energy by some outward bond. For two years after his retreat from active life Diard was held captive in his home by the softest chains. He lived, almost in spite of himself, under the influence of his wife, who made herself gay and amusing to cheer him, who used the resources of feminine genius to attract and seduce him to a love of virtue, but whose ability and cleverness did not go so far as to simulate love.
At this time all Paris was talking of the affair of a captain in the army who in a paroxysm of libertine jealousy had killed a woman. Diard, on coming home to dinner, told his wife that the officer was dead. He had killed himself to avoid the dishonor of a trial and the shame of death upon the scaffold. Juana did not see at first the logic of such conduct, and her husband was obliged to explain to her the fine jurisprudence of French law, which does not prosecute the dead.
"But, papa, didn't you tell us the other day that the king could pardon?" asked Francisque.
"The king can give nothing but life," said Juan, half scornfully.
Diard and Juana, the spectators of this little scene, were differently affected by it. The glance, moist with joy, which his wife cast upon her eldest child was a fatal revelation to the husband of the secrets of a heart hitherto impenetrable. That eldest child was all Juana; Juana comprehended him; she was sure of his heart, his future; she adored him, but her ardent love was a secret between herself, her child, and God. Juan instinctively enjoyed the seeming indifference of his mother in presence of his father and brother, for she pressed him to her heart when alone. Francisque was Diard, and Juana's incessant care and watchfulness betrayed her desire to correct in the son the vices of the father and to encourage his better qualities. Juana, unaware that her glance had said too much and that her husband had rightly interpreted it, took Francisque in her lap and gave him, in a gentle voice still trembling with the pleasure that Juan's answer had brought her, a lesson upon honor, simplified to his childish intelligence.
"That boy's character requires care," said Diard.
"Yes," she replied simply.
"How about Juan?"
Madame Diard, struck by the tone in which the words were uttered, looked at her husband.
"Juan was born perfect," he added.
Then he sat down gloomily, and reflected. Presently, as his wife continued silent, he added:--
"You love one of YOUR children better than the other."
"You know that," she said.
"No," said Diard, "I did not know until now which of them you preferred."
"But neither of them have ever given me a moment's uneasiness," she answered quickly.
"But one of them gives you greater joys," he said, more quickly still.
"I never counted them," she said.
"How false you women are!" cried Diard. "Will you dare to say that Juan is not the child of your heart?"
"If that were so," she said, with dignity, "do you think it a misfortune?"
"You have never loved me. If you had chosen, I would have conquered worlds for your sake. You know all that I have struggled to do in life, supported by the hope of pleasing you. Ah! if you had only loved me!"
"A woman who loves," said Juana, "likes to live in solitude, far from the world, and that is what we are doing."
"I know, Juana, that YOU are never in the wrong."
The words were said bitterly, and cast, for the rest of their lives together, a coldness between them.
On the morrow of that fatal day Diard went back to his old companions and found distractions for his mind in play. Unfortunately, he won much money, and continued playing. Little by little, he returned to the dissipated life he had formerly lived. Soon he ceased even to dine in his own home.
Some months went by in the enjoyment of this new independence; he was determined to preserve it, and in order to do so he separated himself from his wife, giving her the large apartments and lodging himself in the entresol. By the end of the year Diard and Juana only saw each other in the morning at breakfast.
Like all gamblers, he had his alternations of loss and gain. Not wishing to cut into the capital of his fortune, he felt the necessity of withdrawing from his wife the management of their income; and the day came when he took from her all she had hitherto freely disposed of for the household benefit, giving her instead a monthly stipend. The conversation they had on this subject was the last of their married intercourse. The silence that fell between them was a true divorce; Juana comprehended that from henceforth she was only a mother, and she was glad, not seeking for the causes of this evil. For such an event is a great evil. Children are conjointly one with husband and wife in the home, and the life of her husband could not be a source of grief and injury to Juana only.
As for Diard, now emancipated, he speedily grew accustomed to win and lose enormous sums. A fine player and a heavy player, he soon became celebrated for his style of playing. The social consideration he had been unable to win under the Empire, he acquired under the Restoration by the rolling of his gold on the green cloth and by his talent for all games that were in vogue. Ambassadors, bankers, persons with newly-acquired large fortunes, and all those men who, having sucked life to the dregs, turn to gambling for its feverish joys, admired Diard at their clubs,--seldom in their own houses,--and they all gambled with him. He became the fashion. Two or three times during the winter he gave a fete as a matter of social pride in return for the civilities he received. At such times Juana once more caught a glimpse of the world of balls, festivities, luxury, and lights; but for her it was a sort of tax imposed upon the comfort of her solitude. She, the queen of these solemnities, appeared like a being fallen from some other planet. Her simplicity, which nothing had corrupted, her beautiful virginity of soul, which her peaceful life restored to her, her beauty and her true modesty, won her sincere homage. But observing how few women ever entered her salons, she came to understand that though her husband was following, without communicating its nature to her, a new line of conduct, he had gained nothing actually in the world's esteem.
Diard was not always lucky; far from it. In three years he had dissipated three fourths of his fortune, but his passion for play gave him the energy to continue it. He was intimate with a number of men, more particularly with the roues of the Bourse, men who, since the revolution, have set up the principle that robbery done on a large scale is only a SMIRCH to the reputation,--transferring thus to financial matters the loose principles of love in the eighteenth century. Diard now became a sort of business man, and concerned himself in several of those affairs which are called SHADY in the slang of the law-courts. He practised the decent thievery by which so many men, cleverly masked, or hidden in the recesses of the political world, make their fortunes,--thievery which, if done in the streets by the light of an oil lamp, would see a poor devil to the galleys, but, under gilded ceilings and by the light of candelabra, is sanctioned. Diard brought up, monopolized, and sold sugars; he sold offices; he had the glory of inventing the "man of straw" for lucrative posts which it was necessary to keep in his own hands for a short time; he bought votes, receiving, on one occasion, so much per cent on the purchase of fifteen parliamentary votes which all passed on one division from the benches of the Left to the benches of the Right. Such actions are no longer crimes or thefts,--they are called governing, developing industry, becoming a financial power. Diard was placed by public opinion on the bench of infamy where many an able man was already seated. On that bench is the aristocracy of evil. It is the upper Chamber of scoundrels of high life. Diard was, therefore, not a mere commonplace gambler who is seen to be a blackguard, and ends by begging. That style of gambler is no longer seen in society of a certain topographical height. In these days bold scoundrels die brilliantly in the chariot of vice with the trappings of luxury. Diard, at least, did not buy his remorse at a low price; he made himself one of these privileged men. Having studied the machinery of government and learned all the secrets and the passions of the men in power, he was able to maintain himself in the fiery furnace into which he had sprung.
Madame Diard knew nothing of her husband's infernal life. Glad of his abandonment, she felt no curiosity about him, and all her hours were occupied. She devoted what money she had to the education of her children, wishing to make men of them, and giving them straight- forward reasons, without, however, taking the bloom from their young imaginations. Through them alone came her interests and her emotions; consequently, she suffered no longer from her blemished life. Her children were to her what they are to many mothers for a long period of time,--a sort of renewal of their own existence. Diard was now an accidental circumstance, not a participator in her life, and since he had ceased to be the father and the head of the family, Juana felt bound to him by no tie other than that imposed by conventional laws. Nevertheless, she brought up her children to the highest respect for paternal authority, however imaginary it was for them. In this she was greatly seconded by her husband's continual absence. If he had been much in the home Diard would have neutralized his wife's efforts. The boys had too much intelligence and shrewdness not to have judged their father; and to judge a father is moral parricide.
In the long run, however, Juana's indifference to her husband wore itself away; it even changed to a species of fear. She understood at last how the conduct of a father might long weigh on the future of her children, and her motherly solicitude brought her many, though incomplete, revelations of the truth. From day to day the dread of some unknown but inevitable evil in the shadow of which she lived became more and more keen and terrible. Therefore, during the rare moments when Diard and Juana met she would cast upon his hollow face, wan from nights of gambling and furrowed by emotions, a piercing look, the penetration of which made Diard shudder. At such times the assumed gaiety of her husband alarmed Juana more than his gloomiest expressions of anxiety when, by chance, he forgot that assumption of joy. Diard feared his wife as a criminal fears the executioner. In him, Juana saw her children's shame; and in her Diard dreaded a calm vengeance, the judgment of that serene brow, an arm raised, a weapon ready.
After fifteen years of marriage Diard found himself without resources. He owed three hundred thousand francs and he could scarcely muster one hundred thousand. The house, his only visible possession, was mortgaged to its fullest selling value. A few days more, and the sort of prestige with which opulence had invested him would vanish. Not a hand would be offered, not a purse would be open to him. Unless some favorable event occurred he would fall into a slough of contempt, deeper perhaps than he deserved, precisely because he had mounted to a height he could not maintain. At this juncture he happened to hear that a number of strangers of distinction, diplomats and others, were assembled at the watering-places in the Pyrenees, where they gambled for enormous sums, and were doubtless well supplied with money.
He determined to go at once to the Pyrenees; but he would not leave his wife in Paris, lest some importunate creditor might reveal to her the secret of his horrible position. He therefore took her and the two children with him, refusing to allow her to take the tutor and scarcely permitting her to take a maid. His tone was curt and imperious; he seemed to have recovered some energy. This sudden journey, the cause of which escaped her penetration, alarmed Juana secretly. Her husband made it gaily. Obliged to occupy the same carriage, he showed himself day by day more attentive to the children and more amiable to their mother. Nevertheless, each day brought Juana dark presentiments, the presentiments of mothers who tremble without apparent reason, but who are seldom mistaken when they tremble thus. For them the veil of the future seems thinner than for others.
At Bordeaux, Diard hired in a quiet street a quiet little house, neatly furnished, and in it he established his wife. The house was at the corner of two streets, and had a garden. Joined to the neighboring house on one side only, it was open to view and accessible on the other three sides. Diard paid the rent in advance, and left Juana barely enough money for the necessary expenses of three months, a sum not exceeding a thousand francs. Madame Diard made no observation on this unusual meanness. When her husband told her that he was going to the watering-places and that she would stay at Bordeaux, Juana offered no difficulty, and at once formed a plan to teach the children Spanish and Italian, and to make them read the two masterpieces of the two languages. She was glad to lead a retired life, simply and naturally economical. To spare herself the troubles of material life, she arranged with a "traiteur" the day after Diard's departure to send in their meals. Her maid then sufficed for the service of the house, and she thus found herself without money, but her wants all provided for until her husband's return. Her pleasures consisted in taking walks with the children. She was then thirty-three years old. Her beauty, greatly developed, was in all its lustre. Therefore as soon as she appeared, much talk was made in Bordeaux about the beautiful Spanish stranger. At the first advances made to her Juana ceased to walk abroad, and confined herself wholly to her own large garden.
Diard at first made a fortune at the baths. In two months he won three hundred thousand dollars, but it never occurred to him to send any money to his wife; he kept it all, expecting to make some great stroke of fortune on a vast stake. Towards the end of the second month the Marquis de Montefiore appeared at the same baths. The marquis was at this time celebrated for his wealth, his handsome face, his fortunate marriage with an Englishwoman, and more especially for his love of play. Diard, his former companion, encountered him, and desired to add his spoils to those of others. A gambler with four hundred thousand francs in hand is always in a position to do as he pleases. Diard, confident in his luck, renewed acquaintance with Montefiore. The latter received him very coldly, but nevertheless they played together, and Diard lost every penny that he possessed, and more.
"My dear Montefiore," said the ex-quartermaster, after making a tour of the salon, "I owe you a hundred thousand francs; but my money is in Bordeaux, where I have left my wife."
Diard had the money in bank-bills in his pocket; but with the self- possession and rapid bird's-eye view of a man accustomed to catch at all resources, he still hoped to recover himself by some one of the endless caprices of play. Montefiore had already mentioned his intention of visiting Bordeaux. Had he paid his debt on the spot, Diard would have been left without the power to take his revenge; a revenge at cards often exceeds the amount of all preceding losses. But these burning expectations depended on the marquis's reply.
"Wait, my dear fellow," said Montefiore, "and we will go together to Bordeaux. In all conscience, I am rich enough to-day not to wish to take the money of an old comrade."
Three days later Diard and Montefiore were in Bordeaux at a gambling table. Diard, having won enough to pay his hundred thousand francs, went on until he had lost two hundred thousand more on his word. He was gay as a man who swam in gold. Eleven o'clock sounded; the night was superb. Montefiore may have felt, like Diard, a desire to breathe the open air and recover from such emotions in a walk. The latter proposed to the marquis to come home with him to take a cup of tea and get his money.
"But Madame Diard?" said Montefiore.
"Bah!" exclaimed the husband.
They went down-stairs; but before taking his hat Diard entered the dining-room of the establishment and asked for a glass of water. While it was being brought, he walked up and down the room, and was able, without being noticed, to pick up one of those small sharp-pointed steel knives with pearl handles which are used for cutting fruit at dessert.
"Where do you live?" said Montefiore, in the courtyard, "for I want to send a carriage there to fetch me."
Diard told him the exact address.
"You see," said Montefiore, in a low voice, taking Diard's arm, "that as long as I am with you I have nothing to fear; but if I came home alone and a scoundrel were to follow me, I should be profitable to kill."
"Have you much with you?"
"No, not much," said the wary Italian, "only my winnings. But they would make a pretty fortune for a beggar and turn him into an honest man for the rest of his life."
Diard led the marquis along a lonely street where he remembered to have seen a house, the door of which was at the end of an avenue of trees with high and gloomy walls on either side of it. When they reached this spot he coolly invited the marquis to precede him; but as if the latter understood him he preferred to keep at his side. Then, no sooner were they fairly in the avenue, then Diard, with the agility of a tiger, tripped up the marquis with a kick behind the knees, and putting a foot on his neck stabbed him again and again to the heart till the blade of the knife broke in it. Then he searched Montefiore's pockets, took his wallet, money, everything. But though he had taken the Italian unawares, and had done the deed with lucid mind and the quickness of a pickpocket, Montefiore had time to cry "Murder! Help!" in a shrill and piercing voice which was fit to rouse every sleeper in the neighborhood. His last sighs were given in those horrible shrieks.
Diard was not aware that at the moment when they entered the avenue a crowd just issuing from a theatre was passing at the upper end of the street. The cries of the dying man reached them, though Diard did his best to stifle the noise by setting his foot firmly on Montefiore's neck. The crowd began to run towards the avenue, the high walls of which appeared to echo back the cries, directing them to the very spot where the crime was committed. The sound of their coming steps seemed to beat on Diard's brain. But not losing his head as yet, the murderer left the avenue and came boldly into the street, walking very gently, like a spectator who sees the inutility of trying to give help. He even turned round once or twice to judge of the distance between himself and the crowd, and he saw them rushing up the avenue, with the exception of one man, who, with a natural sense of caution, began to watch Diard.
"There he is! there he is!" cried the people, who had entered the avenue as soon as they saw Montefiore stretched out near the door of the empty house.
As soon as that clamor rose, Diard, feeling himself well in the advance, began to run or rather to fly, with the vigor of a lion and the bounds of a deer. At the other end of the street he saw, or fancied he saw, a mass of persons, and he dashed down a cross street to avoid them. But already every window was open, and heads were thrust forth right and left, while from every door came shouts and gleams of light. Diard kept on, going straight before him, through the lights and the noise; and his legs were so actively agile that he soon left the tumult behind him, though without being able to escape some eyes which took in the extent of his course more rapidly than he could cover it. Inhabitants, soldiers, gendarmes, every one, seemed afoot in the twinkling of an eye. Some men awoke the commissaries of police, others stayed by the body to guard it. The pursuit kept on in the direction of the fugitive, who dragged it after him like the flame of a conflagration.
Diard, as he ran, had all the sensations of a dream when he heard a whole city howling, running, panting after him. Nevertheless, he kept his ideas and his presence of mind. Presently he reached the wall of the garden of his house. The place was perfectly silent, and he thought he had foiled his pursuers, though a distant murmur of the tumult came to his ears like the roaring of the sea. He dipped some water from a brook and drank it. Then, observing a pile of stones on the road, he hid his treasure in it; obeying one of those vague thoughts which come to criminals at a moment when the faculty to judge their actions under all bearings deserts them, and they think to establish their innocence by want of proof of their guilt.
That done, he endeavored to assume a placid countenance; he even tried to smile as he rapped softly on the door of his house, hoping that no one saw him. He raised his eyes, and through the outer blinds of one window came a gleam of light from his wife's room. Then, in the midst of his trouble, visions of her gentle life, spent with her children, beat upon his brain with the force of a hammer. The maid opened the door, which Diard hastily closed behind him with a kick. For a moment he breathed freely; then, noticing that he was bathed in perspiration, he sent the servant back to Juana and stayed in the darkness of the passage, where he wiped his face with his handkerchief and put his clothes in order, like a dandy about to pay a visit to a pretty woman. After that he walked into a track of the moonlight to examine his hands. A quiver of joy passed over him as he saw that no blood stains were on them; the hemorrhage from his victim's body was no doubt inward.
But all this took time. When at last he mounted the stairs to Juana's room he was calm and collected, and able to reflect on his position, which resolved itself into two ideas: to leave the house, and get to the wharves. He did not THINK these ideas, he SAW them written in fiery letters on the darkness. Once at the wharves he could hide all day, return at night for his treasure, then conceal himself, like a rat, in the hold of some vessel and escape without any one suspecting his whereabouts. But to do all this, money, gold, was his first necessity,--and he did not possess one penny.
The maid brought a light to show him up.
"Felicie," he said, "don't you hear a noise in the street, shouts, cries? Go and see what it means, and come and tell me."
His wife, in her white dressing-gown, was sitting at a table, reading aloud to Francisque and Juan from a Spanish Cervantes, while the boys followed her pronunciation of the words from the text. They all three stopped and looked at Diard, who stood in the doorway with his hands in his pockets; overcome, perhaps, by finding himself in this calm scene, so softly lighted, so beautiful with the faces of his wife and children. It was a living picture of the Virgin between her son and John.
"Juana, I have something to say to you."
"What has happened?" she asked, instantly perceiving from the livid paleness of her husband that the misfortune she had daily expected was upon them.
"Oh, nothing; but I want to speak to you--to you, alone."
And he glanced at his sons.
"My dears, go to your room, and go to bed," said Juana; "say your prayers without me."
The boys left the room in silence, with the incurious obedience of well-trained children.
"My dear Juana," said Diard, in a coaxing voice, "I left you with very little money, and I regret it now. Listen to me; since I relieved you of the care of our income by giving you an allowance, have you not, like other women, laid something by?"
"No," replied Juana, "I have nothing. In making that allowance you did not reckon the costs of the children's education. I don't say that to reproach you, my friend, only to explain my want of money. All that you gave me went to pay masters and--"
"Enough!" cried Diard, violently. "Thunder of heaven! every instant is precious! Where are your jewels?"
"You know very well I have never worn any."
"Then there's not a sou to be had here!" cried Diard, frantically.
"Why do you shout in that way?" she asked.
"Juana," he replied, "I have killed a man."
Juana sprang to the door of her children's room and closed it; then she returned.
"Your sons must hear nothing," she said. "With whom have you fought?"
"Montefiore," he replied.
"Ah!" she said with a sigh, "the only man you had the right to kill."
"There were many reasons why he should die by my hand. But I can't lose time--Money, money! for God's sake, money! I may be pursued. We did not fight. I--I killed him."
"Killed him!" she cried, "how?"
"Why, as one kills anything. He stole my whole fortune and I took it back, that's all. Juana, now that everything is quiet you must go down to that heap of stones--you know the heap by the garden wall--and get that money, since you haven't any in the house."
"The money that you stole?" said Juana.
"What does that matter to you? Have you any money to give me? I tell you I must get away. They are on my traces."
"The people, the police."
Juana left the room, but returned immediately.
"Here," she said, holding out to him at arm's length a jewel, "that is Dona Lagounia's cross. There are four rubies in it, of great value, I have been told. Take it and go--go!"
"Felicie hasn't come back," he cried, with a sudden thought. "Can she have been arrested?"
Juana laid the cross on the table, and sprang to the windows that looked on the street. There she saw, in the moonlight, a file of soldiers posting themselves in deepest silence along the wall of the house. She turned, affecting to be calm, and said to her husband:--
"You have not a minute to lose; you must escape through the garden. Here is the key of the little gate."
As a precaution she turned to the other windows, looking on the garden. In the shadow of the trees she saw the gleam of the silver lace on the hats of a body of gendarmes; and she heard the distant mutterings of a crowd of persons whom sentinels were holding back at the end of the streets up which curiosity had drawn them. Diard had, in truth, been seen to enter his house by persons at their windows, and on their information and that of the frightened maid-servant, who was arrested, the troops and the people had blocked the two streets which led to the house. A dozen gendarmes, returning from the theatre, had climbed the walls of the garden, and guarded all exit in that direction.
"Monsieur," said Juana, "you cannot escape. The whole town is here."
Diard ran from window to window with the useless activity of a captive bird striking against the panes to escape. Juana stood silent and thoughtful.
"Juana, dear Juana, help me! give me, for pity's sake, some advice."
"Yes," said Juana, "I will; and I will save you."
"Ah! you are always my good angel."
Juana left the room and returned immediately, holding out to Diard, with averted head, one of his own pistols. Diard did not take it. Juana heard the entrance of the soldiers into the courtyard, where they laid down the body of the murdered man to confront the assassin with the sight of it. She turned round and saw Diard white and livid. The man was nearly fainting, and tried to sit down.
"Your children implore you," she said, putting the pistol beneath his hand.
"But--my good Juana, my little Juana, do you think--Juana! is it so pressing?--I want to kiss you."
The gendarmes were mounting the staircase. Juana grasped the pistol, aimed it at Diard, holding him, in spite of his cries, by the throat; then she blew his brains out and flung the weapon on the ground.
At that instant the door was opened violently. The public prosecutor, followed by an examining judge, a doctor, a sheriff, and a posse of gendarmes, all the representatives, in short, of human justice, entered the room.
"What do you want?" asked Juana.
"Is that Monsieur Diard?" said the prosecutor, pointing to the dead body bent double on the floor.
"Your gown is covered with blood, madame."
"Do you not see why?" replied Juana.
She went to the little table and sat down, taking up the volume of Cervantes; she was pale, with a nervous agitation which she nevertheless controlled, keeping it wholly inward.
"Leave the room," said the prosecutor to the gendarmes.
Then he signed to the examining judge and the doctor to remain.
"Madame, under the circumstances, we can only congratulate you on the death of your husband," he said. "At least he has died as a soldier should, whatever crime his passions may have led him to commit. His act renders negatory that of justice. But however we may desire to spare you at such a moment, the law requires that we should make an exact report of all violent deaths. You will permit us to do our duty?"
"May I go and change my dress?" she asked, laying down the volume.
"Yes, madame; but you must bring it back to us. The doctor may need it."
"It would be too painful for madame to see me operate," said the doctor, understanding the suspicions of the prosecutor. "Messieurs," he added, "I hope you will allow her to remain in the next room."
The magistrates approved the request of the merciful physician, and Felicie was permitted to attend her mistress. The judge and the prosecutor talked together in a low voice. Officers of the law are very unfortunate in being forced to suspect all, and to imagine evil everywhere. By dint of supposing wicked intentions, and of comprehending them, in order to reach the truth hidden under so many contradictory actions, it is impossible that the exercise of their dreadful functions should not, in the long run, dry up at their source the generous emotions they are constrained to repress. If the sensibilities of the surgeon who probes into the mysteries of the human body end by growing callous, what becomes of those of the judge who is incessantly compelled to search the inner folds of the soul? Martyrs to their mission, magistrates are all their lives in mourning for their lost illusions; crime weighs no less heavily on them than on the criminal. An old man seated on the bench is venerable, but a young judge makes a thoughtful person shudder. The examining judge in this case was young, and he felt obliged to say to the public prosecutor,--
"Do you think that woman was her husband's accomplice? Ought we to take her into custody? Is it best to question her?"
The prosecutor replied, with a careless shrug of his shoulders,--
"Montefiore and Diard were two well-known scoundrels. The maid evidently knew nothing of the crime. Better let the thing rest there."
The doctor performed the autopsy, and dictated his report to the sheriff. Suddenly he stopped, and hastily entered the next room.
"Madame--" he said.
Juana, who had removed her bloody gown, came towards him.
"It was you," he whispered, stooping to her ear, "who killed your husband."
"Yes, monsieur," she replied.
The doctor returned and continued his dictation as follows,--
"And, from the above assemblage of facts, it appears evident that the said Diard killed himself voluntarily and by his own hand."
"Have you finished?" he said to the sheriff after a pause.
"Yes," replied the writer.
The doctor signed the report. Juana, who had followed him into the room, gave him one glance, repressing with difficulty the tears which for an instant rose into her eyes and moistened them.
"Messieurs," she said to the public prosecutor and the judge, "I am a stranger here, and a Spaniard. I am ignorant of the laws, and I know no one in Bordeaux. I ask of you one kindness: enable me to obtain a passport for Spain."
"One moment!" cried the examining judge. "Madame, what has become of the money stolen from the Marquis de Montefiore?"
"Monsieur Diard," she replied, "said something to me vaguely about a heap of stones, under which he must have hidden it."
"In the street."
The two magistrates looked at each other. Juana made a noble gesture and motioned to the doctor.
"Monsieur," she said in his ear, "can I be suspected of some infamous action? I! The pile of stones must be close to the wall of my garden. Go yourself, I implore you. Look, search, find that money."
The doctor went out, taking with him the examining judge, and together they found Montefiore's treasure.
Within two days Juana had sold her cross to pay the costs of a journey. On her way with her two children to take the diligence which would carry her to the frontiers of Spain, she heard herself being called in the street. Her dying mother was being carried to a hospital, and through the curtains of her litter she had seen her daughter. Juana made the bearers enter a porte-cochere that was near them, and there the last interview between the mother and the daughter took place. Though the two spoke to each other in a low voice, Juan heard these parting words,--
"Mother, die in peace; I have suffered for you all."