THE DESNOYERS FAMILY
Desnoyers no longer cared to live in the country. For twenty years, now, he had been the head of an enormous agricultural and stock raising business, overseeing hundreds of men in the various ranches. The parcelling out of the old man's fortune among Elena and the other legatees had considerably constricted the radius of his authority, and it angered him to see established on the neighboring lands so many foreigners, almost all Germans, who had bought of Karl. Furthermore, he was getting old, his wife's inheritance amounted to about twenty millions of dollars, and perhaps his brother-in-law was showing the better judgment in returning to Europe.
So he leased some of the plantations, handed over the superintendence of others to those mentioned in the will who considered themselves left-handed members of the family--of which Desnoyers as the Patron received their submissive allegiance--and moved to Buenos Aires.
By this move, he was able to keep an eye on his son who continued living a dissipated life without making any headway in his engineering studies. Then, too, Chichi was now almost a woman--her robust development making her look older than she was--and it was not expedient to keep her on the estate to become a rustic senorita like her mother.
Dona Luisa had also tired of ranch life, the social triumphs of her sister making her a little restless. She was incapable of feeling jealous, but material ambitions made her anxious that her children should not bring up the rear of the procession in which the other grandchildren were cutting such a dashing figure.
During the year, most wonderful reports from Germany were finding their way to the Desnoyers home in the Capital. "The aunt from Berlin," as the children called her, kept sending long letters filled with accounts of dances, dinners, hunting parties and titles-- many high-sounding and military titles;--"our brother, the Colonel," "our cousin, the Baron," "our uncle, the Intimate Councillor," "our great-uncle, the Truly Intimate." All the extravagances of the German social ladder, which incessantly manufactures new titles in order to satisfy the thirst for honors of a people divided into castes, were enumerated with delight by the old Romantica. She even mentioned her husband's secretary (a nobody) who, through working in the public offices, had acquired the title of Rechnungarath, Councillor of Calculations. She also referred with much pride to the retired Oberpedell which she had in her house, explaining that that meant "Superior Porter."
The news about her children was no less glorious. The oldest was the wise one of the family. He was devoted to philology and the historical sciences, but his sight was growing weaker all the time because of his omnivorous reading. Soon he would be a Doctor, and before he was thirty, a Herr Professor. The mother lamented that he had not military aspirations, considering that his tastes had somewhat distorted the lofty destinies of the family. Professorships, sciences and literature were more properly the perquisites of the Jews, unable, because of their race, to obtain preferment in the army; but she was trying to console herself by keeping in mind that a celebrated professor could, in time, acquire a social rank almost equal to that of a colonel.
Her other four sons would become officers. Their father was preparing the ground so that they might enter the Guard or some aristocratic regiment without any of the members being able to vote against their admission. The two daughters would surely marry, when they had reached a suitable age with officers of the Hussars whose names bore the magic "von" of petty nobility, haughty and charming gentlemen about whom the daughter of Misia Petrona waxed most enthusiastic.
The establishment of the Hartrotts was in keeping with these new relationships. In the home in Berlin, the servants wore knee- breeches and white wigs on the nights of great banquets. Karl had bought an old castle with pointed towers, ghosts in the cellars, and various legends of assassinations, assaults and abductions which enlivened its history in an interesting way. An architect, decorated with many foreign orders, and bearing the title of "Councillor of Construction," was engaged to modernize the mediaeval edifice without sacrificing its terrifying aspect. The Romantica described in anticipation the receptions in the gloomy salon, the light diffused by electricity, simulating torches, the crackling of the emblazoned hearth with its imitation logs bristling with flames of gas, all the splendor of modern luxury combined with the souvenirs of an epoch of omnipotent nobility--the best, according to her, in history. And the hunting parties, the future hunting parties! . . . in an annex of sandy and loose soil with pine woods-- in no way comparable to the rich ground of their native ranch, but which had the honor of being trodden centuries ago by the Princes of Brandenburg, founders of the reigning house of Prussia. And all this advancement in a single year! . . .
They had, of course, to compete with other oversea families who had amassed enormous fortunes in the United States, Brazil or the Pacific coast; but these were Germans "without lineage," coarse plebeians who were struggling in vain to force themselves into the great world by making donations to the imperial works. With all their millions, the very most that they could ever hope to attain would be to marry their daughters with ordinary soldiers. Whilst Karl! . . . The relatives of Karl! . . . and the Romantica let her pen run on, glorifying a family in whose bosom she fancied she had been born.
From time to time were enclosed with Elena's effusions brief, crisp notes directed to Desnoyers. The brother-in-law continued giving an account of his operations the same as when living on the ranch under his protection. But with this deference was now mixed a badly concealed pride, an evident desire to retaliate for his times of voluntary humiliation. Everything that he was doing was grand and glorious. He had invested his millions in the industrial enterprises of modern Germany. He was stockholder of munition factories as big as towns, and of navigation companies launching a ship every half year. The Emperor was interesting himself in these works, looking benevolently on all those who wished to aid him. Besides this, Karl was buying land. At first sight, it seemed foolish to have sold the fertile fields of their inheritance in order to acquire sandy Prussian wastes that yielded only to much artificial fertilizing; but by becoming a land owner, he now belonged to the "Agrarian Party," the aristocratic and conservative group par excellence, and thus he was living in two different but equally distinguished worlds--that of the great industrial friends of the Emperor, and that of the Junkers, knights of the countryside, guardians of the old traditions and the supply-source of the officials of the King of Prussia.
On hearing of these social strides, Desnoyers could not but think of the pecuniary sacrifices which they must represent. He knew Karl's past, for on the ranch, under an impulse of gratitude, the German had one day revealed to the Frenchman the cause of his coming to America. He was a former officer in the German army, but the desire of living ostentatiously without other resources than his salary, had dragged him into committing such reprehensible acts as abstracting funds belonging to the regiment, incurring debts of honor and paying for them with forged signatures. These crimes had not been officially prosecuted through consideration of his father's memory, but the members of his division had submitted him to a tribunal of honor. His brothers and friends had advised him to shoot himself as the only remedy; but he loved life and had fled to South America where, in spite of humiliations, he had finally triumphed.
Wealth effaces the spots of the past even more rapidly than Time. The news of his fortune on the other side of the ocean made his family give him a warm reception on his first voyage home; introducing him again into their world. Nobody could remember shameful stories about a few hundred marks concerning a man who was talking about his father-in-law's lands, more extensive than many German principalities. Now, upon installing himself definitely in his country, all was forgotten. But, oh, the contributions levied upon his vanity . . . Desnoyers shrewdly guessed at the thousands of marks poured with both hands into the charitable works of the Empress, into the imperialistic propagandas, into the societies of veterans, into the clubs of aggression and expansion organized by German ambition.
The frugal Frenchman, thrifty in his expenditures and free from social ambitions, smiled at the grandeurs of his brother-in-law. He considered Karl an excellent companion although of a childish pride. He recalled with satisfaction the years that they had passed together in the country. He could not forget the German who was always hovering around him, affectionate and submissive as a younger brother. When his family commented with a somewhat envious vivacity upon the glories of their Berlin relatives, Desnoyers would say smilingly, "Leave them in peace; they are paying very dear for their whistle."
But the enthusiasm which the letters from Germany breathed finally created an atmosphere of disquietude and rebellion. Chichi led the attack. Why were they not going to Europe like other folks? all their friends had been there. Even the Italian and Spanish shopkeepers were making the voyage, while she, the daughter of a Frenchman, had never seen Paris! . . . Oh, Paris. The doctors in attendance on melancholy ladies were announcing the existence of a new and terrible disease, "the mania for Paris." Dona Luisa supported her daughter. Why had she not gone to live in Europe like her sister, since she was the richer of the two? Even Julio gravely declared that in the old world he could study to better advantage. America is not the land of the learned.
Infected by the general unrest, the father finally began to wonder why the idea of going to Europe had not occurred to him long before. Thirty-four years without going to that country which was not his! . . . It was high time to start! He was living too near to his business. In vain the retired ranchman had tried to keep himself indifferent to the money market. Everybody was coining money around him. In the club, in the theatre, wherever he went, the people were talking about purchases of lands, of sales of stock, of quick negotiations with a triple profit, of portentous balances. The amount of money that he was keeping idle in the banks was beginning to weigh upon him. He finally ended by involving himself in some speculation; like a gambler who cannot see the roulette wheel without putting his hand in his pocket.
His family was right. "To Paris!" For in the Desnoyers' mind, to go to Europe meant, of course, to go to Paris. Let the "aunt from Berlin" keep on chanting the glories of her husband's country! "It's sheer nonsense!" exclaimed Julio who had made grave geographical and ethnic comparisons in his nightly forays. "There is no place but Paris!" Chichi saluted with an ironical smile the slightest doubt of it--"Perhaps they make as elegant fashions in Germany as in Paris? . . . Bah!" Dona Luisa took up her children's cry. "Paris!" . . . Never had it even occurred to her to go to a Lutheran land to be protected by her sister.
"Let it be Paris, then!" said the Frenchman, as though he were speaking of an unknown city.
He had accustomed himself to believe that he would never return to it. During the first years of his life in America, the trip would have been an impossibility because of the military service which he had evaded. Then he had vague news of different amnesties. After the time for conscription had long since passed, an inertness of will had made him consider a return to his country as somewhat absurd and useless. On the other side, nothing remained to attract him. He had even lost track of those country relatives with whom his mother had lived. In his heaviest hours he had tried to occupy his activity by planning an enormous mausoleum, all of marble, in La Recoleta, the cemetery of the rich, in order to move thither the remains of Madariaga as founder of the dynasty, following him with all his own when their hour should come. He was beginning to feel the weight of age. He was nearly seventy years old, and the rude life of the country, the horseback rides in the rain, the rivers forded upon his swimming horse, the nights passed in the open air, had brought on a rheumatism that was torturing his best days.
His family, however, reawakened his enthusiasm. "To Paris!" . . . He began to fancy that he was twenty again, and forgetting his habitual parsimony, wished his household to travel like royalty, in the most luxurious staterooms, and with personal servants. Two copper-hued country girls, born on the ranch and elevated to the rank of maids to the senora and her daughter, accompanied them on the voyage, their oblique eyes betraying not the slightest astonishment before the greatest novelties.
Once in Paris, Desnoyers found himself quite bewildered. He confused the names of streets, proposed visits to buildings which had long since disappeared, and all his attempts to prove himself an expert authority on Paris were attended with disappointment. His children, guided by recent reading up, knew Paris better than he. He was considered a foreigner in his own country. At first, he even felt a certain strangeness in using his native tongue, for he had remained on the ranch without speaking a word of his language for years at a time. He was used to thinking in Spanish, and translating his ideas into the speech of his ancestors spattered his French with all kinds of Creole dialect.
"Where a man makes his fortune and raises his family, there is his true country," he said sententiously, remembering Madariaga.
The image of that distant country dominated him with insistent obsession as soon as the impressions of the voyage had worn off. He had no French friends, and upon going into the street, his feet instinctively took him to the places where the Argentinians gathered together. It was the same with them. They had left their country only to feel, with increasing intensity, the desire to talk about it all the time. There he read the papers, commenting on the rising prices in the fields, on the prospects for the next harvests and on the sales of cattle. Returning home, his thoughts were still in America, and he chuckled with delight as he recalled the way in which the two chinas had defied the professional dignity of the French cook, preparing their native stews and other dishes in Creole style.
He had settled the family in an ostentatious house in the avenida Victor Hugo, for which he paid a rental of twenty-eight thousand francs. Dona Luisa had to go and come many times before she could accustom herself to the imposing aspect of the concierges--he, decorated with gold trimmings on his black uniform and wearing white whiskers like a notary in a comedy, she with a chain of gold upon her exuberant bosom, and receiving the tenants in a red and gold salon. In the rooms above was ultra-modern luxury, gilded and glacial, with white walls and glass doors with tiny panes which exasperated Desnoyers, who longed for the complicated carvings and rich furniture in vogue during his youth. He himself directed the arrangement and furnishings of the various rooms which always seemed empty.
Chichi protested against her father's avarice when she saw him buying slowly and with much calculation and hesitation. "Avarice, no!" he retorted, "it is because I know the worth of things."
Nothing pleased him that he had not acquired at one-third of its value. Beating down those who overcharged but proved the superiority of the buyer. Paris offered him one delightful spot which he could not find anywhere else in the world--the Hotel Drouot. He would go there every afternoon that he did not find other important auctions advertised in the papers. For many years, there was no famous failure in Parisian life, with its consequent liquidation, from which he did not carry something away. The use and need of these prizes were matters of secondary interest, the great thing was to get them for ridiculous prices. So the trophies from the auction-rooms now began to inundate the apartment which, at the beginning, he had been furnishing with such desperate slowness.
His daughter now complained that the home was getting overcrowded. The furnishings and ornaments were handsome, but too many . . . far too many! The white walls seemed to scowl at the magnificent sets of chairs and the overflowing glass cabinets. Rich and velvety carpets over which had passed many generations, covered all the compartments. Showy curtains, not finding a vacant frame in the salons, adorned the doors leading into the kitchen. The wall mouldings gradually disappeared under an overlay of pictures, placed close together like the scales of a cuirass. Who now could accuse Desnoyers of avarice? . . . He was investing far more than a fashionable contractor would have dreamed of spending.
The underlying idea still was to acquire all this for a fourth of its price--an exciting bait which lured the economical man into continuous dissipation. He could sleep well only when he had driven a good bargain during the day. He bought at auction thousands of bottles of wine consigned by bankrupt firms, and he who scarcely ever drank, packed his wine cellars to overflowing, advising his family to use the champagne as freely as ordinary wine. The failure of a furrier induced him to buy for fourteen thousand francs pelts worth ninety thousand. In consequence, the entire Desnoyers family seemed suddenly to be suffering as frightfully from cold as though a polar iceberg had invaded the avenida Victor Hugo. The father kept only one fur coat for himself but ordered three for his son. Chichi and Dona Luisa appeared arrayed in all kinds of silky and luxurious skins--one day chinchilla, other days blue fox, marten or seal.
The enraptured buyer would permit no one but himself to adorn the walls with his new acquisitions, using the hammer from the top of a step-ladder in order to save the expense of a professional picture hanger. He wished to set his children the example of economy. In his idle hours, he would change the position of the heaviest pieces of furniture, trying every kind of combination. This employment reminded him of those happy days when he handled great sacks of wheat and bundles of hides on the ranch. Whenever his son noticed that he was looking thoughtfully at a monumental sideboard or heavy piece, he prudently betook himself to other haunts.
Desnoyers stood a little in awe of the two house-men, very solemn, correct creatures always in dress suit, who could not hide their astonishment at seeing a man with an income of more than a million francs engaged in such work. Finally it was the two coppery maids who aided their Patron, the three working contentedly together like companions in exile.
Four automobiles completed the luxuriousness of the family. The children would have been more content with one--small and dashing, in the very latest style. But Desnoyers was not the man to let a bargain slip past him, so one after the other, he had picked up the four, tempted by the price. They were as enormous and majestic as coaches of state. Their entrance into a street made the passers-by turn and stare. The chauffeur needed two assistants to help him keep this flock of mastodons in order, but the proud owner thought only of the skill with which he had gotten the best of the salesmen, anxious to get such monuments out of their sight.
To his children he was always recommending simplicity and economy. "We are not as rich as you suppose. We own a good deal of property, but it produces a scanty income."
And then, after refusing a domestic expenditure of two hundred francs, he would put five thousand into an unnecessary purchase just because it would mean a great loss to the seller. Julio and his sister kept protesting to their mother, Dona Luisa--Chichi even going so far as to announce that she would never marry a man like her father.
"Hush, hush!" exclaimed the scandalized Creole. "He has his little peculiarities, but he is very good. Never has he given me any cause for complaint. I only hope that you may be lucky enough to find his equal."
Her husband's quarrelsomeness, his irritable character and his masterful will all sank into insignificance when she thought of his unvarying fidelity. In so many years of married life . . . nothing! His faithfulness had been unexceptional even in the country where many, surrounded by beasts, and intent on increasing their flocks, had seemed to become contaminated by the general animalism. She remembered her father only too well! . . . Even her sister was obliged to live in apparent calmness with the vainglorious Karl, quite capable of disloyalty not because of any special lust, but just to imitate the doings of his superiors.
Desnoyers and his wife were plodding through life in a routine affection, reminding Dona Luisa, in her limited imagination, of the yokes of oxen on the ranch who refused to budge whenever another animal was substituted for the regular companion. Her husband certainly was quick tempered, holding her responsible for all the whims with which he exasperated his children, yet he could never bear to have her out of his sight. The afternoons at the hotel Drouot would be most insipid for him unless she was at his side, the confidante of his plans and wrathful outbursts.
"To-day there is to be a sale of jewels; shall we go?"
He would make this proposition in such a gentle and coaxing voice-- the voice that Dona Luisa remembered in their first talks around the old home. And so they would go together, but by different routes;-- she in one of the monumental vehicles because, accustomed to the leisurely carriage rides of the ranch, she no longer cared to walk; and Desnoyers--although owner of the four automobiles, heartily abominating them because he was conservative and uneasy with the complications of new machinery--on foot under the pretext that, through lack of work, his body needed the exercise. When they met in the crowded salesrooms, they proceeded to examine the jewels together, fixing beforehand, the price they would offer. But he, quick to become exasperated by opposition, always went further, hurling numbers at his competitors as though they were blows. After such excursions, the senora would appear as majestic and dazzling as a basilica of Byzantium--ears and neck decorated with great pearls, her bosom a constellation of brilliants, her hands radiating points of light of all colors of the rainbow.
"Too much, mama," Chichi would protest. "They will take you for a pawnbroker's lady!" But the Creole, satisfied with her splendor, the crowning glory of a humble life, attributed her daughter's faultfinding to envy. Chichi was only a girl now, but later on she would thank her for having collected all these gems for her.
Already the home was unable to accommodate so many purchases. In the cellars were piled up enough paintings, furniture, statues, and draperies to equip several other dwellings. Don Marcelo began to complain of the cramped space in an apartment costing twenty-eight thousand francs a year--in reality large enough for a family four times the size of his. He was beginning to deplore being obliged to renounce some very tempting furniture bargains when a real estate agent smelled out the foreigner and relieved him of his embarrassment. Why not buy a castle? . . .
The entire family was delighted with the idea. An historic castle, the most historic that could be found, would supplement their luxurious establishment. Chichi paled with pride. Some of her friends had castles. Others, of old colonial family, who were accustomed to look down upon her for her country bringing up, would now cry with envy upon learning of this acquisition which was almost a patent of nobility. The mother smiled in the hope of months in the country which would recall the simple and happy life of her youth. Julio was less enthusiastic. The "old man" would expect him to spend much time away from Paris, but he consoled himself by reflecting that the suburban place would provide excuse for frequent automobile trips.
Desnoyers thought of the relatives in Berlin. Why should he not have his castle like the others? . . . The bargains were alluring. Historic mansions by the dozen were offered him. Their owners, exhausted by the expense of maintaining them, were more than anxious to sell. So he bought the castle of Villeblanche-sur-Marne, built in the time of the religious wars--a mixture of palace and fortress with an Italian Renaissance facade, gloomy towers with pointed hoods, and moats in which swans were swimming.
He could now live with some tracts of land over which to exercise his authority, struggling again with the resistance of men and things. Besides, the vast proportions of the rooms of the castle were very tempting and bare of furniture. This opportunity for placing the overflow from his cellars plunged him again into buying. With this atmosphere of lordly gloom, the antiques would harmonize beautifully, without that cry of protest which they always seemed to make when placed in contact with the glaring white walls of modern habitations. The historic residence required an endless outlay; on that account it had changed owners so many times.
But he and the land understood each other beautifully. . . . So at the same time that he was filling the salons, he was going to begin farming and stock-raising in the extensive parks--a reproduction in miniature of his enterprises in South America. The property ought to be made self-supporting. Not that he had any fear of the expenses, but he did not intend to lose money on the proposition.
The acquisition of the castle brought Desnoyers a true friendship-- the chief advantage in the transaction. He became acquainted with a neighbor, Senator Lacour, who twice had been Minister of State, and was now vegetating in the senate, silent during its sessions, but restless and voluble in the corridors in order to maintain his influence. He was a prominent figure of the republican nobility, an aristocrat of the new regime that had sprung from the agitations of the Revolution, just as the titled nobility had won their spurs in the Crusades. His great-grandfather had belonged to the Convention. His father had figured in the Republic of 1848. He, as the son of an exile who had died in banishment, had when very young marched behind the grandiloquent figure of Gambetta, and always spoke in glowing terms of the Master, in the hope that some of his rays might be reflected on his disciple. His son Rene, a pupil of the Ecole Centrale regarded his father as "a rare old sport," laughing a little at his romantic and humanitarian republicanism. He, nevertheless, was counting much on that same official protection treasured by four generations of Lacours dedicated to the service of the Republic, to assist him when he became an engineer.
Don Marcelo who used to look uneasily upon any new friendship, fearing a demand for a loan, gave himself up with enthusiasm to intimacy with this "grand man." The personage admired riches and recognized, besides, a certain genius in this millionaire from the other side of the sea accustomed to speaking of limitless pastures and immense herds. Their intercourse was more than the mere friendliness of a country neighborhood, and continued on after their return to Paris. Finally Rene visited the home on the avenida Victor Hugo as though it were his own.
The only disappointments in Desnoyers' new life came from his children. Chichi irritated him because of the independence of her tastes. She did not like antiques, no matter how substantial and magnificent they might be, much preferring the frivolities of the latest fashion. She accepted all her father's gifts with great indifference. Before an exquisite blonde piece of lace, centuries old, picked up at auction, she made a wry face, saying, "I would much rather have had a new dress costing three hundred francs." She and her brother were solidly opposed to everything old.
Now that his daughter was already a woman, he had confided her absolutely to the care of Dona Luisa. But the former "Peoncito" was not showing much respect for the advice and commands of the good natured Creole. She had taken up roller-skating with enthusiasm, regarding it as the most elegant of diversions. She would go every afternoon to the Ice Palace, Dona Luisa chaperoning her, although to do this she was obliged to give up accompanying her husband to his sales. Oh, the hours of deadly weariness before that frozen oval ring, watching the white circle of balancing human monkeys gliding by on runners to the sound of an organ! . . . Her daughter would pass and repass before her tired eyes, rosy from the exercise, spirals of hair escaped from her hat, streaming out behind, the folds of her skirt swinging above her skates--handsome, athletic and Amazonian, with the rude health of a child who, according to her father, "had been weaned on beefsteaks."
Finally Dona Luisa rebelled against this troublesome vigilance, preferring to accompany her husband on his hunt for underpriced riches. Chichi went to the skating rink with one of the dark- skinned maids, passing the afternoons with her sporty friends of the new world. Together they ventilated their ideas under the glare of the easy life of Paris, freed from the scruples and conventions of their native land. They all thought themselves older than they were, delighting to discover in each other unsuspected charms. The change from the other hemisphere had altered their sense of values. Some were even writing verses in French. And Desnoyers became alarmed, giving free rein to his bad humor, when Chichi of evenings, would bring forth as aphorisms that which she and her friends had been discussing, as a summary of their readings and observations.-- "Life is life, and one must live! . . . I will marry the man I love, no matter who he may be. . . ."
But the daughter's independence was as nothing compared to the worry which the other child gave the Desnoyers. Ay, that other one! . . . Julio, upon arriving in Paris, had changed the bent of his aspirations. He no longer thought of becoming an engineer; he wished to become an artist. Don Marcelo objected in great consternation, but finally yielded. Let it be painting! The important thing was to have some regular profession. The father, while he considered property and wealth as sacred rights, felt that no one should enjoy them who had not worked to acquire them.
Recalling his apprenticeship as a wood carver, he began to hope that the artistic instincts which poverty had extinguished in him were, perhaps, reappearing in his son. What if this lazy boy, this lively genius, hesitating before taking up his walk in life, should turn out to be a famous painter, after all! . . . So he agreed to all of Julio's caprices, the budding artist insisting that for his first efforts in drawing and coloring, he needed a separate apartment where he could work with more freedom. His father, therefore, established him near his home, in the rue de la Pompe in the former studio of a well-known foreign painter. The workroom and its annexes were far too large for an amateur, but the owner had died, and Desnoyers improved the opportunity offered by the heirs, and bought at a remarkable bargain, the entire plant, pictures and furnishings.
Dona Luisa at first visited the studio daily like a good mother, caring for the well-being of her son that he may work to better advantage. Taking off her gloves, she emptied the brass trays filled with cigar stubs and dusted the furniture powdered with the ashes fallen from the pipes. Julio's visitors, long-haired young men who spoke of things that she could not understand, seemed to her rather careless in their manners. . . . Later on she also met there women, very lightly clad, and was received with scowls by her son. Wasn't his mother ever going to let him work in peace? . . . So the poor lady, starting out in the morning toward the rue de la Pompe, stopped midway and went instead to the church of Saint Honore d'Eylau.
The father displayed more prudence. A man of his years could not expect to mingle with the chums of a young artist. In a few months' time, Julio passed entire weeks without going to sleep under the paternal roof. Finally he installed himself permanently in his studio, occasionally making a flying trip home that his family might know that he was still in existence. . . . Some mornings, Desnoyers would arrive at the rue de la Pompe in order to ask a few questions of the concierge. It was ten o'clock; the artist was sleeping. Upon returning at midday, he learned that the heavy sleep still continued. Soon after lunch, another visit to get better news. It was two o'clock, the young gentleman was just arising. So the father would retire, muttering stormily--"But when does this painter ever paint?" . . .
At first Julio had tried to win renown with his brush, believing that it would prove an easy task. In true artist fashion, he collected his friends around him, South American boys with nothing to do but enjoy life, scattering money ostentatiously so that everybody might know of their generosity. With serene audacity, the young canvas-dauber undertook to paint portraits. He loved good painting, "distinctive" painting, with the cloying sweetness of a romance, that copied only the forms of women. He had money, a good studio, his father was standing behind him ready to help--why shouldn't he accomplish as much as many others who lacked his opportunities? . . .
So he began his work by coloring a canvas entitled, "The Dance of the Hours," a mere pretext for copying pretty girls and selecting buxom models. These he would sketch at a mad speed, filling in the outlines with blobs of multi-colored paint, and up to this point all went well. Then he would begin to vacillate, remaining idle before the picture only to put it in the corner in hope of later inspiration. It was the same way with his various studies of feminine heads. Finding that he was never able to finish anything, he soon became resigned, like one who pants with fatigue before an obstacle waiting for a providential interposition to save him. The important thing was to be a painter . . . even though he might not paint anything. This afforded him the opportunity, on the plea of lofty aestheticism, of sending out cards of invitation and asking light women to his studio. He lived during the night. Don Marcelo, upon investigating the artist's work, could not contain his indignation. Every morning the two Desnoyers were accustomed to greet the first hours of dawn--the father leaping from his bed, the son, on his way home to his studio to throw himself upon his couch not to wake till midday.
The credulous Dona Luisa would invent the most absurd explanations to defend her son. Who could tell? Perhaps he had the habit of painting during the night, utilizing it for original work. Men resort to so many devilish things! . . .
Desnoyers knew very well what these nocturnal gusts of genius were amounting to--scandals in the restaurants of Montmartre, and scrimmages, many scrimmages. He and his gang, who believed that at seven a full dress or Tuxedo was indispensable, were like a band of Indians, bringing to Paris the wild customs of the plains. Champagne always made them quarrelsome. So they broke and paid, but their generosities were almost invariably followed by a scuffle. No one could surpass Julio in the quick slap and the ready card. His father heard with a heavy heart the news brought him by some friends thinking to flatter his vanity--his son was always victorious in these gentlemanly encounters; he it was who always scratched the enemy's skin. The painter knew more about fencing than art. He was a champion with various weapons; he could box, and was even skilled in the favorite blows of the prize fighters of the slums. "Useless as a drone, and as dangerous, too," fretted his father. And yet in the back of his troubled mind fluttered an irresistible satisfaction--an animal pride in the thought that this hare-brained terror was his own.
For a while, he thought that he had hit upon a way of withdrawing his son from such an existence. The relatives in Berlin had visited the Desnoyers in their castle of Villeblanche. With good-natured superiority, Karl von Hartrott had appreciated the rich and rather absurd accumulations of his brother-in-law. They were not bad; he admitted that they gave a certain cachet to the home in Paris and to the castle. They smacked of the possessions of titled nobility. But Germany! . . . The comforts and luxuries in his country! . . . He just wished his brother-in-law to admire the way he lived and the noble friendships that embellished his opulence. And so he insisted in his letters that the Desnoyers family should return their visit. This change of environment might tone Julio down a little. Perhaps his ambition might waken on seeing the diligence of his cousins, each with a career. The Frenchman had, besides, an underlying belief in the more corrupt influence of Paris as compared with the purity of the customs in Patriarchal Germany.
They were there four months. In a little while Desnoyers felt ready to retreat. Each to his own kind; he would never be able to understand such people. Exceedingly amiable, with an abject amiability and evident desire to please, but constantly blundering through a tactless desire to make their grandeur felt. The high- toned friends of Hartrott emphasized their love for France, but it was the pious love that a weak and mischievous child inspires, needing protection. And they would accompany their affability with all manner of inopportune memories of the wars in which France had been conquered. Everything in Germany--a monument, a railroad station, a simple dining-room device, instantly gave rise to glorious comparisons. "In France, you do not have this," "Of course, you never saw anything like this in America."
Don Marcelo came away fatigued by so much condescension, and his wife and daughter refused to be convinced that the elegance of Berlin could be superior to Paris. Chichi, with audacious sacrilege, scandalized her cousins by declaring that she could not abide the corseted officers with immovable monocle, who bowed to the women with such automatic rigidity, blending their gallantries with an air of superiority.
Julio, guided by his cousins, was saturated in the virtuous atmosphere of Berlin. With the oldest, "The Sage," he had nothing to do. He was a poor creature devoted to his books who patronized all the family with a protecting air. It was the others, the sub- lieutenants or military students, who proudly showed him the rounds of German joy.
Julio was accordingly introduced to all the night restaurants-- imitations of those in Paris, but on a much larger scale. The women who in Paris might be counted by the dozens appeared here in hundreds. The scandalous drunkenness here never came by chance, but always by design as an indispensable part of the gaiety. All was grandiose, glittering, colossal. The libertines diverted themselves in platoons, the public got drunk in companies, the harlots presented themselves in regiments. He felt a sensation of disgust before these timid and servile females, accustomed to blows, who were so eagerly trying to reimburse themselves for the losses and exposures of their business. For him, it was impossible to celebrate with hoarse ha-has, like his cousins, the discomfiture of these women when they realized that they had wasted so many hours without accomplishing more than abundant drinking. The gross obscenity, so public and noisy, like a parade of riches, was loathsome to Julio. "There is nothing like this in Paris," his cousins repeatedly exulted as they admired the stupendous salons, the hundreds of men and women in pairs, the thousands of tipplers. "No, there certainly was nothing like that in Paris." He was sick of such boundless pretension. He seemed to be attending a fiesta of hungry mariners anxious at one swoop to make amends for all former privations. Like his father, he longed to get away. It offended his aesthetic sense.
Don Marcelo returned from this visit with melancholy resignation. Those people had undoubtedly made great strides. He was not such a blind patriot that he could not admit what was so evident. Within a few years they had transformed their country, and their industry was astonishing . . . but, well . . . it was simply impossible to have anything to do with them. Each to his own, but may they never take a notion to envy their neighbor! . . . Then he immediately repelled this last suspicion with the optimism of a business man.
"They are going to be very rich," he thought. "Their affairs are prospering, and he that is rich does not hunt quarrels. That war of which some crazy fools are always dreaming would be an impossible thing."
Young Desnoyers renewed his Parisian existence, living entirely in the studio and going less and less to his father's home. Dona Luisa began to speak of a certain Argensola, a very learned young Spaniard, believing that his counsels might prove most helpful to Julio. She did not know exactly whether this new companion was friend, master or servant. The studio habitues also had their doubts. The literary ones always spoke of Argensola as a painter. The painters recognized only his ability as a man of letters. He was among those who used to come up to the studio of winter afternoons, attracted by the ruddy glow of the stove and the wines secretly provided by the mother, holding forth authoritatively before the often-renewed bottle and the box of cigars lying open on the table. One night, he slept on the divan, as he had no regular quarters. After that first night, he lived entirely in the studio.
Julio soon discovered in him an admirable reflex of his own personality. He knew that Argensola had come third-class from Madrid with twenty francs in his pocket, in order to "capture glory," to use his own words. Upon observing that the Spaniard was painting with as much difficulty as himself, with the same wooden and childish strokes, which are so characteristic of the make- believe artists and pot-boilers, the routine workers concerned themselves with color and other rank fads. Argensola was a psychological artist, a painter of souls. And his disciple, felt astonished and almost displeased on learning what a comparatively simple thing it was to paint a soul. Upon a bloodless countenance, with a chin as sharp as a dagger, the gifted Spaniard would trace a pair of nearly round eyes, and at the centre of each pupil he would aim a white brush stroke, a point of light . . . the soul. Then, planting himself before the canvas, he would proceed to classify this soul with his inexhaustible imagination, attributing to it almost every kind of stress and extremity. So great was the sway of his rapture that Julio, too, was able to see all that the artist flattered himself into believing that he had put into the owlish eyes. He, also, would paint souls . . . souls of women.
In spite of the ease with which he developed his psychological creations, Argensola preferred to talk, stretched on a divan, or to read, hugging the fire while his friend and protector was outside. Another advantage this fondness for reading gave young Desnoyers was that he was no longer obliged to open a volume, scanning the index and last pages "just to get the idea." Formerly when frequenting society functions, he had been guilty of coolly asking an author which was his best book--his smile of a clever man--giving the writer to understand that he merely enquired so as not to waste time on the other volumes. Now it was no longer necessary to do this; Argensola would read for him. As soon as Julio would see him absorbed in a book, he would demand an immediate share: "Tell me the story." So the "secretary," not only gave him the plots of comedies and novels, but also detailed the argument of Schopenhauer or of Nietzsche . . . Dona Luisa almost wept on hearing her visitors-- with that benevolence which wealth always inspires--speak of her son as "a rather gay young man, but wonderfully well read!"
In exchange for his lessons, Argensola received, much the same treatment as did the Greek slaves who taught rhetoric to the young patricians of decadent Rome. In the midst of a dissertation, his lord and friend would interrupt him with--"Get my dress suit ready. I am invited out this evening."
At other times, when the instructor was luxuriating in bodily comfort, with a book in one hand near the roaring stove, seeing through the windows the gray and rainy afternoon, his disciple would suddenly appear saying, "Quick, get out! . . . There's a woman coming!"
And Argensola, like a dog who gets up and shakes himself, would disappear to continue his reading in some miserable little coffee house in the neighborhood.
In his official capacity, this widely gifted man often descended from the peaks of intellectuality to the vulgarities of everyday life. He was the steward of the lord of the manor, the intermediary between the pocketbook and those who appeared bill in hand. "Money!" he would say laconically at the end of the month, and Desnoyers would break out into complaints and curses. Where on earth was he to get it, he would like to know. His father was as regular as a machine, and would never allow the slightest advance upon the following month. He had to submit to a rule of misery. Three thousand francs a month!--what could any decent person do with that? . . . He was even trying to cut THAT down, to tighten the band, interfering in the running of his house, so that Dona Luisa could not make presents to her son. In vain he had appealed to the various usurers of Paris, telling them of his property beyond the ocean. These gentlemen had the youth of their own country in the hollow of their hand and were not obliged to risk their capital in other lands. The same hard luck pursued him when, with sudden demonstrations of affection, he had tried to convince Don Marcelo that three thousand francs a month was but a niggardly trifle.
The millionaire fairly snorted with indignation. "Three thousand francs a trifle!" And the debts besides, that he often had to pay for his son! . . .
"Why, when I was your age," . . . he would begin saying--but Julio would suddenly bring the dialogue to a close. He had heard his father's story too many times. Ah, the stingy old miser! What he had been giving him all these months was no more than the interest on his grandfather's legacy. . . . And by the advice of Argensola he ventured to get control of the field. He was planning to hand over the management of his land to Celedonio, the old overseer, who was now such a grandee in his country that Julio ironically called him "my uncle."
Desnoyers accepted this rebellion coldly. "It appears just to me. You are now of age!" Then he promptly reduced to extremes his oversight of his home, forbidding Dona Luisa to handle any money. Henceforth he regarded his son as an adversary, treating him during his lightning apparitions at the avenue Victor Hugo with glacial courtesy as though he were a stranger.
For a while a transitory opulence enlivened the studio. Julio had increased his expenses, considering himself rich. But the letters from his uncle in America soon dissipated these illusions. At first the remittances exceeded very slightly the monthly allowance that his father had made him. Then it began to diminish in an alarming manner. According to Celedonio, all the calamities on earth seemed to he falling upon his plantation. The pasture land was yielding scantily, sometimes for lack of rain, sometimes because of floods, and the herds were perishing by hundreds. Julio required more income, and the crafty half-breed sent him what he asked for, but simply as a loan, reserving the return until they should adjust their accounts.
In spite of such aid, young Desnoyers was suffering great want. He was gambling now in an elegant circle, thinking thus to compensate for his periodical scrimpings; but this resort was only making the remittances from America disappear with greater rapidity. . . . That such a man as he was should be tormented so for the lack of a few thousand francs! What else was a millionaire father for?
If the creditors began threatening, the poor youth had to bring the secretary into play, ordering him to see the mother immediately; he himself wished to avoid her tears and reproaches. So Argensola would slip like a pickpocket up the service stairway of the great house on the avenue Victor Hugo. The place in which he transacted his ambassadorial business was the kitchen, with great danger that the terrible Desnoyers might happen in there, on one of his perambulations as a laboring man, and surprise the intruder.
Dona Luisa would weep, touched by the heartrending tales of the messenger. What could she do! She was as poor as her maids; she had jewels, many jewels, but not a franc. Then Argensola came to the rescue with a solution worthy of his experience. He would smooth the way for the good mother, leaving some of her jewels at the Mont-de-Piete. He knew the way to raise money on them. So the lady accepted his advice, giving him, however, only jewels of medium value as she suspected that she might never see them again. Later scruples made her at times refuse flatly. Suppose Don Marcelo should ever find it out, what a scene! . . . But the Spaniard deemed it unseemly to return empty-handed, and always bore away a basket of bottles from the well-stocked wine-cellar of the Desnoyers.
Every morning Dona Luisa went to Saint-Honore-d'Eylau to pray for her son. She felt that this was her own church. It was a hospitable and familiar island in the unexplored ocean of Paris. Here she could exchange discreet salutations with her neighbors from the different republics of the new world. She felt nearer to God and the saints when she could hear in the vestibule conversations in her language.
It was, moreover, a sort of salon in which took place the great events of the South American colony. One day was a wedding with flowers, orchestra and chanting chorals. With Chichi beside her, she greeted those she knew, congratulating the bride and groom. Another day it was the funeral of an ex-president of some republic, or some other foreign dignitary ending in Paris his turbulent existence. Poor President! Poor General! . . .
Dona Luisa remembered the dead man. She had seen him many times in that church devoutly attending mass and she was indignant at the evil tongues which, under the cover of a funeral oration, recalled the shootings and bank failures in his country. Such a good and religious gentleman! May God receive his soul in glory! . . . And upon going out into the square, she would look with tender eyes upon the young men and women on horseback going to the Bois de Boulogne, the luxurious automobiles, the morning radiant in the sunshine, all the primeval freshness of the early hours--realizing what a beautiful thing it is to live.
Her devout expression of gratitude for mere existence usually included the monument in the centre of the square, all bristling with wings as if about to fly away from the ground. Victor Hugo! . . . It was enough for her to have heard this name on the lips of her son to make her contemplate the statue with a family interest. The only thing that she knew about the poet was that he had died. Of this she was almost sure, and she imagined that in life, he was a great friend of Julio's because she had so often heard her son repeat his name.
Ay, her son! . . . All her thoughts, her conjectures, her desires, converged on him and her strong-willed husband. She longed for the men to come to an understanding and put an end to a struggle in which she was the principal victim. Would not God work this miracle? . . . Like an invalid who goes from one sanitarium to another in pursuit of health, she gave up the church on her street to attend the Spanish chapel on the avenue Friedland. Here she considered herself even more among her own.
In the midst of the fine and elegant South American ladies who looked as if they had just escaped from a fashion sheet, her eyes sought other women, not so well dressed, fat, with theatrical ermine and antique jewelry. When these high-born dames met each other in the vestibule, they spoke with heavy voices and expressive gestures, emphasizing their words energetically. The daughter of the ranch ventured to salute them because she had subscribed to all their pet charities, and upon seeing her greeting returned, she felt a satisfaction which made her momentarily forget her woes. They belonged to those families which her father had so greatly admired without knowing why. They came from the "mother country," and to the good Chicha were all Excelentisimas or Altisimas, related to kings. She did not know whether to give them her hand or bend the knee, as she had vaguely heard was the custom at court. But soon she recalled her preoccupation and went forward to wrestle in prayer with God. Ay, that he would mercifully remember her! That he would not long forget her son! . . .
It was Glory that remembered Julio, stretching out to him her arms of light, so that he suddenly awoke to find himself surrounded by all the honors and advantages of celebrity. Fame cunningly surprises mankind on the most crooked and unexpected of roads. Neither the painting of souls nor a fitful existence full of extravagant love affairs and complicated duels had brought Desnoyers this renown. It was Glory that put him on his feet.
A new pleasure for the delight of humanity had come from the other side of the seas. People were asking one another in the mysterious tones of the initiated who wish to recognize a familiar spirit, "Do you know how to tango? . . ." The tango had taken possession of the world. It was the heroic hymn of a humanity that was suddenly concentrating its aspirations on the harmonious rhythm of the thigh joints, measuring its intelligence by the agility of its feet. An incoherent and monotonous music of African inspiration was satisfying the artistic ideals of a society that required nothing better. The world was dancing . . . dancing . . . dancing.
A negro dance from Cuba introduced into South America by mariners who shipped jerked beef to the Antilles, conquered the entire earth in a few months, completely encircling it, bounding victoriously from nation to nation . . . like the Marseillaise. It was even penetrating into the most ceremonious courts, overturning all traditions of conservation and etiquette like a song of the Revolution--the revolution of frivolity. The Pope even had to become a master of the dance, recommending the "Furlana" instead of the "Tango," since all the Christian world, regardless of sects, was united in the common desire to agitate its feet with the tireless frenzy of the "possessed" of the Middle Ages.
Julio Desnoyers, upon meeting this dance of his childhood in full swing in Paris, devoted himself to it with the confidence that an old love inspires. Who could have foretold that when as a student, he was frequenting the lowest dance halls in Buenos Aires, watched by the police, that he was really serving an apprenticeship to Glory? . . .
From five to seven, in the salons of the Champs d'Elysees where it cost five francs for a cup of tea and the privilege of joining in the sacred dance, hundreds of eyes followed him with admiration. "He has the key," said the women, appraising his slender elegance, medium stature, and muscular springs. And he, in abbreviated jacket and expansive shirt bosom, with his small, girlish feet encased in high-heeled patent leathers with white tops, danced gravely, thoughtfully, silently, like a mathematician working out a problem, under the lights that shed bluish tones upon his plastered, glossy locks. Ladies asked to be presented to him in the sweet hope that their friends might envy them when they beheld them in the arms of the master. Invitations simply rained upon Julio. The most exclusive salons were thrown open to him so that every afternoon he made a dozen new acquaintances. The fashion had brought over professors from the other side of the sea, compatriots from the slums of Buenos Aires, haughty and confused at being applauded like famous lecturers or tenors; but Julio triumphed over these vulgarians who danced for money, and the incidents of his former life were considered by the women as deeds of romantic gallantry.
"You are killing yourself," Argensola would say. "You are dancing too much."
The glory of his friend and master was only making more trouble for him. His placid readings before the fire were now subject to daily interruptions. It was impossible to read more than a chapter. The celebrated man was continually ordering him to betake himself to the street. "A new lesson," sighed the parasite. And when he was alone in the studio numerous callers--all women, some inquisitive and aggressive, others sad, with a deserted air--were constantly interrupting his thoughtful pursuits.
One of them terrified the occupants of the studio with her insistence. She was a North American of uncertain age, somewhere between thirty-two and fifty-nine, with short skirts that whenever she sat down, seemed to fly up as if moved by a spring. Various dances with Desnoyers and a visit to the rue de la Pompe she seemed to consider as her sacred rights, and she pursued the master with the desperation of an abandoned zealot. Julio had made good his escape upon learning that this beauty of youthful elegance--when seen from the back--had two grandchildren. "MASTER Desnoyers has gone out," Argensola would invariably say upon receiving her. And, thereupon she would burst into tears and threats, longing to kill herself then and there that her corpse might frighten away those other women who would come to rob her of what she considered her special privilege. Now it was Argensola who sped his companion to the street when he wished to be alone. He had only to remark casually, "I believe that Yankee is coming," and the great man would beat a hasty retreat, oftentimes in his desperate flight availing himself of the back stairs.
At this time began to develop the most important event in Julio's existence. The Desnoyers family was to be united with that of Senator Lacour. Rene, his only son, had succeeded in awakening in Chichi a certain interest that was almost love. The dignitary enjoyed thinking of his son allied to the boundless plains and immense herds whose description always affected him like a marvellous tale. He was a widower, but he enjoyed giving at his home famous banquets and parties. Every new celebrity immediately suggested to him the idea of giving a dinner. No illustrious person passing through Paris, polar explorer or famous singer, could escape being exhibited in the dining room of Lacour. The son of Desnoyers- -at whom he had scarcely glanced before--now inspired him with sudden interest. The senator was a thoroughly up-to-date man who did not classify glory nor distinguish reputations. It was enough for him that a name should be on everybody's lips for him to accept it with enthusiasm. When Julio responded to his invitation, he presented him with pride to his friends, and came very near to calling him "dear master." The tango was monopolizing all conversation nowadays. Even in the Academy they were taking it up in order to demonstrate that the youth of ancient Athens had diverted itself in a somewhat similar way. . . . And Lacour had dreamed all his life of an Athenian republic.
At these reunions, Desnoyers became acquainted with the Lauriers. He was an engineer who owned a motor-factory for automobiles in the outskirts of Paris--a man about thirty-five, tall, rather heavy and silent, with a deliberate air as though he wished to see deeply into men and things. She was of a light, frivolous character, loving life for the satisfactions and pleasures which it brought her, appearing to accept with smiling conformity the silent and grave adoration of her husband. She could not well do less with a man of his merits. Besides, she had brought to the marriage a dowry of three hundred thousand francs, a capital which had enabled the engineer to enlarge his business. The senator had been instrumental in arranging this marriage. He was interested in Laurier because he was the son of an old friend.
Upon Marguerite Laurier the presence of Julio flashed like a ray of sunlight in the tiresome salon of Lacour. She was dancing the fad of the hour and frequenting the tango teas where reigned the adored Desnoyers. And to think that she was being entertained with this celebrated and interesting man that the other women were raving about! . . . In order that he might not take her for a mere middle- class woman like the other guests at the senator's party, she spoke of her modistes, all from the rue de la Paix, declaring gravely that no woman who had any self-respect could possibly walk through the streets wearing a gown costing less than eight hundred francs, and that the hat of a thousand francs--but a few years ago, an astonishing novelty--was nowadays a very ordinary affair.
This acquaintanceship made the "little Laurier," as her friends called her notwithstanding her tallness, much sought by the master of the dance, in spite of the looks of wrath and envy hurled at her by the others. What a triumph for the wife of a simple engineer who was used to going everywhere in her mother's automobile! . . . Julio at first had supposed her like all the others who were languishing in his arms, following the rhythmic complications of the dance, but he soon found that she was very different. Her coquetry after the first confidential words, but increased his admiration. He really had never before been thrown with a woman of her class. Those of his first social period were the habituees of the night restaurants paid for their witchery. Now Glory was tossing into his arms ladies of high position but with an unconfessable past, anxious for novelties although exceedingly mature. This middle class woman who would advance so confidently toward him and then retreat with such capricious outbursts of modesty, was a new type for him.
The tango salons soon began to suffer a great loss. Desnoyers was permitting himself to be seen there with less frequency, handing Glory over to the professionals. Sometimes entire weeks slipped by without the five-to-seven devotees being able to admire his black locks and his tiny patent leathers twinkling under the lights in time with his graceful movements.
Marguerite was also avoiding these places. The meetings of the two were taking place in accordance with what she had read in the love stories of Paris. She was going in search of Julio, fearing to be recognized, tremulous with emotion, selecting her most inconspicuous suit, and covering her face with a close veil--"the veil of adultery," as her friends called it. They had their trysts in the least-frequented squares of the district, frequently changing the places, like timid birds that at the slightest disturbance fly to perch a little further away. Sometimes they would meet in the Buttes Chaumont, at others they preferred the gardens on the left bank of the Seine, the Luxembourg, and even the distant Parc de Montsouris. She was always in tremors of terror lest her husband might surprise them, although she well knew that the industrious engineer was in his factory a great distance away. Her agitated aspect, her excessive precautions in order to slip by unseen, only served to attract the attention of the passers-by. Although Julio was waxing impatient with the annoyance of this wandering love affair which only amounted to a few fugitive kisses, he finally held his peace, dominated by Marguerite's pleadings.
She did not wish merely to be one in the procession of his sweethearts; it was necessary to convince herself first that this love was going to last forever. It was her first slip and she wanted it to be the last. Ay, her former spotless reputation! . . . What would people say! . . . The two returned to their adolescent period, loving each other as they had never loved before, with the confident and childish passion of fifteen-year-olds.
Julio had leaped from childhood to libertinism, taking his initiation into life at a single bound. She had desired marriage in order to acquire the respect and liberty of a married woman, but feeling towards her husband only a vague gratitude. "We end where others begin," she had said to Desnoyers.
Their passion took the form of an intense, reciprocal and vulgar love. They felt a romantic sentimentality in clasping hands or exchanging kisses on a garden bench in the twilight. He was treasuring a ringlet of Marguerite's--although he doubted its genuineness, with a vague suspicion that it might be one of the latest wisps of fashion. She would cuddle down with her head on his shoulder, as though imploring his protection, although always in the open air. If Julio ever attempted greater intimacy in a carriage, madame would repel him most vigorously. A contradictory duality appeared to inspire her actions. Every morning, on awaking, she would decide to yield, but then when near him, her middle-class respectability, jealous of its reputation, kept her faithful to her mother's teachings.
One day she agreed to visit his studio with the interest that the haunts of the loved one always inspires. "Promise that you will not take advantage of me." He readily promised, swearing that everything should be as Marguerite wished. . . . But from that day they were no longer seen in the gardens, nor wandering around persecuted by the winter winds. They preferred the studio, and Argensola had to rearrange his existence, seeking the stove of another artist friend, in order to continue his reading.
This state of things lasted two months. They never knew what secret force suddenly disturbed their tranquility. Perhaps one of her friends, guessing at the truth, had told the husband anonymously. Perhaps it was she herself unconsciously, with her inexpressible happiness, her tardy returns home when dinner was already served, and the sudden aversion which she showed toward the engineer in their hours alone, trying to keep her heart faithful to her lover. To divide her interest between her legal companion and the man she loved was a torment that her simple and vehement enthusiasm could not tolerate.
While she was hurrying one night through the rue de la Pompe, looking at her watch and trembling with impatience at not finding an automobile or even a cab, a man stood in front of her. . . . Etienne Laurier! She always shuddered with fear on recalling that hour. For a moment she believed that he was going to kill her. Serious men, quiet and diffident, are most terrible in their explosions of wrath. Her husband knew everything. With the same patience that he employed in solving his industrial problems, he had been studying her day by day, without her ever suspecting the watchfulness behind that impassive countenance. Then he had followed her in order to complete the evidence of his misfortune.
Marguerite had never supposed that he could be so common and noisy in his anger. She had expected that he would accept the facts coldly with that slight tinge of philosophical irony usually shown by distinguished men, as the husbands of her friends had done. But the poor engineer who, outside of his work, saw only his wife, loving her as a woman, and adoring her as a dainty and superior being, a model of grace and elegance, could not endure the thought of her downfall, and cried and threatened without reserve, so that the scandal became known throughout their entire circle of friends. The senator felt greatly annoyed in remembering that it was in his exclusive home that the guilty ones had become acquainted; but his displeasure was visited upon the husband. What lack of good taste! . . . Women will be women, and everything is capable of adjustment. But before the imprudent outbursts of this frantic devil no elegant solution was possible, and there was now nothing to do but to begin divorce proceedings.
Desnoyers, senior, was very indignant upon learning of this last escapade of his son. He had always had a great liking for Laurier. That instinctive bond which exists between men of industry, patient and silent, had made them very congenial. At the senator's receptions he had always talked with the engineer about the progress of his business, interesting himself in the development of that factory of which he always spoke with the affection of a father. The millionaire, in spite of his reputation for miserliness, had even volunteered his disinterested support if at any time it should become necessary to enlarge the plant. And it was this good man's happiness that his son, a frivolous and useless dancer, was going to steal! . . .
At first Laurier spoke of a duel. His wrath was that of a work horse who breaks the tight reins of his laboring outfit, tosses his mane, neighs wildly and bites. The father was greatly distressed at the possibility of such an outcome. . . . One scandal more! Julio had dedicated the greater part of his existence to the handling of arms.
"He will kill the poor man!" he said to the senator. "I am sure that he will kill him. It is the logic of life; the good-for- nothing always kill those who amount to anything."
But there was no killing. The Father of the Republic knew how to handle the clashing parties, with the same skill that he always employed in the corridors of the Senate during a ministerial crisis. The scandal was hushed up. Marguerite went to live with her mother and took the first steps for a divorce.
Some evenings, when the studio clock was striking seven, she would yawn and say sadly: "I must go. . . . I have to go, although this is my true home. . . . Ah, what a pity that we are not married!"
And he, feeling a whole garden of bourgeois virtues, hitherto ignored, bursting into bloom, repeated in a tone of conviction:
"That's so; why are we not married!"
Their wishes could be realized. The husband was facilitating the step by his unexpected intervention. So young Desnoyers set forth for South America in order to raise the money and marry Marguerite.