Serge Panine by Georges Ohnet


Jeanne left alone, watched them as they disappeared with the light and easy movements of lovers.

Serge, bending toward Micheline, was speaking tenderly. A rush of bitter feeling caused Jeanne's heart to swell. She was alone, she, while he whom she loved-her whole being revolted. Unhappy one! Why did she think of this man? Had she the right to do so now? She no longer belonged to herself. Another, who was as kind to her as Serge was ungrateful, was her husband. She thought thus in sincerity of heart. She wished to love Cayrol. Alas, poor Jeanne! She would load him with attentions and caresses! And Serge would be jealous, for he could never have forgotten her so soon.

Her thoughts again turned to him whom she wished to forget. She made an effort, but in vain. Serge was uppermost; he possessed her. She was afraid. Would she never be able to break off the remembrance? Would his name be ever on her lips, his face ever before her eyes?

Thank heaven! she was about to leave. Travelling, and the sight of strange places other than those where she had lived near Serge, would draw her attention from the persecution she suffered. Her husband was about to take her away, to defend her. It was his duty, and she would help him with energy. With all the strength of her will she summoned Cayrol. She clung violently to him as a drowning person catches at a straw, with the vigor of despair.

There was between Jeanne and Cayrol a sympathetic communication. Mentally called by his wife, the husband appeared.

"Ah! at last!" said she.

Cayrol, surprised at this welcome, smiled. Jeanne, without noticing, added:

"Well, Monsieur; are we leaving soon?"

The banker's surprise increased. But as this surprise was decidedly an agreeable one he did not protest.

"In a moment, Jeanne, dear," he said.

"Why this delay?" asked the young wife, nervously.

"You will understand. There are more than twenty carriages before the front door. Our coachman is driving round, and we will go out by the conservatory door without being seen."

"Very well; we will wait."

This delay displeased Jeanne. In the ardor of her resolution, in the first warmth of her struggle, she wished at once to put space between her and Serge. Unfortunately, Cayrol had thwarted this effort of proud revolt. She was vexed with him. He, without knowing the motives which actuated his wife, guessed that something had displeased her. He wished to change the current of her thoughts.

"You were marvellously beautiful to-night," he said, approaching her gallantly. "You were much admired, and I was proud of you. If you had heard my friends! It was a concert of congratulations: What a fortunate fellow that Cayrol is! He is rich; he has a charming wife! You see, Jeanne, thanks to you, in the eyes of all, my happiness is complete."

Jeanne frowned, and without answering, shook her head haughtily. Cayrol continued, without noticing this forecast of a storm:

"They envy me; and I can understand it! I would not change places with anybody. There, our friend Prince Panine is very happy; he has married a woman whom he loves and who adores him. Well, he is not happier than I am!"

Jeanne rose abruptly, and gave her husband a terrible look.

"Monsieur!" she cried with rage.

"I beg your pardon," said Cayrol, humbly; "I appear ridiculous to you, but my happiness is stronger than I am, and I cannot hide my joy. You will see that I can be grateful. I will spend my life in trying to please you. I have a surprise for you to begin with."

"What kind of surprise?" asked Jeanne, with indifference.

Cayrol rubbed his hands with a mysterious air. He was enjoying beforehand the pleasant surprise he had in store for his wife.

"You think we are going to Paris to spend our honeymoon like ordinary folk?"

Jeanne started. Cayrol seemed unfortunate in his choice of words.

"Well, not at all," continued the banker. "Tomorrow I leave my offices. My customers may say what they like; I will leave my business, and we are off."

Jeanne showed signs of pleasure. A flash of joy lit up her face. To go away, that was rest for her!

"And where shall we go?"

"That is the surprise! You know that the Prince and his wife intend travelling!"

"Yes; but they refused to say where they were going;" interrupted Jeanne, with a troubled expression.

"Not to me. They are going to Switzerland. Well, we shall join them there."

Jeanne arose like a startled deer when it hears the sound of a gun.

"Join them there!" she exclaimed.

"Yes; to continue the journey together. A party of four; two newly-married couples. It will be charming. I spoke to Serge on the subject. He objected at first, but the Princess came to my assistance. And when he saw that his wife and I were agreed, he commenced to laugh, and said: 'You wish it? I consent. Don't say anything more!' It is all very well to talk of love's solitude; in about a fortnight, passed tete-a-tete, Serge will be glad to have us. We will go to Italy to see the lakes; and there, in a boat, all four, of us will have such pleasant times."

Cayrol might have gone on talking for an hour, but Jeanne was not listening. She was thinking. Thus all the efforts which she had decided to make to escape from him whom she loved would be useless. An invincible fatality ever brought her toward him whom she was seeking to avoid. And it was her husband who was aiding this inevitable and execrable meeting. A bitter smile played on her lips. There was something mournfully comic in this stubbornness of Cayrol's, in throwing her in the way of Serge.

Cayrol, embarrassed by Jeanne's silence, waited a moment.

"What is the matter?" he asked. "You are just like the Prince when I spoke to him on the subject."

Jeanne turned away abruptly. Cayrol's comparison was too direct. His blunders were becoming wearisome.

The banker, quite discomfited on seeing the effect of his words, continued:

"You object to this journey? If so, I am willing to give it up."

The young wife was touched by this humble servility.

"Well, yes," she said, softly, "I should be grateful to you."

"I had hoped to please you," said Cayrol. "It is for me to beg pardon for having succeeded so badly. Let us remain in Paris. It does not matter to me what place we are in! Being near to you is all I desire."

He approached her, and, with beaming eyes, added:

"You are so beautiful, Jeanne; and I have loved you so long a time!"

She moved away, full of a vague dread. Cayrol, very excitedly, put her cloak round her shoulders, and looking toward the door, added:

"The carriage is there, we can go now."

Jeanne, much troubled, did not rise.

"Wait another minute," said she.

Cayrol smiled constrainedly:

"A little while ago you were hurrying me off."

It was true. But a sudden change had come over Jeanne. Her energy had given way. She felt very weary. The idea of going away with Cayrol, and of being alone with him in the carriage frightened her. She looked vaguely at her husband, and saw, in a sort of mist, this great fat man, with a protruding shirt-front, rolls of red flesh on his neck above his collar, long fat ears which only needed gold ear-rings, and his great hairy hands, on the finger of one of which shone the new wedding-ring. Then, in a rapid vision, she beheld the refined profile, the beautiful blue eyes, and the long, fair mustache of Serge. A profound sadness came over the young woman, and tears rushed to her eyes.

"What is the matter with you? You are crying!" exclaimed Cayrol, anxiously.

"It is nothing; my nerves are shaken. I am thinking of this chateau which bears my name. Here I spent my youth, and here my father died. A thousand ties bind me to this dwelling, and I cannot leave it without being overcome."

"Another home awaits you, luxuriantly adorned," murmured Cayrol, "and worthy of receiving you. It is there you will live henceforth with me, happy through me, and belonging to me."

Then, ardently supplicating her, he added:

"Let us go, Jeanne!"

He tried to take her in his arms, but the young wife disengaged herself.

"Leave me alone!" she said, moving away.

Cayrol looked at her in amazement.

"What is it? You are trembling and frightened!"

He tried to jest:

"Am I so very terrible, then? Or is it the idea of leaving here that troubles you so much? If so, why did you not tell me sooner? I can understand things. Let us remain here for a few days, or as long as you like. I have arranged my affairs so as to be at liberty. Our little paradise can wait for us."

He spoke pleasantly, but with an undercurrent of anxiety.

Jeanne came slowly to him, and calmly taking his hand, said:

"You are very good."

"I am not making any efforts to be so," retorted Cayrol, smiling. "What do I ask? That you may be happy and satisfied."

"Well, do you wish to please me?" asked the young wife.

"Yes!" exclaimed Cayrol, warmly, "tell me how."

"Madame Desvarennes will be very lonely tomorrow when her daughter will be gone. She will need consolingó"

"Ah, ah," said Cayrol, thinking that he understood, "and you would likeó"

"I would like to remain some time with her. You could come every day and see us. I would be very grateful to you, and would love you very much!"

"Butóbutóbutó!" exclaimed Cayrol, much confounded, "you cannot mean what you say, Jeanne! What, my dear? You wish me to return alone to Paris to-night? What would my servants say? You would expose me to ridicule!"

Poor Cayrol made a piteous face. Jeanne looked at him as she had never looked before. It made his blood boil.

"Would you be so very ridiculous for having been delicate and tender?"

"I don't see what tenderness has to do with it," cried Cayrol; "on the contrary! But I love you. You don't seem to think it!"

"Prove it," replied Jeanne, more provokingly.

This time Cayrol lost all patience.

"Is it in leaving you that I shall prove it? Really, Jeanne, I am disposed to be kind and to humor your whims, but on condition that they are reasonable. You seem to be making fun of me! If I give way on such important points on the day of our marriage, whither will you lead me? No; no! You are my wife. The wife must follow her husband; the law says so!"

"Is it by law only that you wish to keep me? Have you forgotten what I told you when you made me an offer of marriage? It is my hand only which I give you."

"And I answered you, that it would be my aim to gain your heart. Well, but give me the means. Come, dear," said the banker in a resolute tone, "you take me for a child. I am not so simple as that! I know what this resistance means; charming modesty so long as it is not everlasting."

Jeanne turned away without answering. Her face had changed its expression; it was hard and determined.

"Really," continued Cayrol, "you would make a saint lose patience. Come, answer me, what does this attitude mean?"

The young wife remained silent. She felt she could not argue any longer, and seeing no way out of her trouble, felt quite discouraged. Still she would not yield. She shuddered at the very idea of belonging to this man; she had never thought of the issue of this brutal and vulgar adventure. Now that she realized it, she felt terribly disgusted.

Cayrol anxiously watched the increasing anguish depicted on his wife's face. He had a presentiment that she was hiding something from him, and the thought nearly choked him. And, with this suspicion, his ingenuity came to his aid. He approached Jeanne, and said, affectionately:

"Come, dear child, we are misleading one another; I in speaking too harshly, you in refusing to understand me. Forget that I am your husband; see in me only a friend and open your heart; your resistance hides a mystery. You have had some grief or have been deceived."

Jeanne, softened, said, in a low tone:

"Don't speak to me like that; leave me."

"No," resumed Cayrol, quietly, "we are beginning life; there must be no misunderstanding. Be frank, and you will find me indulgent. Come, young girls are often romantic. They picture an ideal; they fall in love with some one who does not return their love, which is sometimes even unknown to him who is their hero. Then, suddenly, they have to return to a reality. They find themselves face to face with a husband who is not the expected Romeo, but who is a good man, devoted, loving, and ready to heal the wounds he has not made. They are afraid of this husband; they mistrust him, and will not follow him. It is wrong, because it is near him, in honorable and right existence, that they find peace and forgetfulness."

Cayrol's heart was torn by anxiety, and with trembling voice he tried to read the effect of his words on Jeanne's features. She had turned away. Cayrol bent toward her and said:

"You don't answer me."

And as she still remained silent, he took her hand and forced her to look at him. He saw that her face was covered with tears. He shuddered, and then flew into a terrible passion.

"You are crying! It is true then? You have loved?"

Jeanne rose with a bound; she saw her imprudence. She understood the trap he had laid; her cheeks burned. Drying her tears, she turned toward Cayrol, and cried:

"Who has said so?"

"You cannot deceive me," replied the banker, violently. "I saw it in your looks. Now, I want to know the man's name!"

Jeanne looked him straight in the face.

"Never!" she said.

"Ah, that is an avowal!" exclaimed Cayrol.

"You have deceived me unworthily by your pretended kindness," interrupted Jeanne, proudly, "I will not say anything more."

Cayrol flew at heróthe churl reappeared. He muttered a fearful oath, and seizing her by the arm, shouted:

"Take care! Don't play with me. Speak, I insist, oró" and he shook her brutally.

Jeanne, indignant, screamed and tore herself away from him.

"Leave me," she said, "you fill me with horror!"

The husband, beside himself, pale as death and trembling convulsively, could not utter a word, and was about to rush upon her when the door opened, and Madame Desvarennes appeared, holding in her hand the letters which she had written for Cayrol to take back to Paris. Jeanne uttered a cry of joy, and with a bound threw herself into the arms of her who had been a mother to her.

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