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
"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
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
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
"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
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.