Serge Panine by Georges Ohnet
THE FIRST BREAK
The first two months of this union were truly enchanting. Serge and Micheline
never left each other. After an absence of eight days they had returned to Paris
with Madame Desvarennes, and the hitherto dull mansion in the Rue
Saint-Dominique was filled with joyful bustle. The splendid stables, formerly
too large for the mistress's three horses, were now insufficient for the service
of the Prince. There were eight splendid carriage-horses, a pair of charming
ponies—bought especially for Micheline's use, but which the young wife had not
been able to make up her mind to drive herself—four saddle-horses, upon which
every morning about eight o'clock, when the freshness of night had perfumed the
Bois de Boulogne, the young people took their ride round the lake.
A bright sun made the sheet of water sparkle between its borders of dark
fir-trees; the flesh air played in Micheline's veil, and the tawny leather of
the saddles creaked. Those were happy days for Micheline, who was delighted at
having Serge near her, attentive to her every want, and controlling his
thoroughbred English horse to her gentle pace. Every now and then his mount
would wheel about and rear in revolt, she following him with fond looks, proud
of the elegant cavalier who could subdue without apparent effort, by the mere
pressure of his thighs, that impetuous steed.
Then she would give her horse a touch with the whip, and off she would go at
a gallop, feeling happy with the wind blowing in her face, and he whom she loved
by her side to smile on and encourage her. Then they would scamper along; the
dog with his thin body almost touching the ground, racing and frightening the
rabbits, which shot across the road swift as bullets. Out of breath by the
violent ride, Micheline would stop, and pat the neck of her lovely chestnut
horse. Slowly the young people would return to the Rue Saint-Dominique, and, on
arriving in the courtyard, there was such a pawing of feet as brought the clerks
to the windows, hiding behind the curtains. Tired with healthy exercise,
Micheline would go smiling to the office where her mother was hard at work, and
"Here we are, mamma!"
The mistress would rise and kiss her daughter beaming with freshness. Then
they would go up to breakfast.
Madame Desvarennes's doubts were lulled to rest. She saw her daughter happy.
Her son-in-law was in every respect cordial and charming toward her. Cayrol and
his wife had scarcely been in Paris since their marriage. The banker had joined
Herzog in his great scheme of the "Credit," and was travelling all over Europe
establishing offices and securing openings. Jeanne accompanied him. They were
then in Greece. The young wife's letters to her adopted mother breathed calmness
and satisfaction. She highly praised her husband's kindness to her, and said it
No allusion was made to that evening of their marriage, when, escaping from
Cayrol's wrath, she had thrown herself in Madame Desvarennes's arms, and had
allowed her secret to be found out. The mistress might well think then that the
thought which at times still troubled her mind was a remembrance of a bad dream.
What contributed especially to make her feel secure was Jeanne's absence. If
the young woman had been near Serge, Madame Desvarennes might have trembled. But
Micheline's beautiful rival was far away, and Serge seemed very much in love
with his wife.
Everything was for the best. The formidable projects which Madame Desvarennes
had formed in the heat of her passion had not been earned out. Serge had as yet
not given Madame Desvarennes cause for real displeasure. Certainly he was
spending money foolishly, but then his wife was so rich!
He had put his household on an extraordinary footing. Everything that most
refined luxury had invented he had introduced as a matter of course, and for
everyday use. He entertained magnificently several times a week. And Madame
Desvarennes, from her apartments, for she would never appear at these grand
receptions, heard the noise of these doings. This woman, modest and simple in
her ideas, whose luxury had always been artistic, wondered that they could spend
so much on frivolous entertainments. But Micheline was queen of these sumptuous
ceremonies. She came in full dress to be admired by her mother, before going
down to receive her guests, and the mistress had not courage to offer any
remonstrances as to expense when she saw her daughter so brilliant and
They played cards very much. The great colony of foreigners who came every
week to Panine's receptions brought with them their immoderate passion for
cards, and he was only too willing to give way to it. These gentlemen, among
them all, almost without taking off their white kid gloves, would win or lose
between forty and fifty thousand francs at bouillotte, just to give them an
appetite before going to the club to finish the night at baccarat.
Meanwhile the ladies, with their graceful toilettes displayed on the low soft
chairs, talked of dress behind their fans, or listened to the songs of a
professional singer, while young men whispered soft nothings in their ears.
It was rumored that the Prince lost heavily. It was not to be wondered at; he
was so happy in love! Madame Desvarennes, who used every means of gaining
information on the subject, even to the gossip of the servants, heard that the
sums were enormous. No doubt they were exaggerated, but the fact remained the
same. The Prince was losing.
Madame Desvarennes could not resist the inclination of finding out whether
Micheline knew what was going on, and one morning when the young wife came down
to see her mother, dressed in a lovely pink gown, the mistress, while teasing
her daughter, said, carelessly:
"It seems your husband lost heavily last night."
Micheline looked astonished at Madame Desvarennes, and in a quiet voice
"A good host may not win from his guests; it would look as if he invited them
to rob them. Losses at cards are included in the costs of a reception."
Madame Desvarennes thought that her daughter had become a very grand lady,
and had soon acquired expanded ideas. But she dared not say anything more. She
dreaded a quarrel with her daughter, and would have sacrificed everything to
retain her cajoling ways.
She threw herself into her work with renewed vigor.
"If the Prince spends large sums," she said to herself, "I will earn larger
ones. There can be no hole dug deep enough by him that I shall not be able, to
And she made the money come in at the door so that her son-in-law might throw
it out of the window.
One fine day these great people who visited at the mansion in the Rue
Saint-Dominique hastened away to the country. September had arrived, bringing
with it the shooting season. The Prince and Micheline settled themselves at
Cernay, not as in the first days of their marriage as lovers who sought
quietude, but as people sure of their happiness, who wished to make a great
show. They took all the carriages with them, and there was nothing but bustle
and movement. The four keepers, dressed in the Prince's livery, came daily for
orders as to shooting arrangements. And every week shoals of visitors arrived,
brought from the station in large breaks drawn by four horses.
The princely dwelling was in its full splendor. There was a continual going
and coming of fashionable worldlings. From top to bottom of the castle was a
constant rustling of silk dresses; groups of pretty women, coming downstairs
with peals of merry laughter and singing snatches from the last opera. In the
spacious hall they played billiards and other games, while one of the gentlemen
performed on the large organ. There was a strange mixture of freedom and
strictness. The smoke of Russian cigarettes mingled with the scent of opoponax.
An elegant confusion which ended about six o'clock in a general flight, when the
sportsmen came home, and the guests went to their rooms. An hour afterward all
these people met in the large drawing-room; the ladies in low-bodied evening
dresses; the gentlemen in dress-coats and white satin waistcoats, with a sprig
of mignonette and a white rose in their buttonholes. After dinner, they danced
in the drawing-rooms, where a mad waltz would even restore energy to the
gentlemen tired out by six hours spent in the field.
Madame Desvarennes did not join in that wild existence. She had remained in
Paris, attentive to business. On Saturdays she came down by the five o'clock
train and regularly returned on the Monday morning. Her presence checked their
wild gayety a little. Her black dress was like a blot among the brocades and
satins. Her severe gravity, that of a woman who pays and sees the money going
too fast, was like a reproach, silent but explicit, to that gay and thoughtless
throng of idlers, solely taken up by their pleasure.
The servants made fun of her. One day the Prince's valet, who thought himself
a clever fellow, said before all the other servants that Mother Damper had
arrived. Of course they all roared with laughter and exclaimed:
"Bother the old woman! Why does she come and worry us? She had far better
stop in the office and earn money; that's all she's good for!"
The disdain which the servants learned from their master grew rapidly. So
much so that one Monday morning, toward nine o'clock, Madame Desvarennes came
down to the courtyard, expecting to find the carriage which generally took her
to the station. It was the second coachman's duty to drive her, and she did not
see him. Thinking that he was a little late, she walked to the stable-yard.
There, instead of the victoria which usually took her, she saw a large
mail-coach to which two grooms were harnessing the Prince's four bays. The head
coachman, an Englishman, dressed like a gentleman, with a stand-up collar, and a
rose in his buttonhole, stood watching the operations with an air of importance.
Madame Desvarennes went straight to him. He had seen her coming, out of the
corner of his eye, without disturbing himself.
"How is it that the carriage is not ready to take me to the station?" asked
"I don't know, Madame," answered this personage, condescendingly, without
taking his hat off.
"But where is the coachman who generally drives me?"
"I don't know. If Madame would like to see in the stables—"
And with a careless gesture, the Englishman pointed out to Madame Desvarennes
the magnificent buildings at the end of the courtyard.
The blood rose to the mistress's cheeks; she gave the coachman such a look
that he moved away a little. Then glancing at her watch, she said, coldly:
"I have only a quarter of an hour before the train leaves, but here are
horses that ought to go well. Jump on the box, my man, you shall drive me."
The Englishman shook his head.
"Those horses are not for service; they are only for pleasure," he answered.
"I drive the Prince. I don't mind driving the Princess, but I am not here to
drive you, Madame."
And with an insolent gesture, setting his hat firmly on his head, he turned
his back upon the mistress. At the same moment, a sharp stroke from a light cane
made his hat roll on the pavement. And as the Englishman turned round, red with
rage, he found himself face to face with the Prince, whose approach neither
Madame Desvarennes nor he had heard.
Serge, in an elegant morning suit, was going round his stables when he had
been attracted by this discussion. The Englishman, uneasy, sought to frame an
"Hold your tongue!" exclaimed the Prince, sharply, "and go and wait my
And turning toward the mistress:
"Since this man refuses to drive you, I shall have the pleasure of taking you
to the station myself," he said, with a charming smile.
And as Madame Desvarennes remonstrated,
"Oh! I can drive four-in-hand," he added. "For once in my life that talent
will have been of some use to me. Pray jump in."
And opening the door of the mail-coach he handed her into the vast carriage.
Then, climbing with one bound to the box, he gathered the reins and, cigar in
mouth, with all the coolness of an old coachman, he started the horses in the
presence of all the grooms, and made a perfect semicircle on the gravel of the
The incident was repeated favorably for Serge. It was agreed that he had
behaved like a true nobleman. Micheline was proud of it, and saw in this act of
deference to her mother a proof of his love for her. As to the mistress, she
understood the advantage this clever manoeuvre gave to the Prince. At the same
time she felt the great distance which henceforth separated her from the world
in which her daughter lived.
The insolence of that servant was a revelation to her. They despised her. The
Prince's coachman would not condescend to drive a plebeian like her. She paid
the wages of these servants to no purpose. Her plebeian origin and business
habits were a vice. They submitted to her; they did not respect her.
Although her son-in-law and daughter were perfect toward her in their
behavior, she became gloomy and dull, and but seldom went now to Cernay. She
felt in the way, and uncomfortable. The smiling and superficial politeness of
the visitors irritated her nerves. These people were too well bred to be rude
toward Panine's mother-in-law, but she felt that their politeness was forced.
Under their affected nicety she detected irony. She began to hate them all.
Serge, sovereign lord of Cernay, was really happy. Every moment he
experienced new pleasure in gratifying his taste for luxury. His love for horses
grew more and more. He gave orders to have a model stud-house erected in the
park amid the splendid meadows watered by the Oise; and bought stallions and
breeding mares from celebrated English breeders. He contemplated starting a
One day when Madame Desvarennes arrived at Cernay, she was surprised to see
the greensward bordering the woods marked out with white stakes. She asked
inquiringly what these stakes meant? Micheline answered in an easy tone:
"Ah! you saw them? That is the track for training. We made Mademoiselle de
Cernay gallop there to-day. She's a level-going filly with which Serge hopes to
win the next Poule des Produits."
The mistress was amazed. A child who had been brought up so simply, in spite
of her large fortune, a little commoner, speaking of level-going fillies and the
Poule des Produits! What a change had come over her and what incredible
influence this frivolous, vain Panine had over that young and right-minded girl!
And that in a few months! What would it be later? He would succeed in imparting
to her his tastes and would mould her to his whims, and the young modest girl
whom he had received from the mother would become a horsey and fast woman.
Was it possible that Micheline could be happy in that hollow and empty life?
The love of her husband satisfied her. His love was all she asked for, all else
was indifferent to her. Thus of her mother, the impassioned toiler, was born the
passionate lover! All the fervency which the mother had given to business,
Micheline had given to love.
Moreover, Serge behaved irreproachably. One must do him that justice. Not
even an appearance accused him. He was faithful, unlikely as that may seem in a
man of his kind; he never left his wife. He had hardly ever gone out without
her; they were a couple of turtle-doves. They were laughed at.
"The Princess has tied a string round Serge's foot," was said by some of
Serge's former woman friends!
It was something to be sure of her daughter's happiness. That happiness was
dearly, bought; but as the proverb says:
"Money troubles are not mortal!"
And, besides, it was evident that the Prince did not keep account of his
money; his hand was always open. And never did a great lord do more honor to his
fortune. Panine, in marrying Micheline, had found the mistress's cash-box at his
This prodigious cash-box had seemed to him inexhaustible, and he had drawn on
it like a Prince in the Arabian Nights on the treasure of the genii.
Perhaps it would suffice to let him see that he was spending the capital as
well as the income to make him alter his line of conduct. At all events, the
moment was not yet opportune, and, besides, the amount was not yet large enough.
Cry out about some hundred thousand francs! Madame Desvarennes would be thought
a miser and would be covered with shame. She must wait.
And, shut up in her office in the Rue Saint-Dominique with Marechal, who
acted as her confidant, she worked with heart and soul full of passion and
anger, making money. It was fine to witness the duel between these two beings:
the one useful, the other useless; one sacrificing everything to work, the other
everything to pleasure.
Toward the end of October, the weather at Cernay became unsettled, and
Micheline complained of the cold. Country life so pleased Serge that he turned a
deaf ear to her complaints. But lost in that large house, the autumn winds
rustling through the trees, whose leaves were tinted with yellow, Micheline
became sad, and the Prince understood that it was time to go back to Paris.
The town seemed deserted to Serge. Still, returning to his splendid
apartments was a great satisfaction and pleasure to him. Everything appeared
new. He reviewed the hangings, the expensive furniture, the paintings and rare
objects. He was charmed. It was really of wonderful beauty, and the cage seemed
worthy of the bird. For several evenings he remained quietly at home with
Micheline, in the little silver-gray drawing-room that was his favorite room. He
looked through albums, too, while his wife played at her piano quietly or sang.
They retired early and came down late. Then he had become a gourmand. He
spent hours in arranging menus and inventing unknown dishes about which he
consulted his chef, a cook of note.
He rode in the Bois in the course of the day, but did not meet any one there;
for of every two carriages one was a hackney coach with a worn-out sleepy horse,
his head hanging between his knees, going the round of the lake. He ceased going
to the Bois, and went out on foot in the Champs-Elysees. He crossed the Pont de
la Concorde, and walked up and down the avenues near the Cirque.
He was wearied. Life had never appeared so monotonous to him. Formerly he had
at least the preoccupations of the future. He asked himself how he could alter
the sad condition in which he vegetated! Shut up in this happy existence,
without a care or a cross, he grew weary like a prisoner in his cell. He longed
for the unforeseen; his wife irritated him, she was of too equable a
temperament. She always met him with the same smile on her lips. And then
happiness agreed with her too well; she was growing stout.
One day, on the Boulevard des Italiens, Serge met an old friend, the Baron de
Prefont, a hardened 'roue'. He had not seen him since his marriage. It was a
pleasure to him. They had a thousand things to say to each other. And walking
along, they came to the Rue Royale.
"Come to the club," said Prefont, taking Serge by the arm.
The Prince, having nothing else to do, allowed himself to be led away, and
went. He felt a strange pleasure in those large rooms of the club, the Grand
Cercle, with their glaring furniture. The common easy-chairs, covered with dark
leather, seemed delightful. He did not notice the well-worn carpets burned here
and there by the hot cigar-ash; the strong smell of tobacco, impregnated in the
curtains, did not make him feel qualmish. He was away from home, and was
satisfied with anything for a change. He had been domesticated long enough.
One morning, taking up the newspaper, a name caught Madame Desvarennes's
eye-that of the Prince. She read:
"The golden book of the Grand Cercle has just had another illustrious name
inscribed in it. The Prince Panine was admitted yesterday, proposed by the Baron
de Prefont and the Duc de Bligny."
These few lines made Madame Desvarennes's blood boil. Her ears tingled as if
all the bells of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont had been rung together. In a rapid
vision, she saw misfortune coming. Her son-in-law, that born gambler, at the
Grand Cercle! No more smiles for Micheline; henceforth she had a terrible
rival—the devouring love of play.
Then Madame Desvarennes reflected. The husband's deserting his fireside would
be salvation for herself. The door by which he went out, would serve as an
entrance for her. The plan which she had conceived at Cernay that terrible night
of the marriage when Jeanne had confided in her, remained for her to execute. By
opening her purse widely to the Prince, she would help him in his vice. And she
would infallibly succeed in separating Serge and Micheline.
But the mistress checked herself. Lend her hands to the destruction of her
son-in-law in a fit of fierce maternal egoism? Was it not unworthy of her? How
many tears would the Prince's errors cost her whom she wished to regain at all
price? And then would she always be there to compensate by her devoted affection
the bitterly regretted estrangement from the husband? She would, in dying, leave
the household disunited.
She was horrified at what she had for an instant dreamed of doing. And
instead of helping the Prince on to destruction, she determined to do all in her
power to keep him in the path of honor. That resolution formed, Madame
Desvarennes was satisfied. She felt superior to Serge, and to a mind like hers
the thought was strengthening.
The admission to the Grand Cercle gave Serge a powerful element of interest
in life: He had to manoeuvre to obtain his liberty. His first evenings spent
from home troubled Micheline deeply. The young wife was jealous when she saw her
husband going out. She feared a rival, and trembled for her love. Serge's
mysterious conduct caused her intolerable torture. She dared not say anything to
her mother, and remained perfectly quiet on the subject before her husband. She
sought discreetly, listened to the least word that might throw any light on the
One day she found an ivory counter, bearing the stamp of the Grand Cercle, in
her husband's dressing-room. It was in the Rue Royale then that her husband
spent his evenings. This discovery was a great relief to her. It was not very
wrong to go there, and if the Prince did go and smoke a few cigars and have a
game at bouillotte, it was not a very great crime. The return of his usual
friends to Paris and the resumption of their receptions would bring him home
Serge now left Micheline about ten o'clock in the evening regularly and
arrived at the club about eleven. High play did not commence until after
midnight. Then he seated himself at the gaming-table with all the ardor of a
professional gambler. His face changed its expression. When winning, it was
animated with an expression of awful joy; when losing, he looked as hard as a
stone, his features contracted, and his eyes were full of gloomy fire. He bit
his mustache convulsively. Moreover, always silent, winning or losing with
He lost. His bad luck had followed him. At the club his losses were no longer
limited. There was always some one willing to take a hand, and until dawn he
played, wasting his life and energies to satisfy his insane love of gambling.
One morning, Marechal entered Madame Desvarennes's private office, holding a
little square piece of paper. Without speaking a word, he placed it on the desk.
The mistress took it, read what was written upon it in shaky handwriting, and
suddenly becoming purple, rose. The paper bore these simple words:
"Received from Monsieur Salignon the sum of one hundred thousand francs.
"Who brought this paper?" asked Madame Desvarennes, crushing it between her
"The waiter who attends the card-room at the club."
"The waiter?" cried Madame Desvarennes, astonished.
"Oh, he is a sort of banker," said Marechal. "These gentlemen apply to him
when they run short of money. The Prince must have found himself in that
predicament. Still he has just received the rents for the property in the Rue de
"The rents!" grumbled Madame Desvarennes, with an energetic movement. "The
rents! A drop of water in a river! You don't know that he is a man to lose the
hundred thousand francs which they claim, in one night."
The mistress paced up and down the room. She suddenly came to a standstill.
"If I don't stop him, the rogue will sell the feather-bed from under my
daughter! But he shall have a little of my mind! He has provoked me long enough.
Pay it! I'll take my money's worth out of him."
And in a second, Madame Desvarennes was in the Prince's room.
Serge, after a delicate breakfast, was smoking and dozing on the smoking-room
sofa. The night had been a heavy one for him. He had won two hundred and fifty
thousand francs from Ibrahim Bey, then he had lost all, besides five thousand
louis advanced by the obliging Salignon. He had told the waiter to come to the
Rue Saint-Dominique, and by mistake the man had gone to the office.
The sudden opening of the smoking-room door roused Serge. He unclosed his
eyes and looked very much astonished at seeing Madame Desvarennes appear. Pale,
frowning, and holding the accusing paper in her hand, she angrily inquired:
"Do you recognize that?" and placed the receipt which he had signed, before
him, as he slowly rose.
Serge seized it quickly, and then looking coldly at his mother-in-law, said:
"How did this paper come into your hands?"
"It has just been brought to my cashier. A hundred thousand francs! Faith!
You are going ahead! Do you know how many bushels of corn must be ground to earn
"I beg your pardon, Madame," said the Prince, interrupting Madame
Desvarennes. "I don't suppose you came here to give me a lesson in commercial
statistics. This paper was presented to your cashier by mistake. I was expecting
it, and here is the money ready to pay it. As you have been good enough to do
so, pray refund yourself."
And taking a bundle of bank-notes from a cabinet, the Prince handed them to
the astonished mistress.
"But," she sought to say, very much put out by this unexpected answer, "where
did you get this money from? You must have inconvenienced yourself."
"I beg your pardon," said the Prince, quietly, "that only concerns myself. Be
good enough to see whether the amount is there," added he with a smile. "I
reckon so badly that it is possible I may have made a mistake to your
Madame Desvarennes pushed away the hand which presented the bank-notes, and
shook her head gravely:
"Keep this money," she said; "unfortunately you will need it. You have
entered on a very dangerous path, which grieves me very much. I would willingly
give ten times the amount, at once, to be sure that you would never touch
"Madame!" said the Prince with impatience.
"Oh! I know what I am risking by speaking thus. It weighs so heavily on my
heart. I must give vent to it or I shall choke. You are spending money like a
man who does not know what it is to earn it. And if you continue—"
Madame Desvarennes raised her eyes and looked at the Prince. She saw him so
pale with suppressed rage that she dared not say another word. She read deadly
hatred in the young man's look. Frightened at what she had just been saying, she
stepped back, and went quickly toward the door.
"Take this money, Madame," said Serge, in a trembling voice. "Take it, or all
is over between us forever."
And, seizing the notes, he put them by force in Madame Desvarennes's hands.
Then tearing up with rage the paper that had been the cause of this painful
scene, he threw the pieces in the fireplace.
Deeply affected, Madame Desvarennes descended the stairs which she had a few
minutes before gone up with so much resolution. She had a presentiment that an
irreparable rupture had just taken place between herself and her son-in-law. She
had ruffled Panine's pride. She felt that he would never forgive her. She went
to her room sad and thoughtful. Life was becoming gloomy for this poor woman.
Her confidence in herself had disappeared. She hesitated now, and was irresolute
when she had to take a decision. She no longer went straight to the point by the
shortest road. Her sonorous voice was softened. She was no longer the same
willing energetic woman who feared no obstacles. She had known defeat.
The attitude of her daughter had changed toward her. It seemed as if
Micheline wished to absolve herself of all complicity with Madame Desvarennes.
She kept away to prove to her husband that if her mother had displeased him in
any way, she had nothing to do with it. This behavior grieved her mother, who
felt that Serge was working secretly to turn Micheline against her. And the mad
passion of the young wife for him whom she recognized as her master did not
allow the mother to doubt which side she would take if ever she had to choose
between husband and mother.
One day Micheline came down to see her mother. It was more than a month since
she had visited her. In a moment Madame Desvarennes saw that she had something
of an embarrassing nature to speak of. To begin with she was more affectionate
than usual, seeming to wish with the honey of her kisses to sweeten the bitter
cross which the mistress was doomed to bear. Then she hesitated. She fidgeted
about the room humming. At last she said that the doctor had come at the request
of Serge, who was most anxious about his wife's health. And that excellent
Doctor Rigaud, who had known her from a child, had found her suffering from
great weakness. He had ordered change of air.
At these words Madame Desvarennes raised her head and gave her daughter a
"Come, no nonsense! Speak the truth! He is taking you away!"
"But, mamma," said Micheline, disconcerted at this interruption, "I assure
you, you are mistaken. Anxiety for my health alone guides my husband."
"Your husband!" broke forth Madame Desvarennes. "Your husband! Ah, there; go
away! Because if you stop here, I shall not be able to control myself, and shall
say things about him that you will not forgive in a hurry! As you are ill, you
are right to have change of air. I shall remain here, without you, fastened to
my chain, earning money for you while you are far, away. Go along!"
And seizing her daughter by the arm with convulsive strength, she pushed her
roughly; for the first time in her life, repeating, in a low tone:
"Go away! Leave me alone!"
Micheline suffered herself to be put outside the room, and went to her own
apartments astonished and frightened. The young wife had hardly left the room
when Madame Desvarennes suffered the reaction of the emotion she had just felt.
Her nerves were unstrung, and falling on a chair she remained immovable and
humbled. Was it possible that her daughter, her adored child, would abandon her
to obey the grudges of her husband? No, Micheline, when back in her room, would
remember that she was carrying away all the joy of the house, and that it was
cruel to deprive her mother of her only happiness in life.
Slightly reassured, she went down to the office. As she reached the landing,
she saw the Prince's servants carrying up trunks belonging to their master to be
packed. She felt sick at heart. She understood that this project had been
discussed and settled beforehand. It seemed to her that all was over; that her
daughter was going away forever, and that she would never see her again. She
thought of going to beseech Serge and ask him what sum he would take in exchange
for Micheline's liberty; but the haughty and sarcastic face of the Prince
forcibly putting the bank-notes in her hands, passed before her, and she guessed
that she would not obtain anything. Cast down and despairing, she entered her
office and set to work.
The next day, by the evening express, the Prince and Princess left for Nice
with all their household, and the mansion in the Rue Saint-Dominique remained
silent and deserted.