Serge Panine by Georges Ohnet
CAYROL IS BLIND
Micheline, on her return to Paris, was a cause of anxiety to all her friends.
Morally and physically she was changed. Her former gayety had disappeared. In a
few weeks she became thin and seemed to be wasting away. Madame Desvarennes,
deeply troubled, questioned her daughter, who answered, evasively, that she was
perfectly well and had nothing to trouble her. The mother called in Doctor
Rigaud, although she did not believe in the profession, and, after a long
conference, took him to see Micheline. The doctor examined her, and declared it
was nothing but debility. Madame Desvarennes was assailed with gloomy
forebodings. She spent sleepless nights, during which she thought her daughter
was dead; she heard the funeral dirges around her coffin. This strong woman
wept, not daring to show her anxiety, and trembling lest Micheline should
suspect her fears.
Serge was careless and happy, treating the apprehensions of those surrounding
him with perfect indifference. He did not think his wife was ill—a little tired
perhaps, or it might be change of climate, nothing serious. He had quite fallen
into his old ways, spending every night at the club, and a part of the day in a
little house in the Avenue Maillot, near the Bois de Boulogne. He had found one
charmingly furnished, and there he sheltered his guilty happiness.
It was here that Jeanne came, thickly veiled, since her return from Nice.
They each had a latchkey belonging to the door opening upon the Bois. The one
who arrived first waited for the other, within the house, whose shutters
remained closed to deceive passers-by. Then the hour of departure came; the hope
of meeting again did not lessen their sadness at parting.
Jeanne seldom went to the Rue Saint-Dominique. The welcome that Micheline
gave her was the same as usual, but Jeanne thought she discovered a coldness
which made her feel uncomfortable; and she did not care to meet her lover's
wife, so she made her visits scarce.
Cayrol came every morning to talk on business matters with Madame
Desvarennes. He had resumed the direction of his banking establishment. The
great scheme of the European Credit Company had been launched by Herzog, and
promised great results. Still Herzog caused Cayrol considerable anxiety.
Although a man of remarkable intelligence, he had a great failing, and by trying
to grasp too much often ended by accomplishing nothing. Scarcely was one scheme
launched when another idea occurred to him, to which he sacrificed the former.
Thus, Herzog was projecting a still grander scheme to be based on the
European Credit. Cayrol, less sanguine, and more practical, was afraid of the
new scheme, and when Herzog spoke to him about it, said that things were well
enough for him as they were, and that he would not be implicated in any fresh
financial venture however promising.
Cayrol's refusal had vexed Herzog. The German knew what opinion he was held
in by the public, and that without the prestige of Cayrol's name, and behind
that, the house of Desvarennes, he would never have been able to float the
European Credit as it had been. He was too cunning not to know this, and Cayrol
having declined to join him, he looked round in search of a suitable person to
inspire the shareholders with confidence.
His daughter often went to the Rue Saint-Dominique. Madame Desvarennes and
Micheline had taken a fancy to her, as she was serious, natural, and homelike.
They liked to see her, although her father was not congenial to their taste.
Herzog had not succeeded in making friends with the mistress; she disliked and
instinctively mistrusted him.
One day it was rumored that Suzanne Herzog had gone in for an examination at
the Hotel de Ville, and had gained a certificate: People thought it was very
ridiculous. What was the good of so much learning for a girl who would have such
a large fortune, and who would never know want. Savinien thought it was
affectation and most laughable! Madame Desvarennes thought it was most
interesting; she liked workers, and considered that the richer people were, the
more reason they had to work. Herzog had allowed his daughter to please herself
and said nothing.
Springtime had come, and fine weather, yet Micheline's health did not
improve. She did not suffer, but a sort of languor had come over her. For days
she never quitted her reclining-chair. She was very affectionate toward her
mother, and seemed to be making up for the lack of affection shown during the
first months of her marriage.
She never questioned Serge as to his manner of spending his time, though she
seldom saw him, except at meal hours. Every week she wrote to Pierre, who was
buried in his mines, and after every despatch her mother noticed that she seemed
sadder and paler.
Serge and Jeanne grew bolder. They felt that they were not watched. The
little house seemed too small for them, and they longed to go beyond the garden,
as the air of the Bois was so sweet and scented with violets. A feeling of
bravado came over them, and they did not mind being seen together. People would
think they were a newly-married couple.
One afternoon they sallied forth, Jeanne wearing a thick veil, and trembling
at the risk she was running, yet secretly delighted at going. They chose the
most unfrequented paths and solitary nooks. Then, after an hour's stroll, they
returned briskly, frightened at the sounds of carriages rolling in the distance.
They often went out after that, and chose in preference the paths near the pond
of Madrid where, behind sheltering shrubs, they sat talking and listening to the
busy hum of Parisian life, seemingly so far away.
One day, about four o'clock, Madame Desvarennes was going to Saint-Cloud on
business, and was crossing the Bois de Boulogne. Her coachman had chosen the
most unfrequented paths to save time. She had opened the carriage-window, and
was enjoying the lovely scent from the shrubs. Suddenly a watering-cart stopped
the way. Madame Desvarennes looked through the window to see what was the
matter, and remained stupefied. At the turning of a path she espied Serge, with
a woman on his arm. She uttered a cry that caused the couple to turn round.
Seeing that pale face, they sought to hide themselves.
In a moment Madame Desvarennes was out of the carriage. The guilty couple
fled down a path. Without caring what might be said of her, and goaded on by a
fearful rage, she tried to follow them. She especially wished to see the woman
who was closely veiled. She guessed her to be Jeanne. But the younger woman,
terrified, fled like a deer down a side walk. Madame Desvarennes, quite out of
breath, was obliged to stop. She heard the slamming of a carriage-door, and a
hired brougham that had been waiting at the end of the path swept by her bearing
the lovers toward the town.
The mistress hesitated a moment, then said to her coachman:
"Drive home." And, abandoning her business, she arrived in the Rue
Saint-Dominique a few minutes after the Prince.
With a bound, without going through the offices, without even taking off her
bonnet and cloak, she went up to Serge's apartments. Without hesitating, she
entered the smoking-room.
Panine was there. Evidently he was expecting her. On seeing Madame
Desvarennes he rose, with a smile:
"One can see that you are at home," said he, ironically; "you come in without
"No nonsense; the moment is ill-chosen," briefly retorted the mistress. "Why
did you run away when you saw me a little while ago?"
"You have such a singular way of accosting people," he answered, lightly.
"You come on like a charge of cavalry. The person with whom I was talking was
frightened, she ran away and I followed her."
"She was doing wrong then if she was frightened. Does she know me?"
"Who does not know you? You are almost notorious—in the corn-market!"
Madame Desvarennes allowed the insult to pass without remark, and advancing
toward Serge, said:
"Who is this woman?"
"Shall I introduce her to you?" inquired the Prince, quietly. "She is one of
my countrywomen, a Polish—"
"You are a liar!" cried Madame Desvarennes, unable to control her temper any
longer. "You are lying most impudently!"
And she was going to add, "That woman was Jeanne!" but prudence checked the
sentence on her lips.
Serge turned pale.
"You forget yourself strangely, Madame," he said, in a dry tone.
"I forgot myself a year ago, not now! It was when I was weak that I forgot
myself. When Micheline was between you and me I neither dared to speak nor act.
"But now, since after almost ruining my poor daughter, you deceive her, I
have no longer any consideration for you. To make her come over to my side I
have only to speak one word."
"Well, speak it! She is there. I will call her!"
Madame Desvarennes, in that supreme moment, was assailed by a doubt. What if
Micheline, in her blind love, did not believe her?
She raised her hand to stop Serge.
"Will not the fear of killing my daughter by this revelation stay you?" asked
she, bitterly. "What manner of man are you to have so little heart and
Panine burst into laughter.
"You see what your threats are worth, and what value I place on them. Spare
them in the future. You ask me what manner of man I am? I will tell you. I have
not much patience, I hate to have my liberty interfered with, and I have a
horror of family jars. I expect to be master of my own house."
Madame Desvarennes was roused at these words. Her rage had abated on her
daughter's account, but now it rose to a higher pitch.
"Ah! so this is it, is it?" she said. "You would like perfect liberty, I see!
You make such very good use of it. You don't like to hear remarks upon it. It is
more convenient, in fact! You wish to be master in your own house? In your own
house! But, in truth, what are you here to put on airs toward me? Scarcely more
than a servant. A husband receiving wages from me!"
Serge, with flashing eyes, made a terrible movement. He tried to speak, but
his lips trembled, and he could not utter a sound. By a sign he showed Madame
Desvarennes the door. The latter looked resolutely at the Prince, and with
energy which nothing could henceforth soften, added:
"You will have to deal with me in future! Good-day!"
And, leaving the room with as much calmness as she felt rage when entering
it, she went down to the counting-house.
Cayrol was sitting chatting with Marechal in his room. He was telling him
that Herzog's rashness caused him much anxiety. Marechal did not encourage his
confidence. The secretary's opinion on the want of morality on the part of the
financier had strengthened. The good feeling he entertained toward the daughter
had not counterbalanced the bad impression he had of the father, and he warmly
advised Cayrol to break off all financial connection with such a man. Cayrol,
indeed, had now very little to do with the European Credit. The office was still
at his banking house, and the payments for shares were still made into his bank,
but as soon as the new scheme which Herzog was preparing was launched, the
financier intended settling in splendid offices which were being rapidly
completed in the neighborhood of the Opera. Herzog might therefore commit all
the follies which entered his head. Cayrol would be out of it.
Madame Desvarennes entered. At the first glance, the men noticed the traces
of the emotion she had just experienced. They rose and waited in silence. When
the mistress was in a bad humor everybody gave way to her. It was the custom.
She nodded to Cayrol, and walked up and down the office, absorbed in her own
thoughts. Suddenly stopping, she said:
"Marechal, prepare Prince Panine's account."
The secretary looked up amazed, and did not seem to understand.
"Well! The Prince has had an overdraft; you will give me a statement; that's
all! I wish to see how we two stand."
The two men, astonished to hear Madame Desvarennes speak of her son-in-law as
she would of a customer, exchanged looks.
"You have lent my son-in-law money, Cayrol?"
And as the banker remained silent, still looking at the secretary, Madame
"Does the presence of Marechal make you hesitate in answering me? Speak
before him; I have told you more than a hundred times that he knows my business
as well as I do."
"I have, indeed, advanced some money to the Prince," replied Cayrol.
"How much?" inquired Madame Desvarennes.
"I don't remember the exact amount. I was happy to oblige your son-in-law."
"You were wrong, and have acted unwisely in not acquainting me of the fact.
It is thus that his follies have been encouraged by obliging friends. At all
events, I ask you now not to lend him any more."
Cayrol seemed put out, and, with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders
"This is a delicate matter which you ask of me. You will cause a quarrel
between the Prince and myself—"
"Do you prefer quarreling with me?" asked the mistress.
"Zounds! No!" replied the banker. "But you place me in an embarrassing
position! I have just promised to lend Serge a considerable sum to-night."
"Well! you will not give it to him."
"That is an act which he will scarcely forgive," sighed Cayrol.
Madame Desvarennes placed her hand on the shoulder of the banker, and looking
seriously at him, said:
"You would not have forgiven me if I had allowed you to render him this
A vague uneasiness filled Cayrol's heart, a shadow seemed to pass before his
eyes, and in a troubled voice he said to the mistress:
"Because he would have repaid you badly."
Cayrol thought the mistress was alluding to the money he had already lent,
and his fears vanished. Madame Desvarennes would surely repay it.
"So you are cutting off his resources?" he asked.
"Completely," answered the mistress. "He takes too much liberty, that young
gentleman. He was wrong to forget that I hold the purse-strings. I don't mind
paying, but I want a little deference shown me for my money. Good-by! Cayrol,
remember my instructions."
And, shaking hands with the banker, Madame Desvarennes entered her own
office, leaving the two men together.
There was a moment's pause: Cayrol was the first to break the silence.
"What do you think of the Prince's position?"
"His financial position?" asked Marechal.
"Oh, no! I know all about that! I mean his relation to Madame Desvarennes."
"Zounds! If we were in Venice in the days of the Aqua-Toffana, the sbirri and
"What rubbish!" interrupted Cayrol, shrugging his shoulders.
"Let me continue," said the secretary, "and you can shrug your shoulders
afterward if you like. If we had been in Venice, knowing Madame Desvarennes as I
do, it would not have been surprising to me to have had Master Serge found at
the bottom of the canal some fine morning."
"You are not in earnest," muttered the banker.
"Much more so than you think. Only you know we live in the nineteenth
century, and we cannot make Providence interpose in the form of a dagger or
poison so easily as in former days. Arsenic and verdigris are sometimes used,
but it does not answer. Scientific people have had the meanness to invent tests
by which poison can be detected even when there is none."
"You are making fun of me," said Cayrol, laughing.
"I! No. Come, do you wish to do a good stroke of business? Find a man who
will consent to rid Madame Desvarennes of her son-in-law. If he succeed, ask
Madame Desvarennes for a million francs. I will pay it at only twenty-five
francs' discount, if you like!"
Cayrol was thoughtful. Marechal continued:
"You have known the house a long time, how is it you don't understand the
mistress better? I tell you, and remember this: between Madame Desvarennes and
the Prince there is a mortal hatred. One of the two will destroy the other.
Which? Betting is open."
"But what must I do? The Prince relies on me—"
"Go and tell him not to do so any longer."
"Faith, no! I would rather he came to my office. I should be more at ease.
"Adieu, Monsieur Cayrol. But on whom will you bet?"
"Before I venture I should like to know on whose side the Princess is."
"Ah, dangler! You think too much of the women! Some day you will be let in
through that failing of yours!"
Cayrol smiled conceitedly, and went away. Marechal sat down at his desk, and
took out a sheet of paper.
"I must tell Pierre that everything is going on well here," he murmured. "If
he knew what was taking place he would soon be back, and might be guilty of some
foolery or other." So he commenced writing.