At the sight of that word I was for a moment annihilated.
"Io non mori, e non rimasi vivo."
Henriette! It was her style, eloquent in its brevity. I recollected her last letter from Pontarlier, which I had received at Geneva, and which contained only one word--Farewell!
Henriette, whom I had loved so well, whom I seemed at that moment to love as well as ever. "Cruel Henriette," said I to myself, "you saw me and would not let me see you. No doubt you thought your charms would not have their old power, and feared lest I should discover that after all you were but mortal. And yet I love you with all the ardour of my early passion. Why did you not let me learn from your own mouth that you were happy? That is the only question I should have asked you, cruel fair one. I should not have enquired whether you loved me still, for I feel my unworthiness, who have loved other women after loving the most perfect of her sex. Adorable Henriette, I will fly to you to-morrow, since you told me that I should be always welcome."
I turned these thoughts over in my own mind, and fortified myself in this resolve; but at last I said,--
"No, your behaviour proves that you do not wish to see me now, and your wishes shall be respected; but I must see you once before I die."
Marcoline scarcely dared breathe to see me thus motionless and lost in thought, and I do not know when I should have come to myself if the landlord had not come in saying that he remembered my tastes, and had got me a delicious supper. This brought me to my senses, and I made my fair Venetian happy again by embracing her in a sort of ecstacy.
"Do you know," she said, "you quite frightened me? You were as pale and still as a dead man, and remained for a quarter of an hour in a kind of swoon, the like of which I have never seen. What is the reason? I knew that the countess was acquainted with you, but I should never have thought that her name by itself could have such an astonishing effect."
"Well, it is strange; but how did you find out that the countess knew me?"
"She told me as much twenty times over in the night, but she made me promise to say nothing about it till I had given you the letter."
"What did she say to you about me?"
"She only repeated in different ways what she has written for an address."
"What a letter it is! Her name, and nothing more."
"It is very strange."
"Yes, but the name tells all."
"She told me that if I wanted to be happy I should always remain with you. I said I knew that well; but that you wanted to send me back to Venice, though you were very fond of me. I can guess now that you were lovers. How long ago was it?"
"Sixteen or seventeen years."
"She must have been very young, but she cannot have been prettier than she is now."
"Be quiet, Marcoline."
"Did your union with her last long?"
"We lived together four months in perfect happiness."
"I shall not be happy for so long as that."
"Yes you will, and longer, too; but with another man, and one more suitable to you in age. I am going to England to try to get my daughter from her mother."
"Your daughter? The countess asked me if you were married, and I said no."
"You were right; she is my illegitimate daughter. She must be ten now, and when you see her you will confess that she must belong to me."
Just as we were sitting down to table we heard someone going downstairs to the table d'hote in the room where I had made Madame Stuard's acquaintance, our door was open, and we could see the people on the stairs; and one of them seeing us gave a cry of joy, and came running in, exclaiming, "My dear papa! "I turned to the light and saw Irene, the same whom I had treated so rudely at Genoa after my discussion with her father about biribi. I embraced her effusively, and the sly little puss, pretending to be surprised to see Marcoline, made her a profound bow, which was returned with much grace. Marcoline listened attentively to our conversation.
"What are you doing here, fair Irene?"
"We have been here for the last fortnight.