Meanwhile, the Marquis Fontenelle had been nearly a fortnight in Rome, living a sufficiently curious sort of life, and passing his time in a constant endeavour to avoid being discovered and recognised by any of his numerous acquaintances who were arriving there for the winter. His chief occupation was of course to watch the Comtesse Sylvie, -- and he was rewarded for his untiring pains by constant and bewitching glimpses of her. Sometimes he would see her driving, wrapped in furs, her tiny Japanese dog curled up in a fold of her sables, and on her lap a knot of violets, the fresh scent of which came to him like a sweet breath on the air as she passed. Once he almost met her, face to face in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, walking all alone, and reading a book in which she seemed to be deeply interested. He made a few cautious enquiries about her, and learnt that she lived very quietly, -- that she received certain |great| people, -- especially Cardinals and Monsignori, notably Monsignor Gherardi, who was a constant visitor. But of any closer admirer he never gathered the slightest rumour, till one afternoon, just when the sun was sinking in full crimson glory behind the dome of St. Peter's, he saw her carriage come to a sudden halt on the Pincio and she herself leaned out of it to shake hands with, and talk to a tall fair man, who seemed to be on exceptionally friendly terms with her. It is true she was accompanied in the carriage by the famous Sovrani, -- but that fact did not quell the sudden flame of jealousy which sprang up in Fontenelle's mind -- for both ladies appeared equally charmed with the fair man, and their countenances were radiant with pleasure and animation all the time they were in conversation with him. When the carriage resumed its round again, the Marquis sauntered by a side path where he could take quiet observation of his apparent rival, who walked past him with a firm light step, looking handsome, happy, and amazingly confident. There was an old man raking the path, and of him Fontenelle asked carelessly,
|Do you know who that gentleman is?|
The gardener looked up and smiled.
|Ah, si, si! Il Signor Inglese! Molto generoso! Il Signor Aubri Lee!|
Aubrey Leigh! A |celebrity| then, -- an English author; -- not that all English authors are considered |celebrities| in Rome. Italian society makes very short work of spurious art, and closes its doors ruthlessly against mere English |Grub Street|. But Aubrey Leigh was more than an author, -- he was an influential power in the world, as the Marquis well knew.
|A great religious reformer! And yet a victim to the little Sylvie!| he mused, |Well! The two things will not work together. Though truly Sylvie would captivate a John Knox or a Cromwell. I really think, -- I really do begin to think, that rather than lose her altogether, I must marry her!|
And he went back to the obscure hotel where he had chosen temporarily to reside in a meditative mood, and as he entered, was singularly annoyed to see a flaring poster outside, announcing the arrival of Miraudin and his whole French Company in Rome for a few nights only. The name |MIRAUDIN| glared at him in big, fat, red letters on a bright yellow ground; and involuntarily he muttered,
|D -- n the fellow! Can I go nowhere in the world without coming across him!|
Irritated, and yet knowing his irritation to be foolish, -- for after all, what was the famous actor to him? -- what was there in his personality to annoy him beyond the trivial fact of a curious personal resemblance? -- he retired to his room in no pleasant humour, and sitting down began to write a letter to Sylvie asking her to be his wife. Yet somehow the power of expression seemed lacking, and once or twice he laid down his pen in a fit of abstraction, wondering why, when he had sought Sylvie as a lover only, he had been able to write the most passionate love phrases, full of ardour and poetry, and now, when he was about to make her the offer of his whole life, his sentences were commonplace and almost cold. And presently he tore up what he had been writing, and paced the room impatiently.
|The fact is I shall make a bad husband, and I know it!| he said candidly to himself, |And Sylvie will make a great mistake if she accepts me!|
He walked to the window and looked out. His hotel was not in a fashionable or frequented quarter of Rome, and the opposite view of the street was anything but enlivening. Dirty, frowsy women, -- idle men, lounging along with the slouching gait which is common to the 'unemployed' Italian, -- half-naked children, running hither and thither in the mud, and screaming like tortured wild animals, -- this kind of shiftless, thriftless humanity, pictured against the background of ugly modern houses, such as one might find in a London back slum, made up a cheerless prospect, particularly as the blue sky was clouded and it was beginning to rain. One touch of colour brightened the scene for a moment, when a girl with a yellow handkerchief tied round her head passed along, carrying a huge flat basket overflowing with bunches of purple violets, and as Fontenelle caught the hue, and imagined the fragrance of the flowers, he was surprised to feel his eyes smart with a sudden sting of tears. The picture of Sylvie Hermenstein, with her child-like head, fair hair, and deep blue eyes, floated before him, -- she was fond of violets, and whenever she wore them, their odour seemed to be the natural exhalation of her sweet and spirituelle personality.
|She is much too good for me!| he said half aloud, |To be perfectly honest with myself, I know I have no stability of character, and I cannot imagine myself remaining constant to any woman for more than six months. And the best way is to be perfectly straight-forward about it.|
He sat down again, and without taking any more thought wrote straight from the heart of his present humour, addressing her by the name he had once playfully bestowed upon her.
|Enchanteresse! I am here in Rome, and this brief letter is to ask, without preamble or apology, whether you will do me the infinite honour to become my wife. I confess to you honestly that I am not worth this consideration on your part, for I am not to be relied upon. I repose no confidence in myself, therefore I will leave it to you to measure my audacity in making the suggestion that you should place a lifetime's confidence in me. But with all my heart, (as much as I know of it at the present), I desire to show you what respect so poor a life as mine can give to one who deserves all tenderness, as well as trust. If I may hope that you will pardon my past follies and libertinage with regard to you, -- if you can love me well enough to wear my not too exalted name, and preserve my remaining stock of honour, summon me to your presence, and I will endeavour, by such devotion and fidelity as in me lies, to atone for whatsoever offence I may have given you previously by my too passionate pursuit of your beauty. Yours, unless you decide my fate otherwise,
|GUY BEAUSIRE DE FONTENELLE.|
Thrusting this note into an envelope he hastily sealed it, but decided not to post it till late at night, in order that Sylvie might only receive it with the early morning, when her mind was fresh, and unswayed by any opinions or events of a long day. And to pass the time he strolled out to one of the many |osterie,| or wine- houses which abound in Rome, -- a somewhat famous example of its kind in the Via Quattro Fontane. Choosing a table where he could sit with his back turned towards the door, so as to avoid being seen by either strangers or possible friends, he took up the Giornale Romano, and ordered a |mezzo-litro| of the |Genzano| wine, for which that particular house has long been celebrated. He sat there about half an hour thus quietly reading, -- scarcely hearing the loud voices and louder laughter of the men who came and went around him, when suddenly the name |Sylvie Hermenstein| caught his ear. It was spoken carelessly and accompanied with a laugh. Quietly laying down his newspaper, he sat very still in his chair, keeping his back turned to the groups of wine drinkers who were gathering in large numbers as the evening advanced, and listened.
|The most delicious little bonbon in the whole box! Jolie a craquer!| said a man's voice.
|Chocolat fondant! Garantie tres pure!| cried another, his words being followed by a shout of laughter.
Fontenelle gripped the arm of his chair, and held himself rigid, but ready to spring.
|The Church always knows where to find the prettiest women,| said the first man who had spoken, |from the Santissima Madonna downwards! What would become of the Pope if it were not for the women!|
|Bah! The Pope is only one man, but what would become of all the Monsignori?| asked a voice different to the rest in mellowness and deep quality, but with a touch of insolent mockery in its tone.
Another burst of laughter answered him.
Fontenelle turned in his chair and looked at the last speaker, and to his amazement saw the actor, Miraudin. He was leaning carelessly against the wine counter, a half-emptied |fiaschetto| in front of him, and a full glass of wine in his hand.
|The Monsignori would be all desolate bachelors!| he went on, lazily, |And the greatest rascal in the Vatican, Domenico Gherardi, would no longer be the fortunate possessor of the wealth, the influence, and the dear embraces of the fascinating Hermenstein!|
Scarcely had he spoken when the glass he held was dashed out of his hand, and Fontenelle, white with fury, struck him smartly and full across the face. A scene of the wildest confusion and uproar ensued. All the men in the wine-shop crowded around them, and for a moment Miraudin, blinded by the blow, and the wine that had splashed up against his eyes, did not see who had struck him, but as he recovered from the sudden shock and stared at his opponent, he broke into a wild laugh.
|Diantre! Ban soir, Monsieur le Marquis! Upon my life, there is something very strange in this! Fate or the devil, or both! Well! What now!|
|You are a liar and a blackguard!| said Fontenelle fiercely, |And unless you apologise for your insult to the lady whose name you have presumed to utter with your mountebank tongue -- |
|Apologise! I! Moi! -- genie de France! Never!| retorted Miraudin with an air of swaggering audacity, |All women are alike! I speak from experience!|
White to the lips, the Marquis Fontenelle looked around.
|Are there any MEN here?| he asked, eying the crowd about him with ineffable hauteur.
A young fellow stepped forward. |At your command, Marquis! You served me once -- I shall be happy to serve you now!|
Quickly Fontenelle shook hands with this timely friend. He recognised in him a young Italian officer, named Ruspardi, an acquaintance of some years back, to whom he had chanced to be useful in a pressing moment of need.
|Thanks! Arrange everything for me, will you, Ruspardi? And as quickly as possible!|
|It is nearly midnight now,| said Ruspardi in a low tone, |Shall we say five or six in the morning?|
|Yes -- anything you like -- but quickly!|
Then raising his head haughtily, he addressed Miraudin in distinct tones.
|Monsieur Miraudin, you have greatly insulted and falsely slandered a lady whom I have the honour to know. I have struck you for your lie; and consider you worthy of no further treatment save a horsewhipping in public. Gentlemen do not as a rule condescend to meet their paid servants -- actors and the like, -- in single combat -- but I will do you that honour!|
And with these words he bowed haughtily to all present, and left the scene of noisy disorder.
Out in the streets the moonlight lay in broad silver bands, like white glistening ribbon spread in shining strips across the blackness, and there was a moisture in the air which, -- dropped as it were fresh, from the surrounding hills, -- cooled Fontenelle's flushed face and burning brows. He walked rapidly, -- he had a vague, unformed desire in his mind to see Sylvie again if possible. He knew where she lived, and he soon turned down the street where the quaint old central balcony of the Casa D'Angeli thrust itself forward into the moon-rays among the sculptured angels' wings, -- and he saw that the windows were open. Pausing underneath he waited, hesitating -- full of strange thoughts and stranger regrets. How poor and valueless seemed his life as he regarded it now! -- now when he had voluntarily placed it in jeopardy! What had he done with his days of youth and prime? Frittered away every valuable moment, -- thrown to the winds every costly opportunity, -- spent his substance on light women who had kissed and clung to him one day, and repulsed him the next. Well -- and after? His heart beat thickly, -- if he could only see Sylvie for a moment! Hush! There was a murmur -- a voice -- a ripple of sweet laughter; and moving cautiously back into the shadows, he looked up- -yes! -- there she was -- clad in some soft silvery stuff that gathered a thousand sparkles from the light of the moon, -- her fair hair caught up in a narrow circlet of diamonds, and her sweet face purely outlined against the dark worn stone of one of the great carved angel-wings. But someone was with her, -- someone whom Fontenelle recognised at once by the classic shape of his head and bright curly hair, -- the man whom he had seen that very day on the Pincio, -- Aubrey Leigh. With a jealous tightening at his heart, Fontenelle saw that Leigh held the soft plume of downy feathers which served Sylvie for a fan, and that he was lightly waving it to and fro as he talked to her in the musical, all-potent voice which had charmed thousands, and would surely not be without its fascination for the sensitive ears of a woman. Moving a little closer he tried to hear what was being said, -- but Leigh spoke very softly, and Sylvie answered with equal softness, so that he could catch no distinct word. Yet the mere tone of these two voices melted into a harmony more dulcet and perfect than could be endured by Fontenelle with composure, and uttering an impatient exclamation at his own folly he hastily left his retreat, and with one parting glance up at the picture of fair loveliness above him walked swiftly away. Returning to his hotel he saw the letter that he had written to Sylvie lying on the table, and he at once posted it. Then he began to prepare for his encounter with Miraudin. He dressed quickly, -- wrote a few business letters, -- and was about to lie down for a rest of an hour or so when the swift and furious galloping of a horse's hoofs awoke the echoes of the quiet street, and almost before he had time to realise what had happened, his friend Ruspardi stood before him, breathless and wild with excitement.
|Marquis, you are tricked!| he cried, |Everything is prepared -- seconds, -- pistols, -- all! But your man -- your man has gone!|
|Gone!| exclaimed Fontenelle furiously, |Where?|
|Out of Rome! In a common fiacre -- taking his latest mistress, one of the stage-women with him. They were seen driving by the Porta Pia towards the Campagna half an hour ago! He dare not face fire -- bully and coward that he is!|
|I will go after him!| said Fontenelle promptly, |Half an hour ahead, you say! Good! -- I will catch him up. Can I get a horse anywhere?|
|Take mine,| said Ruspardi eagerly, |he is perfectly fresh -- just out of the stable. Have you weapons?|
|Yes,| and the Marquis unlocked a case, and loading two, placed them in a travelling holder. Then, turning to Ruspardi he shook hands.
|Thanks, a thousand times! There are a few letters here -- see to them if I should not come back.|
|What are you going to do?| asked Ruspardi, his excitement beginning to cool a little, now that he saw the possible danger into which Fontenelle was voluntarily rushing.
|Persuade the worthy mountebank either to come back or fight at once on whatever ground I find him, and assume to be a gentleman -- for once!| said Fontenelle, carelessly. |Addio!|
And without further words he hurried off, and tossing a twenty-franc piece to the sleepy hotel porter who was holding Ruspardi's horse outside, he flung himself into the saddle and galloped away. Ruspardi, young and hotblooded, was of too mercurial a disposition to anticipate any really serious results of the night's adventure; -- his contempt for a coward was far greater than his fear of death, and he was delighted to think that in all probability the Marquis would use his riding-whip on Miraudin's back rather than honour him by a pistol shot. And so dismissing all fears from his mind he took Fontenelle's letters in his charge, and went straight out of the hotel singing gaily, charmed with the exciting thought of the midnight chase which was going on, and the possible drubbing and discomfiture of the |celebrated| Miraudin.
Meanwhile, under the flashing stars, and through the sleeping streets of Rome, the Marquis galloped with almost breakneck haste. He was a daring rider, and the spirited animal he bestrode soon discovered the force of his governing touch, -- the resolve of his urging speed. He went by the Porta Pia, remembering Ruspardi's hurried description of the route taken by the runaway actor, and felt, rather than saw the outline of the Villa Torlonia, as he rushed past, and the Basilica of St. Agnese Fuori le Mura, which is supposed to cover the tomb of the child-martyr St. Agnes, -- then across the Ponte Nomentano, till, two miles further on, in the white radiance of the moon, he perceived, driving rapidly ahead of him, the vehicle of which he was in pursuit. Letting the reins fall loosely on the neck of his straining steed, he raised himself in his stirrups, and by his own movements assisted the animal's now perfectly reckless gallop, -- and at last, hearing the flying hoofs behind, the driver of the fiacre became seized with panic, and thinking of possible brigands and how to pacify them, he suddenly pulled up and came to a dead halt. A head was thrust out of the carriage window, -- Miraudin's head, -- and Miraudin's voice shouted in bad Italian,
|What are you stopping for, rascal! On with you! On with you! Five hundred francs for your best speed!|
Scarcely had he uttered the words when the Marquis gained the side of the vehicle, and pulling up his horse till it almost fell in rearing backwards, he cried furiously,
|Lache! Tu vas te crever sur terre avant je te quitte!|
And he struck his riding-whip full in the actor's face.
Springing out of the fiacre Miraudin confronted his antagonist. His hat was off -- and his countenance, marked as it was with the crimson line of the lash, lightened with laughter.
|Again! Monsieur le Marquis, je vous salue!| he said, |Kismet! One cannot escape it! Better to fight with you, beau sire, than with destiny! I am ready!|
Fontenelle at once dismounted, and tied his horse to the knotted bough of a half-withered tree. Taking his pistols out of their holder he proffered them to Miraudin.
|Choose!| he said curtly, |Or use your own if you have any, -- but mine are loaded, -- take care yours are! Play no theatrical tricks on such a stage as this! |And then he gave a comprehensive wave of his hand towards the desolate waste of the Campagna around them, and the faint blue misty lines of the Alban hills just rimmed with silver in the rays of the moon.
At the first sight of the pistols the driver of the fiacre, who had been more or less stupefied till now, by the suddenness of the adventure, gave a sort of whining cry, and climbing down from his box fell on his knees before Miraudin, and then ran a few paces and did the same thing in front of the Marquis, imploring both men not to fight, -- not to get killed, on account of the trouble it would cause to him, the coachman; -- and with a high falsetto shriek a lady flung herself out of the recesses of the closed vehicle, and clung to the actor's arm.
|Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! What is it you would do?| she cried, |Be killed out here on the Campagna? and not a soul in sight -- not a house -- not a shelter? And what is to become of me! -- Me! -- Me! -- | and she tapped her heaving bosom in melodramatic style, |Have you thought of ME?|
|You -- you!| laughed Miraudin, tearing off the lace veil which she wore wrapped loosely round her head and shoulders, |You, Jeanne Richaud! What is to become of you? The same fate will attend you that attends all such little moths of the footlights! Perhaps a dozen more lovers after me -- then old age, and the care of a third- class lodging-house for broken-down actors!| Here he chose his weapon. |At your service, Marquis!|
Jeanne Richaud, a soubrette, whose chief stock-in-trade had been her large dark eyes and shapely legs, uttered a desperate scream, and threw herself at the feet of the Marquis Fontenelle.
|Monsieur! Monsieur! Think for a moment! This combat is unequal -- out of rule! You are a gentleman, -- a man of honour! -- would you fight without seconds? It is murder -- murder -- !|
Here she broke off, terrified in spite of herself by the immovability of Fontenelle's attitude, and the coldness of his eyes.
|I regret to pain you, Madame,| he said stiffly, |This combat was arranged according to rule between Monsieur Miraudin and myself some hours since -- and though it seems he did not intend to keep his engagement I intend to keep mine! The principals in the fight are here, -- seconds are, as their name implies, a secondary matter. We must do without them.|
|By no means!| exclaimed Miraudin, |We have them! Here they are! You, Jeanne, will you be my second -- how often you have seconded me in many a devil's game -- and you -- cochon d'un cocher! -- you will for once in your life support the honour of a Marquis!|
And with these words he seized the unhappy Roman cab-driver by the collar of his coat, and flung him towards Fontenelle, who took not the slightest notice of him as he lay huddled up and wailing on the grass, but merely stood his ground, silently waiting. Mademoiselle Jeanne Richaud however was not so easily disposed of. Throwing herself on the cold ground, thick with the dust of dead Caesars, she clung to Miraudin, pouring out a torrent of vociferous French, largely intermixed with a special slang of the Paris streets, and broken by the hysterical yells when she saw her |protector| throw off his coat, and, standing in his shirt-sleeves, take close observation of the pistol he held.
|Is this your care of me?| she cried, |Mon Dieu! What a thing is a man! Here am I alone in a strange country -- and you endanger your life for some quarrel of which I know nothing, -- yet you pretend to love me! Nom de Jesus! What is your love!|
|You do well to ask,| said Miraudin, laughing carelessly, |What is my love! A passing fancy, chere petite! We actors simulate love too well to ever feel it! Out of the way, jou-jou! Your life will be amusing so long as you keep a little beaute de diable. After that -- the lodging-house!|
He pushed her aside, but she still clung pertinaciously to his arm.
|Victor! Victor!| she wailed, |Will you not look at me -- will you not kiss me!|
Miraudin wheeled round, and stared at her amazed.
|Kiss you!| he echoed, |Pardieu! Would you care! Jeanne! Jeanne! You are a little mad, -- the moonlight is too much for you! To-morrow I will kiss you, when the sun rises -- or if I am not here -- why, somebody else will!|
|Who is the woman you are fighting for?| she suddenly demanded, springing up from her crouching position with flushed cheeks and flashing eyes. Miraudin looked at her with nonchalant admiration.
|I wish you would have looked like that sometimes on my stage,| he said, |You would have brought down the house! 'Woman!' No 'woman' at all, but WOMEN! The glamour of them -- the witchery of them -- women! -- the madness of them! Women! -- The ONE woman saves when the ONE woman exists, but then, -- we generally kill HER! Now, once more, Jeanne, -- out of the way! Time flies, and Monsieur le Marquis is in haste. He has many fashionable engagements!|
He flashed upon her a look from the bright amorous hazel eyes, that were potent to command and difficult to resist, and she cowered back, trembling and sobbing hysterically as the Marquis advanced.
|You are ready?| he enquired civilly.
|Shall we say twelve paces?|
Deliberately Fontenelle dug his heel into the ground and measured twelve paces from that mark between himself and his antagonist. Then with cold courtesy he stood aside for Miraudin to assure himself that the measurement was correct. The actor complied with this formality in a sufficiently composed way, and with a certain grace and dignity which Fontenelle might almost have taken for bravery if he had not been so convinced that the man was |acting| still in his mind, and was going through a |part| which he disliked, but which he was forced to play. And with it all there was something indefinable about him -- something familiar in the turn of his head, the glance of his eye, the movement of his body, which annoyed Fontenelle, because he saw in all these little personal touches such a strong resemblance to himself. But there was now no time to think, as the moment for the combat drew near. Jeanne Richaud was still weeping hysterically and expostulating with the cab-driver, who paid no attention whatsoever to her pleadings, but remained obstinately on his knees out of harm's way, begging the |Santissima Madonna| and all his |patron saints| to see him safely with his fiacre back to the city. That was all he cared for.
|We have no one to give us a signal,| said Miraudin lightly, |But there is a cloud on the moon. When it passes, shall we fire?|
The Marquis bowed assent.
For a moment the moon-rays were obscured, -- and a faint sigh from the wind stirred the long dry grass. A bat flew by, scurrying towards the Catacombs of Alexander, -- a shadow lay upon the land. The combatants, -- so singularly alike in form and feature, -- stood rigidly in position, their weapons raised, -- their only witnesses a cabman and a wanton, both creatures terrified out of their wits for themselves and their own safety. Swiftly the cloud passed -- and a brilliant silver glory was poured out on hill and plain and broken column, -- and as it shone, the two shots were fired simultaneously -- the two bullets whizzed through the air. A light puff of smoke rose in the moonbeams -- it cleared -- and Miraudin reeled backwards and fell heavily to the ground. Fontenelle stood upright, but staggered a little, -- instinctively putting his hand to his breast. Jeanne Richaud rushed to the side of her fallen lover.
Miraudin struggled up to a half sitting position -- the blood was welling up thickly from a wound in his lungs. Half suffocated as he was, he made a strong effort to speak, and succeeded.
|Not you -- not you!| he gasped, |Do not touch me! Do not come near me! Him! -- him!| And he pointed to Fontenelle who still stood erect, swaying slightly to and fro with a dazed far-off look in his eyes -- but now -- as the frenzied soubrette beckoned him, he moved unsteadily to the side of his mortally wounded opponent, and there, through weakness, not emotion, dropped on his knees. Miraudin looked at him with staring filmy eyes.
|How I have hated you, Monsieur le Marquis!| he muttered thickly, |How I have hated you! Yes -- as Cain hated Abel! For we -- we are brothers as they were -- born of the same father -- ah! You start!| for Fontenelle uttered a gasping cry -- |Yes -- in spite of your pride, your lineage, your insolent air of superiority -- YOUR father was MY father! -- the late Marquis was no more satisfied with one wife than any of us are! -- and had no higher code of honour! YOUR mother was a grande dame, -- MINE was a 'light o' love' like this feeble creature!| and he turned his glance for a moment on the shuddering, wailing Jeanne Richaud. |YOU were the legal Marquis -- I the illegal genius! . . . yes -- genius -- !|
He broke off, struggling for breath.
|Do you hear me?| he whispered thickly, |Do you hear?|
|I hear,| answered Fontenelle, speaking with difficulty, |You have hated me, you say -- hate me no more! -- for hate is done with -- and love also! -- I am -- dying!|
He grasped the rank grass with both hands in sudden agony, and his face grew livid. Miraudin turned himself on one arm.
|Dying! You, too! By Heaven! Then the Marquisate must perish! I should have fired in the air -- but -- but the sins of the fathers . . . what is it?| Here a ghastly smile passed over his features, |The sins of the fathers -- are visited on the children! What a merciful Deity it is, to make such an arrangement! -- and the excellent fathers! -- when all the children meet them -- I wonder what they will have to say to each other I wonder . . .| A frightful shudder convulsed his body and he threw up his arms.
|'Un peu d'amour,
Et puis -- bon soir!'
C'est ca! Bon soir, Marquis!|
A great sigh broke from his lips, through which the discoloured blood began to ooze slowly -- he was dead. And Fontenelle, whose wound bled inwardly, turned himself wearily round to gaze on the rigid face upturned to the moon. His brother's face! So like his own! He was not conscious himself of any great pain -- he felt a dizzy languor and a drowsiness as of dreams -- but he knew what the dreaming meant,- -he knew that he would soon sleep to wake again -- but where? He did not see that the woman who had professed to love Miraudin had already rushed away from his corpse in terror, and was entreating the cabman to drive her quickly from the scene of combat, -- he realised nothing save the white moonbeams on the still face of the man who in God's sight had been his brother. Fainter and still fainter grew his breath -- but he felt near his heart for a little crumpled knot of filmy lace which he always carried -- a delicate trifle which had fallen from one of Sylvie's pretty evening gowns once, when he had caught her in his arms and sworn his passion. He kissed it now, and inhaled its violet perfume -- as he took it from his lips he saw that it was stained with blood. The heavy languor upon him grew heavier -- and in the dark haze which began to float before his eyes he saw women's faces, some beautiful, some devilish, yet all familiar, -- he felt himself sinking -- sinking into some deep abyss of shadows, so dark and dreary that he shuddered with the icy cold and horror, till Sylvie came, yes! -- Sylvie's soft eyes shone upon him, full of the pity and tenderness of some divine angel near God's throne, -- an angel of sweetness -- an angel of forgiveness -- ah! -- so sweet she was, so childlike, so trusting, so fair, so enticing in those exquisite ways of hers which had pleaded with him, prayed to him, tried to draw him back from evil, and incite him to noble thought; |ways| that would have persuaded him to cleanse his flag of honour from the mud of social vice and folly, and lift it to the heavens white and pure! Ah, sweet ways! -- sweet voice! -- sweet woman!- -sweet possibilities of life now gone forever! Again that sinking, -- that icy chill! His eyes were closing -- yet he forced himself to open them as he sank back heavily on the turf, and then -- then he saw the great white moon descending on him as it seemed, like a shield of silver flung down to crush him, by some angry god!
|Sylvie! -- Sylvie!| he muttered, |I never knew -- how much I loved you- -till-now! Sylvie!|
His eyes closed -- a little smile flickered on his mouth for a moment- -and then the Shadow fell. And he lay stark and pallid in the moonlight, close to the brother he had never known till the last hour of life had revealed the bond of blood between them. Side by side they lay, -- strangely alike in death, -- men to whom the possibilities of noble living had been abundantly given, and who had wasted all their substance on vanity. For Victor Miraudin, despite his genius and the brilliancy of his art, was not likely to be longer remembered or mourned than the Marquis Fontenelle. The fame of the actor is even less than that of the great noble, -- the actor's name is but a bubble on the air which a breath disperses, -- and the heir to a proud house is only remembered by the flattering inscription on his tombstone. Forgotten Caesars, greater than any living monarch, had mixed their bones with the soil where these two sons of one father lay dead, -- the bright moon was their sanctuary lamp, -- the stars their funeral torches, -- the width of the Campagna their bier, and the heavens their pall. And when the two terrified witnesses of the fatal fight realised the position, and saw that both combatants had truly perished, there were no regrets, no lamentations, no prayers, no thought of going for assistance. With the one selfish idea uppermost, -- that of escaping immediate trouble- -Jeanne Richaud rallied her scattered wits, and dragging the praying and gesticulating cab-driver up from his knees, she bade him mount his box and drive her back to the city. Tremblingly he prepared to obey, but not without unfastening the horse which the dead Marquis had so lately ridden, and taking some trouble to attach it to his vehicle for his own uses.
|For if we do this, they will never know!| he muttered with chattering teeth, |A horse is always a horse -- and this is a good animal, more valuable than the men; -- and when they find the men that is none of our business. In -- in with you, Madama! I will drive you into the city, -- that is, if you give me a thousand francs instead of the five hundred your man promised me! Otherwise I will leave you here!|
|A thousand!| shrieked Richaud, |Oh, thief! You know I am a poor stranger -- Oh, mon Dieu! Do not murder me!| This, as the driver, having hustled her into the vehicle and shut the door, now shook his dirty fist at her threateningly. |Oh! -- what a night of horror! Yes -- yes! -- a thousand! -- anything! -- only take me back to Rome!|
Satisfied in his own mind that he had intimidated her sufficiently to make her give him whatever he demanded, the driver who, despite his native cupidity, was seriously alarmed for his own safety, hesitated no longer, and the noise of the dashing wheels and the galloping hoofs woke loud echoes from the road, and dull reverberations from the Ponte Nomentano, as the equipage, with two horses now instead of one, clattered out of sight. And then came silence, -- the awful silence of the Campagna -- a silence like no other silence in the world -- brooding like darkness around the dead.