Less than three months a wife, more than five years a widow, still young and ardent, nearing the noontide of her womanhood, and immolated in this house of perennial mourning, making vain oblation of her youth, her beauty, the rich wine of life that coursed so lustily through her being, upon the altar of a memory whose high priestess was only an old, old woman....
He perceived that it would be quite possible for him, did he yield to the bent of his sympathies, to dislike Madame de Sevenie most intensely.
Not that he was apt to have much opportunity to encourage such a gratuitous aversion: to-morrow would see him on the road again, his back forever turned to the Chateau de Montalais....
Or, if not to-morrow, then as soon as the storm abated.
It was raging now as if it would never weaken and had the will to raze the chateau though it were the task of a thousand years. From time to time the shock of some great blast of air would seem to rock upon its foundations even that ancient pile, those heavy walls of hewn stone builded in times of honest workmanship by forgotten Sieurs de Montalais who had meant their home to outlast the ages.
Rain in sheets sluiced the windows without rest. Round turrets and gables the wind raved and moaned like a famished wild thing denied its kill. Occasionally a venturesome gust with the spirit of a minor demon would find its way down the chimney to the drawing-room fire and send sparks in volleys against the screen, with thin puffs of wood smoke that lingered in the air like acrid ghosts.
At such times the cure, sitting at piquet with Madame de Sevenie, after dinner, would cough distressingly and, reminded that he had a bed to reach somehow through all this welter, anathematise the elements, help himself to a pinch of snuff, and proceed with his play.
Duchemin sat at a little distance, talking with Madame de Montalais over their cigarettes. To smoking, curiously enough, Madame de Sevenie offered no objection. Women had not smoked in her day, and she for her part would never. But Eve might: it was “done”; even in those circles of hidebound conservatism, the society of the Faubourg St. Germain, ladies of this day smoked unrebuked.
Louise had excused herself—to sit, Duchemin had no doubt, by the bedside of d’Aubrac, under the duenna-like eye of an old nurse of the family.
Being duly encouraged, Duchemin talked about himself, of his wanderings and adventures, all with discretion, with the neatest expurgations, and with an object, leading cunningly round to the subject of New York.