“Oh! it is Philippe,” said the poor countess.
She threw herself into the trembling arms that the colonel held out to her, and the clasp of the lovers frightened the spectators. Stephanie burst into tears. Suddenly her tears stopped, she stiffened as though the lightning had touched her, and said in a feeble voice,—
“Adieu, Philippe; I love thee, adieu!”
“Oh! she is dead,” cried the colonel, opening his arms.
The old doctor received the inanimate body of his niece, kissed it as though he were a young man, and carrying it aside, sat down with it still in his arms on a pile of wood. He looked at the countess and placed his feeble trembling hand upon her heart. That heart no longer beat.
“It is true,” he said, looking up at the colonel, who stood motionless, and then at Stephanie, on whom death was placing that resplendent beauty, that fugitive halo, which is, perhaps, a pledge of the glorious future—“Yes, she is dead.”
“Ah! that smile,” cried Philippe, “do you see that smile? Can it be true?”
“She is turning cold,” replied Monsieur Fanjat.
Monsieur de Sucy made a few steps to tear himself away from the sight; but he stopped, whistled the air that Stephanie had known, and when she did not come to him, went on with staggering steps like a drunken man, still whistling, but never turning back.
General Philippe de Sucy was thought in the social world to be a very agreeable man, and above all a very gay one. A few days ago, a lady complimented him on his good humor, and the charming equability of his nature.
“Ah! madame,” he said, “I pay dear for my liveliness in my lonely evenings.”
“Are you ever alone?” she said.
“No,” he replied smiling.
If a judicious observer of human nature could have seen at that moment the expression on the Comte de Sucy’s face, he would perhaps have shuddered.
“Why don’t you marry?” said the lady, who had several daughters at school. “You are rich, titled, and of ancient lineage; you have talents, and a great future before you; all things smile upon you.”
“Yes,” he said, “but a smile kills me.”
The next day the lady heard with great astonishment that Monsieur de Sucy had blown his brains out during the night. The upper ranks of society talked in various ways over this extraordinary event, and each person looked for the cause of it. According to the proclivities of each reasoner, play, love, ambition, hidden disorders, and vices, explained the catastrophe, the last scene of a drama begun in 1812. Two men alone, a marquis and former deputy, and an aged physician, knew that Philippe de Sucy was one of those strong men to whom God has given the unhappy power of issuing daily in triumph from awful combats which they fight with an unseen monster. If, for a moment, God withdraws from such men His all-powerful hand, they succumb.