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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 434 pages of information about The Nabob.

“And your wife?” cried the young girl, while Paul was asking himself the same question.

“My wife is dead.”

“Dead?  Mme. Jenkins?  Is it true?”

“You never knew her of whom I speak.  The other was not my wife.  When I met her I was already married in Ireland—­years before.  A horrible forced marriage.  My dear, when I was twenty-five I was confronted with this alternative:  a debtor’s prison or Miss Strang, an ugly and gouty old maid, sister of the usurer who had lent me five hundred pounds to pay for my medical studies.  I preferred the prison; but after weeks and months I came to the end of my courage, and I married Miss Strang, who brought me for dowry—­my note of hand.  You can guess what my life was between these two monsters who adored each other.  A jealous, impotent wife.  The brother spied on me, following me everywhere.  I should have gone away, but one thing kept me there.  The usurer was said to be very rich.  I wished to have some return for my cowardice.  You see, I tell you all.  Come now, I have been punished.  Old Strang died insolvent; he used to gamble, had ruined himself without saying a word.  Then I put my wife and her rheumatism in a hospital, and came to France.  I had to begin existence again, more struggles and misery.  But I had experience on my side, hatred and contempt for men, and my newly conquered liberty, for I did not dream that the horrible weight of this cursed union was going to hinder my getting on, at that distance.  Happily, it is over—­I am free.”

“Yes, Jenkins, free.  But why do you not make your wife the poor creature who has shared your life so long, so humble and devoted as she is?”

“Oh!” said he, with an outburst of sincerity, “between my two prisons I would prefer the other, where I could be frankly indifferent.  But the atrocious comedy of conjugal love, of unwearying happiness, when for so long I had loved you and thought of you alone!  There is not such a torture on earth.  If I can guess, the poor woman must have uttered a cry of relief and happiness at the separation.  It is the only adieu I hoped for from her.”

“But who forced you to such a thing?”

“Paris, society, the world.  Married by its opinion, we were held by it.”

“And now you are held no longer?”

“Now something comes before all—­it is the idea of losing you, of seeing you no longer.  Oh! when I learned of your flight, when I saw the bill over your door TO LET, I felt sure that it was all up with poses and grimaces, that I had nothing else to do but to set out, to run quickly after my happiness, which you were taking away.  You were leaving Paris—­I have left it.  Everything of yours was being sold; everything of mine will be sold.”

“And she?” said Felicia trembling.  “She, the irreproachable companion, the honest woman whom no one has ever suspected, where will she go?  What will she do?  And it is her place you have just offered me.  A stolen place, think what a hell!  Well, and your motto, good Jenkins, virtuous Jenkins, what shall we do with it? ‘Le bien sans esperance,’ eh!”

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