At this sneer, cutting his face like a whip, the wretch answered panting:
“That will do! Do not sneer at me so. It is too horrible now. Does it not touch you, then, to be loved as I love you in sacrificing everything to you—fortune, honour, respect? See, look at me. I have snatched my mask off for you, I have snatched if off before all. And now, see, here is the hypocrite.”
He heard the muffled noise of two knees falling on the floor. And stammering, distracted with love, weak before her, he begged her to consent to this marriage, to give him the right to follow her everywhere, to defend her. Then the words failed him, stifled in a passionate sob, so deep, so lacerating that it should have touched any heart, above all among this splendid impassible scenery in this perfumed heat. But Felicia was not touched. “Let us have done, Jenkins,” said she brusquely. “What you ask is impossible. We have nothing to hide from each other, and after your confidences just now, I wish to make one to you, which humbles my pride, but your degradation makes you worthy. I was Mora’s mistress.”
Paul knew this. And yet it was so sad to hear this beautiful, pure voice laden with such a confession, in the midst of the intoxicating air, that he felt his heart contract.
“I knew it,” answered Jenkins in a low voice, “I have the letters you wrote to him.”
“Oh, I will give them to you—here. I know them by heart. I have read and reread them. It is that which hurts one, when one loves. But I have suffered other tortures. When I think that it was I—” He stopped himself. He choked. “I who had to furnish fuel for your flames, warm this frozen lover, send him to you ardent and young—Ah! he has devoured my pearls—I might refuse over and over again, he was always taking them. At last I was mad. You wish to burn, wretched woman. Well, burn, then!”
Paul rose to his feet in terror. Was he going to hear the confession of a crime? But the shame of hearing more was not inflicted on him. A violent knocking, this time on his own door, warned him that his calesino was ready.
“Is the French gentleman ready?”
In the next room there was silence, then a whisper.—There had been some one near who had heard them.—Paul de Gery hurried downstairs. He must get out of this room to escape the weight of so much infamy.
As the post-chaise swayed, he saw among the common white curtains, which float at all the windows in the south, a pale figure with the hair of a goddess, and great burning eyes fixed on him. But a glance at Aline’s portrait quickly dispelled this disturbing vision, and forever cured of his old love, he travelled until evening through the magic landscape with the lovely bride of the dejeuner, who carried in the folds of her modest robe and mantle all the violets of Bordighera.