THE TELLTALE KISS
Serge slipped from his hiding-place and came toward Jeanne. The carpet deadened the sound of his steps. The young woman was gazing into vacancy and breathing with difficulty. He looked at her for a moment without speaking; then, leaning over her shoulder.
“Is it true, Jeanne,” he murmured, softly, “that you hate me?”
Jeanne arose, bewildered, exclaiming,
“Yes, Serge,” answered the Prince, “who has never ceased to love you.”
A deep blush spread over the young woman’s face.
“Leave me,” she said. “Your language is unworthy of a man. I will not listen to you.”
And with a quick step she walked toward the gallery. Serge threw himself in her way, saying:
“You must stop; you cannot escape me.”
“But this is madness,” exclaimed Jeanne, moving away. “Do you forget where we are?”
“Do you forget what you have just been saying?” retorted Serge. “I was there; I did not miss a word.”
“If you heard me,” said Jeanne, “you know that everything separates us. My duty, yours, and my will.”
“A will which is enforced, and against which your heart rebels. A will to which I will not submit.”
As he spoke, Serge advanced toward her, trying to seize her in his arms.
“Take care!” replied Jeanne. “Micheline and my husband are there. You must be mad to forget it. If you come a step farther I shall call out.”
“Call, then!” cried Serge, clasping her in his arms.
Jeanne tried to free herself from him, but could not.
“Serge,” she said, paling with mingled anguish and rapture in the arms of him whom she adored, “what you are doing is cowardly and base!”
A kiss stopped the words on her lips. Jeanne felt herself giving way. She made a supreme effort.
“I won’t, Serge!” she stammered. “Have mercy!”
Tears of shame rolled down her face.
“No! you belong to me. The other, your husband, stole you from me. I take you back. I love you!”
The young woman fell on a seat.
“I love you! I love you! I love you!”
A fearful longing took possession of Jeanne. She no longer pushed away the arms which clasped her. She placed her hands on Serge’s shoulder, and with a deep sigh gave herself up.
A profound silence reigned around. Suddenly a sound of approaching voices roused them, and at the same moment the heavy curtain which separated the room from the adjoining drawing-room was lifted. A shadow appeared on the threshold, as they were still in each other’s arms. The stifled exclamation, “O God!” followed by a sob of agony, resounded. The door curtain fell, surrounding with its folds the unknown witness of that terrible scene.
Jeanne had risen, trying to collect her ideas. A sudden light dawned on her mind; she realized in a moment the extent of her crime, and uttering a cry of horror and despair, she escaped, followed by Serge, through the gallery.