“I like hunting very much,” replied the lover, with rare effrontery.
The conversation continued thus upon the topics that occupy people who meet for the first time. When the Baron spoke of the two friends installing themselves at the chateau, Octave darted a glance at Madame de Bergenheim, as if soliciting a tacit approbation of his conduct; but met with no response. Clemence, with a gloomy, sombre air fulfilled the duties that politeness imposed upon her as mistress of the house. Her conduct did not change during the rest of the evening, and Gerfaut no longer tried by a single glance to soften the severity she seemed determined to adopt toward him. All his attentions were reserved for Mademoiselle de Corandeuil and Aline, who listened with unconcealed pleasure to the man whom she regarded as her saviour; for the young girl’s remembrance of the danger which she had run excited her more and more.
After supper Mademoiselle de Corandeuil proposed a game of whist to M. de Gerfaut, whose talent for the game had made a lasting impression upon her. The poet accepted this diversion with an enthusiasm equal to that he had shown for hunting, and quite as sincere too. Christian and his sister—a little gamester in embryo, like all of her family—completed the party, while Clemence took up her work and listened with an absentminded air to Marillac’s conversation. It was in vain for the latter to call art and the Middle Ages to his aid, using the very quintessence of his brightest speeches—success did not attend his effort. After the end of an hour, he had a firm conviction that Madame de Bergenheim was, everything considered, only a woman of ordinary intelligence and entirely unworthy of the passion she had inspired in his friend.
“Upon my soul,” he thought, “I would a hundred times rather have Reine Gobillot for a sweetheart. I must take a trip in that direction tomorrow.”
When they separated for the night, Gerfaut, bored by his evening and wounded by his reception from Clemence, which, he thought, surpassed anything he could have expected of her capricious disposition, addressed to the young woman a profound bow and a look which said:
“I am here in spite of you; I shall stay here in spite of you; you shall love me in spite of yourself.”
Madame de Bergenheim replied by a glance none the less expressive, in which a lover the most prone to conceit could read:
“Do as you like; I have as much indifference for your love as disdain for your presumption.”
This was the last shot in this preliminary skirmish.
GERFAUT, THE WIZARD