“If you wish that your discourteous conduct should rest a secret between us, I advise you to get rid of your neuralgia this very day. Now, you had better decide immediately—”
“This is genuine persecution,” exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, falling back upon her bed when the old lady had departed. “He has bewitched everybody! Aline, my aunt, and my husband; to say nothing of myself, for I shall end by going mad. I must end this, at any price.” She rang the bell violently.
“Justine,” said she to her maid, “do not let any one enter this room under any pretext whatsoever, and do not come in yourself until I ring; I will try to sleep.”
Justine obeyed, after closing the blinds. She had hardly gone out when her mistress arose, put on her dressing-gown and slippers with a vivacity which betokened anger; she then seated herself at her desk and began to write rapidly, dashing her pen over the satiny paper without troubling herself as to blots. The last word was ended with a dash as energetically drawn as the Napoleonic flourish.
When a young man who, according to custom, begins to read the end of his letters first finds an arabesque of this style at the bottom of a lady’s letter, he ought to arm himself with patience and resignation before he reads its contents.
That evening, when Gerfaut entered his room he hardly took time to place the candlestick which he held in his hand upon the mantel before he took from his waistcoat pocket a paper reduced to microscopic dimensions, which he carried to his lips and kissed passionately before opening. His eyes fell first upon the threatening flourish of the final word; this word was: Adieu!
“Hum!” said the lover, whose exaltation was sensibly cooled at this sight.
He read the whole letter with one glance of the eye, darting to the culminating point of each phrase as a deer bounds over ledges of rocks; he weighed the plain meaning as well as the innuendoes of the slightest expression, like a rabbi who comments upon the Bible, and deciphered the erasures with the patience of a seeker after hieroglyphics, so as to detach from them some particle of the idea they had contained. After analyzing and criticising this note in all its most imperceptible shades, he crushed it within his hand and began to pace the floor, uttering from time to time some of those exclamations which the Dictionnaire de l’Academie has not yet decided to sanction; for all lovers resemble the lazzaroni who kiss San-Gennaro’s feet when he acts well, but who call him briconne as soon as they have reason to complain of him. However, women are very kind, and almost invariably excuse the stones that an angry lover throws at them in such moments of acute disappointment, and willingly say with the indulgent smile of the Roman emperor: “I feel no wound!”
In the midst of this paroxysm of furious anger, two or three knocks resounded behind the woodwork.