“Now, she is in my power!” he thought exultantly. “Through what sloughs of degradation will I drag her before I deliver her up to her husband’s vengeance!”
A few lines of the article consecrated to Martial de Sairmeuse in the “General Biography of the Men of the Century,” give the history of his life after his marriage.
“Martial de Sairmeuse,” it says there, “brought to the service of his party a brilliant intellect and admirable endowments. Called to the front at the moment when political strife was raging with the utmost violence, he had courage to assume the sole responsibility of the most extreme measures.
“Compelled by almost universal opprobrium to retire from office, he left behind him animosities which will be extinguished only with life.”
But what this article does not state is this: if Martial was wrong—and that depends entirely upon the point of view from which his conduct is regarded—he was doubly wrong, since he was not possessed of those ardent convictions verging upon fanaticism which make men fools, heroes, and martyrs.
He was not even ambitious.
Those associated with him, witnessing his passionate struggle and his unceasing activity, thought him actuated by an insatiable thirst for power.
He cared little or nothing for it. He considered its burdens heavy; its compensations small. His pride was too lofty to feel any satisfaction in the applause that delights the vain, and flattery disgusted him. Often, in his princely drawing-rooms, during some brilliant fete, his acquaintances noticed a shade of gloom steal over his features, and seeing him thus thoughtful and preoccupied, they respectfully refrained from disturbing him.
“His mind is occupied with momentous questions,” they thought. “Who can tell what important decisions may result from this revery?”
They were mistaken.
At the very moment when his brilliant success made his rivals pale with envy—when it would seem that he had nothing left to wish for in this world, Martial was saying to himself:
“What an empty life! What weariness and vexation of spirit! To live for others—what a mockery!”
He looked at his wife, radiant in her beauty, worshipped like a queen, and he sighed.
He thought of her who was dead—Marie-Anne—the only woman whom he had ever loved.
She was never absent from his mind. After all these years he saw her yet, cold, rigid, lifeless, in that luxurious room at the Borderie; and time, far from effacing the image of the fair girl who had won his youthful heart, made it still more radiant and endowed his lost idol with almost superhuman grace of person and of character.
If fate had but given him Marie-Anne for his wife! He said this to himself again and again, picturing the exquisite happiness which a life with her would have afforded him.