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By George Sand
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2017 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
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On a certain cool, rainy evening in autumn, in a small château in Brie, three pensive individuals were gravely occupied in watching the wood burn on the hearth and the hands of the clock move slowly around the dial. Two of these silent guests seemed to give way unreservedly to the vague ennui that weighed upon them; but the third gave signs of open rebellion: he fidgeted about on his seat, stifled half audibly divers melancholy yawns, and tapped the snapping sticks with tongs, with a manifest intention of resisting the common enemy.
This person, who was much older than the other two, was the master of the house, Colonel Delmare, an old warrior on half-pay, once a very handsome man, now over-corpulent, with a bald head, gray moustache and awe-inspiring eye; an excellent master before whom everybody trembled, wife, servants, horses and dogs.
At last he left his chair, evidently vexed because he did not know how to break the silence, and began to walk heavily up and down the whole length of the salon, without laying aside for an instant the rigidity which characterizes all the movements of an ex-soldier, resting his weight on his loins and turning the whole body at once, with the unfailing self-satisfaction peculiar to the man of show and the model officer.
But the glorious days had passed, when Lieutenant Delmare inhaled triumph with the air of the camps; the retired officer, forgotten now by an ungrateful country, was condemned to undergo all the consequences of marriage. He was the husband of a young and pretty wife, the proprietor of a commodious manor with its appurtenances, and, furthermore, a manufacturer who had been fortunate in his undertakings; in consequence whereof the colonel was ill-humored, especially on the evening in question; for it was very damp, and the colonel had rheumatism.
He paced gravely up and down his old salon, furnished in the style of Louis XV., halting sometimes before a door surmounted by nude Cupids in fresco, who led in chains of flowers well-bred fawns and good-natured wild boars; sometimes before a panel overladen with paltry, over-elaborated sculpture, whose tortuous vagaries and endless intertwining the eye would have wearied itself to no purpose in attempting to follow. But these vague and fleeting distractions did not prevent the colonel, whenever he turned about, from casting a keen and searching glance at the two companions of his silent vigil, resting upon them alternately that watchful eye which for three years past had been standing guard over a fragile and priceless treasure, his wife.
For his wife was nineteen years of age; and if you had seen her buried under the mantel of that huge fire-place of white marble inlaid with burnished copper; if you had seen her, slender, pale, depressed, with her elbow resting on her knee, a mere child in that ancient household, beside that old husband, like a flower of yesterday that had bloomed in a gothic vase, you would have pitied Colonel Delmare's wife, and the colonel even more perhaps than his wife.
The third occupant of this lonely house was also sitting under the same mantel, at the other end of the burning log. He was a man in all the strength and all the bloom of youth, whose glowing cheeks, abundant golden hair and full whiskers presented a striking contrast to the grizzly hair, weather-beaten complexion and harsh countenance of the master of the house; but the least artistic of men would none the less have preferred Monsieur Delmare's harsh and stern expression to the younger man's regular but insipid features. The bloated face carved in relief on the sheet of iron that formed the back of the fire-place, with its eye fixed constantly on the burning logs, was less monotonous perhaps than the pink and white fair-haired character in this narrative, absorbed in like contemplation. However, his strong and supple figue, the clean-cut outline of his brown eyebrows, the polished whiteness of his forehead, the tranquil expression of his limpid eyes, the beauty of his hands, and even the rigorously correct elegance of his hunting costume, would have caused him to be considered a very comely cavalier in the eyes of any woman who had conceived a passion for the so-called philosophic tastes of another century. But perhaps Monsieur Delmare's young and timid wife had never as yet examined a man with her eyes; perhaps there was an entire absence of sympathy between that pale and unhappy woman and that sound sleeper and hearty eater. Certain it is that the conjugal Argus wearied his hawklike eye without detecting a glance, a breath, a palpitation, between these two very dissimilar beings. Thereupon, being assured that he had not the slightest pretext for jealousy to occupy his mind, he relapsed into a state of depression more profound than before, and abruptly plunged his hands into his pockets.
The only cheerful and attractive face in the group was that of a beautiful hunting dog, of the large breed of pointers, whose head was resting on the knees of the younger man. She was remarkable by reason of her long body, her powerful hairy legs, her muzzle, slender as a fox's, and her intelligent face, covered with disheveled hair, through which two great tawny eyes shone like topazes. Those dog's eyes, so fierce and threatening during the chase, had at that moment an indefinable expression of affectionate melancholy; and when her master, the object of that instinctive love, sometimes so superior to the deliberate affection of man, ran his fingers through the beautiful creature's silky silver locks, her eyes sparkled with pleasure, while her long tail swept the hearth in regular cadence, and scattered the ashes over the inlaid floor.
It was a fitting subject for Rembrandt's brush, that interior, dimly lighted by the fire on the hearth. At intervals fugitive white gleams lighted up the room and the faces, then, changing to the red tint of the embers, gradually died away; the gloom of the salon varying as the fitful gleams grew more or less dull. Each time that Monsieur Delmare passed in front of the fire, he suddenly appeared, like a ghost, then vanished in the mysterious depths of the salon. Strips of gilding stood forth in the light now and then on the oval frames, adorned with wreaths and medallions and fillets of wood, on furniture, inlaid with ebony and copper, and even on the jagged cornices of the wainscoting. But when a brand went out, resigning its brilliancy to some other blazing point, the objects which had been in the light a moment before withdrew into the shadow, and other projections stood forth from the obscurity. Thus one could have grasped in due time all the details of the picture, from the console supported by three huge gilded tritons, to the frescoed ceiling, representing a sky studded with stars and clouds, and to the heavy hangings of crimson damask, with long tassels, which shimmered like satin, their ample folds seeming to sway back and forth as they reflected the flickering light.
One would have said, from the immobility of the two figures in bold relief before the fire, that they feared to disturb the immobility of the scene; that they had been turned to stone where they sat, like the heroes of a fairy tale, and that the slightest word or movement would bring the walls of an imaginary city crumbling about their ears. And the dark-browed master, who alone broke the silence and the shadow with his regular tread, seemed a magician who held them under a spell.
At last the dog, having obtained a smile from her master, yielded to the magnetic power which the eye of man exerts over that of the lower animals. She uttered a low whine of timid affection and placed her fore paws on her beloved's shoulders with inimitable ease and grace of movement.
"Down, Ophelia, down!"
And the young man reproved the docile creature sternly in English, whereupon she crawled toward Madame Delmare, shamefaced and repentant, as if to implore her protection. But Madame Delmare did not emerge from her reverie, and allowed Ophelia's head to rest on her two white hands, as they lay clasped on her knee, without bestowing a caress upon her.
"Has that dog taken up her quarters in the salon for good?" said the colonel, secretly well-pleased to find a pretext for an outburst of ill-humor, to pass the time. "Be off to your kennel, Ophelia! Come, out with you, you stupid beast!"
If anyone had been watching Madame Delmare closely he could have divined, in that trivial and commonplace incident of her private life, the painful secret of her whole existence. An imperceptible shudder ran over her body, and her hands, in which she unconsciously held the favorite animal's head, closed nervously around her rough, hairy neck, as if to detain her and protect her. Whereupon Monsieur Delmare, drawing his hunting-crop from the pocket of his jacket, walked with a threatening air toward poor Ophelia, who crouched at his feet, closing her eyes, and whining with grief and fear in anticipation. Madame Delmare became even paler than usual; her bosom heaved convulsively, and, turning her great blue eyes upon her husband with an indescribable expression of terror, she said:
"In pity's name, monsieur, do not kill her!" These few words gave the colonel a shock. A feeling of chagrin took the place of his angry impulse.
"That, madame, is a reproof which I understand very well," he said, "and which you have never spared me since that day that I killed your spaniel in a moment of passion while hunting. He was a great loss, was he not? A dog that was forever forcing the hunting and rushing after the game! Whose patience would he not have exhausted? Indeed, you were not nearly so fond of him until he was dead; before that you paid little attention to him; but now that he gives you a pretext for blaming me —"
"Have I ever reproached you?" said Madame Delmare in the gentle tone which we adopt from a generous impulse with those we love, and from self-esteem with those whom we do not love.
"I did not say that you had," rejoined the colonel in a half-paternal, half-conjugal tone; "but the tears of some women contain bitterer reproaches than the fiercest imprecations of others. Morbleu! madame, you know perfectly well that I hate to see people weeping about me."
"I do not think that you ever see me weep."
"Even so! don't I constantly see you with red eyes? On my word, that's even worse!"
During this conjugal colloquy the young man had risen and put Ophelia out of the room with the greatest tranquillity; then he returned to his seat opposite Madame Delmare after lighting a candle and placing it on the chimney-piece.
This act, dictated purely by chance, exerted a sudden influence upon Monsieur Delmare's frame of mind. As soon as the light of the candle, which was more uniform and steadier than that of the fire, fell upon his wife, he observed the symptoms of suffering and general prostration which were manifest that evening in her whole person: in her weary attitude, in the long brown hair falling over her emaciated cheeks and in the purple rings beneath her dull, inflamed eyes. He took several turns up and down the room, then returned to his wife and, suddenly changing his tone:
"How do you feel to-day, Indiana?" he said, with the stupidity of a man whose heart and temperament are rarely in accord.
"About as usual, thank you," she replied, with no sign of surprise or displeasure.
"'As usual' is no answer at all, or rather it's a woman's answer; a Norman answer, that means neither yes nor no, neither well nor ill."
"Very good; I am neither well nor ill."
"I say that you lie," he retorted with renewed roughness; "I know that you are not well; you have told Sir Ralph here that you are not. Tell me, isn't that the truth? Did she not tell you so, Monsieur Ralph?"
"She did," replied the phlegmatic individual addressed, paying no heed to the reproachful glance which Indiana bestowed upon him.
At that moment, a fourth person entered the room: it was the factotum of the household, formerly a sergeant in Monsieur Delmare's regiment.
He explained briefly to Monsieur Delmare that he had his reasons for believing that charcoal thieves had been in the park the last few nights at the same hour, and that he had come to ask for a gun to take with him in making his nightly round before locking the gates. Monsieur Delmare, scenting powder in the adventure, at once took down his fowling-piece, gave Lelièvre another, and started to leave the room.
"What!" said Madame Delmare in dismay, "you would kill a poor peasant on account of a few bags of charcoal?"
"I will shoot down like a dog," retorted Delmare, irritated by this remonstrance, "any man whom I find prowling around my premises at night. If you knew the law, madame, you would know that it authorizes me to do it."
"It is a horrible law," said Indiana, warmly. But she quickly repressed this impulse and added in a lower tone: "But your rheumatism? You forget that it rains, and that you will suffer for it to-morrow if you go out tonight."
"You are terribly afraid that you will have to nurse your old husband," replied Delmare, impatiently opening the door.
And he left the room, still muttering about his age and his wife.CHAPTER 2
The two personages whom we have mentioned, Indiana Delmare and Sir Ralph, or, if you prefer, Monsieur Rodolphe Brown, continued to face each other, as calm and cold as if the husband were standing between them. The Englishman had no idea of justifying himself, and Madame Delmare realized that she had no serious grounds for reproaching him, for he had spoken with no evil intention. At last, making an effort, she broke the silence and upbraided him mildly.
"That was not well done of you, my dear Ralph," she said. "I had forbidden you to repeat the words that I let slip in a moment of pain, and Monsieur Delmare is the last person in the world whom I should want told of my trouble."
"I can't understand you, my dear," Sir Ralph replied; "you are ill and you refuse to take care of yourself. I had to choose between the chance of losing you and the necessity of letting your husband know."
"Yes," said Madame Delmare, with a sad smile, "and you decided to notify the authorities."
"You are wrong, you are wrong, on my word, to allow yourself to inveigh so against the colonel; he is a man of honor, a worthy man."
"And who says that he's not, Sir Ralph?"
"Why, you do, without meaning to. Your depression, your ailing condition, and, as he himself observes, your red eyes, tell everybody every hour in the day that you are not happy."
"Hush, Sir Ralph, you go too far. I have never given you permission to find out so much."
"I anger you, I see; but what would you have! I am not clever; I am not acquainted with the subtle distinctions of your language, and then, too, I resemble your husband in many ways. Like him I am utterly in the dark as to what a man must say to a woman, either in English or in French, to console her. Another man would have conveyed to your mind, without putting it in words, the idea that I have just expressed so awkwardly; he would have had the art to insinuate himself into your confidence without allowing you to detect his progress, and perhaps he would have succeeded in affording some relief to your heart, which puts fetters on itself and locks itself up before me. This is not the first time that I have noticed how much more influence words have upon women than ideas, especially in France. Women more than —"
"Oh! you have a profound contempt for women, my dear Ralph. I am alone here against two of you, so I must make up my mind never to be right."
"Put us in the wrong, my dear cousin, by recovering your health, your good spirits, your bloom, your animation of the old days; remember Ile Bourbon and that delightful retreat of ours, Bernica, and our happy childhood, and our friendship, which is as old as you are yourself."
"I remember my father, too," said Indiana, dwelling sadly upon the words and placing her hand in Sir Ralph's.
They relapsed into profound silence.
"Indiana," said Ralph, after a pause, "happiness is always within our reach. Often one has only to put out his hand to grasp it. What do you lack? You have modest competence, which is preferable to great wealth, an excellent husband, who loves you with all his heart, and, I dare to assert, a sincere and devoted friend."
Madame Delmare pressed Sir Ralph's hand faintly; but she did not change her attitude; her head still hung forward on her breast and her tear-dimmed eyes were fixed on the magic effects produced by the embers.
"Your depression, my dear friend," continued Sir Ralph, "is due purely to physical causes; which one of us can escape disappointment, vexation? Look below you and you will see people who envy you, and with good reason. Man is so constituted that he always aspires to what he has not."
Excerpted from Indiana by George Sand. Copyright © 2017 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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