THE day I arrived in Paris I called upon M. Louis de Franchi. He was not at home.
I left my card, with an intimation that I had just returned from Sullacaro, and that I was the bearer of a letter from M. Lucien, his brother. I inquired when he would be at home, as I had undertaken to deliver the letter with my own hand.
To conduct me to his master's study, where I wished to write a note, the valet led me through the dining-room and the _salon._
I looked around me as I proceeded with a curiosity which will be understood, and I recognized the influence of the same taste which I had already perceived at Sullacaro; only the taste was here set off by true Parisian elegance. M. Louis de Franchi certainly appeared to have a very charming lodging for a bachelor.
Next morning, about eleven o'clock, my servant announced M. Louis de Franchi. I told the man to offer my visitor the papers and to say that I would wait on him as soon as I was dressed.
In five minutes I presented myself.
M. Louis do Franchi who was, no doubt from a sense of courtesy, reading a tale I had contributed to _La Presse,_ raised his head as the door opened, and I entered.
I stood perfectly astounded at the resemblance between the two brothers. He rose.
"Monsieur," he said, "I could scarcely credit my good fortune when I read your note yesterday on my return home. I have pictured you twenty times so as to assure myself that it was in accord with your portraits, and at last I, this morning, determined to present myself at your house without considering the hour, and I fear I have been too early."
"I hope you will excuse me if I do not at once acknowledge your kindness in suitable terms, but may I inquire whether I have the honour to address M. Louis or M. Lucien de Franchi?"
"Are you serious? Yes, the resemblance is certainly wonderful, and when I was last at Sullacaro nearly every one mistook one of us for the other, yet, if he has not abjured the Corsican dress, you have seen him in a costume, which would make a considerable difference in our appearance."
"And justly so," I replied; "but as chance would have it, he was, when I left, dressed exactly as you are now, except that he wore white trowsers, so that I was not able to separate your presence from his memory with the difference in dress of which you speak, but," I continued, taking the letter from my pocket-book, "I can quite understand you are anxious to have news from home, so pray read this which I would have left at your house yesterday had I not promised Madame de Franchi to give it to you myself."
"They were all quite well when you left, I hope?"
"Yes, but somewhat anxious."
"On my account?"
"Yes; but read that letter, I beg of you."
"If you will excuse me."
So Monsieur Franchi read the letter while I made some cigarettes. I watched him as his eyes travelled rapidly over the paper, and I heard him murmur, "Dear Lucien, Darling Mother----yes----yes----I understand."
I had not yet recovered from the surprise the strange resemblance between the brothers had caused me, but now I noticed what Lucien had told me, that Louis was paler, and spoke French better than he did.
"Well," I said when he had finished reading the letter, and had lighted the cigarette, "You see, as I told you, that they are anxious about you, and I am glad that their fears are unfounded."
"Well, no," he said gravely, "not altogether; I have not been ill, it is true, but I have been out of sorts, and my indisposition has been augmented by this feeling that my brother is suffering with me."
"Monsieur Lucien has already told me as much, and had I been sceptical I should now have been quite sure that what he said was a fact. I should require no further proof than I now have. So you, yourself, are convinced, monsieur, that your brother's health depends to a certain extent on your own."
"Yes, perfectly so."
"Then," I continued, "as your answer will doubly interest me, may I ask, not from mere curiosity, if this indisposition of which you speak is likely soon to pass away?"
"Oh, you know, monsieur, that the greatest griefs give way to time, and that my heart, even if seared, will heal. Meantime, however, pray accept my thanks once more, and permit me to call on you occasionally to have a chat about Sullacaro."
"With the greatest pleasure," I replied; "but why not now continue our conversation, which is equally agreeable to both of us. My servant is about to announce breakfast. Will you do me the honour to join me, and we can talk at our ease?"
"I regret that it is impossible; I have an appointment with the Chancellor at twelve o'clock, and you will understand that such a young advocate as I am cannot afford to stay away."
"Ah, it is probably only about that Orlandi and Colona affair, as you, no doubt, are aware, and I can re-assure you on that point, for I myself signed the contract as sponsor for this Orlandi."
"Yes, my brother said as much."
"But," he added, looking at his watch, "it is nearly twelve o'clock; I must go and inform the Chancellor that my brother has redeemed my word."
"Ah, yes, most religiously, I can answer for that."
"Dear Lucien, I knew quite well, though our sentiments do not agree on this point, that he would do it for me."
"Yes, and I assure you it cost him something to comply."
"We will speak of all this later, for you can well understand how pleasant it is for me to re-visit with your assistance my mother, my brother, and our home surroundings, so if you will tell me when you are disengaged----"
"That will be somewhat difficult; for this next few days I shall be very busy, but will you tell me where I am likely to find you."
"Listen," he said, "to-morrow is Mi-Careme, is it not?"
"Are you going to the Opera Ball?"
"Yes and No. Yes, if you will meet me there. No, if I have no object in going."
"I must go, I am obliged to be there."
"Ah, yes," I said laughing, "I understand, as you said just now, time heals up the greatest griefs, and your seared heart must be healed."
"You are under a misapprehension, for I shall probably sustain new tortures by going."
"Then do not go."
"But what is one to do in this world? We cannot always do what we want; I am dragged thither by fate in spite of myself. I know I had better not go, and nevertheless I shall go."
"Well, then, to-morrow, at the Opera."
"At what time?"
"Half-past twelve midnight, if that will suit you."
"In the _foyer_--at one, I will be in front of the clock."
"That is understood."
We then shook hands and he left the house quickly. It was on the stroke of twelve.
As for me, I occupied myself all the afternoon and all the next day in those employments as a man is obliged to undertake on his return from a lengthened tour.
At half-past twelve o'clock at night I was at the rendezvous.
Louis had been waiting some time--he had been following a mask which he thought he recognized, but the lady had been lost in the crowd, and he had not been able to rejoin her.
I wished to speak of Corsica, but Louis was too absent to follow out such a grave subject of conversation. His eyes were constantly fixed on the clock, and suddenly he rushed away from my side, exclaiming:
"Ah, there is my bouquet of violets."
He pushed through the crowd to join a woman who, evidently with a purpose, was holding a large bouquet of violets in her hand.
There were bouquets of every species in the foyer, and I myself was soon accosted by a bouquet of camellias, which congratulated me upon my safe return to Paris.
To the camellias succeeded a bouquet of rose-pompons.
To these succeeded a bouquet of heliotrope.
In fact I was engaged with my fifteenth bouquet when I encountered D----.
"Ah, is it you, _mon cher?_" he cried. "Welcome back; you have returned just in time. I have a little supper party this evening--so-and-so and so-and-so--and we shall count upon you."
"A thousand thanks, my dear fellow; but though I am strongly tempted to accept your invitation, I can't. I am engaged to somebody."
"Yes; but everyone else will bring somebody also," said D----. "It is quite understood that there are to be six water-bottles, whose destiny it is to refresh bouquets."
"Ah, you are mistaken. I shall have no bouquet to put in a water-bottle; I am with a friend."
"Well, you know the proverb, 'Friends of our friends.'"
"It is a young gentleman whom you do not know."
"Well, then, we will make his acquaintance."
"I will tell him of his good fortune."
"Yes, and if he decline, bring him by force."
"I will do what I can, I promise you. At what time?"
"Three o'clock; but as supper will remain on table till six you have ample margin."
A bouquet of myosotis, which perhaps had heard the latter portion of our conversation, then took D----'s arm and walked on with him.
Shortly afterwards I met Louis, who had by this time got rid of his violets.
As the lady who honoured me with her attention just then was a trifle dull, I despatched her to one of my friends, and took Louis' arm.
"Well," I said, "have you learnt what you wanted to know?"
"Oh, yes! You know that at a masked ball people talk of the very things they ought to leave you in ignorance of."
"My poor friend," I said, "pardon me for thus addressing you; but it appears to me that I know you since I have known your brother. Look here--you are unhappy, are not you? Now what is it?"
"Oh, my goodness! Nothing worth talking about."
I saw that he did not wish to speak on the subject, so I said no more.
We took two or three turns in silence.--I was quite indifferent, for I expected nobody, but he was anxiously examining every domino that passed.
At length I said, "Do you know what you might do to-night?"
He started like a man suddenly aroused.
"I! No. I beg your pardon; what did you say?"
"I was about to propose a distraction which it seems to me you need."
"What is it?"
"Come to supper with a friend of mine, with me."
"Oh, no--I am not in a festive humour."
"Bah! They will talk nothing but nonsense, and that will amuse you."
"Well--but I am not invited!"
"You mistake--for you are."
"It is very kind on your part--but 'pon my word I am not worthy of--"
Just then we crossed D----. He seemed very much engaged with his bouquet of myosotis. Nevertheless he saw me.
"Well," he said, "is it settled? Three o'clock."
"Less settled than ever," I replied--"I cannot join you."
"Go to the Devil, then!"
And with this pious ejaculation he continued his course.
"Who is that gentleman?" inquired Louis.
"That is D----, one of my friends; a very cheerful youth, though he is the manager of one of our most respectable papers."
"Monsieur D----!" exclaimed Louis. "Do you know _him?_"
"Certainly. I have known him for some years."
"And is he the person with whom you are invited to sup this evening?"
"Yes, the same."
"Then it was to his house you intended to take me?"
"Then that alters the case. I accept, and with very great pleasure."
"All right. That settles the question."
"Perhaps, after all, I ought not to go," muttered Louis, smiling sadly. "But you remember what I said yesterday about my destiny. Here is the proof. I should have done better not to have come here this evening."
At this moment we again encountered D----. "My dear fellow," I said, "I have changed my mind!"
"And you will join us?"
"Bravo! But I ought to mention one thing."
"That whoever sups with us to-night, sups with us again to-morrow evening."
"By what law of society is that?"
"By the laws of the wager made with Chateau Renaud."
I felt Louis' arm quiver as it rested on mine--I turned round; but though his face was deadly pale, it was impassable.
"What is the wager?" I inquired.
"Oh, it would occupy too much time to repeat here, and, besides, some one interested might overhear, and it might thus be lost."
"What wonderful discretion you possess! At three, then."
Once more we separated, and as I glanced at the clock I saw it then was thirty-five minutes past two.
"Do you know this M. de Chateau Renaud?" asked Louis, who vainly attempted to command his voice, and to conceal his emotion.
"Only by sight. I have met him occasionally in society."
"Then he is not a friend of yours?"
"Not even an acquaintance."
"Ah, so much the better," replied Louis.
"For no particular reason."
"But do you know him?"
Notwithstanding this evasive answer, it was easy to perceive that between Louis and Chateau Renaud there existed one of those mysterious bonds which could only be forged by a woman. An instinctive feeling assured me that it would be best for all if he and I returned home quietly.
"Will you take my advice, Monsieur de Franchi," I said.
"About what? tell me!"
"Do not go to supper at D----'s house."
"Why not? Does he not expect us. Have you not told him that you will bring a friend?"
"Yes, but that is not the point."
"What is the point then?"
"I am sure you had better not go, that is all!"
"But surely you have some reason to give for your change of opinion; just now you were insisting on my presence at D----'s against my will."
"I did not then know that we should meet Chateau Renaud."
"But that is all the better. I believe he is a very pleasant companion, and I shall be glad to make his acquaintance."
"Very well," I replied--"so be it. Shall we go now?"
We accordingly went downstairs for our paletots.
D---- lived within a short distance of the opera house, the morning was very fine, and I hoped that the open air would enliven my companion. So I proposed that we should walk, and this he agreed to.