Madame X; a story of motherlove
A STORY OF MOTHER-LOVE
J. W. McCONAUGHY
FROM THE PLAY OF THE SAME NAME
EDWARD C. VOLKERT
GROSSET & DUNLAP
|IV.||Opening for the Defense|
|V.||Continuing for the Prosecution|
|VI.||Closing for the Defense|
|IX.||The Hotel of the Three Crowns|
|X.||The Uses of Adversity|
|XI.||Concerning Dower Claims|
|XII.||"Who Saves Another——"|
|XIII.||From Out the Shadow|
|XIV.||Sic Itur ad Averno|
|XV.||The Swelling of Jordan|
|XVI.||A Woman of Mystery|
|XVII.||Two Lovers and a Lecture|
|XVIII.||A Ghost Rises|
|XIX.||Hope at Last|
|XX.||The Trial Begins|
|XXII.||Madame X Speaks|
|XXIV.||The Guttering Flame|
|XXV.||"While the Lamp Holds Out to Burn——"|
(From the French of Massenet)
Oh, Spring of days long ago, blooming and bright,
Far have you fluttered away!
No more the skies azure light, caroling birds
Waken and glisten for me!
Bearing all joy from my heart—Loved one!
How far from my life hast thou flown!
Vainly to me does the springtime return!
It brings thee never again—Dark is the sun!
Dead are the days of delight!
Cold is my heart and as dark as the grave!
Life is in vain—evermore!
A night lamp—the chosen companion of illness, misery andmurder—burned dimly on a little table in the midst of a grim array ofbottles and boxes. In a big armchair between the table and the bed,and within easy reach of both, sat a young man. It was his fourteenthnight in that chair and he leaned his head back against the cushionsin an attitude of utter exhaustion. The hands rested on the arms withthe palms turned up. But the strong, clean-cut face—that for two weekshad been a mask of fear and suffering—was transfigured with joy andthanksgiving when he reached over every few minutes and touched theforehead of the little boy in the bed. There was moisture under thedark curls and the fever flush had given way to the pallor of weakness.
Louis Floriot was a man with steel nerves and an unbending will.Barely in his thirty-first year, he was Deputy Attorney of Paris, andin all the two weeks he had watched at the bedside of his boy he hadnot been ten seconds late at the opening of court in the morning. Hiswork and his child were all that were left to him and he divided theday between them without a thought of himself. The woman that had madeboth dear to him was gone. He had loved the baby with almost more thana father's love because he was hers—theirs. He had slaved for fame andpower to lay them at her feet as a proof of his love.
Two short years ago it would have been impossible to find a happier manwithin the girth of the seven seas. Then one night he had returned fromhis office too early—returned to find his life in ruins and his homemade desolate. And she had fled from him into the night and had goneout of his life—but not out of his memory.
He had striven with all the strength of his will to forget her; but inhis heart he knew that as long as he breathed her image would be there.He worked with feverish energy and poured his love out on Raymond. Thechild was with him every moment that he was not in court or in hisoffice, but his dark curly hair and great dark eyes were his mother'sand forgetfulness did not lie that way.
In the two years that had passed since the whole scheme of his life hadbeen shattered he had barely had time to piece together a make-shiftplan that would give him an excuse for living. In this new plan Raymondwas the one element of tenderness. But for his love for the boy hewould have become as stem and inexorable as the laws in which he dealt.He could not tear Jacqueline out of his heart but he forced himself toremember only the bitterness of her perfidy.
In the past two weeks the memory had come back more bitterly. Howdifferent, he had thought in the long nights, if she had been there!They would have watched hand in hand and whispered hope and comfort toeach other. One would have slept calmly when wearied, knowing that thetender love of the other guarded their baby. And what happiness wouldhave been theirs that hour when the fever broke and Raymond passed fromstupor to natural sleep! But she had not loved him—she had not evenloved her boy; for she had deserted both.
Rose, the maid, who had been in their house since his marriage, softlyopened the door and whispered that Madame Varenne was in the librarywaiting to see him. He rose with a sigh, and after a last look at thesleeping child, tiptoed out of the room and noiselessly shut the doorbehind him.
Madame Varenne was a sprightly young widow, the sister of Dr. Chennel,who attended Raymond as if the boy were his own son. Madame Varenne,too, had almost a motherly affection for the child and something beyondadmiration for the handsome, slightly grayed father. They supposed, asdid everyone else in Passy, that Madame Floriot was dead. Floriot wasliving in Paris when she left him and he moved out to Passy shortlyafterward.
He shook hands with her cordially as he came in.
"How kind of you to come, Madame Varenne!" he said, gratefully. Theyoung woman looked up at him with a happy smile.
"I am delighted with the news that Rose has just given me!" sheexclaimed, pressing his hand.
"Yes," he smiled wearily, "our nightmare is over and it was time itfinished. I couldn't have held out much longer."
"You have had a bad time of it," she murmured, sympathetically.
"It hasn't been easy. And I shall never be able, to thank your brotherenough for what he has done for me," and Floriot's voice trembled.
"He has thought of nothing else beside the boy for weeks and he wasalways talking about him," declared Madame Varenne, shaking her head."The day before yesterday he went to see one of his old professorsto consult him on the treatment, and he was hard at work that nightexperimenting and reading."
"He tells me that it was then that he got the idea which has savedRaymond's life. I owe my boy's life to your brother, Madame Varenne,"he added, his voice vibrant with gratitude, "and you may be sure that Iwill never forget it."
"What he has done has been its own reward," she replied gently. "Mybrother is so fond of Raymond!"
Floriot smiled tenderly.
"Oh, I love the child!" she exclaimed.
"He loves you, too," Floriot assured her. "You were the first person heasked for when the fever left him. And now, that we are alone for amoment I want to take the opportunity of thanking you from the bottomof my heart!"
"Thanking me! For what?"
"For your friendship."
"How absurd you are!" she laughed. "Then I ought to be making prettyspeeches to you to thank you for yours as well!"
"It is not quite the same thing," returned Floriot. "You are acharming, happy, amiable and altogether delightful woman while I—Well,I'm just a bear."
"You don't mean to say so!" she exclaimed, with a look of mock alarm.
"Oh, yes!" he nodded with a smile. "Bear is the only word thatdescribes me—an ill-tempered bear, at that!"
"You will never be as disagreeable as my husband was!" And MadameVarenne shook her head decidedly. Floriot laughed.
"Really! Was he even gloomier than I?"
"My husband! Good gracious me! You are a regular devil of a chapcompared to him!" exclaimed the sprightly lady, earnestly. AgainFloriot burst into a laugh. It was the first exercise of the kind hehad had in some time.
"You can't have amused yourself much," he suggested. "You can't havehad a wildly merry time."
"I didn't!" was the forcible response. "But now everything andeverybody appear charming by contrast!"
"Even I?" he smiled.
"Yes, even you!" she admitted, with another smile. At that moment herbrother entered and Floriot greeted him affectionately. His firstquestions were about Raymond and the replies were satisfactory. Herubbed his hands enthusiastically and busied himself with his bag,while Floriot attempted to continue his speech of thanks in the face ofprotests from both.
"There, there, there!" broke in the doctor. "How do you know that weare not both of us sowing that we may reap? One never knows how usefulit may be to be friends with a man in your profession," he chuckled.
Madame Varenne made her adieux and left with a rather wistful look atFloriot as she pressed his hand. She promised to come back the firstthing in the morning.
"And now, friend Floriot," said the doctor, looking at him gravely, "asthe boy is out of danger, you begin taking care of yourself."
Floriot stared at him in surprise.
"Why, there's nothing the matter with me!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, yes, there is!" retorted the man of medicine. "And a great dealmore than you think!"
"Nonsense!" said Floriot, lightly. "I'm a little tired, but a few days'rest will——"
"No, no, no!" interrupted the doctor, with an energetic shake of thehead. "You are working too much and you are taking too little exercise.You brood and worry over things and you must take a cure!"
"What sort of a cure?" inquired Floriot, with an uneasy glance.
"Every morning, no matter what the weather is, you must take a smarttwo hours' walk."
"But, my dear fellow——"
"You must walk at a smart pace for two hours," insisted the doctor."And you must feed heartily."
"My dear fellow, I can hardly get through a cutlet for my lunch!"protested Floriot.
"I will let you off to-day, but from to-morrow on you must eat two," hecontinued firmly, as if he had not heard the interruption. Consideringthat luncheon was some eight hours in the past, this was not much of aconcession.
"I shall never be able to do anything of the sort!" Floriot declared.
"Oh, yes, you will!" the doctor assured him with exasperatingconfidence. "On your way home every evening you must look in at thefencing school and fence for half-hour, take a cold shower and walkhome."
"Walk! Out to Passy?"
"Out to Passy."
"My dear doctor," he smiled pityingly, "I can't possibly follow yourprescription. I haven't the time."
"Then you must get married," returned the doctor calmly. Floriot gazedat him for a few moments in dumb amazement and then laughed amusedly.
"Distraction of some sort is absolutely necessary for your case,"the doctor explained as gravely as a judge. "There is nothing to bestartled at—you've been married before"—Floriot winced—"you cando so again. A lonely life is not the life for you. Look out for ahappy-minded woman, who will keep you young and be a mother to yourchild, and marry her. I have an idea," he smiled knowingly, "that youwon't have much difficulty in finding the very woman!"
In a flash the young lawyer saw what was in his friend's mind. He saw,too, that he must make him a confidant—tell him a story that he hadsworn should never be put into words. For almost a minute emotion heldhim tongue-tied.
Then he said brokenly:
"My friend, I see now that I ought to—I ought to have—told youbefore. I—am not a widower!"
Dr. Chennel fell back against the table astounded.
"Not a widower!" he gasped.
"My wife is living," said Floriot in a low, unsteady voice. "Afterthree years of married life—she left me—with a lover. I came homeunexpectedly one day—and found them—together. They rushed out of thehouse in terror. I should have killed them both, I think, if they hadnot run."
The doctor murmured something meant to be sympathetic. He was too muchamazed for speech.
"I have sometimes thought of telling you, but, somehow, I could nottalk of it. Chennel, old man!" he cried, miserably, laying his hand onhis friend's