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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Generous Enemy
By Madame Augustus Craven (Pauline de la Ferronays) (1808–1891)
 
From ‘Fleurange’

AS the silence lengthened, and she looked at Vera with ever-increasing surprise, a sudden apprehension seized her, and a fugitive and remote glimpse of the truth crossed her mind.  1
  Nothing in the world was more vague than her recollection of the name murmured a single time in her presence; but that once was in a conversation of which Count George was the subject, and she remembered that she had then believed that they were talking of a marriage desired by the Princess for her son.  2
  Was it regretfully now that Vera brought to another this permission to accompany him?  3
  Such was the question that Fleurange asked herself. Then approaching Vera, she said to her gently:—  4
  “If you have been intrusted with a message for me, Mademoiselle, how can I thank you sufficiently for having taken the trouble to bring it to me yourself?”  5
  But Vera hastily withdrew her hand, retreating a few steps as she did so. Then as if she were a prey to some emotion which she could not conquer, she fell back in an arm-chair placed near the table; and for some minutes remained pale, panting for breath, her expression gloomy and wild, from time to time brushing away fiercely the tears that in spite of all her efforts escaped from her eyelids.  6
  Fleurange, motionless with surprise, looked at her with mingled terror and interest; but soon the frank decision of her character conquered her timidity. She went straight to the point.  7
  “Countess Vera,” she said, “if I have not conjectured rightly the motive which brings you here, tell me the truth. There is going on between us at this moment something which I do not understand. Be sincere; I will be so too. Let us not remain like this toward one another. Above all, do not look at me as if I were not only a stranger, but an enemy.”  8
  At this word Vera raised her head.  9
  “Enemies!” she repeated: “Well, it is true; at this moment we are so!”  10
  What did she mean to say? Fleurange folded her arms, and looked at her attentively, seeking to find an explanation to this enigma of her words; to the still more obscure enigma of her face, which expressed by turns the most conflicting sentiments; to the enigma of her eyes, which now regarded her with hate, now with the gentleness and almost the humility of a suppliant.  11
  At last Vera seemed to decide to go on:—  12
  “Yes, you are right,” she said: “I must put an end to your suspense, and explain to you my strange conduct; but I need courage to do it, and to come here as I have done, to address myself to you as I am about to do, there must have been—without my knowing why—”  13
  “Well,” Fleurange said with a smile, “what else?”  14
  “There must have been in my heart a secret instinct which assured me that you were good and generous!”  15
  This conclusion, after this beginning, did not clear up the situation,—on the contrary, rendered it more involved than ever.  16
  “This is enough by way of introduction,” Fleurange said, with a certain tone of firmness. “Speak clearly, Countess Vera; tell me all without reserve; you may believe me when I beseech you to have no fear. Though your words were to do me a harm which at this moment I can neither foresee nor comprehend, speak; I require it of you; hesitate no longer.”  17
  “Well then,—here!” said Vera, throwing suddenly upon the table a paper which till then she had held concealed.  18
  Fleurange took it, looked at it, and at first blushed; then she grew pale.  19
  “My petition!” she said; “you bring it back to me? It has been refused then.”  20
  “No, it has not been sent.”  21
  “You mean to say that the Empress, after having shown so much kindness towards me, has changed her mind and refused to undertake it?”  22
  “No. She has given orders to me, on the contrary, to send your petition, and to add to it her own recommendation.”  23
  “Well?”  24
  “I have disobeyed her orders.”  25
  “I await the explanation which you are no doubt intending to give me. Go on without interrupting yourself; I shall listen.”  26
  “Well then, first of all, answer me. Did you know that George von Walden was the husband who was promised to me,—for whom my father destined me from childhood?”  27
  “Who was promised you?—from childhood? No, I did not know it. But no matter; go on.”  28
  “It is true, it is no matter: this is not the question, although I was obliged to refer to it. It is no longer a question of his misfortune, of his fearful sentence, of that frightful Siberia to which you propose to accompany him—to share a fate which you can neither alleviate, nor, possibly, endure yourself. The question is now, to save him from this destiny; to give back to him life, honor, liberty, all that he has lost. His estates, his fortune, his rank, all may yet be restored to him! This is what I have come to tell you, and to ask you to aid in its accomplishment.”  29
  “All this can be restored to him!” said Fleurange, in an altered voice. “By what means? By whose power?”  30
  “That of the Emperor, invoked, and of his clemency obtained through my entreaties; but upon two conditions, one of which is imposed upon George, the other of which depends upon me. To these two conditions is joined a third, and that one rests with you, with you only!”  31
  The great eyes of Fleurange were fixed upon Vera, with an expression of profound astonishment, mingled with anguish.  32
  “Finish, I implore you!” she said. “Finish, if you are not dreaming in saying such words to me, or I in hearing them;—if we are not both mad, you and I!”  33
  Vera clasped her hands together and cried passionately:—  34
  “Oh, I beseech you, have mercy upon him!”  35
  She stopped, suffocated by her emotion.  36
  Fleurange continued to look at her with the same expression, and without speaking made a sign to her to go on.  37
  She seemed to concentrate her attention to understand the words that were said to her.  38
  “I am listening,” she said at last; “I am listening quietly and attentively; speak to me with the same composure.”  39
  Vera resumed in a calmer tone:—  40
  “This morning, at the moment when I had just read your petition, and learned for the first time who the exile was whom you desired to follow,—at this very moment the Emperor arrived at the palace, and sent for me.”  41
  “The Emperor?” said Fleurange, with surprise.  42
  “Yes. And do you know what he wished to say to me? You do not guess what it was, and I can understand readily why you should not, for you do not know with what ardor I have solicited pardon for George, how eagerly I have brought together, to this end, all the facts in the case which might disarm his Sovereign’s anger against him. What the Emperor wished to say was this, that he deigned to grant me this favor—to grant it to me, Fleurange! do you understand?—but on two conditions.”  43
  “His pardon?” cried Fleurange. “Go on, I am listening.”  44
  “The first, that he should pass four years on his estates in Livonia, without stirring thence—”  45
  Vera ceased suddenly. Fleurange looked up. “And the second?” she said.  46
  “Then,” said Vera, slowly and speaking with difficulty, “that the wish of my father and of his should be fulfilled before his departure.”  47
  Fleurange shuddered. An icy chill crept towards her heart, and her head grew dizzy. She remained perfectly motionless, however.  48
  “His pardon is upon that condition?” she said.  49
  “Yes. The Emperor has taken an interest in me from my childhood. He loved my father, and it has pleased him to attach this act of clemency to this fulfillment of my father’s wish.”  50
  There was a long silence. Vera trembled herself as she saw the pale lips and colorless cheeks of Fleurange, and her eyes gazing fixedly into space.  51
  “And he?” she said at last. “He will accept his pardon with this condition without hesitating, will he not?”  52
  “Without hesitation?” repeated Vera, coloring with a new emotion; “that is what I cannot say; this very doubt humiliates and alarms me; for the Emperor would regard the least hesitation as a new ingratitude, and perhaps might retract this pardon.”  53
  “But why should he hesitate?” said Fleurange in a voice scarcely audible.  54
  “Fleurange!” said Vera in the same passionate tone she had used more than once during this interview. “Let us break each other’s heart, if we must, but let us go to the very end of this. It has been permitted you to see George since you have been here?”  55
  “No.”  56
  “But he is expecting you; he knows that you have come, and what devotion has brought you to him?”  57
  “No; he knows nothing of it as yet, and is not to know until to-morrow.”  58
  A flash of joy shone in the black eyes of Vera.  59
  “Then it rests with you that he does not hesitate, that he is saved! Yes, Fleurange, let him never know that you are here, let him never see you—never again,” she added, looking at her with a jealous terror that she could not conceal, “and life will once more become for him beautiful, brilliant, happy,—what it was,—what it ought always to be,—and the memory of these few months will fade away like a dream!”  60
  “Like a dream!”—Fleurange repeated mechanically these two words, passing her hand across her forehead as she spoke.  61
  “I have not told you all,” Vera said; “I have done you an injury that I understand better than any other person can. But,” she continued, in a tone which went to the very depths of her listener’s heart, “I wished to save George! I desired him to be restored to me! and I have believed—I know not why, for it seems most unreasonable, and I am ordinarily distrustful—yes, I have believed that you would be willing to aid me, against yourself!”  62
  Fleurange, her hands clasped and resting upon her knees, her eyes gazing steadfastly before her, had seemed for a few moments past not to have heard what was said. She was listening,—but it was to that clear distinct voice that rang so true in her own soul, that voice she had always so well known how to recognize, and to which she had never denied obedience.  63
  If George were free, if he recovered his name, his rank, his former position, would she not at once find herself in the same position toward him which she had formerly occupied?—would it not be treason to avail herself in this case of his mother’s permission, and that too to the detriment of her who sat there, the wife chosen for him from his childhood? Would it not, still further, be a treason towards him to present herself before him as a danger, as an obstacle, which might, perhaps at the very moment when he recovered his liberty, cause him to lose it anew, with that momentary favor which had restored it to him!  64
  She laid her cold hand upon the hand of Vera, and lifted to hers her gentle and steady gaze.  65
  “It is enough,” she said in a calm voice. “You have done right. Yes, I have understood; be tranquil.”  66
  Vera, astonished at the look and tone, gazed at her in wonder.  67
  “Act fearlessly,” pursued Fleurange. “Act as if I were far away,—as if I had never come.”  68
  And taking the petition which lay upon the table, she tore it across, and threw it into the fire! The paper blazed up for a few seconds, then went out. She watched the cinders fly up the chimney.  69
  Vera with an irresistible impulse seized the hand of Fleurange and raised it to her lips; then she remained silent and abashed. She had come resolved to overpower her rival, to convince her, to struggle against her at every point, if she failed in her first attempt; but her victory had taken a character which she had not at all foreseen.  70
  Certainly it had been an easy victory, and yet Vera understood that it had been a cruel one. She felt at this moment more pain than joy, and her attitude no more expressed triumph than did that of Fleurange express defeat. While the one remained with drooping head and downcast eyes, the other had risen to her feet; a fugitive color lingered in her cheeks,—the effort of the sacrifice had lighted up her face and given it unwonted brilliancy.  71
  “I think,” she said, “you have nothing more to say to me.”  72
  “No—for what I should like to say I cannot and I dare not.”  73
  Vera rose and went towards the door, but a recollection brought her back.  74
  “Pardon my forgetfulness,” she said. “Here is your bracelet which you dropped this morning, and which I was desired to return to you.”  75
  At sight of the talisman Fleurange started; her unnatural color faded, she became deadly pale, and as she looked at it in silence, a few tears, the only ones which she had shed during that interview, slid down her cheeks. But it was only for an instant. Before Vera could think what she was about to do, Fleurange had attached to the arm of her rival the bracelet which the latter had just restored to her.  76
  “This talisman was a present from the Princess Catherine to her son’s betrothed; it would bring happiness, she said. It is mine no longer. I give it up to you; it is yours.”  77
  Fleurange held out her hand. “We shall never see each other again,” she said. “Let us not remember each other with bitterness.”  78
  Vera took the hand without looking up. Never had she felt herself so touched and humiliated, and her very gratitude was a wound to her pride. The grave and sweet voice of Fleurange was however irresistible at this moment, and spoke to her heart in spite of herself. She was hesitating between these two feelings, when Fleurange resumed:—  79
  “You are right. It is not my place to wait for you at this moment, for you have nothing now to forgive,—and as for me, I forgive you all.”  80
  And while Vera still stood motionless with bowed head, Fleurange bent towards her and kissed her.  81
 
 
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