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"Free!" she repeated. "Free, and mine!"
She slipped down upon her knees, clasped her hands, and looked at Raphael in an enthusiasm of devotion.
"I am afraid I shall go mad. How handsome you are!" she went on, passing her fingers through her lover's fair hair. "How stupid your Countess Foedora is! How pleased I was yesterday with the homage they all paid to me! SHE has never been applauded. Dear, when I felt your arm against my back, I heard a vague voice within me that cried, 'He is there!' and I turned round and saw you. I fled, for I longed so to throw my arms about you before them all."
"How happy you are--you can speak!" Raphael exclaimed. "My heart is overwhelmed; I would weep, but I cannot. Do not draw your hand away. I could stay here looking at you like this for the rest of my life, I think; happy and content."
"O my love, say that once more!"
"Ah, what are words?" answered Valentin, letting a hot tear fall on Pauline's hands. "Some time I will try to tell you of my love; just now I can only feel it."
"You," she said, "with your lofty soul and your great genius, with that heart of yours that I know so well; are you really mine, as I am yours?"
"For ever and ever, my sweet creature," said Raphael in an uncertain voice. "You shall be my wife, my protecting angel. My griefs have always been dispelled by your presence, and my courage revived; that angelic smile now on your lips has purified me, so to speak. A new life seems about to begin for me. The cruel past and my wretched follies are hardly more to me than evil dreams. At your side I breathe an atmosphere of happiness, and I am pure. Be with me always," he added, pressing her solemnly to his beating heart.
"Death may come when it will," said Pauline in ecstasy; "I have lived!"
Happy he who shall divine their joy, for he must have experienced it.
"I wish that no one might enter this dear garret again, my Raphael," said Pauline, after two hours of silence.
"We must have the door walled up, put bars across the window, and buy the house," the Marquis answered.
"Yes, we will," she said. Then a moment later she added: "Our search for your manuscripts has been a little lost sight of," and they both laughed like children.
"Pshaw! I don't care a jot for the whole circle of the sciences," Raphael answered.
"Ah, sir, and how about glory?"
"I glory in you alone."
"You used to be very miserable as you made these little scratches and scrawls," she said, turning the papers over.
"Oh yes, I am your Pauline--and what then?"
"Where are you living now?"
"In the Rue Saint Lazare. And you?"
"In the Rue de Varenne."
"What a long way apart we shall be until----" She stopped, and looked at her lover with a mischievous and coquettish expression.
"But at the most we need only be separated for a fortnight," Raphael answered.
"Really! we are to be married in a fortnight?" and she jumped for joy like a child.
"I am an unnatural daughter!" she went on. "I give no more thought to my father or my mother, or to anything in the world. Poor love, you don't know that my father is very ill? He returned from the Indies in very bad health. He nearly died at Havre, where we went to find him. Good heavens!" she cried, looking at her watch; "it is three o'clock already! I ought to be back again when he wakes at four. I am mistress of the house at home; my mother does everything that I wish, and my father worships me; but I will not abuse their kindness, that would be wrong. My poor father! He would have me go to the Italiens yesterday. You will come to see him to-morrow, will you not?"
"Will Madame la Marquise de Valentin honor me by taking my arm?"
"I am going to take the key of this room away with me," she said. "Isn't our treasure-house a palace?"
"One more kiss, Pauline."
"A thousand, MON DIEU!" she said, looking at Raphael. "Will it always be like this? I feel as if I were dreaming."
They went slowly down the stairs together, step for step, with arms closely linked, trembling both of them beneath their load of joy. Each pressing close to the other's side, like a pair of doves, they reached the Place de la Sorbonne, where Pauline's carriage was waiting.
"I want to go home with you," she said. "I want to see your own room and your study, and to sit at the table where you work. It will be like old times," she said, blushing.
She spoke to the servant. "Joseph, before returning home I am going to the Rue de Varenne. It is a quarter-past three now, and I must be back by four o'clock. George must hurry the horses." And so in a few moments the lovers came to Valentin's abode.
"How glad I am to have seen all this for myself!" Pauline cried, creasing the silken bed-curtains in Raphael's room between her fingers. "As I go to sleep, I shall be here in thought. I shall imagine your dear head on the pillow there. Raphael, tell me, did no one advise you about the furniture of your hotel?"
"No one whatever."
"Really? It was not a woman who----"
"Oh, I know I am fearfully jealous. You have good taste. I will have a bed like yours to-morrow."
Quite beside himself with happiness, Raphael caught Pauline in his arms.
"Oh, my father!" she said; "my father----"
"I will take you back to him," cried Valentin, "for I want to be away from you as little as possible."
"How loving you are! I did not venture to suggest it----"
"Are you not my life?"
It would be tedious to set down accurately the charming prattle of the lovers, for tones and looks and gestures that cannot be rendered alone gave it significance. Valentin went back with Pauline to her own door, and returned with as much happiness in his heart as mortal man can know.
When he was seated in his armchair beside the fire, thinking over the sudden and complete way in which his wishes had been fulfilled, a cold shiver went through him, as if the blade of a dagger had been plunged into his breast--he thought of the Magic Skin, and saw that it had shrunk a little. He uttered the most tremendous of French oaths, without any of the Jesuitical reservations made by the Abbess of Andouillettes, leant his head against the back of the chair, and sat motionless, fixing his unseeing eyes upon the bracket of the curtain pole.
"Good God!" he cried; "every wish! Every desire of mine! Poor Pauline!----"
He took a pair of compasses and measured the extent of existence that the morning had cost him.
"I have scarcely enough for two months!" he said.
A cold sweat broke out over him; moved by an ungovernable spasm of rage, he seized the Magic Skin, exclaiming:
"I am a perfect fool!"
He rushed out of the house and across the garden, and flung the talisman down a well.
"Vogue la galere," cried he. "The devil take all this nonsense."
So Raphael gave himself up to the happiness of being beloved, and led with Pauline the life of heart and heart. Difficulties which it would be somewhat tedious to describe had delayed their marriage, which was to take place early in March. Each was sure of the other; their affection had been tried, and happiness had taught them how strong it was. Never has love made two souls, two natures, so absolutely one. The more they came to know of each other, the more they loved. On either side there was the same hesitating delicacy, the same transports of joy such as angels know; there were no clouds in their heaven; the will of either was the other's law.
Wealthy as they both were, they had not a caprice which they could not gratify, and for that reason had no caprices. A refined taste, a feeling for beauty and poetry, was instinct in the soul of the bride; her lover's smile was more to her than all the pearls of Ormuz. She disdained feminine finery; a muslin dress and flowers formed her most elaborate toilette.
Pauline and Raphael shunned every one else, for solitude was abundantly beautiful to them. The idlers at the Opera, or at the Italiens, saw this charming and unconventional pair evening after evening. Some gossip went the round of the salons at first, but the harmless lovers were soon forgotten in the course of events which took place in Paris; their marriage was announced at length to excuse them in the eyes of the prudish; and as it happened, their servants did not babble; so their bliss did not draw down upon them any very severe punishment.
One morning towards the end of February, at the time when the brightening days bring a belief in the nearness of the joys of spring, Pauline and Raphael were breakfasting together in a small conservatory, a kind of drawing-room filled with flowers, on a level with the garden. The mild rays of the pale winter sunlight, breaking through the thicket of exotic plants, warmed the air somewhat. The vivid contrast made by the varieties of foliage, the colors of the masses of flowering shrubs, the freaks of light and shadow, gladdened the eyes. While all the rest of Paris still sought warmth from its melancholy hearth, these two were laughing in a bower of camellias, lilacs, and blossoming heath. Their happy faces rose above lilies of the valley, narcissus blooms, and Bengal roses. A mat of plaited African grass, variegated like a carpet, lay beneath their feet in this luxurious conservatory. The walls, covered with a green linen material, bore no traces of damp. The surfaces of the rustic wooden furniture shone with cleanliness. A kitten, attracted by the odor of milk, had established itself upon the table; it allowed Pauline to bedabble it in coffee; she was playing merrily with it, taking away the cream that she had just allowed the kitten to sniff at, so as to exercise its patience, and keep up the contest. She burst out laughing at every antic, and by the comical remarks she constantly made, she hindered Raphael from perusing the paper; he had dropped it a dozen times already. This morning picture seemed to overflow with inexpressible gladness, like everything that is natural and genuine.
Raphael, still pretending to read his paper, furtively watched Pauline with the cat--his Pauline, in the dressing-gown that hung carelessly about her; his Pauline, with her hair loose on her shoulders, with a tiny, white, blue-veined foot peeping out of a velvet slipper. It was pleasant to see her in this negligent dress; she was delightful as some fanciful picture by Westall; half-girl, half-woman, as she seemed to be, or perhaps more of a girl than a woman, there was no alloy in the happiness she enjoyed, and of love she knew as yet only its first ecstasy. When Raphael, absorbed in happy musing, had forgotten the existence of the newspaper, Pauline flew upon it, crumpled it up into a ball, and threw it out into the garden; the kitten sprang after the rotating object, which spun round and round, as politics are wont to do. This childish scene recalled Raphael to himself. He would have gone on reading, and felt for the sheet he no longer possessed. Joyous laughter rang out like the song of a bird, one peal leading to another.
"I am quite jealous of the paper," she said, as she wiped away the tears that her childlike merriment had brought into her eyes. "Now, is it not a heinous offence," she went on, as she became a woman all at once, "to read Russian proclamations in my presence, and to attend to the prosings of the Emperor Nicholas rather than to looks and words of love!"
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The Magic Skin -by- Honore de Balzac