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Useless Beauty
by [?]

I

About half-past five one afternoon at the end of June when the sun was shining warm and bright into the large courtyard, a very elegant victoria with two beautiful black horses drew up in front of the mansion.

The Comtesse de Mascaret came down the steps just as her husband, who was coming home, appeared in the carriage entrance. He stopped for a few moments to look at his wife and turned rather pale. The countess was very beautiful, graceful and distinguished looking, with her long oval face, her complexion like yellow ivory, her large gray eyes and her black hair; and she got into her carriage without looking at him, without even seeming to have noticed him, with such a particularly high-bred air, that the furious jealousy by which he had been devoured for so long again gnawed at his heart. He went up to her and said: “You are going for a drive?”

She merely replied disdainfully: “You see I am!”

“In the Bois de Boulogne?”

“Most probably.”

“May I come with you?”

“The carriage belongs to you.”

Without being surprised at the tone in which she answered him, he got in and sat down by his wife’s side and said: “Bois de Boulogne.” The footman jumped up beside the coachman, and the horses as usual pranced and tossed their heads until they were in the street. Husband and wife sat side by side without speaking. He was thinking how to begin a conversation, but she maintained such an obstinately hard look that he did not venture to make the attempt. At last, however, he cunningly, accidentally as it were, touched the countess’ gloved hand with his own, but she drew her arm away with a movement which was so expressive of disgust that he remained thoughtful, in spite of his usual authoritative and despotic character, and he said: “Gabrielle!”

“What do you want?”

“I think you are looking adorable.”

She did not reply, but remained lying back in the carriage, looking like an irritated queen. By that time they were driving up the Champs Elysees, toward the Arc de Triomphe. That immense monument, at the end of the long avenue, raised its colossal arch against the red sky and the sun seemed to be descending on it, showering fiery dust on it from the sky.

The stream of carriages, with dashes of sunlight reflected in the silver trappings of the harness and the glass of the lamps, flowed on in a double current toward the town and toward the Bois, and the Comte de Mascaret continued: “My dear Gabrielle!”

Unable to control herself any longer, she replied in an exasperated voice: “Oh! do leave me in peace, pray! I am not even allowed to have my carriage to myself now.” He pretended not to hear her and continued: “You never have looked so pretty as you do to-day.”

Her patience had come to an end, and she replied with irrepressible anger: “You are wrong to notice it, for I swear to you that I will never have anything to do with you in that way again.”

The count was decidedly stupefied and upset, and, his violent nature gaining the upper hand, he exclaimed: “What do you mean by that?” in a tone that betrayed rather the brutal master than the lover. She replied in a low voice, so that the servants might not hear amid the deafening noise of the wheels: “Ah! What do I mean by that? What do I mean by that? Now I recognize you again! Do you want me to tell everything?”

“Yes.”

“Everything that has weighed on my heart since I have been the victim of your terrible selfishness?”

He had grown red with surprise and anger and he growled between his closed teeth: “Yes, tell me everything.”

He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with a big red beard, a handsome man, a nobleman, a man of the world, who passed as a perfect husband and an excellent father, and now, for the first time since they had started, she turned toward him and looked him full in the face: “Ah! You will hear some disagreeable things, but you must know that I am prepared for everything, that I fear nothing, and you less than any one to-day.”