Perfect score is not the best choice

Instead of following Dora to the living room, Hélène went home. Arrived in her room, she turned the button of the electric light, and, like a sleepwalker who, in sleep, resumes her favorite occupation, she sat down in front of her dressing table, passed and ironed a comb through her hair, walked around the puff on her cheeks, inhaled a bottle of lavender salts, polished her fingernails, then, her mechanical activity gradually ceasing, she remained motionless, eyes dilated, without gaze, fixed on the mirror.

Dora and Sant’Anna! These two names, forming and reforming behind his forehead, caused him pain, the reflection of which strangely changed his face. This marriage would therefore take place! She hadn’t believed it, she was still trying not to believe it. And, for the thousandth time, she remembered Ouchy’s scene. This wonderful recorder that is memory gave him back Lelo’s ardent expression and all the notes of his prayer of love. Dora hardly suspected that her fiancé had been in love with her, Hélène, that he had entered her room one evening like a thief! If she found out about this, would she marry him? No, maybe… Who knows though? She loved him so madly!… What had Sant’Anna told her at the Villa Panfili? Hélène imagined him leaning towards the young girl, speaking to her in her warm voice, enveloping her in his charming gaze. The sight was so painful to her that she stood up and walked a little to dispel it. She looked at herself in the mirror placed above the fireplace and, seized with a shiver which she attributed to the cold, she rang the bell for a fire. As soon as it was lit, she presented her rosy palms, her silken feet to the flame. The heat, penetrating his flesh, gave him a sort of physical well-being which acts on his morale. She felt better and breathed more freely. Her thought, then, turned to Jack. She saw him in the corner of a wagon, his hands in his pockets, his hat over his eyes, his soul ravaged by Dora’s infidelity, carried away from her by the forces of destiny, and, seized with compassion, she said out loud: The sight was so painful to her that she stood up and walked a little to dispel it. She looked at herself in the mirror placed above the fireplace and, seized with a shiver which she attributed to the cold, she rang the bell for a fire. As soon as it was lit, she presented her rosy palms, her silken feet to the flame. The heat, penetrating his flesh, gave him a sort of physical well-being which acts on his morale. She felt better and breathed more freely. Her thought, then, turned to Jack. She saw him in the corner of a wagon, his hands in his pockets, his hat over his eyes, his soul ravaged by Dora’s infidelity, carried away from her by the forces of destiny, and, seized with compassion, she said out loud: The sight was so painful to her that she stood up and walked a little to dispel it. She looked at herself in the mirror placed above the fireplace and, seized with a shiver which she attributed to the cold, she rang the bell for a fire. As soon as it was lit, she presented her rosy palms, her silken feet to the flame. The heat, penetrating his flesh, gave him a sort of physical well-being which acts on his morale. She felt better and breathed more freely. Her thought, then, turned to Jack. She saw him in the corner of a wagon, his hands in his pockets, his hat over his eyes, his soul ravaged by Dora’s infidelity, carried away from her by the forces of destiny, and, seized with compassion, she said out loud: seized with a shiver which she attributed to the cold, she rang the bell for a fire. As soon as it was lit, she presented her rosy palms, her silken feet to the flame. The heat, penetrating his flesh, gave him a sort of physical well-being which acts on his morale. She felt better and breathed more freely. Her thought, then, turned to Jack. She saw him in the corner of a wagon, his hands in his pockets, his hat over his eyes, his soul ravaged by Dora’s infidelity, carried away from her by the forces of destiny, and, seized with compassion, she said out loud: seized with a shiver which she attributed to the cold, she rang the bell for a fire. As soon as it was lit, she presented her rosy palms, her silken feet to the flame. The heat, penetrating his flesh, gave him a sort of physical well-being which acts on his morale. She felt better and breathed more freely. Her thought, then, turned to Jack. She saw him in the corner of a wagon, his hands in his pockets, his hat over his eyes, his soul ravaged by Dora’s infidelity, carried away from her by the forces of destiny, and, seized with compassion, she said out loud: She felt better and breathed more freely. Her thought, then, turned to Jack. She saw him in the corner of a wagon, his hands in his pockets, his hat over his eyes, his soul ravaged by Dora’s infidelity, carried away from her by the forces of destiny, and, seized with compassion, she said out loud: She felt better and breathed more freely. Her thought, then, turned to Jack. She saw him in the corner of a wagon, his hands in his pockets, his hat over his eyes, his soul ravaged by Dora’s infidelity, carried away from her by the forces of destiny, and, seized with compassion, she said out loud:

-  Poor boy! … Poor boy !…

She felt a strong irritation against Madame Verga: this marriage was her work; she had aroused in Dora the covetousness of a title and had never missed any opportunity to make her meet with Sant’Anna, knowing full well that she was engaged and on the eve of marriage. It was outrageous! There is no doubt, she thought, Europe is demoralizing American women. »As long as Jack did not believe in his complicity! She was going to write to him right away. What would Mr. Ronald say when he heard that his niece had broken off her engagement? Surely he wouldn’t forgive her! And yet it was his fault: if he had come to Rome, none of this would have happened! … The idea that her husband persisted in staying in America rekindled all her anger against him. It was now seven months since he had written to her. Five more months,

The thought, which had sprung from the depths of his soul, brought a sharp blush to his face. Divorce, her, Hélène! Ah! that would be funny!… She gave a little burst of laughter. Then, as if to escape herself, she made two or three turns in her room, and finally, seizing her blotter and her quill, she returned to sit by the fire and proceeded to write to Jack. By a rather curious psychological phenomenon, the words of sympathy which she addressed to the young man did her good, softened her, as if they had been said to her to herself.

The next day, Hélène, who had hitherto known only joyful awakenings, felt as she opened her eyes this pain of love which, for months and months, was never to leave her, and under the action of which his soul was going to develop and transform.

The thought that Count Sant’Anna would probably come, the same day, to make his official request, panicked the young woman for a moment. She didn’t want to stay at the hotel and be there. Hurrying to her toilet, she went to one of her compatriots and offered her an excursion to Frascati, which was immediately accepted.

Like all Americans, Mrs. Ronald had the cult of the will; she even had an exaggerated faith in this inner power. Hers had never betrayed her; she had often asked her for miracles: thus, in Ouchy’s adventure, on this occasion, she called upon them again, and in the evening, when she returned to the hotel, she was perfectly in control of herself. even. Lelo had come: she must have heard the detailed account of her visit; Madame Carroll, still under the spell of his manners, was full of praise. The coldness with which Mademoiselle Beauchamp and Helene listened to all this did not succeed in affecting Dora; she had in her a joy which would have made her indifferent to the disapproval of the whole universe. As Madame Ronald was getting ready to go home,

“Don’t be too disagreeable to him,” she added; he might think you blame him for getting married. Men are so presumptuous!

The young woman paled slightly, then, opening her eyes to all their grandeur, with an affectation of astonishment:

– Blame him for getting married, me! and why ?

– Ah! here ! because you flowered together. He wooed you… probably waiting for me! Miss Carroll said mockingly.

– Have you ever had your head turned to greatness?

– No, no, it’s still in perfect condition.

– We would hardly suspect it! Helene replied curtly.

Dora had an extraordinary flair, a wit that penetrated like an X-ray. The words which conveyed her first impressions were often very far and very true. Those of this evening lashed out at Madame Ronald. Good Lord ! if the count were going to imagine that she felt regrets?… Regrets!… her! that would be too absurd! … Yes, this marriage displeased him, even hurt him, but only because it ruined Jack’s life, because Miss Carroll’s infidelity would cause a scandal in New York society, a scandal that would affect the family. She would explain this to Mr. Sant’Anna, and, unless he was a fool or a fool, he wouldn’t be mistaken about her feelings.

Hélène suggested herself so well that the next day, when the count was announced to her, she was in full possession of her composure and her dignity.

– Congratulations ! she said to him in a somewhat mocking tone, but holding out her hand with perfect naturalness.

Lelo was taken aback by this welcome for a moment. Dora had told her that Madame Ronald was furious; he hoped to push her to the limit and lead her to betray herself in order to savor her revenge. He recovered quickly, however.

– I accept your congratulations with all the more pleasure as I know them to be sincere… like everything that comes from you!

Helene’s eyelids fluttered slightly, her nostrils swelled a little, she raised her head.

– I congratulate you very sincerely, she said, because you marry an American. It may not be modest of me, but I believe that we are honest, intelligent, that we have some qualities, well.

– You have a lot … and the best. For my part, I consider myself very happy to have succeeded in winning the heart of Miss Carroll. Is it true that you do not approve of his choice?

Madame Ronald’s gaze did not waver under this direct question.

– It is not his choice that I disapprove of, believe it; it is the breaking of his commitment. In America, it seems almost as bad to us as a divorce. I have known Mr. Ascott all my life, and I tell you frankly, I side with him. He did not deserve the affront that is done to him. It is the most loyal heart, the best there is! Helene added, with the hope that these words would be disagreeable to the count.

– I believe so, replied Lelo quietly, but perfect men have so little luck with women! For all his qualities, Mr. Ascott had obviously failed to awaken love in Miss Carroll. She thought she loved him, she recognized her mistake in time.

– It is possible, the mistake is no less regrettable for both. My husband will never forgive her.

– Isn’t Dora Mr. Ronald’s niece?

– His half-niece only.

Sant’Anna laughed.

– But then, I’ll be your nephew? No, it’s so funny! Life is curious sometimes.

– My nephew ! repeated Helene with comical dismay.

Then, seizing the bizarre reality, she paled a little.

– It’s true, I had not thought of that. I have always considered Dora as a young sister, she never called me “my aunt” … Besides, she is also only my half-niece.

– Well, I’ll be your half-nephew, it’s already pretty!… Who would have said such a thing to me, the day I saw you for the first time… under the arcades of the rue de Rivoli… you remember you? said the count, giving the young woman a look of perfidious gentleness. – I imagined myself following you, and it was you who, like a good fairy, led me to the wedding… from which I thought I was so distant!

– And for which, in parentheses, you seemed to have little vocation! replied Helene, mistress of herself enough to be able to joke.

– Indeed!… But the vocation comes when you meet the woman who is intended for you… Really, my marriage started like a pretty novel.

– I hope he continues and ends the same. Does your family approve of it?

– My family doesn’t approve of anything I do, – replied Lelo who still had the bitterness of a recent scene in his heart. – I’m from another era.

– You are from the time of the Americans, you! Mrs. Ronald said, a little sarcastically.

– Precisely!… And I welcome that. I need a woman who will infuse me with a new spirit.

– Oh ! Dora will take care of this. In New York itself, we find it too modern.

– The atmosphere of Rome will act on her, as she acted on all your compatriots. The environment in which she is going to find herself will inevitably hamper her, without making her lose, I hope, her liveliness and her cheerfulness. I am sure I will never be bored with it.

– You will always have the resource to talk about horses! said Helene with a shade of disdain.

– But it’s already something to have a taste or rather a passion in common! … So, surely, you don’t blame me? Lelo asked, scrutinizing the young woman’s face mercilessly.

– To you ? not at all ! she replied, looking at him bravely. “You wouldn’t have courted Dora if she hadn’t allowed you to. I always try to be fair.

– Also try to be indulgent, Miss Carroll is counting on you to appease her uncle.

– She’s wrong: I won’t do it, out of loyalty to Mr. Ascott. Time will fix everything without my getting involved. It only remains for me to wish you much happiness.

– And a lot of children!

Hélène blushed to her hair.

– Oh ! excuse me ! I forgot that these things don’t say to an American.

– Indeed ! replied the young woman coldly.

At that moment, the courier came to announce the car. The count stood up and Madame Ronald followed suit.

– I’m not holding you back, she said, because I have a very busy afternoon… Goodbye.

Sant’Anna took the outstretched hand and kissed it slowly, not feeling the slightest quiver under her lips.

“She’s mad, I’m sure,” he thought as he descended the hotel stairs; but the devil if one suspected it! … ”

Then, with a pleasant grudge:

“It’s nicely strong, an intellectual! “