Inkpot hidden in the flowers

Sant’Anna’s words had at first frightened and upset Miss Carroll; but, when she was alone, she experienced in remembering them a new joy, a feeling of pride, a delicious disturbance. He loved her! He had told her with his lips, with his eyes, with all his features, and it was up to her to become his wife. She, Dora, the wife of this great Roman lord! This idea dazzled her to the point that she did not immediately dare to look it in the face. The Earl had taken the liberty of telling her that she could no longer marry Jack! So he thought she loved him? A sharp blush rose to the girl’s face. She tried to protest, to be indignant, to mock, but her revolt ended pitifully with a small, emotional laugh. No, she couldn’t deny it: Lelo, by his presence, brought him extraordinary joy; beside him, she lost track of time, the memory of the past. Love alone could produce these phenomena. Why hadn’t Jack been able to awaken him inside her? It was his fault after all!… His fault! She had finally found a grievance against the poor boy. He was good, loyal, devoted, but he looked like all the other young people. His gaze had never had that flame that makes the eyes lower and the heart beat. She knew him too well. When he left her, she felt a kind of relief. With Count Sant’Anna life would seem too short to him, and with Jack too long! No, she could never make him happy. She understood that now. So it was his duty to break up. Yes, his duty. She remained on this idea, to hide from herself the odiousness and cruelty of the action she was about to commit. And everyone would blame her! No one would appreciate the loyalty that had dictated his conduct. How would she go about keeping her word out? As she asked herself this question, she turned, in a reflex movement, her engagement ring around her finger. Suddenly his eyes fell on the admirable pink pearl which made it a rare gem; the sight awakened a host of memories and a sudden remorse erupted in his soul. her eyes fell on the admirable pink pearl which made it a rare gem; the sight awakened a host of memories and a sudden remorse erupted in his soul. her eyes fell on the admirable pink pearl which made it a rare gem; the sight awakened a host of memories and a sudden remorse erupted in his soul.

– Poor Jack! she said aloud; then, with eyes veiled with tears, she added: I wish I were dead! – I would like to be dead!… – a wish which does not have the shadow of sincerity, but by means of which the American woman is used to relieving her conscience.

The struggle which took place in Mademoiselle Carroll’s soul, during part of the night and all the next day, showed in her a depth of thought and feeling which no one had suspected. If she had been the frivolous and selfish young girl she tried to appear, she would have thrown her fiancé nimbly overboard, but she was better than she herself believed. At the first moment, she had only felt the joy of being loved by Lelo and the satisfaction of being able to become a countess; now she felt regret for the pain she was about to cause. The idea of ​​breaking her word was unbearable to her, made her ashamed of herself. She hated herself, thought nonsense, treated herself more severely than anyone would have dared to do. She would have given a lot to break her engagement by letter, but it was materially impossible. She was doomed to face Jack’s grief, to suffer his reproaches. If he could at least let himself be carried away by anger, put himself in the wrong! A good quarrel alone could facilitate the inevitable rupture. The closer the hour for the interview approached, the more sincerely Mademoiselle Carroll repeated: “ I wish I were dead! … ”But there was no sign of an untimely end in the young girl, and Mr. Ascott was rushing in. As Madame Ronald had supposed, he had called his partner back as quickly as possible and had embarked on the first outbound transatlantic. During the whole duration of his journey, he had undergone alternations of faith and doubt, and these various vibrations had provoked in him this kind of moral seasickness more intolerable than a determined pain.

When Dora was handed Mr. Ascott’s card on Thursday morning at about half past eleven, her heart pounded. Arranging her hair, tying the knot of her tie, her fingers visibly trembled, then, overwhelmed by the inevitability and all thought annihilated, she went to the living room.

-  Hallo , Jack! she said, greeting her fiancé, as if she had left him the day before, with that friendly and familiar word, very American, which was accustomed to her.

The looks of the two young people met along with their eyes, and suddenly they felt like strangers to each other. There was a moment of embarrassment between them, an emotional silence. It was Miss Carroll who recovered first.

– That’s how you run into people without warning! she said, trying to joke. – So your partner came back sooner than you expected?

– No, I didn’t wait for him. I left the house and the business in the hands of my first clerk.

– Were you so anxious to see me again? Dora asked with her incurable coquetry.

– Does that surprise you? The grief of our separation has undoubtedly been light to you. But the fact is not there. I have received a letter in which I am told that a certain Italian count is paying court to you, and in which I am told that the rumor of your marriage to him is spreading more and more. I could never have waited for the courier to bring me your denial, I came to get it.

There was an authority in the young man’s tone which imposed on Miss Carroll. She tried, however, to adorn in the manner of women.

– And who is the person who did you this nice service?

– Whatever… Dody, in the name of Heaven, – said Jack, taking his fiancée’s hands, – put an end to the torture I am enduring; it is intolerable. Tell me that floretting means nothing and that you are still mine.

Miss Carroll, paralyzed by shame, by the awareness of her unworthiness, remained silent, her lips moved several times without making a sound, then, with an accent of genuine distress:

– I would, Jack, I would… but I can’t.

Mr. Ascott abruptly let go of the hands he was holding and took a few steps back, very pale, his mustache quivering.

– So this marriage we are talking about is true? … he asked in a hoarse voice.

– No, no, there is no question of marriage. No one asked me; only… only… I can no longer become your wife.

– Because you love another?

The young girl blushed violently.

– Because I think we would make each other miserable. European life pleases me; now that I’ve tasted it, I wouldn’t be happy with ours. An unhappy woman is the most troublesome creature ( uncomfortable ) exists.

– Ah! I understand, I understand!… you have frequented great ladies, and you need a title! If it is only that, I can buy one. For fifty thousand francs… or less… the Pope will make me a baron, the first American baron! It will be very ridiculous, but immensely chic!… Baroness Ascott… What do you say?

Jack had the unfortunate trait in that he was a little unfair, and that injustice gave Miss Carroll the courage to cut corners.

“Well, you are wrong,” she said dryly; were you a prince, I would not marry you either.

– So it is my person who has become antipathetic to you?… By comparison, no doubt?

Dora’s best fibers were hit again.

– Your unfriendly person! she cried, oh! don’t believe it! I have real affection for you. I understand how much you are worth, and it pains me excruciatingly to have to take my word for it and cause you such grief. I would like to be dead! …

The young girl’s sincere emphasis eased the anger that sustained Mr. Ascott; his heart failing, his legs broken, he sank into an armchair, passed his hand over and over again to his forehead, then in an anguished voice:

– Dody, Dody, he said, isn’t that a nightmare? one of your usual jokes? … won’t you tell me, as you have done so many times: “I am good now …”

Miss Carroll, very moved, shook her head.

– I would, but it is impossible; do not want it. Better a breakup now than a divorce in Dakota later ( a Dakota divorce ), and we would come to this … Marriages are written, we have good reason to believe; ours probably wasn’t. – And, Jack… after all, I’m not worth so much regrets! added Miss Carroll with rather extraordinary humility in her. There are young girls who are more beautiful, better than me. I know twenty for one who would be proud to become your wife, and who could make you happy.

– It’s possible, but they don’t exist for me.

– You will forget; men always forget.

– You think ?

– Yes, they have a thousand opportunities, a thousand means.

– Indeed, the game… the drink… the suicide.

– Oh ! Jack, shut up!… Promise me, swear to me that you won’t resort to any of these awful, degrading things.

“I have nothing to promise you,” replied Mr. Ascott, squeezing the arms of his chair with clenched fingers. – I don’t know myself. I can be worth more, I can be worth less than I imagine. The end will show it. It’s my fault, my very big fault: I shouldn’t have let you come to Europe alone; but I had such confidence in you! I thought you loved me.

– I thought so too, since I had accepted you. I now know that the feeling that I had for you, that I still have, is not love.

– Do you know that? Jack asked, all the muscles in his face stretched in pain.

Dora nodded.

– So, really, it’s too late? said Mr. Ascott, getting up.

The young girl imitated him.

– Yes… it’s too late… I have to give this back to you.

And, pale with emotion, she took off her engagement ring, that ring she had worn for two years, and handed it to Jack.

He took it and, under an irresistible impulse of pain and anger, he threw it into the fireplace where a great fire was burning.

Miss Carroll cried out and instinctively grabbed the tweezers to pull it out of the flames.

Mr. Ascott held back his arm, and squeezing it tightly:

– Leave it, he said, you no longer have the right to touch it. I want it to be destroyed.

Then with scathing irony:

– Here is the woman! she rushes to save a jewel from destruction, and she sends a man there… God forgive you; I can’t.

And Jack walked away without turning his head, while Dora, as if petrified, remained, tweezers in her hands, her gaze on the blazing hearth, with the sensation that something of her was being consumed there. She straightened up very pale, the iron instrument slipped from her fingers and, shaken by a nervous tremor, she fell into an armchair, murmuring:

– It’s horrible!… Horrible!

And then, from her shining, mocking eyes, tears welled up; she wiped them away angrily, but, to her credit, they continued to flow.

Two minutes later, Madame Ronald burst into the living room.

– What is it ? she asked. I have just been given Jack’s card; he wrote on it: “I’m leaving, don’t want to see anyone.” Did you quarrel?

– We did better, we broke up! Miss Carroll replied, looking away.

Helene’s face changed as if she had been hit personally.

– You took your word back? What indignity!

This word is enough to put Dora back on her moral feet and to give her back her beautiful power of defense and attack.

– An indignity? she repeated. I do not see this. When you are aware that you do not love a man enough, it is better not to marry him.

– And this awareness has come to you since you knew Mr. Sant’Anna.

– Maybe … By the way, did you write to Mr. Ascott?

– It’s me.

– You weren’t allowed to mind my business.

– I beg your pardon: it was my duty to warn Jack and, all my life, I will be remorseful for not having done it in time… But I would never have believed that the ambition to become a countess would have could have made you do such a bad deed.

– The ambition to become a countess!… M. Sant’Anna does not need a title to please, you know it well!… I bet that if you had been Henri’s fiancée, instead of being his wife, you would have let go …

Hélène turned quite white.

– You are crazy ! she says.

– I will surely be very happy to have a title, continued the young girl, I do not hide it; but as to marrying someone for that, never.

– So you plan to marry Mr. Sant’Anna?

– If he asks me, yes.

– He will surely ask for your dowry!

– Well, I’ll give it to him, I’ll give it to him!

– So you love him?

– I love him… Yes, I love him!… Oh! surely ! Miss Carroll said with sudden gentleness.

– When you accept it, I will leave Rome. I don’t want to be a witness to a marriage that will destroy Jack’s life.

And with these words, uttered in a cold and sharp tone, but with lips thinned with anger, Madame Ronald left the living room.

The young girl, who held her handkerchief still wet with tears by both ends and twirled it around, accelerated its movement and reduced it to a rope, then, knotting it angrily, she threw it into the middle of the room, repeating:

-  I wish I were dead!