"have you had a fault to find with my conduct during the past six years?"
"none, but that you have spoiled my life, and wrecked my prospects," said he in a hard tone. "you have read benjamin constant's book very diligently; you have even studied the last critique on it; but you have read with a woman's eyes. though you have one of those superior intellects which would make a fortune of a poet, you have never dared to take the man's point of view."
"that book, my dear, is of both sexes. we agreed that books were male or female, dark or fair. in adolphe women see nothing but ellenore; young men see only adolphe; men of experience see ellenore and adolphe; political men see the whole of social existence. you did not think it necessary to read the soul of adolphe any more than your critic indeed, who saw only ellenore. what kills that poor fellow, my dear, is that he has sacrificed his future for a woman; that he never can be what he might have been: an ambassador, a minister, a chamberlain, a poet, and rich. he gives up six years of his energy at that stage of his life when a man is ready to submit to the hardships of any apprenticeship to a petticoat, which he outstrips in the career of ingratitude, for the woman who has thrown over her first lover is certain sooner or later to desert the second. adolphe is, in fact, a tow-haired german, who has not spirit enough to be false to ellenore. there are adolphes who spare their ellenores all ignominious quarreling and reproaches, who say to themselves, 'i will not talk of what i have sacrificed; i will not for ever be showing the stump of my wrist to let that incarnate selfishness i have made my queen,' as ramorny does in the fair maid of perth. but men like that, my dear, get cast aside."
"adolphe is a man of birth, an aristocratic nature, who wants to get back into the highroad to honors and recover his social birthright, his blighted position. you, at this moment, are playing both parts. you are suffering from the pangs of having lost your position, and think yourself justified in throwing over a hapless lover whose misfortune it has been that he fancied you so far superior as to understand that, though a man's heart ought to be true, his sex may be allowed to indulge its caprices."
"and do you suppose that i shall not make it my business to restore to you all you have lost by me? be quite easy," said madame de la baudraye, astounded by this attack. "your ellenore is not dying; and if god gives her life, if you amend your ways, if you give up courtesans and actresses, we will find you a better match than a felicie cardot."
the two lovers were sullen. lousteau affected dejection, he aimed at appearing hard and cold; while dinah, really distressed, listened to the reproaches of her heart.
"why," said lousteau presently, "why not end as we ought to have begun: hide our love from all eyes, and see each other in secret?"
"never!" cried the new-made countess, with an icy look. "do you not comprehend that we are, after all, but finite creatures? our feelings seem infinite by reason of our anticipation of heaven, but here on earth they are limited by the strength of our physical being. there are some feeble, mean natures which may receive an endless number of wounds and live on; but there are some more highly-tempered souls which snap at last under repeated blows. you have."
"oh! enough!" cried he. "no more copy! your dissertation is unnecessary, since you can justify yourself by merely saying 'i have ceased to love!'"
"what!" she exclaimed in bewilderment. "is it i who have ceased to love?"
"certainly. you have calculated that i gave you more trouble, more vexation than pleasure, and you desert your partner."
"i desert!" cried she, clasping her hands.
"have not you yourself just said 'never'?"
"well, then, yes! never," she repeated vehemently.
this final never, spoken in the fear of falling once more under lousteau's influence, was interpreted by him as the death-warrant of his power, since dinah remained insensible to his sarcastic scorn.
the journalist could not suppress a tear. he was losing a sincere and unbounded affection. he had found in dinah the gentlest la valliere, the most delightful pompadour that any egoist short of a king could hope for; and, like a boy who has discovered that by dint of tormenting a cockchafer he has killed it, lousteau shed a tear.