Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1003
Early in the day that was to mark his first theatrical triumph, Maurice met Jeanne, his mistress, and Marion, their young daughter, in the Montparnasse Cemetery. He promised them that the success of his play was assured and that with the money he would make he would finally be able to marry Jeanne. Unable to leave Marion to attend the performance of the play, Jeanne presented Maurice with a tie and a pair of gloves to wear in her honor in his hour of victory.
That afternoon Maurice went to the headquarters of his set, the cremerie of Madame Catherine. There he saw for the first time the beautiful Henriette, the mistress of his painter-friend, Adolphe. Immediately attracted to her, he felt, at the same time, a strange premonition of evil. Madame Catherine, also sensing the evil, and thinking of Jeanne and her child, pleaded with him to leave. He started to go out but, ironically, collided with Emile, Jeanne’s brother, as he walked toward the door. While Emile was apologizing, Henriette came up to him. Once in her presence, he found it impossible to retreat. When Adolphe finally arrived, he realized at once that he had lost his mistress to his friend.
Maurice’s play was as great a success as he had hoped. Although his friends arranged a victory celebration for him at the cremerie, he never appeared; he and Henriette had gone to an inn, ostensibly to wait for Adolphe. Adolphe, having misunderstood the meeting place, failed to appear, and Maurice and Henriette openly declared their passion for each other. Henriette, even though she admitted her propensity for evil and acknowledged that she had once committed a crime, easily convinced Maurice that she was more worthy of sharing his triumph than the dull, uneducated Jeanne. To stress her point she threw Jeanne’s present, the tie and gloves, into the fire and placed her own laurel wreath on Maurice’s brow.
When Adolphe finally met the pair the next morning, he realized the situation that now existed. After he had discreetly retired, Henriette attempted to persuade Maurice to run away with her. Maurice admitted that it was not Jeanne who held him, but the child Marion. Henriette replied that she wished the child were dead. Maurice agreed that things would be simpler if she were, and that he would go away with Henriette if she would consent to his seeing the child once before he left. Henriette reluctantly granted this favor, and Maurice went off for his last visit with his daughter.
Later that morning the customers of the cremerie, smarting from the slight Maurice had paid them by not attending their party in his honor, were astounded by the news, brought by the Abbe, that Maurice’s daughter was dead. Apparently she had been murdered by someone who had visited her in her mother’s absence, for there was no sign of illness. A commissaire of police arrived to question the patrons as to Maurice’s whereabouts. At first they protested that Maurice was incapable of such a crime as the murder of his own daughter; but as the evidence against him and Henriette began to accumulate—waiters had overheard all their remarks, the tie and gloves had been recovered from the fire, Maurice was known to have visited the little girl—even Madame Catherine and the Abbe began to waver, the Abbe maintaining, however, that the whole business was the work of a higher power.
When Maurice and Henriette arrived to bid their friends adieu, the evidence against them was so strong that they were taken into custody. Presently it was decided that there was as yet no proof that the child had actually been murdered, and so they were released. But public opinion was against them. Maurice’s play was taken from the stage and that of a rival put in its place. Worse still, his payments were suspended. The hero of the night before was now shunned and penniless. He and his new mistress were haunted by men they imagined detectives, who were waiting for them to convict themselves with a chance word or gesture.
The situation was too much for their love. Held together only by fear, they began to hate each other, to suspect each other of the murder. Maurice was convinced of Henriette’s guilt when she confessed the details of her earlier crime: she had assisted in an abortion performed on a friend, and the friend had died. She lived in terror, fearing that her dead friend’s lover would, in a moment of contrition, confess his guilt and thereby reveal hers. Her wanton existence had been the result of this constant dread. Maurice suggested that since they were bound by hate and fear they should be married. Henriette would not agree.
Finally Henriette left Maurice outside the closed Luxembourg gardens near the statues of Adam and Eve and returned to the cremerie where she made her accusations to Adolphe. The previously despised Adolphe, seeing the effect of success on Maurice, had just refused a coveted painting prize. From the newspaper he had learned the verdict that Marion had died of some rare disease and that Maurice and Henriette were exonerated. Obsessed by guilt and her hatred of Maurice, however, Henriette at first rejected the news. At last, however, Adolphe persuaded her to give up her Bohemian existence and return to her mother.
After the departure Maurice returned and made his accusation to Adolphe. Adolphe informed him of his exoneration and the consequent restaging of his play. Even the news that his payments would be resumed gave him little pleasure, for he was too strongly aware of his crime of intention. He began to have some hope of atonement when Emile arrived to present him once again with the tie and gloves from Jeanne. The Abbe offered him an even stronger hope. He agreed to meet the Abbe at the church that night instead of attending the reopening of his play.
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