The Counterfeiters I : From Bernard to Olivier



First I must tell you that I’ve cut the “bachot.” I expect you understood as much when I didn’t turn up. I shall go in for it next October. An unparelleled opportunity to go travelling was offered me. I jumped at it and I’m not sorry I did. I had to make up my mind at once—without taking time to reflect—without even saying good-bye to you. A propos, my travelling companion tells me to say how sorry he is he had to leave without seeing you again. For do you know who carried me off? You’ve guessed it already.… It was Edouard—yes! that same uncle of yours, whom I met the very day he arrived in Paris, in rather extraordinary and sensational circumstances, which I’ll tell you about some day. But everything in this adventure is extraordinary, and when I think of it my head whirls. Even now, I can hardly believe it is true and that I am really here in Switzerland with Edouard and … Well! I see I must tell you the whole story, but mind you tear my letter up and never breathe a word about it to a soul.

Just think, the poor woman your brother Vincent abandoned, the one you heard sobbing outside your door (I must say, it was idiotic of you not to open it) turns out to be a great friend of Edouard’s and moreover is actually a daughter of Vedel’s and a sister of your friend Armand’s. I oughtn’t to be writing you all this, because a woman’s honour is at stake, but I should burst if I didn’t tell someone … So, once more, don’t breathe a word! You know that she married recently; perhaps you know that shortly after her marriage she fell ill and went for a cure to the South of France. That’s where she met Vincent—in the sanatorium at Pau. Perhaps you know that, too. But what you don’t know is that there were consequences. Yes, old boy! She’s going to have a child and it’s your clumsy ass of a brother’s fault. She came back to Paris and didn’t dare show herself to her parents; still less go back to her husband. And then your brother, as you know, chucked her. I’ll spare you my comments; but I can tell you that Laura Douviers has not uttered a word against him, either of reproach or resentment. On the contrary, she says all she can think of to excuse his conduct. In a word, she’s a very fine woman, with a very beautiful nature. And another very fine person is Edouard. As she didn’t know what to do or where to go, he proposed taking her to Switzerland; and at the same time he proposed that I should go with them, because he didn’t care about travelling tête à tête, as he is only on terms of friendship with her. So off we started. It was all settled in a jiffy—just time to pack one’s suit-case and for me to get a kit (for you know I left home without a thing). You can’t imagine how nice Edouard was about it; and what’s more he kept repeating all the time that it was I who was doing him a service. Yes, really, old boy, you were quite right, your uncle’s perfectly splendid.

The journey was rather troublesome, because Laura got very tired and her condition (she’s in her third month) necessitated a great deal of care; and the place where we had settled to go (it would be too long to explain why) is rather difficult to get at. Besides, Laura very often made things more complicated by refusing to take precautions; she had to be forced; she kept repeating that an accident was the best thing that could happen to her. You can imagine how we fussed over her. Oh, Olivier, how wonderful she is! I don’t feel the same as I did before I knew her, and there are thoughts which I no longer dare put into words and impulses which I check, because I should be ashamed not to be worthy of her. Yes, really, when one is with her, one feels forced, as it were, to think nobly. That doesn’t prevent the conversation between the three of us from being very free—Laura isn’t at all prudish—and we talk about anything; but I assure you that when I am with her, there are heaps of things I don’t feel inclined to scoff at any more and which seem to me now very serious.

You’ll be thinking I’m in love with her. Well, old boy, you aren’t far wrong. Crazy, isn’t it? Can you imagine me in love with a woman who is going to have a child, whom naturally I respect and wouldn’t venture to touch with my finger-tip? Hardly on the road to becoming a rake, am I? …

When we reached Saas-Fée, after no end of difficulties (we had a carrying chair for Laura, as it’s impossible to get here by driving), we found there were only two rooms available in the hotel—a big one with two beds, and a little one, which it was settled with the hotel-keeper should be for me—for Laura passes as Edouard’s wife, so as to conceal her identity; but every night she sleeps in the little room and I join Edouard in his. Every morning there’s a regular business carrying things backwards and forwards, for the sake of the servants. Fortunately the two rooms communicate, so that makes it easier.

We’ve been here six days; I didn’t write to you sooner because I was rather in a state of bewilderment to begin with, and I had to get straight with myself. I am only just beginning to find my bearings.

Edouard and I have already done one or two little excursions in the mountains. Very amusing; but to tell the truth, I don’t much care for this country. Edouard doesn’t either. He says the scenery is “declamatory.” That’s exactly it.

The best thing about the place is the air—virgin air, which purifies one’s lungs. And then we don’t want to leave Laura alone for too long at a time, for of course she can’t come with us. The company in the hotel is rather amusing. There are people of all sorts of nationalities. The person we see most of is a Polish woman doctor, who is spending the holidays here with her daughter and a little boy she is in charge of. In fact, it’s because of this little boy that we have come here. He’s got a kind of nervous illness, which the doctor is treating according to a new method. But what does the little fellow most good (he’s really a very attractive little thing) is that he’s madly in love with the doctor’s daughter, who is a year or two older than he and the prettiest creature I have ever seen in my life. They never leave each other from morning till night. And they are so charming together that no one ever thinks of chaffing them.

I haven’t worked much and not opened a book since I left; but I’ve thought a lot. Edouard’s conversation is extraordinarily interesting. He doesn’t speak to me much personally, though he pretends to treat me as his secretary; but I listen to him talking to the others; especially to Laura, with whom he likes discussing his ideas. You can’t imagine how much I learn by it. There are days when I say to myself that I ought to take notes; but I think I can remember it all. There are days when I long for you madly; I say to myself that it’s you who ought to be here; but I can’t be sorry for what’s happened to me, nor wish for anything to be different. At any rate, you may be sure that I never forget it’s thanks to you that I know Edouard and that it’s to you I owe my happiness. When you see me again, I think you’ll find me changed; I remain, nevertheless, and more faithfully and devotedly than ever

Your friend.

P.S. Wednesday. We have this moment come back from a tremendous expedition. Climbed the Hallalin—guides, ropes, glaciers, precipes, avalanches, etc. Spent the night in a refuge in the middle of the snows, packed in with other tourists; needless to say we didn’t sleep a wink. The next morning we started before dawn.… Well, old boy, I’ll never speak ill of Switzerland again. When one gets up there, out of sight of all culture, of all vegetation, of everything that reminds one of the avarice and stupidity of men, one feels inclined to shout, to sing, to laugh, to cry, to fly, to dive head foremost into the sky, or to fall on one’s knees. Yours


Bernard was much too spontaneous, too natural, too pure—he knew too little of Olivier, to suspect the flood of hideous feelings his letter would raise in his friend’s heart—a kind of tidal wave, in which pique, despair and rage were mingled. He felt himself supplanted in Bernard’s affection and in Edouard’s. The friendship of his two friends left no room for his. One sentence in particular of Bernard’s letter tortured him—a sentence which Bernard would never have written had he imagined all that Olivier read into it: “In the same room,” he repeated to himself—and the serpent of jealousy unrolled its abominable coils and writhed in his heart. “They sleep in the same room!” What did he not imagine? His mind filled with impure visions which he did not even try to banish. He was not jealous in particular either of Edouard or of Bernard; but of the two. He pictured each of them in turn or both simultaneously, and at the same time envied them. He received the letter one forenoon. “Ah! so that’s how it is.… ” he kept saying to himself all the rest of the day. That night the fiends of hell inhabited him. Early next morning he rushed off to Robert’s. The Comte de Passavant was waiting for him.