Part 1 out of 9
Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Mary Meehan and Distributed Proofreaders
M. E. Braddon
Book the First.
I. LENOBLE OF BEAUBOCAGE
II. IN THIS WIDE WORLD I STAND ALONE
III. PAST HOPE, AND IN DESPAIR
IV. A DECREE OF BANISHMENT
Book the Second.
I. THE FATE OF SUSAN LENOBLE
II. FORGIVEN TOO LATE
III. GUSTAVE THE SECOND
Book the Third.
I. CHIEFLY RETROSPECTIVE
III. TOO CLEVER FOR A CATSPAW
IV. CAPTAIN PAGET IS PATERNAL
V. THE CAPTAIN'S COADJUTOR
Book the Fourth.
GUSTAVE IN ENGLAND.
I. HALCYON DAYS
II. CAPTAIN PAGET AWAKENS TO A SENSE OF HIS DUTY
III. WHAT DO WE HERE, MY HEART AND I?
IV. SHARPER THAN A SERPENT'S TOOTH
Book the Fifth.
THE FIRST ACT OF MR. SHELDON'S DRAMA.
I. TAKEN BY STORM
II. FIRM AS A ROCK
III. AGAINST WIND AND TIDE
IV. DIANA ASKS FOR A HOLIDAY
V. ASSURANCE DOUBLY SURE
Book the Sixth.
DIANA IN NORMANDY.
I. AT COTENOIR
Book the Seventh.
A CLOUD OF FEAR.
I. THE BEGINNING OF SORROW
III. MRS. WOOLPER IS ANXIOUS
IV. VALENTINE'S SKELETON
V. AT HAROLD'S HILL
VI. DESPERATE MEASURES
Book the Eighth.
A FIGHT AGAINST TIME.
I. A DREAD REVELATION
II. PHOENICIANS ARE RISING
III. THE SORTES VIRGILIANAE
Book the Ninth.
THROUGH THE FURNACE.
I. SOMETHING TOO MUCH
II. DR. JEDD'S OPINION
III. NON DORMIT JUDAS
IV. COUNTING THE COST
V. THE BEGINNING OF THE END
VI. CONFUSION WORSE CONFOUNDED
VII. THERE IS A WORD WILL PRIAM TURN TO STONE
Book the Tenth.
HARBOUR, AFTER MANY SHIPWRECKS.
I. OUT OF THE DARK VALLEY
II. AFTER THE WEDDING
III. GREEK AGAINST GREEK
IV. ONLY A DREAM
V. BOHEMIAN INDEPENDENCE
VI. BEYOND THE VEIL
VII. BETTER THAN GOLD
VIII. LOST SIGHT OF
IX. ETEOCLES AND POLYNICES
X. "ACCORDING TO THEIR DEEDS."
Book the first.
LENOBLE OF BEAUBOCAGE.
In the days when the Bourbon reigned over Gaul, before the "simple,
sensuous, passionate" verse of Alfred de Musset had succeeded the
_debonnaire_ Muse of Beranger in the affections of young France,--in days
when the site of the Trocadero was a remote and undiscovered country, and
the word "exposition" unknown in the Academic dictionary, and the Gallic
Augustus destined to rebuild the city yet an exile,--a young law-student
boarded, in common with other students, in a big dreary-looking house at
the corner of the Rue Grande-Mademoiselle, abutting on the Place Lauzun,
and within some ten minutes walk of the Luxembourg. It was a very dingy
quarter, though noble gentlemen and lovely ladies had once occupied the
great ghastly mansions, and disported themselves in the gruesome gardens.
But the young students were in nowise oppressed by the ghastliness of
their abode. They sang their Beranger, and they pledged each other in
cheap Bordeaux, and clinked their glasses noisily in their boisterous
good-fellowship, and ate the messes compounded for them in a darksome
cupboard, known as the kitchen, by old Nanon the cook, purblind,
stone-deaf, and all but imbecile, and popularly supposed to be the
venerable mother of Madame Magnotte. The youngsters grumbled to each
other about the messes when they were unusually mysterious; and it must
be owned that there were _vol-au-vents_ and _fricandeaux_ consumed in
that establishment which were awful and wonderful in their nature; but
they ventured on no complaint to the mistress of the mansion. She was a
grim and terrible personage. Her terms were low, and she treated her
boarders _de haute en bas_. If they were not content with her viands,
they might go and find more agreeable viands elsewhere.
Madame Magnotte was altogether mysterious and inscrutable. Some people
said that she was a countess, and that the wealth and lands of her family
had been confiscated by the committee of public unsafety in '93. Others
declared that she had been a popular actress in a small theatre in the
days of Napoleon. She was tall and thin--nay, of an exceptional
leanness--and her complexion was of a more agreeable yellow than the
butter that appeared on her hospitable board; but she had flashing black
eyes, and a certain stateliness of gait and grandeur of manner that
impressed those young Bohemians, her boarders, with a kind of awe. They
talked of her as the "countess," and by that name she was known to all
inmates of the mansion; but in all their dealings with her they treated
her with unfailing respect.
One of the quietest among the young men who enjoyed the privileges of
Madame Magnotte's abode was a certain Gustave Lenoble, a law-student, the
only son of a very excellent couple who lived on their own estate, near
an obscure village in Normandy. The estate was of the smallest; a
dilapidated old house, known in the immediate neighbourhood as "the
Chateau," and very dear to those who resided therein; a garden, in which
everything seemed to have run to seed; and about forty acres of the
poorest land in Normandy. These possessions constituted the patrimonial
estate of Francois Lenoble, _proprietaire_, of Beaubocage, near
Vevinordin, the department of Eure.
The people amongst whom the good man lived his simple life called him M.
Lenoble de Beaubocage, but he did not insist upon this distinction; and
on sending out his only son to begin the battle of life in the great
world of Paris, he recommended the young man to call himself Lenoble,
The young man had never cherished any other design. He was of all
creatures the least presuming or pretentious. The father was Legitimist
to the very marrow; the son half Buonapartist, half republican. The
father and son had quarrelled about these differences of opinion
sometimes in a pleasantly disputatious manner; but no political
disagreement could lesser the love between these two. Gustave loved
his parents as only a Frenchman can venture to love his father and
mother--with a devotion for the gentleman that bordered on enthusiasm,
with a fond reverence for the lady that was the very essence of chivalry.
There was a sister, who regarded her brother Gustave as the embodiment of
all that is perfect in youthful mankind; and there were a couple of old
house-servants, a very stupid clumsy lad in the stables, and half a dozen
old mongrel dogs, born and bred on the premises, who seemed to share the
young lady's opinions. There was not a little discussion upon the subject
of Gustave Lenoble's future career; and it was not without difficulty
that the father could be persuaded to approve the choice of a profession
which the young man had made. The seigneur of Beaubocage cherished an
exaggerated pride of race little suspected by those who saw his simple
life, and were pleased by his kindly unaffected manners. The house of
Lenoble, at some remote and almost mythical period of history, had
distinguished itself in divers ways; and those bygone grandeurs, vague
and shadowy in the minds of all others, seemed very real to Monsieur
Lenoble. He assured his son that no Lenoble had ever been a lawyer. They
had been always lords of the soil, living on their own lands, which had
once stretched wide and far in that Norman province; a fact proved by
certain maps in M. Lenoble's possession, the paper whereof was worn and
yellow with age. They had stooped to no profession save that of arms. One
seigneur of Beaubocage had fought under Bayard himself; another had
fallen at Pavia, on that great day when all was lost _hormis l'honneur_;
another had followed the white plume of the Bernais; another--but was
there any need to tell of the glories of that house upon which Gustave
was so eager to inflict the disgrace of a learned profession?
Thus argued the father; but the mother had spent her girlhood amidst the
clamour of the Buonapartist campaigns, and the thought of war was very
terrible to her. The memory of the retreat from Russia was not yet twenty
years old. There were men alive to tell the story, to depict those days
and nights of horror, that mighty march of death. It was she and her
daughter Cydalise who had helped to persuade Gustave that he was born to
distinguish himself in the law. They wanted him to study in Paris--the
young man himself had a wild desire to enjoy the delights of that
wondrous capital--and to return in a few years to set up for himself as
_avocat_ at the town of Vevinord, some half-dozen leagues from the
patrimonial estate. He was created to plead for the innocent, to denounce
the guilty, to be grand and brave and fiery-hot with enthusiasm in
defence of virtuous peasants charged unjustly with the stealing of sheep,
or firing of corn-ricks. It never struck these simple souls that he might
sometimes be called upon to defend the guilty, or to denounce the
It was all settled at last. Gustave was to go to Paris, and enter himself
as a student of law. There were plenty of boarding-houses in the
neighbourhood of the Ecole de Droit where a young man might find a home;
and to one of these Gustave was recommended by a friend of his family. It
was the Pension Magnotte to which they had sent him, the big dreary
house, _entre cour et jardin_, which had once been so grand and noble. A
printer now occupied the lower chambers, and a hand painted on the wall
pointed to the _Pension Magnotte, au premier. Tirez le cordon, s.v.p._
Gustave was twenty-one years of age when he came to Paris; tall,
stalwart, broad of shoulders and deep of chest, with a fair frank face,
an auburn moustache, candid, kind blue eyes--a physiognomy rather Saxon
than Celtic. He was a man who made friends quickly, and was soon at home
among the students, roaring their favourite songs, and dancing their
favourite dances at the dancing-places of that day, joining with a
pleasant heartiness in all their innocent dissipations. For guilty
dissipation the young provincial had no taste. Did he not carry the
images of two kind and pure women about with him wherever he went, like
two attendant angels ever protecting his steps; and could he leave them
sorrowing on thresholds _they_ could not pass? Ah, no! He was loud and
boisterous and wild of spirits in those early days, but incapable of
meanness or vice.
"It is a brave heart," Madame Magnotte said of him, "though for the
breaking of glasses a scourge--_un fleau_."
The ladies of the Pension Magnotte were for the most part of mature age
and unattractive appearance--two or three lonely spinsters, eking out
their pitiful little incomes as best they might, by the surreptitious
sale of delicate embroideries, confectioned in their dismal leisure; and
a fat elderly widow, popularly supposed to be enormously rich, but of
miserly propensities. "It is the widow of Harpagon himself," Madame
Magnotte told her gossips--an old woman with two furiously ugly
daughters, who for the last fifteen years had lived a nomadic life in
divers boarding-houses, fondly clinging to the hope that, amongst so many
strange bachelors, husbands for these two solitary ones must at last be
These, with a pale young lady who gave music lessons in the quarter, were
all the feminine inmates of the mansion; and amongst these Gustave
Lenoble was chief favourite. His tender courtesy for these lonely women
seemed in some manner an evidence of that good old blood whereof the
young man's father boasted. Francis the First, who listened with bent
knee and bare head to his mother's discourse, was not more reverential to
that noble Savoyarde than was Gustave to the shabby-genteel maiden ladies
of the Pension Magnotte. In truth, this young man had a heart pitiful and
tender as the heart of woman. To be unfortunate was to possess a sure
claim upon his pity and regard; to be poor and friendless was the best
appeal to his kindness. He spent his evenings sometimes in the great
dreary desert of a salon, and listened respectfully while Mademoiselle
Servin, the young music-teacher, played dismal sonatas of Gluck or Gretry
on a cracked old piano that had been one of the earliest made of those
instruments, and was now attenuated and feeble as the very ghost of
music. He listened to Madame Magnotte's stories of departed splendour. To
him she opened her heart as she never had opened it to those other young
"They mock themselves of everything--even the religion!" she exclaimed,
with horror. "They are Diderots and Holbachs in the bud, less the talent.
But you do not come of that gutter in which they were born. You are of
the old blood of France, M. Lenoble, and I can trust myself to you as I
cannot to them. I, who speak to you--I, too, come of a good old race, and
there is sympathy between we others."
And then, after babbling to him of her lost station, the lady would
entertain him with some dainty little supper with which she was wont to
indulge herself and her lady boarders, when the students--who were
treated something after the manner of school-boys--were out of doors.
For four years the law-student had enjoyed his Parisian life--not
altogether idle, but not altogether industrious--amusing himself a great
deal, and learning very little; moderate in his expenditure, when
compared with his fellow-students, but no small drain upon the funds of
the little family at home. In sooth, this good old Norman family had in a
pecuniary sense sunk very low. There was real poverty in the tumble-down
house at Beaubocage, though it was poverty that wore a cheerful face, and
took things pleasantly. A very humble English farmer would have despised
the income which supported M. Lenoble's household; and it was only the
economy and skill of the matron and her daughter which sustained the
dignity of the small establishment.
There was one great hope cherished alike by the proud simple-minded old
father, the fond mother, the devoted sister, and that was the hope in the
grand things to be done, in the dim future, by Gustave, the son, the
heir, the pole-star of the household.
Out of poverty, out of obscurity, into the broad light of honour and
riches, was the house of Lenoble to be lifted by this young law-student.
On the broad shoulders of this modern Atlas the Lenoble world was to be
sustained. To him they looked, of him they thought, in the long dreary
winter evenings during which the mother nodded over her knitting, the
father slept in his capacious easy-chair, the sister toiled at her
needle-work by her little table of _palissandre_.
He had paid them more than one visit during his two years of study,
bringing with him life and light and gladness, as it seemed to the two
women who adored him; and now, in the winter of 1828, they expected
another visit. He was to be with them on the first day of the new year.
He was to stay with them till his Mother's fete--the 17th of January.
The father looked to this special visit with an unusual anxiety. The
mother too was more than ever anxious. The sister, if she who loved her
brother with a somewhat morbid intensity could be more anxious than
usual, was more so now. A dreadful plot, a dire conspiracy, of which
Gustave was to be the subject and victim, had been concocted beneath that
innocent-seeming roof. Father, mother, and sister, seated round the
family hearth, fatal as some domestic Parcae, had hatched their horrid
scheme, while the helpless lad amused himself yonder in the great city,
happily unconscious of the web that was being woven to enmesh him.
The cord which monsieur unwound, the mesh which madame held, the
needle which dexterous mademoiselle wielded, were employed in the
fabrication of a matrimonial net. These unsophisticated conspirators
were bent upon bringing about the marriage of their victim, a marriage
which should at once elevate and enrich the Lenobles of Beaubocage, in
the person of Gustave.
Francois Lenoble's best friend and nearest neighbour was a certain Baron
Frehlter, of Germanic origin, but for some generations past naturalised
to the Gallic soil. The Baron was proprietor of an estate which could
show ten acres for one of the lands of Beaubocage. The Baron boasted a
family tree which derived its root from a ramification of the
Hohenzollern pedigree; but, less proud and more prudent than the
Lenobles, the Frehlters had not scorned to intermingle their Prussian
blue blood with less pure streams of commercial France. The _epicier_
element had prevailed in the fair brides of the house of Frehlter for the
last three or four generations, and the house of Frehlter had
considerably enriched itself by this sacrifice of its family pride.
The present Baron had married a lady ten years his senior, the widow of a
Rouen merchant, alike wealthy and pious, but famous rather for these
attributes than for any personal charm. One only child, a girl, had
blessed this union. She was now a young person of something under twenty
years of age, newly emerged from her convent, and pining for some share
in the gaieties and delights of a worldly paradise, which had already
been open to many of her schoolfellows.
Mademoiselle Frehlter's companions had, for the most part, left school to
be married. She had heard of the _corbeille_, the wedding dress, the
wedding festivities, and occasionally a word or two about that secondary
consideration the bridegroom. The young lady was therefore somewhat
inclined to take it ill of her father that he had not secured for her the
_eclat_ of an early marriage. Her departure from the convent of the Sacre
Coeur, at Vevinord, was flat and tame to an extreme degree. The future
lay before her, a dreary desert of home life, to be spent with a father
who gorged himself daily at a greasy and savoury banquet, and who slept
away the greater part of his existence; and with a mother who divided her
affections between a disagreeable poodle and a still more disagreeable
priest--a priest who took upon himself to lecture the demoiselle Frehlter
on the smallest provocation.
The chateau of the Frehlters was a very grand abode as compared to the
tumble-down house of Beaubocage; but it was cold and stony to a
depressing degree, and the furniture must have been shabby in the days of
the Fronde. Faithful old servants kept the mansion in a state of spotless
purity, and ruled the Baron and his wife with a rod of iron. Mademoiselle
execrated these devoted retainers, and would have welcomed the sauciest
of modern domestics who would have released her from the bondage of these
servants of the old school.
Mademoiselle had been at home a year--a year of discontent and
ill-humour. She had quarrelled with her father, because he would not take
her to Paris; with her mother, because she would not give her more new
gowns and bonnets and feathers and fur-belows; with the priest, the
poodle, with the autocracy below-stairs, with everybody and everything.
So at last the Baron decided that mademoiselle should marry, whereby he
might be rid of her, and of her complaints, vagaries, ill-tempers, and
Having once made up his mind as to the wisdom of a matrimonial
arrangement, Baron Frehlter was not slow to fix upon a bridegroom. He was
a very rich man, and Madelon was his only child, and he was furthermore a
very lazy man; so, instead of looking far afield for a wealthy or
distinguished suitor for his daughter, he was inclined to take the first
that came to hand. It is possible that the Baron, who was of a somewhat
cynical turn of mind, may have cherished no very exalted idea of his
daughter's attractions, either personal or mental. However this might be,
it is certain that when the demoiselle had ill-treated the poodle, and
insulted the priest, and quarrelled with the cook--that high-priestess of
the kitchen who alone, in all Normandy, could concoct those messes which
the Baron loved--the master of Cotenoir decided on marrying his heiress
out of hand.
He communicated this design to his old crony, Francois Lenoble, one day
when the Beaubocage family dined at Chateau Cotenoir.
"I think of marrying my daughter," he said to his friend, when the ladies
were safely out of hearing at the other end of the long dreary saloon.
"Now thy son Gustave is a fine fellow--brave, handsome, and of a good
race. It is true he is not as rich as Madelon will be by-and-by; but I am
no huckster, to sell my daughter to the best bidder" ("and I doubt if
there would be many bidders for her, if I were so inclined," thought the
Baron, in parenthesis); "and if thy son should take a fancy to her, and
she to him, it would please me well enough, friend Francois."
Friend Francois pricked up his ears, and in his old eyes flickered a
feeble light. Cotenoir and Beaubocage united in the person of his son
Gustave! Lenoble of Beaubocage and Cotenoir--Lenoble of Cotenoir and
Beaubocage! So splendid a vision had never shone before his eyes in all
the dreams that he had dreamed about the only son of whom he was so
proud. He could not have shaped to himself so bold a project as the union
of those two estates. And here was the Baron offering it to him, with his
snuff-box, _en passant_.
"It would be a great marriage," he said, "a very great marriage. For
Gustave I can answer without hesitation. He could not but be charmed by
such a union--so amiable a bride would enchant him."
He looked down the room to the spot where Madelon and Cydalise were
standing, side by side, admiring Madame Frehlter's poodle. Madelon could
afford to be civil to the poodle before company. The contrast between the
two girls was sufficiently striking. Cydalise was fair and
bright-looking--Mademoiselle Frehlter was square and ungainly of figure,
swarthy of complexion, dark of brow.
"He could not but be charmed," repeated the old man, with feeble
He was thinking of the joining together of Beaubocage and Cotenoir; and
it seemed a very small thing to him that such a union of estates would
involve the joining of a man and woman, who were to hold to each other
and love each other until death should part them.
"It shall be no marriage of convenience," said the Baron, in a generous
spirit; "my daughter is somewhat ill-tem--that is to say, my daughter
finds her life somewhat dull with her old father and mother, and I think
she might be happier in the society of a husband. I like your son; and
my wife, too, likes him better than any other young man of our
acquaintance. Madelon has seen a good deal of him when she has been home
from the convent in her holidays, and I have reason to think she does
not dislike him. If he likes her and she likes him, and the idea is
pleasing to you and madame, we will make a match of it. If not, let it
pass; we will say no more."
Again the seigneur of Beaubocage assured his friend that Gustave would be
enchanted with the proposal; and again it was of Cotenoir that he
thought, and not of the heart or the inclinations of his son.
This conversation took place late in autumn, and at the new year Gustave
was to come. Nothing was to be said to him about his intended wife until
he arrived; that was a point upon which the Baron insisted.
"The young man may have fallen in love with some fine young person in
Paris," he said; "and in that case we will say nothing to him of Madelon.
But if we find him with the heart free, and inclined to take to my
daughter, we may give him encouragement."
This was solemnly agreed between the two fathers. Nor was Mademoiselle
Frehlter to be told of the matrimonial scheme until it ripened. But after
this dinner at Cotenoir the household at Beaubocage talked of little else
than of the union of the two families. What grandeur, what wealth, what
happiness! Gustave the lord of Cotenoir! Poor Cydalise had never seen a
finer mansion than the old chateau, with its sugar-loaf towers and stone
terraces, and winding stairs, and tiny inconvenient turret chambers, and
long dreary salon and _salle-a-manger_. She could picture to herself
nothing more splendid. For Gustave to be offered the future possession of
Cotenoir was as if he were suddenly to be offered the succession to a
kingdom. She could not bring herself to consider that Madelon was neither
agreeable nor attractive, and that, after all, the wife must count for
something in every marriage contract. She could see nothing, she could
think of nothing, but Cotenoir. The glory and grandeur of that estate
absorbed every other consideration.
No one of those three conspirators feared any opposition on the part of
their victim. It was just possible that Gustave might have fallen in love
with some Parisian damsel, though his letters gave no hint of any such
calamity. But if such a misfortune had happened, he would, of course,
fall out of love again, return the damsel her troth and obtain the return
of his own, and straightway offer the second-hand commodity to
The object of all these cares and hopes and dreams arrived at last, full
of life and spirits, with plenty to tell about Paris in general, and very
little to tell about himself in particular. The women questioned him
unmercifully. They insisted on a graphic description of every female
inmate of the boarding-house, and would scarcely believe that all except
the little music-mistress were elderly and unattractive. Of the
music-mistress herself they were inclined to be very suspicious, and were
not altogether reassured by Gustave's assertion that she was neither
pretty nor fascinating.
"She is a dear, good, industrious little thing," he said, "and works
harder than I do. But she is no miracle of beauty; and her life is so
dreary that I often wonder she does not go into a convent. It would be
gayer and pleasanter for her than to live with those old women at the
"I suppose there are many beautiful women in Paris?" said Cydalise, bent
upon knowing the worst.
"Well, I dare say there are," Gustave answered frankly; "but we students
don't see much of them in our quarter. One sees a pretty little
milliner's girl now and then, or a washerwoman. In short, there are a
good many grisettes in our part of the world," added the young man,
blushing, but for no sin of his own. "We get a glimpse of a handsome
woman sometimes, rattling past in her carriage; but in Paris handsome
women do not go on foot. I have seen prettier girls at Vevinord than in
Cydalise was enchanted with this confession.
"Yes," she exclaimed, "our Normandy is the place for pretty girls.
Madelon Frehlter. for example, is not she a very--amiable girl?"
"I dare say she's amiable enough," answered Gustave; "but if there were
no prettier girls than Mademoiselle Frehlter in this part of the world,
we should have no cause to boast. But there are prettier girls, Cydalise,
and thou art thyself one of them."
After this speech the young man bestowed upon his sister a resounding
kiss. Yes; it was clear that he was heart-whole. These noisy, boisterous
good spirits were not characteristic of a lover. Even innocent Cydalise
knew that to be in love was to be miserable.
From this time mother and sister tormented their victim with the merits
and charms of his predestined bride. Madelon on the piano was miraculous;
Madelon's little songs were enchanting; Madelon's worsted-work was a
thing to worship; Madelon's devotion to her mother and her mother's
poodle was unequalled; Madelon's respectful bearing to the good Abbe St.
Velours--her mother's director--was positively beyond all praise. It was
virtue seraphic, supernal. Such a girl was too good for earth--too good
for anything except Gustave.
The young man heard and wondered.
"How you rave about Madelon Frehlter!" he exclaimed. "She seems to me the
most commonplace young person I ever encountered. She has nothing to say
for herself; she never appears to know where to put her elbows. I never
saw such elbows; they are everywhere at once. And her shoulders!--O
heaven, then, her shoulders!--it ought to be forbidden to wear low
dresses when one has such shoulders."
This was discouraging, but the schemers bore up even against this. The
mother dwelt on the intellectual virtues of Madelon; and what were
shoulders compared to mind, piety, amiability--all the Christian graces?
Cydalise owned that dear Madelon was somewhat _gauche_; Gustave called
her _bete_. The father remonstrated with his son. Was it not frightful to
use a word of the barracks in connection with this charming young lady?
At last the plot revealed itself. After a dinner at Cotenoir and a dinner
at Beaubocage, on both which occasions Gustave had made himself very
agreeable to the ladies of the Baron's household--since, indeed, it was
not in his nature to be otherwise than kind and courteous to the weaker
sex--the mother told her son of the splendid destiny that had been shaped
for him. It was a matter of surprise and grief to her to find that the
revelation gave Gustave no pleasure.
"Marriage was the last thing in my thoughts, dear mother," he said,
gravely; "and Madelon Frehlter is the very last woman I should think of
for a wife. Nevertheless, I am gratified by the honour Monsieur le Baron
has done me. That goes without saying."
"But the two estates!--together they would make you a great proprietor.
You would not surely refuse such fortune?"
Cydalise gave a little scream of horror.
"Cotenoir! to refuse Cotenoir! Ah, surely that would be impossible! But
figure to yourself, then, Gustave--"
"Nay, Cydalise, you forget the young lady goes with the chateau; a
fixture that we cannot dispense with."
"But she, so amiable, so pious--"
"So plain, so stupid--"
"So modest, so charitable--"
"In short, so admirably adapted for a Sister of Charity," replied
Gustave. "But no, dear Cydalise. Cotenoir is a grand old place; but I
would as soon spend my life at Toulon, dragging a cannon-ball at my
heels, as in that dreary salon where Madame Frehlter nurses her maladies
and her poodle, and where the good-humoured, easy-going old Baron snores
away existence. 'Tis very well for those elderly folks, you see, my
sister, and for Madelon--for hers is an elderly mind in a youthful body;
but for a young man full of hope and gaiety and activity--bah! It would
be of all living deaths the worst. From the galleys there is always the
hope of escaping--an underground passage, burrowed out with one's
finger-nails in the dead of the night--a work lasting twenty years or so,
but with a feeble star of hope always glimmering at the end of the
passage. But from the salon, and mamma, and the poodle, and the good,
unctuous, lazy old director, and papa's apoplectic snoring, and the
plaintive little songs and monotonous embroideries of one's wife, there
would be no escape. Ah, bah!"
Gustave shuddered, and the two women shuddered as they heard him. The
prospect was by no means promising; but Madame Lenoble and her daughter
did not utterly despair. Gustave's heart was disengaged. That was a great
point; and for the rest, surely persuasion might do much.
Then came that phenomenon seen very often in this life--a
generous-minded, right-thinking young man talked into a position which of
all others is averse from his own inclinations. The mother persuaded, the
sister pleaded, the father dwelt dismally upon the poverty of Beaubocage,
the wealth of Cotenoir. It was the story of auld Robin Gray reversed.
Gustave perceived that his refusal to avail himself of this splendid
destiny would be a bitter and lasting grief to these people who loved him
so fondly--whom he loved as fondly in return. Must he not be a churl to
disappoint hopes so unselfish, to balk an ambition so innocent? And only
because Madelon was not the most attractive or the prettiest of women!
The young man stood firm against all their arguments, he was unmoved by
all their pleading. It was only when his anxious kindred had given up the
battle for lost that Gustave wavered. Their mute despair moved him more
than the most persuasive eloquence; and the end was submission. He left
Beaubocage the plighted lover of that woman who, of all others, he would
have been the last to choose for his wife. It had all been settled very
pleasantly--the dowry, the union of the two estates, the two names. For
six months Gustave was to enjoy his freedom to finish his studies; and
then he was to return to Normandy for his marriage.
"I have heard very good accounts of you from Paris," said the Baron. "You
are not like some young men, wild, mad-brained. One can confide in your
honour, your steadiness."
The good folks of Beaubocage were in ecstacies. They congratulated
Gustave--they congratulated each other. A match so brilliant would be the
redemption of the family. The young man at last began to fancy himself
the favoured of the gods. What if Madelon seemed a little dull--a little
wanting in that vivacity which is so pleasing to frivolous minds? she was
doubtless so much the more profound, so much the more virtuous. If she
was not bright and varied and beautiful as some limpid fountain dancing
in summer sunlight, she was perhaps changeless and steady as a rock; and
who would not rather have the security of a rock than the summer-day
beauty of a fountain?
Before Gustave departed from his paternal home he had persuaded himself
that he was a very lucky fellow; and he had paid Mademoiselle Frehlter
some pretty little stereotyped compliments, and had listened with sublime
patience to her pretty little stereotyped songs. He left the young lady
profoundly impressed by his merits; he left his own household supremely
happy; and he carried away with him a heart in which Madelon Frehlter's
image had no place.
IN THIS WIDE WORLD I STAND ALONE.
Gustave went back to his old life, and was not much disturbed by the
grandeur of his destiny as future seigneur of Cotenoir and Beaubocage. It
sometimes occurred to him that he had a weight upon his mind; and, on
consideration, he found that the weight was Madelon Frehlter. But he
continued to carry that burden very lightly, and his easy-going student
life went on, unbroken by thoughts of the future. He sent polite messages
to the demoiselle Frehlter in his letters to Cydalise; and he received
from Cydalise much information, more graphic than interesting, upon the
subject of the family at Cotenoir; and so his days went on with pleasant
monotony. This was the brief summer of his youth; but, alas, how near at
hand was the dark and dismal winter that was to freeze this honest joyous
heart! That heart, so compassionate for all suffering, so especially
tender for all womankind, was to be attacked upon its weaker side.
It was Gustave Lenoble's habit to cross the gardens of the Luxembourg
every morning, on his way from the Rue Grande-Mademoiselle to the Ecole
de Droit. Sometimes, when he was earlier than usual, he carried a book
with him, and paced one of the more obscure alleys, reading for an odd
half-hour before he went to the daily mill-grinding in the big building
beyond those quiet gardens.
Walking with his book one morning--it was a volume of Boileau, which
the student knew by heart, and the pages whereof did not altogether
absorb his attention--he passed and repassed a bench on which a lady
sat, pensive and solitary, tracing shapeless figures on the ground with
the point of her parasol. He glanced at her somewhat carelessly the
first time of passing, more curiously on the second occasion, and
the third time with considerable attention. Something in her
attitude--helplessness, hopelessness, nay indeed, despair itself, all
expressed in the drooping head, the listless hand tracing those idle
characters on the gravel--enlisted the sympathies of Gustave Lenoble. He
had pitied her even before his gaze had penetrated the cavernous depths
of the capacious bonnet of those days; but one glimpse of the pale
plaintive face inspired him with compassion unspeakable. Never had he
seen despair more painfully depicted on the human countenance--a despair
that sought no sympathy, a sorrow that separated the sufferer from the
outer world. Never had he seen a face so beautiful, even in despair. He
could have fancied it the face of Andromache, when all that made her
world had been reft from her; or of Antigone, when the dread fiat had
gone forth--that funeral rites or sepulture for the last accursed scion
of an accursed race there were to be none.
He put Boileau into his pocket. That glimpse of a suffering human mind,
which had been unconsciously revealed to him, possessed an interest more
absorbing than the grandest flight of poet and satirist. As he passed for
the fifth time, he looked at the mournful lady still more searchingly,
and this time the sad eyes were lifted, and met his pitying looks. The
beautiful lips moved, and murmured something in tones so tremulous as to
be quite unintelligible.
The student took off his hat, and approached the lady, deferential as
knight-errant of old awaiting the behest of his liege mistress.
"In what can I have the happiness to be agreeable to you, madame?"
"You are very good, monsieur," murmured the lady in very decent French,
but with an accent unmistakably foreign--English, as Gustave opined.
"I--I--am quite a stranger in Paris, and--and--I have heard there are
numerous lodging-houses in this quarter--where one may obtain a
lodging--cheaply. I have asked several nursemaids, and other women, in
the gardens this morning; but they seem very stupid, and can tell me
nothing; and I do not care to ask at the hotel where I am staying."
Gustave pondered. Yes, there were many lodgings, he informed the lady.
And then he thought of Madame Magnotte. Was it not his duty to secure
this stray lodger for that worthy woman, if possible?
"If madame has no objection to a boarding-house--" he began.
Madame shook her head. "A boarding-house would suit me just as well," she
said; "but it must not be expensive. I cannot afford to pay much."
"I know of a boarding-house very near this place, where madame might find
a comfortable home on very reasonable terms. It is, in point of fact, the
house in which I myself reside," added Gustave, with some timidity.
"If you will kindly direct me to the house--" said the lady, looking
straight before her with sad unseeing eyes, and evidently supremely
indifferent as to the residence or non-residence of M. Lenoble in the
habitation referred to.
"Nay, madame, if you will permit me to conduct you there. It is but a
walk of five minutes."
The stranger accepted the courtesy with a gentle indifference that was
not ingratitude, but rather incapacity for any feeling except that one
great sorrow which seemed to absorb her mind.
Gustave wondered what calamity could thus overwhelm one so young and
The lady was quite silent during the little walk from the gardens to the
Rue Grande-Mademoiselle, and Gustave observed her attentively as he
walked by her side. She was evidently not more than four-and-twenty years
of age, and she was certainly the prettiest woman he had ever seen. It
was a fair delicate English beauty, a little worn and faded, as if by
care, but idealized and sublimated in the process. At her brightest this
stranger must have been strikingly beautiful; in her sorrow she was
touchingly lovely. It was what Gustave's countrymen call a _beaute
Gustave watched her, and wondered about her. The dress she wore was
sufficiently elegant, but had lost the gloss of newness. Her shawl, which
she carried as gracefully as a Frenchwoman, was darned. Gustave perceived
the neat careful stitches, and divined the poverty of the wearer. That
she should be poor was no subject for surprise; but that she, so
sorrowful, so lonely, should seek a home in a strange city, was an enigma
not easy to solve.
To Madame Magnotte Gustave introduced the stranger. She gave just one
look round the dreary saloon; but to Gustave's fancy that one look seemed
eloquent. "Ah me!" it said; "is this the fairest home I am to find upon
this inhospitable earth?"
"She does not seem to belong to this world," the young man thought, as
he went back to the garden where he had found his fair stranger, having
been very coolly dismissed by Madame Magnotte after his introduction had
And then M. Lenoble, being of a romantic turn of mind, remembered how a
lady had been found by a student sitting on the lowest steps of the
guillotine, desolate and helpless, at night; and how the student had
taken her home and sheltered her, and had straightway fallen desperately
in love with her, to discover, with unutterable horror, that her head had
been severed from her fair shoulders by the cruel knife twelve hours
before, and that her melancholy loveliness was altogether phantasmal and
Was this English stranger whom Gustave had found in the gardens of the
Luxembourg twin sister to that ghostly lady of the familiar legend? Her
despair and her beauty seemed to him greater than earthly sorrow or
earthly beauty; and he was half inclined to wonder whether she could be
of the same race as Madelon Frehlter. And from this hour the sense of a
weight upon his mind, before so vague and intermittent, became an
enduring oppression, not to be shaken off by any effort of his will.
All through that day he found himself thinking more of the unknown
Englishwoman than was consistent with a strict performance of his duties.
He was vexed with himself on account of this foolish distraction of mind.
"What a frivolous fellow I must be," he said to himself, "to dwell upon
such a trifle! This comes of leading such a monotonous life."
At dinner he looked for the lady; but she did not appear at the long
table, where the shrill old ladies, the epicurean old bachelors, the
noisy students, daily devoured and grumbled at the four or five courses
which old Nanon developed out of her inner consciousness and a rather
scantily furnished larder. He questioned Madame Magnotte after dinner,
and was told that the lady was in the house, but was too tired to dine
with the other inmates.
"I have to thank thee for a new boarder, my friend," she said. "Madame
Meynell will not pay largely; but she seems a quiet and respectable
person, and we shall doubtless be well pleased with each other."
"Madame Meynell!" repeated Gustave, congratulating himself on finding
that the Englishwoman was an inhabitant of the house he lived in. "She is
a widow, I suppose?"
"Yes, she is a widow. I asked that question, and she answered, yes.
But she told me nothing of her late husband. She is not at all
This was all Gustave could obtain from Madame Magnotte. She was not
communicative. No; she was, indeed, scarcely less silent than that
ghostly lady who had been found sitting at the foot of the guillotine.
There was some kind of mystery involved in her sorrowful face, her silent
apathy. It was possibly the fact of this mystery which interested M.
Lenoble. Certain it is that the young man's interest had been aroused by
this unknown Englishwoman, and that his mind was more occupied by the
image of her whom he had seen but once than by that of his plighted wife.
He waited anxiously for the next day; but on the next day Madame Meynell
still pleaded fatigue and illness. It was only on the third day that she
appeared at the noisy banquet, pale, silent, absent-minded, sheltering
herself under the wing of Madame Magnotte, who was disposed to be kind to
this helpless stranger. To Gustave the young English widow seemed like a
ghost at that crowded board. He looked at her every now and then from his
distant seat, and saw her always with the same hopeless far-away look in
her sad eyes. He himself was silent and _distrait_.
"Of what dost thou dream, my droll one?" said his nearest neighbour.
"Thou art positively insupportable."
M. Lenoble could not become vivacious or entertaining at the behest of
his fellow-student. The consciousness of that strange pale face haunted
and oppressed him. He hoped to have a few minutes' talk with the English
lady after dinner, but she disappeared before the removal of those
recondite preparations which in the Pension Magnotte went by the generic
name of "dessert."
For more than a week she appeared thus at the dinner-table, eating very
little, speaking not at all, except such monosyllabic replies as the
hostess now and then extorted from her pale lips. A creature at once so
beautiful and so profoundly sad became an object of interest to others
besides Gustave; but in no breast was the sympathy which her sadness and
beauty excited so poignant as in his. Her face haunted him. The familiar
pleasures and amusements became distasteful to him. He spent his evenings
at home in the dismal salon, and was content to listen to the chatter of
the old women, the little music-mistress's dreary sonatas, the monotonous
roll of wheels on the distant quay--anything rather than the hackneyed
round of student-life that had once been agreeable to him. He did not
fail to write his weekly letter to Cydalise; but, for some reason or
other, he refrained from any allusion to the English stranger, although
it was his custom to relate all his adventures for the amusement of the
family at Beaubocage.
An evening came at last on which Madame Meynell was persuaded to remain
with the other ladies after dinner.
"It must be very cold and cheerless for you in your bedroom," said
Madame Magnotte; "why not spend your evening with us, in a pleasant and
"You are very good, madame," murmured the Englishwoman, in the slow timid
accents that had so plaintive a sound to Gustave's ear; "if you wish it,
I will stay."
She seemed to submit rather from utter weakness and inability to refuse
anything asked of her than from any hope of finding pleasure in the
society of the Magnotte salon.
It was an evening in March--cold, blustrous, dreary. The east wind blew
clouds of dust athwart the Rue Grande-Mademoiselle, and the few
foot-passengers in that dull thoroughfare looked pinched and wretched.
The old ladies gathered round the great black stove, and gossipped in the
twilight; the music-mistress went to her feeble piano, and played,
unasked, unheeded; for Gustave, who was wont to turn the leaves, or sit
attentive by the piano, seemed this evening unconscious of the music.
Madame Meynell sat in one of the windows, alone, half-hidden by the faded
yellow damask curtains, looking out into the street.
Something--some impulse which he tried to resist, but could not--drew
Gustave towards that lonely figure by the window. He went close up to the
strange lady. This evening, as in the gardens of the Luxembourg, she
seemed to him a living statue of despair. Now, as then, he felt an
interest in her sorrow which he was powerless to combat. He had a vague
idea that even this compassionate sympathy was in some manner an offence
against Madelon Frehlter, the woman to whom he belonged, and yet he
yielded to the fatal weakness.
"Yes, I belong to her," he said to himself; "I belong to Madelon
Frehlter. She is neither pretty nor fascinating; but I have every reason
to believe her very good, very amiable; and she is the only woman, except
those of my own kindred, in whom I have any right to be interested."
He did not say this in so many words; but this was the shape which his
thoughts assumed as he yielded to the tempter, and walked straight to the
distant window by which Madame Meynell had seated herself.
She started slightly as he approached her, and then looked up and
recognized him as her acquaintance of the Luxembourg.
"Good evening, monsieur," she said; "I have to thank you for having
helped me to find a comfortable home."
Having said this in a low gentle voice, she looked out into the street
once more with her mournful unseeing eyes. It was evident that she had no
more to say to M. Lenoble.
The student, however, had no idea of leaving the window just yet,
although he knew--yes, knew--that his presence there was a wrong done to
Madelon Frehlter; but a wrong so small, so infinitesimal, that it was
really not worth consideration.
"I am enchanted to think that I was of some slight service to you,
madame," he said; "but I fear you will find this quarter of Paris
She did not take any notice of this remark until Gustave had repeated it,
and then she spoke as if suddenly awakened from a trance.
"Dull?" she said. "No, I have not found it dull. I do not care for
After this M. Lenoble felt that he could say no more. The lady relapsed
into her waking trance. The dust-clouds in the silent street seemed more
interesting to her than M. Lenoble of Beaubocage. He lingered a few
minutes in the neighbourhood of her chair, thoughtfully observant of the
delicate profile, the pale clear tints of a complexion that had lost its
bloom but not its purity, the settled sadness of the perfect mouth, the
dreamy pensiveness of the dark-grey eye, and then was fain to retire.
After this, the English widow lady spent many evenings in Madame
Magnotte's salon. The old Frenchwoman gossipped and wondered about
her; but the most speculative could fashion no story from a page so
blank as this joyless existence. Even slander could scarcely assail
a creature so unobtrusive as the English boarder. The elderly ladies
shrugged their shoulders and pursed up their lips with solemn
significance. There must needs be something--a secret, a mystery, sorrow,
or wrong-doing--somewhere; but of Madame Meynell herself no one could
suspect any harm.
Gustave Lenoble heard little of this gossip about the stranger, but she
filled his thoughts nevertheless. The vision of her face came between him
and his work; and when he thought of the future, and of the damsel who
had been allotted to him for a wife, his thoughts were very bitter.
"Fate is like Laban," he said to himself; "a man works and does his duty
for seven years, and then Fate gives him Leah instead of Rachel. No doubt
Leah is a very good young woman; one has no complaint to make against
her, except that she is not Rachel."
This was not a hopeful manner of looking at things for the destined
master of Cotenoir. M. Lenoble's letters to the anxious folks at
Beaubocage became, about this time, somewhat brief and unsatisfactory. He
no longer gave ample details of his student-life--he no longer wrote in
his accustomed good spirits. His letters seemed stiff and constrained.
"I am afraid he is studying too much," said the mother.
"I daresay the rascal is wasting his time in dissipation," suggested
"PAST HOPE, AND IN DESPAIR."
Two months had elapsed since the bleak spring morning on which Gustave
Lenoble found the solitary lady under the leafless trees of the
Luxembourg gardens. The inmates of the Pension Magnotte had grown
accustomed to her presence, to her silence, her settled sadness, and
troubled themselves no further respecting herself or her antecedents. The
lapse of time had brought no improvement to her spirits; indeed, Gustave,
who watched her closely, perceived that she had grown paler and thinner
since that March morning when he met her in the public garden. Her life
must have been painfully monotonous. She very rarely went out of doors,
and on no occasion ventured beyond the gardens of the Luxembourg. No one
visited her. She neither wrote nor received any letters. She was wont to
make a pretence of reading as she sat in her retired corner of the salon;
but Gustave had discovered that she gave little attention to her book.
The open volume in her hand seemed no more than an excuse for brooding
upon her sorrows.
If people, prompted by curiosity or by compassion, endeavoured to get
into conversation with this lonely lady, the result was always the same.
She would answer their questions in a low gentle voice, with a quiet
politeness; but she never assisted them in the smallest degree to
interchange thoughts with her. It seemed as if she sought neither friend
nor sympathizer, or as if her case was so entirely hopeless as to admit
of neither. She paid for her board and lodging weekly with a punctilious
exactness, though weekly payments were not the rule of the house.
"My movements are uncertain," she said to Madame Magnotte. "I cannot
tell how long I may be with you. It will therefore be better for me to
pay you weekly."
She had been in the house two months, dining every day at the public
table, spending all her evenings in the public saloon; and during that
time her settled gloom had never been broken by any outburst of grief or
passion. She might have been a creature of ice, a statue of despair
modelled in snow by a Michael Angelo. But one night the ice melted, the
statue of snow became in a moment a passionate, grief-stricken woman.
It was one bright evening late in May. Ah, how near at hand was the
appointed date of those nuptials to which the household of Beaubocage
looked forward with supreme happiness! The old ladies of the Pension
Magnotte were for the most part out of doors. The long saloon was almost
empty. There were only Gustave, Madame Magnotte, and the little
music-mistress, who sat at her piano, with the western sunlight shining
full upon her, rosy-hued and glorious, surrounding her with its soft
radiance until she looked like a humble St. Cecilia.
Madame Meynell had seated herself close to the piano, and was listening
to the music. Gustave hovered near, pretending to be occupied with a limp
little sheet of news published that evening.
Mademoiselle Servin, the teacher of music, upon this occasion deserted
her favourite masters. She seemed in a somewhat dreamy and sentimental
humour, and played tender little melodies and simple plaintive airs, that
were more agreeable to Gustave than those grand examples of the
mathematics of counter-point which she so loved to interpret.
"You like this melody of Gretry's," said the music-mistress, as M.
Lenoble seated himself close to the piano. "I do not think you care for
classic sonatas--the great works of Gluck, or Bach, or Beethoven?"
"No," replied the young man frankly; "I do not care about anything I
can't understand. I like music that goes to one's heart."
"And you, too, Madame Meynell, like simple melodies?" mademoiselle asked
of that lady, who was not wont to come so near the little piano, or to
pay so much attention to Mademoiselle Servin's performance.
"O yes," murmured the Englishwoman, "I like such music as that."
"And you, too, think that Beethoven never composed simple plaintive
airs--for example," exclaimed the pianist, playing softly while she
spoke. "You think he wrote only sonatas, quartettes, fugues, grand,
operas, like _Fidelio_. Have you never heard this by your scientific
Hereupon she played "Hope told a flattering tale," with much tenderness
and delicacy. Her two hearers listened, mute and deeply moved. And then
from that familiar melody she glided softly into another, most musical,
most melancholy, which has been set to some of the sweetest verses that
Thomas Moore ever composed:
"Those evening bells, those evening bells!
How many a tale their music tells
Of youth and home, and that sweet time
When last I heard their soothing chime!"
All the world sang the verses of Ireland's divine bard in those days. The
song was one which the Englishwoman had sung years ago in a happy home.
What recollections, what associations, were evoked by that plaintive
melody, who shall say? The words came back with the music to which they
have been eternally wedded. The words, their mournful meaning, the faces
of the friends amongst whom she had last sung them, the picture of the
peaceful home whose walls had echoed the music,--all these things arose
before her in a vision too painfully vivid; and the lonely boarder at the
Pension Magnotte covered her face with her hands, and sobbed aloud.
The passion of tears lasted but a minute. Madame Meynell dried her eyes,
and rose to leave the room.
"Do not question me," she said, perceiving that her two companions were
about to offer her their sympathy. "I cannot tell you the memories that
were conjured up by that music. It brought back a home I shall never see
again, and the faces of the dead--worse than dead to me--and the
happiness I have lost, and the hopes and dreams that once were mine. Oh,
I pray God I may never hear that melody again."
There was a passion, a depth of feeling, in her tone quite new to Gustave
Lenoble. He opened the door for her without a word, and she passed out of
the salon quietly, like a ghost--the ghost of that bright young creature
who had once borne her shape, and been called by her name, in a pleasant
farmhouse among the Yorkshire wolds.
"Ah, but how that poor soul must have suffered!" cried the sympathetic
Mademoiselle Servin, as the door closed on the Englishwoman. "I did
not think it was in her to feel so deeply. I thought she was stone, and
now I begin to think it must be of such stone as Niobe--the
petrification of despair."
Upon Gustave Lenoble this scene made a profound impression. He lay awake
during the greater part of that night, thinking of the lonely lady's
tears and anguish. The music of "Those evening bells" pervaded his
dreams. He rose unrefreshed, feverish, forgetful of Cotenoir and Madelon
Frehlter, as if that place and that person had never emerged from the
shapeless substances of chaos. He wanted to see _her_ again, to console
her, if that were possible. Oh, that it might be his privilege to console
her! He pitied her with a compassion so intense, that thus to
compassionate her woes, was himself to suffer a poignant anguish. He
pitied her. Yes, he told himself again and again that this sentiment
which so absorbed his heart and mind was no more than pity. But oh, if
this were pity, what were love? That was a question which also presented
itself to the mind of M. Gustave Lenoble, of Beaubocage _in esse_, and
Cotenoir _in posse_.
Madame Meynell rarely appeared at the common breakfast in the grim
dining-room of the Pension Magnotte. Gustave was therefore in nowise
surprised to miss her on this particular morning. He took a cup of
coffee, and hurried off to his daily duties. There was a fever on him
which he could neither understand nor shake off, and he hastened to the
gardens of the Luxembourg, as if there were some special necessity for
speed. So do men often hasten unconsciously to their predestined doom,
defiant of augury. Soothsayers may menace, and wives may dream dreams;
but when his hour comes, Caesar will go to the appointed spot where the
daggers of his assassins await him.
In the alley where he had first looked upon her sad face, beneath
the umbrage of young limes and chestnuts just bursting into bloom,
he saw the Englishwoman to-day, seated on the same bench, almost in
the same attitude.
He went up to her, and bade her good morning; and then, intensely
conscious of his own temerity, seated himself by her side.
"I did not expect to find you here so early."
"No, I seldom come out so soon; but this morning I have to make some
inquiries upon a matter of business, and I am only resting here before
going to make them."
She gave a little weary sigh at the end of this speech. It seemed a
strange manner of transacting business to rest in the Luxembourg gardens,
which were distant but a few hundred yards from her home. Gustave divined
that it was for very forlornness she lingered there, shrinking from some
difficult encounter that lay before her.
"Can I not make the inquiries for you?" he asked. "Pray command me. It
will be my happiness to be useful to you."
"You are very good. I cannot trouble you so much."
"Pray do not talk of trouble. It can be no trouble to me to aid you in
any manner. Ah, madame, you do not know how much I would sacrifice to be
useful to you!"
She must have been dull indeed had she failed to perceive the earnestness
of his tone. She did perceive it, and was vaguely conscious that in this
student of law she had a friend.
"I want to know when the diligence for Calais leaves Paris, and from what
office," she said. "I am going back to England."
She was surprised to see the young man's face blanch as she announced
this simple fact. The young man himself was surprised by the sudden
anguish inflicted by her announcement. It was in this moment that he
first discovered how completely he had given his heart into this strange
"You are really going to leave Paris?--for ever?" he exclaimed.
"Yes. I have been here too long already. I have no business here. I ought
to have gone back to England that day when I first met you here, but I
put off the day of my return. I can put it off no longer."
"And you are going back to your friends?" Gustave asked, in a very
"I am going back to my friends? Yes!" Her lips quivered a little, and the
unbidden tears came to her eyes.
Ah, what was the sorrow that oppressed this beauteous lonely creature?
What agony of grief or self-reproach was this pain which consumed her?
Gustave remembered her passion of tears on the previous night; her talk
of friends that were dead, and happiness lost; and now to-day she talked
of going home to her friends: but O the bitterness of expression with
which she had spoken that word "friends!"
"Are you going alone, Madame Meynell?" he inquired, after a pause. He
could not tear himself from that seat by her side. He could not be manly
or rational where she was concerned. The image of Madelon Frehlter rose
before his mental vision, reproachful, menacing; but a thick fog
intervened to obscure that unwelcome image. His whole life resolved
itself into those thrilling moments in which he sat here, on this common
garden bench, by this stranger's side; the entire universe was contracted
into this leafy walk where they two sat.
"Yes, I am going alone," madame replied, with a little laugh. "Who should
I have to go with me? I am quite alone in the world. I think I had better
make these inquiries myself, M. Lenoble. There is no reason why I should
give you so much trouble."
"There is no such thing as trouble. I will bring you all necessary
information to-day at dinner, if that will be soon enough."
"Quite soon enough, I thank you, monsieur," she answered, with a sigh. "I
must ask you kindly to ascertain for me also the expense of the journey."
"Most certainly, madame."
This request set him wondering whether she were poor, and how poor. But
she had evidently no more to say to him; she had again become
impenetrable. He would fain have stayed, though honour and conscience
were clamorous in their demands for his departure. Happily for honour and
conscience, the lady was silent as death, impervious as marble; so M.
Lenoble presently bowed and departed.
He thought of her all day long. The farce of pity was ended. He knew now
that he loved this Englishwoman with an affection at once foolish and
sinful,--foolish, since he knew not who or what this woman was; sinful,
since the indulgence of this passion involved the forfeiture of his
plighted word, the disappointment of those who loved him.
"No, no, no," he said to himself; "I cannot do this base and wicked
thing. I must marry Madelon. All the hopes of my mother and father rest
on that marriage; and to disappoint them because this stranger's face has
bewitched me? Ah, no, it cannot be. And even if I were willing to trample
my honour in the dust, how do I know that she would value or accept the
M. Lenoble made all necessary inquiries at the office of the Messageries,
and carried the intelligence to Madame Meynell. He could see that she
winced a little when he told her the cost of the journey, which in those
days was heavy.
"She must certainly be poor," he said to himself; and it rent his heart
to think that even in this paltry matter he could be of no use to her.
The destined master of Beaubocage and Cotenoir was entirely without ready
money. He had his watch. He put his hand upon that clumsy timekeeper as
he talked to madame.
"_Je te porterai chez ma tante, mon gars_," he said to himself. But he
doubted whether the high priests of the pious mountain--the Dordona of
Pauperism--would advance much upon this antique specimen of the
After this evening he looked forward daily, hourly, to the anguish of her
departure. She would vanish out of his life, intangible as a melted
snow-flake, and only memory would stay behind to tell him he had known
and loved her. Why should this be so hard to bear? If she stayed, he
dared not tell her she was dear to him; he dared not stretch forth his
hand to help her. In all the world there was no creature more utterly
apart from him than she, whether she lived in the same house with him or
was distant as the Antipodes. What did it matter, then, since she was
destined to disappear from his life, whether she vanished to-day or a
year hence? He argued with himself that it could be a question of no
moment to him. There was a death-blow that must descend upon him, cruel,
inevitable. Let it come when it would.
Every day when he came home to dinner, M. Lenoble expected to behold a
vacant place by the side of his hostess; every day he was pleasantly
disappointed. The pale hopeless face was still to be seen, ghost-like, at
that noisy board. The face was more pale, more hopeless, as it seemed to
Gustave, every day he looked upon it.
He asked Madame Magnotte when the English lady was going to leave, but
she could not tell.
"She talks of leaving from day to day," said madame; "it will no doubt be
soon. I am sorry to lose her. She is very gentle, and gives no trouble to
any one. But she is sad--ah, how sad she is! She has suffered, monsieur."
Gustave agreed to this. Yes, she had suffered; but what, and how?
He watched her closely, but she was always the same. She no longer spent
her evenings in the salon, but in her own apartment. He saw her only at
dinner-time, and had no opportunity of speaking to her.
At last the day came upon which he missed her at the usual hour. He sat
through the tedious meal without speaking; eating a little, drinking a
little, mechanically, but with no consciousness of what he ate or drank.
There was a mist before his eyes, a confusion of voices in his ears; but
the faculties of sight and hearing seemed suspended. The agony he
suffered during that miserable hour was bitter as death.
"O, my God, how I love her!" he said to himself, while Raoul's bass roar
brayed in his ear on one side, and Leon's shrill squeal tortured him on
He made his way to Madame Magnotte directly after dinner.
"She is gone?" he exclaimed.
"But who, my friend? Ah, yes; it is of that poor Madame Meynell you
speak. How you are interested in her! No, she is not gone, poor woman.
She remains always. She has the air of a person who knows not her own
mind. Yet I am sure she thinks of going. To-day, for the first time, she
has been writing letters. Reine came to tell me she had seen her occupied
in her own room for the first time. It is not her habit to occupy
Gustave's heart gave a great jump. She was not gone; he might see her
again--if it were but a glimpse of her pale face looking out of the
diligence as it drove out of the Cour de Messageries. One look, one
glance; it would be something to carry in his heart all his life. All his
life! He looked forward and shuddered. What a dreary life it must needs
be! Cotenoir, Beaubocage, Madelon, the law; to plead, to read papers, to
study dry as dust books. He shrank appalled from the contemplation of
that dreary desert of existence--a life without her.
She had been writing letters--doubtless letters to her friends to
announce her return. Her departure must be very near at hand.
Gustave refused to go out that evening. His fellow-students were bent on
a night's pleasure at a dancing-garden then in vogue, where there would
be twinkling lamps and merry music under the May moon. The lamp-lit
parterres, the joyous waltzes, had no attractions for Gustave Lenoble. He
haunted the dull salon, dim and dreary in the twilight; for Madame
Magnotte was chary of lamps and candles, and prolonged to its utmost
limits the pensive interval between day and night. He walked softly up
and down the room, unheeded by the ladies clustered in a group by one of
the windows. Restless and unhappy, he could neither go nor stay. She was
not coming down to the salon this evening. He had clung to the faint hope
that she might appear; but the faint hope died away in his breast as the
night deepened. What purpose could be served by his remaining in that
dismal room? He was no nearer her than he would have been in the
remotest wilds of Central America. He would go out--not to the odious
dancing-garden, but to the cool dark streets, where the night wind might
blow this fever from his brain.
He left the room suddenly, and hurried downstairs. At the bottom of the
staircase he almost stumbled against a woman, who turned and looked at
him in the light of a little oil-lamp that hung over the door of the
It was the Englishwoman, deadly pale, and with a wild look in her face
that Gustave had never seen there before. She gave him no sign of
recognition, but passed out of the courtyard, and walked rapidly away.
That unusual look in her face, the strangeness of the fact that she
should be leaving the house at this hour, inspired him with a vague
terror, and he followed her, not stealthily, without a thought that he
was doing any wrong by such an act--rather, indeed, with the conviction
that he had a right so to follow her.
She walked very quickly--at a more rapid pace than Gustave would have
supposed possible for so fragile a creature. She chose the lonelier
streets, and Gustave had no difficulty in following her; she never looked
back, but went straight on her course, without pause or slackening of her
pace, as if with a settled purpose.
"Where can she be going?" Gustave asked himself; and an answer, vague,
hideous, terrible, suggested itself to his mind. The idea that occurred
to him was one that would scarcely have occurred to an Englishman under
the same circumstances, but to a Frenchman it was a very familiar idea.
It was dark now--the darkness that reigns between early sunset and late
moonrise. As the lonely woman went farther along the dreary streets
parallel with the quay, the dreadful suspicion grew stronger in Gustave's
mind. From that instant he had but one thought; in that moment he put
away from him for ever all sense of obligation to Madelon Frehlter; he
shook off father, mother, sister, old associations, home ties, ambition,
fortune--he lived alone for this woman, and the purpose of his life was
to save her from despair and death.
They emerged upon the quay at last. The long stretch of pavement was
deserted. Ah, now she looked back--she looked on every side with wild
unseeing eyes--and now there could be little doubt as to the purpose that
brought her here. She crossed the road, and went upon the bridge, Gustave
following close; in the next minute she was standing on the stone bench,
a tremulous, fluttering figure, with arms stretched towards the water; in
a breath she was clasped to Gustave's breast, clasped by arms that meant
to hold her for ever.
The shock of that surprise utterly unnerved the wretched creature. She
shivered violently, and struggled to free herself from those strong arms.
"Let me go!" she cried in English. "Let me go!" And then, finding herself
powerless, she turned and looked at her captor. "M. Lenoble! O, why do
you persecute me? Why do you follow me?"
"Because I want to save you."
"To save me! To snatch me back when I was going to find rest--an end for
my weary life! O yes, I know that it is a sinful end; but my life has
been all sin."
"Your life all sin! Foolish one, I will never believe that."
"It is true," she cried, with passionate self-reproach. "The sin of
selfishness, and pride, and disobedience. There is no fate too hard for
me--but, O, my fate is very hard! Why did you keep me from that river?
You do not know how miserable my life is--you do not know. I paid my
last penny to Madame Magnotte this morning. I have no money to take me
back to England, even if I dared go there--and I dare not. I have prayed
for courage, for strength to go back, but my prayers have not been
heard; and there is nothing for me but to die. What would be the sin of
my throwing myself into that river! I must die; I shall die of
starvation in the streets."
"No, no," cried Gustave passionately; "do you think I have dragged you
back from death to give you to loneliness and despair? My dear one, you
are mine--mine by right of this night. These arms that have kept you
from death shall shelter you,--ah, let them shelter you! These hands
shall work for you. My love, my love! you cannot tell how dear you are
to me. If there must be want or trouble for either of us, it shall come
to me first."
He had placed her on the stone bench, bewildered and unresisting, and had
seated himself by her side. The fragile figure, shivering still, even in
the mild atmosphere of the spring night, was sustained by his encircling
arm. He felt that she was his, irrevocably and entirely--given to him by
the Providence which would have seemed to have abandoned her, but for the
love it had implanted for her in this one faithful heart. His tone had
all the pleading tenderness of a lover's, but it had something more--an
authority, a sense of possession.
"Providence sent me here to save you," he said, with that gentle yet
authoritative tone; "I am your providence, am I not, dearest? Fate made
me love you--fondly, hopelessly, as I thought. Yesterday you seemed as
far away from me as those pale stars, shining up yonder--as
incomprehensible as that faint silvery mist above the rising moon--and
to-night you are my own."
He knew not what ties might be broken by this act. He had indeed a vague
consciousness that the step which he was now taking would cause a
lifelong breach between himself and his father. But the time had gone by
in which he could count the cost.
"Let me go back, M. Lenoble," the Englishwoman said presently. The
faintness of terror was passing away, and she spoke almost calmly. "Let
me go back to the house. It is you that have saved me from a dreadful
sin. I promise you that I will not again think of committing that deadly
sin. I will wait for the end to come. Let me go, my kind friend. Ah, no,
no; do not detain me! Forget that you have ever known me."
"That is not in my power. I will take you back to the Pension Magnotte
directly; but you must first promise to be my wife."
"Your wife! O, no, no, no! That is impossible."
"Because you do not love me," said Gustave, with mournful gravity.
"Because I am not worthy of you."
Humiliation and self-reproach unspeakable were conveyed in those few
"You are worth all the stars to me. If I had them in my hands, those
lamps shining up there, I would throw them away, to hold you," said the
student passionately. "You cannot understand my love, perhaps. I seem a
stranger to you, and all I say sounds wild and foolish. My love, it is
true as the heaven above us--true as life or death--death that was so
near you just now. I have loved you ever since that bleak March morning
on which I saw you sitting under the leafless trees yonder. You held me
from that moment. I was subjugated--possessed--yours at once and for
ever. I would not confess even to myself that my heart had resigned
itself to you; but I know now that it was so from the first. Is there any
hope that you will ever pay me back one tithe of my love?"
"You love me," the Englishwoman repeated slowly, as if the words were
almost beyond her comprehension,--"you love _me_, a creature so lost, so
friendless! Ah, but you do not know my wretched story!"
"I do not ask to know it. I only ask one question--will you be my wife?"
"You must be mad to offer your name, your honour to me."
"Yes, I am mad--madly in love. And I am waiting for your answer. You
will be my wife? My angel, you will say yes! It is not much that I offer
you--a life of uncertainty, perhaps even of poverty; but a fond and
constant heart, and a head and hands that will work for you while God
gives them strength. It is better than the river."
All that was thoughtless and hopeful in his disposition was expressed in
these words. The woman to whom he pleaded was weakened by sorrow, and
the devotion of this brave true heart brought her strength, comfort,
"Will you be my friend?" she said gently. "Your words seem to bring me
back to life. I wanted to die because I was so wretched, so lonely. I
have friends in England--friends who were once all that is dear and kind;
but I dare not go to them. I think a cruel look from one of those friends
would kill me with a pain more bitter than any other death could give.
And I have no right to hope for kind looks from them. Yours are the only
words of friendship I have heard for a long time."
"And you will give me the right to work for you--to protect you? You will
be my wife?"
"I would rather be your servant," she answered, with sad humility. "What
right have I to accept so great a sacrifice? What folly can be so foolish
as your love for me--if it is indeed love, and not a wild fancy of
"It is a fancy that will last my life."
"Ah, you do not know how such fancies change."
"I know nothing except that mine is changeless. Come, my love, it is
growing late and cold. Let me take you home. The portress will wonder.
You must slip past her quietly with your veil down. Did you give old
Margot your key when you came down stairs to-night?"
"No, it is in my pocket. I was not thinking--I--"
She stopped with a sudden shudder. Gustave understood that shudder; he
also shuddered. She had left her room that night possessed by the
suicide's madness; she had left it to come straight to death. Happily his
strong arm had come between her and that cruel grave by which they were
They walked slowly back to the Rue Grande-Mademoiselle under the light of
the newly-risen moon. The Englishwoman's wasted hand rested for the first
time on M. Lenoble's arm. She was his--his by the intervention and by the
decree of Providence! That became a conviction in the young man's mind.
He covered her late return to the house with diplomatic art, engaging the
portress in conversation while the dark figure glided past in the dim
lamplight. On the staircase he paused to bid her good night.
"You will walk with me in the Luxembourg garden to-morrow morning,
dearest," he said. "I have so much to say--so much. Until then, adieu!"
He kissed her hand, and left her on the threshold of her apartment, and
then went to his own humble bachelor's chamber, singing a little drinking
song in his deep manly voice, happy beyond all measure.
They walked together next day in the gardens of the Luxembourg. The poor
lonely creature whom Gustave had rescued seemed already to look up to him
as a friend and protector, if not in the character of a future husband.
It was no longer this fair stranger who held possession of Gustave; it
was Gustave who had taken possession of her. The stronger nature had
subjugated the weaker. So friendless, so utterly destitute--penniless,
helpless, in a strange land, it is little matter for wonder that Susan
Meynell accepted the love that was at once a refuge and a shelter.
"Let me tell you my wretched story," she pleaded, as she walked under the
chestnut-trees by her lover's side. "Let me tell you everything. And if,
when you have heard what an unhappy creature I am, you still wish to give
me your heart, your name, I will be obedient to your wish. I will not
speak to you of gratitude. If you could understand how debased an outcast
I seemed to myself last night when I went to the river, you would know
how I must feel your goodness. But you can never understand--you can
never know what you seem to me."
And then in a low voice, and with infinite shame and hesitation, she told
him her story.
"My father was a tradesman in the city of London," she said. "We were
very well off, and my home ought to have been a happy one. Ah, how happy
such a home would seem to me now! But I was idle and frivolous and
discontented in those days, and was dissatisfied with our life in the
city because it seemed dull and monotonous to me. When I look back now
and remember how poor a return I gave for the love that was given to
me--my mother's anxiety, my father's steady, unpretending kindness--I
feel how well I have deserved the sorrows that have come to me since
She paused here, but Gustave did not interrupt her. His interest was too
profound for any conventional expression. He was listening to the story
of his future wife's youth. That there could be any passage in that
history which would hinder him from claiming this woman as his wife was a
possibility he did not for a moment contemplate. If there were shame
involved in the story, as Madame Meynell's manner led him to suppose
there must be, so much the worse was it for him, since the shame must be
his, as she was his.
"When my father and mother died, I went into Yorkshire to live with my
married sister. I cannot find words to tell you how kind they were to
me--my sister and her husband. I had a little money left me by my father,
and I spent the greater part of it on fine dress, and on foolish presents
to my sister and her children. I was happier in Yorkshire than I had been
in London; for I saw more people, and my life seemed gayer and brighter
than in the city. One day I saw a gentleman, the brother of a nobleman
who lived in the neighbourhood of my sister's house. We met by accident
in a field on my brother-in-law's farm, where the gentleman was shooting;
and after that he came to the house. He had seen my sister before, and
made some excuse for renewing his acquaintance. He came very often, and
before long he asked me to marry him; and I promised to be his wife, with
my sister's knowledge and consent. She loved me so dearly, and was so
proud of me out of her dear love, that she saw nothing wonderful in this
engagement, especially as Mr. Kingdon, the gentleman I am speaking of,
was a younger son, and by no means a rich man."
Again she stopped, and waited a little before continuing her story. Only
by a gentle pressure of the tremulous hand resting on his arm did Gustave
express his sympathy.
"I cannot tell you, how happy I was in those days--so bright, so brief. I
cannot tell you how I loved Montague Kingdon. When I look back to that
time of my life, it seems like a picture standing out against a
background of darkness, with some strange vivid light shining upon it. It
was arranged between Montague and my sister that we should be married as
soon as his brother, Lord Durnsville, had paid his debts. The payment of
the debts was an old promise of Lord Durnsville's, and an imprudent
marriage on his brother's part might have prevented the performance of
it. This is what Montague told my sister Charlotte. She begged him to
confide in her husband, my kind brother-in-law, but this he refused to
do. There came a day very soon after this when James Halliday, my
brother-in-law, was told about Montague Kingdon's visits to the farm. He
came home and found Mr. Kingdon with us; and then there was a dreadful
scene between them. James forbade Mr. Kingdon ever again to set foot in
his house. He scolded my sister, he warned me. It was all no use. I loved
Montague Kingdon as you say you love me--foolishly, recklessly. I could
not disbelieve or doubt him. When he told me of his plans for our
marriage, which was to be kept secret until Lord Durnsville had paid his
debts, I consented to leave Newhall with him to be married in London. If
he had asked me for my life, I must have given it to him. And how should
I disbelieve his promises when I had lived only amongst people who were
truth itself? He knew that I had friends in London, and it was arranged
between us that I was to be married from the house of one of them, who
had been my girlish companion, and who was now well married. I was to
write, telling her of my intended journey to town; and on the following
night I was to leave Newhall secretly with Montague Kingdon. I was to
make my peace with my sister and her husband after my marriage. How shall
I tell you the rest? From the first to last he deceived me. The carriage
that was, as I believed, to have taken us to London, carried us to Hull.
From Hull we crossed to Hamburg. From that time my story is all shame and
misery. I think my heart broke in the hour in which I discovered that I
had been cheated. I loved him, and clung to him long after I knew him to
be selfish and false and cruel. It seemed to be a part of my nature to
love him. My life was not the kind of life one reads of in novels. It was
no existence of splendour and luxury and riot, but one long struggle with
debt and difficulty. We lived abroad--not for our pleasure, but because
Mr. Kingdon could not venture to appear in England. His brother, Lord
Durnsville, had never promised to pay his debts. That was a falsehood
invented to deceive my sister. For seven long weary years I was his
slave, a true and faithful slave; his nurse in illness, his patient
drudge at all times. We had been wandering about France for two years,
when he brought me to Paris; and it was here he first began to neglect
me. O, if you could know the dreary days and nights I have spent at the
hotel on the other side of the river, where we lived, you would pity me."
"My dear love, my heart is all pity for you," said Gustave. "Do not tell
me any more. I can guess the end of the story. There came a day in which
neglect gave place to desertion."
"Yes; Mr. Kingdon left me one day without a warning word to break the
blow. I had been waiting and watching for him through two weary days and
nights, when there came a letter to tell me he was on his way to Vienna
with a West Indian gentleman and his daughter. He was to be married to
the daughter. It was his poverty, he told me, which compelled this step.
He advised me to go back to my friends in Yorkshire. To go back!--as if
he did not know that death would be easier to me. There was a small sum
of money in the letter, on which I have lived since that time. When you
first met me here, I had not long received that letter."
This was the end of her story. In the depth of her humiliation she dared
not lift her eyes to the face of her companion; but she felt his hand
clasp hers, and knew that he was still her friend. This was all she asked
To Gustave Lenoble the story had been unutterably painful. He had hoped
to hear a tragedy untarnished by shame, and the shame was very bitter to
him. This woman whom he loved so fondly was no spotless martyr, the
victim of inevitable fate, beautiful and sublime in her affliction. She
was only a weak vain, village beauty who had suffered herself to be lured
away from her peaceful home by the falsehoods of a commonplace scoundrel.
The story was common, the shame was common, but it seemed to M. Lenoble
that the woman by his side was his destiny; and then, prompt to the
rescue of offended pride, of outraged love--tortured to think that she,
so distant and pure a creature to him, should have been trampled in the
dust by another--came the white-winged angel Pity. By her weakness, by
her humiliation, by the memory of her suffering, Pity conjured him to
love her so much the more dearly.
"My darling," he said softly, "it is a very sad story, and you and I will
never speak of it again. We will bury the memory of Montague Kingdon in
the deepest grave that was ever dug for bitter remembrances; and we will
begin a new life together."
This was the end of M. Lenoble's wooing. He could not speak of his love
any more while the sound of Montague Kingdon's name had but lately died
away on Susan Meynell's lips. He had taken her to himself, with all her
sorrows and sins, in the hour in which he snatched her from death; and
between these two there was no need of passionate protestations or
M. Lenoble speedily discovered that the law had made no provision for the
necessities of a chivalrous young student eager to unite himself with a
friendless foreign woman, who could not produce so much as one of the
thirty witnesses required to establish her identity. A very little
consideration showed Gustave that a marriage between him and Susan
Meynell in France was an impossibility. He explained this, and asked her
if she would trust him as she had trusted Montague Kingdon. In Jersey the
marriage might easily be solemnised. Would she go with him to Jersey, to
stay there so long as the English law required for the solemnization of
"Why should you take so much trouble about me?" said Susan, in her low
sad voice. "You are too good, too generous. I am not worth so much care
and thought from you."
"Does that mean that you will not trust me, Susan?"
"I would trust you with my life in a desert, thousands of miles from the
rest of mankind--with a happier life than mine. I have no feeling in my
heart but love for you, and faith in you."
After this the rest was easy. The lovers left the Pension Magnotte one
bright summer morning, and journeyed to Jersey, where, after a
fortnight's sojourn, the English Protestant church united them in the
bonds of matrimony.
Susan was a Protestant, Gustave a Catholic, but the difference of
religion divided them no more than the difference of country. They came
back to Paris directly after the marriage, and M. Lenoble took a very
modest lodging for himself and his wife in a narrow street near the
Pantheon--a fourth story, very humbly furnished. M. Lenoble had provided
for himself an opportunity of testing the truth of that adage which
declares that a purse large enough for one is also large enough for two.
A DECREE OF BANISHMENT.
After those stormy emotions which accompany the doing of a desperate
deed, there comes in the minds of men a dead calm. The still small voice
of Wisdom, unheard while Passion's tempest was raging, whispers grave
counsel or mild reproof; and Folly, who, seen athwart the storm-cloud,
sublime in the glare of the lightning, seemed inspiration, veils her face
in the clear, common light of day.
Let it not for a moment be supposed that with M. Lenoble time and
reflection brought repentance in their train. It was not so. The love
which he felt for his English wife was no capricious emotion; it was a
passion deep and strong as destiny. The worst that afterthought could
reveal to him was the fact that the step he had taken was a very
desperate one. Before him lay an awful necessity--the necessity of going
to Beaubocage to tell those who loved him how their air-built castles had
been shattered by this deed of his.
The letters from Cydalise--nay, indeed, more than one letter from his
mother, with whom letter-writing was an exceptional business--had of late
expressed much anxiety. In less than a month the marriage-contract would
be made ready for his signature. Every hour's delay was a new dishonour.
He told his wife that he must go home for a few days; and she prepared
his travelling gear, with a sweet dutiful care that seemed to him like
the ministration of an angel.
"My darling girl, can I ever repay you for the happiness you have brought
me!" he exclaimed, as he watched the slight girlish figure flitting about
the room, busy with the preparations for his journey.
And then he thought of Madelon Frehlter--commonplace, stiff, and
unimpressionable--the most conventional of school-girls, heavy in face,
in figure, in step, in mind even, as it had seemed to him, despite his
He had been too generous to tell Susan of his engagement, of the
brilliant prospects he forfeited by his marriage, or the risk which he
ran of offending his father by that rash step. But to-night, when he
thought of Madelon's dulness and commonness, it seemed to him as if Susan
had in manner rescued him from a dreadful fate--as maidens were rescued
from sea-monsters in the days of Perseus and Heracles.
"Madelon is not unlike a whale," he thought. "They tell us that whales
are of a sagacious and amiable temper,--and Cydalise was always talking
of Madelon's good sense and amiablity. I am sure it is quite as easy to
believe in the unparalleled virtues of the whale as in the unparalleled
virtues of Madelon Frehlter."
His valise was packed, and he departed for Beaubocage, after a sad and
tender parting from his wife. The journey was a long one in those days,
when no express train had yet thundered across the winding Seine,
cleaving its iron way through the bosom of fertile Norman valleys. M.
Lenoble had ample time for reflection as he jogged along in the ponderous
diligence; and his heart grew more and more heavy as the lumbering
vehicle approached nearer to the town of Vevinord, whence he was to make
his way to the paternal mansion as best he might.
He walked to Beaubocage, attended by a peasant lad, who carried his
portmanteau. The country was very pleasant in the quiet summer
evening, but conscious guilt oppressed the heart and perplexity
disturbed the mind of M. Gustave Lenoble, and his spirits were in
nowise elevated by the walk.
Lights in the lower chambers gleamed dimly athwart the trim garden at
Beaubocage. One faint twinkling candle shone in a little pepper-castor
turret, his sister's room. The thought of their glad welcome smote his
heart. How could he shape the words that must inform them of their
disappointment? And then he thought of the gentle pensive wife in the
Parisian lodging, so grateful for his devotion, so tender and
submissive,--the wife he had rescued from death and eternal condemnation,
as it seemed to his pious Catholic mind. The thought of this dear one
gave him courage.
"I owe much to my parents," he thought to himself, "but not the privilege
to sell me for money. The marriage they want to bring about would be a
sordid barter of my heart and my honour."
In a few minutes after this he was standing in the little salon at
Beaubocage, with his mother and sister hanging about him and caressing
him, his father standing near, less demonstrative, but evidently well
pleased by this unexpected arrival of the son and heir.
"I heard thy voice in the hall," cried Cydalise, "and flew down from my
room to welcome thee. It seems to me that one can fly on these occasions.
And how thou art looking well, and how thou art handsome, and how I adore
thee!" cries the damsel, more ecstatic than an English sister on a like
occasion. "Dost thou know that we began to alarm ourselves about thee?
Thy letters became so infrequent, so cold. And all the while thou didst
plot this surprise for us. Ah, how it is sweet to see thee again!"
And then the mother took up the strain, and anon was spoken the dreaded
name of Madelon. She too would be glad--she too had been anxious. The
prodigal made no answer. He could not speak, his heart sank within him,
he grew cold and pale; to inflict pain on those who loved him was a
sharper pain than death.
"Gustave!" cried the mother, in sudden alarm, "thou growest pale--thou
art ill! Look then, Francois, thy son is ill!"
"No, mother, I am not ill," the young man replied gravely. He kissed his
mother, and put her gently away from him. In all the years of her
after-life she remembered that kiss, cold as death, for it was the
farewell kiss of her son.
"I wish to speak a few words with you alone, father," said Gustave.
The father was surprised, but in no manner alarmed by this request. He
led the way to his den, a small and dingy chamber, where there were some
dusty editions of the French classics, and where the master of Beaubocage
kept accounts and garden-seeds and horse-medicines.
When they were gone, the mother and sister sat by one of the open
windows, waiting for them. Without all was still. Distant lights
glimmered through the summer twilight, the lighted windows of Cotenoir.
"How pleased Madelon will be," said Cydalise, looking towards those
glimmering windows. She had really taught herself to believe that the
demoiselle Frehlter was a most estimable young person; but she would have
been glad to find more enthusiasm, more brightness and vivacity, in her
The interview between the father and son seemed long to Madame Lenoble
and Cydalise. The two women were curious--nay, indeed, somewhat anxious.
"I fear he has made debts," said the mother, "and is telling thy father
of his follies. I know not how they are to be paid, unless with the dowry
of Madelon, and that would seem a dishonourable use of her money."
It was half an hour before any sound broke the stillness of that quiet
house. Twilight had thickened into night, when there came a banging of
doors and heavy footsteps in the hall. The door of the salon was
opened, and M. Lenoble came in alone. At the same moment the outer door
M. Lenoble went straight to the open window and closed the Venetian
shutters. He went from thence to the second window, the shutters whereof
he fastened carefully, while the women stared at him wonderingly, for it
was not his habit to perform this office.
"I am shutting out a vagabond," he said, in a cold, cruel voice.
"Where is Gustave?" cried the mother, alarmed.
"He is gone."
"But he is coming back, is he not, directly?"
"Never while I live!" answered M. Lenoble. "He has married an English
adventuress, and is no longer any son of mine."
Book the Second.
THE FATE OP SUSAN LENOBLE.
Seven years after that miserable summer night at Beaubocage on which
Gustave Lenoble was disowned by his father, a man and woman, with a boy
five years of age, were starving in a garret amongst the housetops and
chimneys of Rouen. In the busy city these people lived lonely as in a
forest, and were securely hidden from the eyes of all who had ever
known them. The man--haggard, dying--cherished a pride that had grown
fiercer as the grip of poverty tightened upon him. The woman lived only
for her husband and her child.
The man was Gustave Lenoble. The world had gone ill with him since he
cast his destiny into the lap of the woman he loved. In all these years
no olive-bearing dove had spanned the gulf that yawned between the
prodigal and his father. The seigneur of Beaubocage had been marble. A
narrow-minded old man, living his narrow life, and nursing one idea with
fanatical devotion, was of all men the least likely to forgive. Vain had
been the tears and entreaties of mother and sister. The doors of that
joyless dwelling on the fertile flats beyond Vevinord were sealed against
the offender with a seal not to be broken, even had he come thither to
plead for pardon, which he did not.
"My father would have sold me as negro slaves are sold _labas_," he said,
on those rare occasions when he opened his old wounds, which were to the
last unhealed: "I am glad that I escaped the contemptible barter."
He was in very truth glad. Poverty and hardship seemed to him easier to
bear than the dreary prosperity of Cotenoir and a wife he could not have
loved. The distinguishing qualities of this man's mind were courage and
constancy. There are such noble souls born into the world, some to shine
with lustre supernal, many to burn and die in social depths, obscure as
ocean's deepest cavern.
In his love for the woman he had chosen Gustave Lenoble never wavered. He
worked for her, he endured for her, he hoped against hope for her sake;
and it was only when bodily strength failed that this nameless
foot-soldier began to droop and falter in life's bitter battle. Things
had gone ill with him. He had tried his fate as an advocate in Paris, in
Caen, in Rouen--but clients would not come. He had been a clerk, now in
one counting-house, now in another, and Susan and he had existed somehow
during the seven years of their married life.
They clung to each other with affection that seemed to grow with every
new sorrow; nor did love exhibit any inclination to spread his wings and
take flight from the window, though poverty came in every day at the
door, and sat by the hearth, a familiar companion and inevitable guest.
The mother and sister contrived to help this poor castaway with the