Part 3 out of 6
that the water should not boil, had prevailed, as the half-soaked tea-
leaves floating on top of our full cups triumphantly proclaimed.
We sipped the beverage, agreeing Balzac had well named it _ce boisson
fade et melancolique_; the novelist's disdain being the better
understood as we reflected he had doubtless only tasted it as concocted
by French ineptitude. We were very merry over the liver-colored liquid,
as we sipped it and quoted Balzac. But not for a moment had our
merriment deceived the brown eyes and the fluttering cap-ribbons. A
little drama of remorse was soon played for our benefit. It was she,
her very self, the cap protested--as she pointed a tragic finger at the
swelling, rounded line of her firm bodice--it was she who had insisted
that the water should _not_ boil; there had been ladies--_des vraies
anglaises_--here, only last summer, who would not that the water should
boil, when their tea was made. And now, it appears that they were
wrong, "_c'etait probablement une fantaisie de la part de ces dames_."
Would we wait for another cup? It would take but an instant, it was a
little mistake, so easy to remedy. But this mistake, like many another,
like crime, for instance, could never be remedied, we smilingly told
her; a smile that changed her solicitous remorse to a humorist's view
of the situation.
Another humorist, one accustomed to view the world from heights known
as trapeze elevations, we met a little later on our way out of the
narrow upper streets; he was also looking down over Trouville. It was a
motley figure in a Pierrot garb, with a smaller striped body, both in
the stage pallor of their trade. These were somewhat startling objects
to confront on a Normandy high-road. For clowns, however, taken by
surprise, they were astonishingly civil. They passed their "_bonjour_"
to us and to the coachman as glibly as though accosting us from the
commoner circus distance.
"They have come to taste of the fresh air, they have," laconically
remarked our driver, as his round Norman eyes ran over the muscled
bodies of the two athletes. "I had a brother who was one--I had; he was
a famous one--he was; he broke his neck once, when the net had been
forgotten. They all do it--_ils se cassent le cou tous, tot ou tard!
Allons toi t'as peur, toi?_" Chat noir's great back was quivering with
fear; he had no taste, himself, for shapes like these, spectral and wan
as ghosts, walking about in the sun. He took us as far away as
possible, and as quickly, from these reminders of the thing men call
We, meanwhile, were asking Pierre for a certain promised chateau, one
famous for its beauty, between Trouville and Cabourg.
"It is here, madame--the chateau," he said, at last.
Two lions couchant, seated on wide pedestals beneath a company of
noble trees, were the only visible inhabitants of the dwelling.
There was a sweep of gardens: terraces that picked their way daintily
down the cliffs toward the sea, a mansard roof that covered a large
mansion--these were the sole aspects of chateau life to keep the trees
company. In spite of Pierre's urgent insistence that the view was even
more beautiful than the one from the hill, we refused to exchange our
first experiences of the beauty of the prospect for a second which
would be certain to invite criticism; for it is ever the critic in us
that plays the part of Bluebeard to our many-wived illusions.
We passed between the hedgerows with not even a sigh of regret. We were
presently rewarded by something better than an illusion--by reality,
which, at its best, can afford to laugh at the spectral shadow of
itself. Near the chateau there lived on, the remnant of a hamlet. It
was a hamlet, apparently, that boasted only one farm-house; and the
farm-house could show but a single hayrick. Beneath the sloping roof,
modelled into shape by a pitchfork and whose symmetrical lines put
Mansard's clumsy creation yonder to the blush, sat an old couple--a man
and a woman. Both were old, with the rounded backs of the laborer;
the woman's hand was lying in the man's open palm, while his free arm
was clasped about her neck with all the tenderness of young love. Both
of the old heads were laid back on the pillow made by the freshly-piled
grasses. They had done a long day's work already, before the sun had
reached its meridian; they were weary and resting here before they went
back to their toil.
This was better than the view; it made life seem finer than nature; how
rich these two poor old things looked, with only their poverty about
Meanwhile Pierre had quickly changed the rural _mise-en-scene_; instead
of pink hawthorn hedges we were in the midst of young forest trees. Why
is it that a forest is always a surprise in France? Is it that we have
such a respect for French thrift, that a real forest seems a waste of
timber? There are forests and forests; this one seemed almost a
stripling in its tentative delicacy, compared to the mature splendor of
Fontainebleau, for example. This forest had the virility of a young
savage; it was neither dense nor vast; yet, in contrast to the ribbony
grain fields, and to the finish of the villa parks, was as refreshing
to the eye as the right chord that strikes upon the ear after a
succession of trills.
In all this fair Normandy sea-coast, with its wonderful inland
contrasts, there was but one disappointing note. One looked in vain for
the old Normandy costumes. The blouse and the close white cap--this is
all that is left of the wondrous headgear, the short brilliant
petticoats, the embroidered stomacher, and the Caen and Rouen jewels,
abroad in the fields only a decade ago.
Pierre shrugged his shoulders when asked a question concerning these
now pre-historic costumes.
"Ah! mademoiselle, you must see for yourself, that the peasant who
doesn't despise himself dresses now in the fields as he would in
As if in confirmation of Pierre's news of the fashions, there stepped
forth from an avenue of trees, fringing a near farm-house, a wedding-
party. The bride was in the traditional white of brides; the little
cortege following the trail of her white gown, was dressed in costumes
modelled on Bon Marche styles. The coarse peasant faces flamed from
bonnets more flowery than the fields into which they were passing. The
men seemed choked in their high collars; the agony of new boots was
written on faces not used to concealing such form of torture. Even the
groom was suffering; his bliss was something the gay little bride
hanging on his arm must take entirely for granted. It was enough
greatness for the moment to wear broadcloth and a white vest in the
face of men.
"_Laissez, laissez, Marguerite_, it is clean here; it will look fine on
the green!" cried the bride to an improvised train-bearer, who had been
holding up the white alpaca. Then the full splendor of the bridal skirt
trailed across the freshly mown grasses. An irrepressible murmur of
admiration welled up from the wedding guests; even Pierre made part of
the chorus. The bridegroom stopped to mop his face, and to look forth
proudly, through starting eyeballs, on the splendor of his possessions.
"Ah! Lizette, thou art pretty like that, thou knowest. _Faut
l'embrasser, tu sais_."
He gave her a kiss full on the lips. The little bride returned the kiss
with unabashed fervor. Then she burst into a loud fit of laughter.
"How silly you look, Jean, with your collar burst open."
The groom's enthusiasm had been too much for his toilet; the noon sun
and the excitements of the marriage service had dealt hardly with his
celluloid fastenings. All the wedding cortege rushed to the rescue.
Pins, shouts of advice, pieces of twine, rubber fastenings, even
knives, were offered to the now exploding bridegroom; everyone was
helping him repair the ravages of his moment of bliss; everyone
excepting the bride. She sat down upon her train and wept from pure
rapture of laughter.
Pierre shook his head gravely, as he whipped up his steed.
"Jean will repent it; he'll lose worse things than a button, with
Lizette. A woman who laughs like that on the threshold of marriage will
cry before the cradle is rocked, and will make others weep. However,
Jean won't be thinking of that--to-night."
"Where are they going--along the highroad?"
"Only a short distance. They turn in there," and he pointed with his
whip to a near lane; "they go to the farm-house now--for the wedding
dinner. Ah! there'll be some heavy heads to-morrow. For you know, a
Norman peasant only really eats and drinks well twice in his life--when
he marries himself and when his daughter marries. Lizette's father is
rich--the meat and the wines will be good to-night."
Our coachman sighed, as if the thought of the excellence of the coming
banquet had disturbed his own digestion.
The wedding party was lost in a thicket. Pierre gave his whip so
resounding a snap, it was no surprise to find ourselves rolling over
the cobbles of a village street.
"This is Dives, mesdames, this is the inn!"
Pierre drew up, as he spoke, before a long, low facade.
Now, no one, I take it, in this world enjoys being duped. Surely
disappointment is only a civil term for the varying degrees of fraud
practised on the imagination. This inn, apparently, was to be classed
among such frauds. It did not in the least, externally at least, fulfil
Renard's promises. He had told us to expect the marvellous and the
mediaeval in their most approved period. Yet here we were, facing a
featureless exterior! The facade was built yesterday--that was writ
large, all over the low, rambling structure. One end, it is true,
had a gabled end; there was also an old shrine niched in glass beneath
the gable, and a low Norman gateway with rude letters carved over the
arch. June was in its glory, and the barrenness of the commonplace
structure was mercifully hidden by a wreath of pink and amber roses.
But one scarcely drives twenty miles in the sun to look upon a facade
Chat noir, meanwhile, was becoming restless. Pierre had managed to keep
his own patience well in hand. Now, however, he broke forth:
"Shall we enter, my ladies?"
Pierre drove us straight into paradise; for here, at last, within the
courtyard, was the inn we had come to seek.
A group of low-gabled buildings surrounded an open court. All of the
buildings were timbered, the diagonal beams of oak so old they were
black in the sun, and the snowy whiteness of fresh plaster made them
seem blacker still. The gabled roofs were of varying tones and tints;
some were red, some mossy green, some as gray as the skin of a mouse;
all were deeply, plentifully furrowed with the washings of countless
rains, and they were bearded with moss. There were outside galleries,
beginning somewhere and ending anywhere. There were open and covered
outer stairways so laden with vines they could scarce totter to the
low heights of the chamber doors on which they opened; and there were
open sheds where huge farm-wagons were rolled close to the most modern
of Parisian dog-carts. That not a note of contrast might be lacking,
across the courtyard, in one of the windows beneath a stairway, there
flashed the gleam of some rich stained glass, spots of color that were
repeated, with quite a different lustre, in the dappled haunches
of rows of sturdy Percherons munching their meal in the adjacent
stalls. Add to such an ensemble a vagrant multitude of rose,
honeysuckle, clematis, and wistaria vines, all blooming in full rivalry
of perfume and color; insert in some of the corners and beneath some of
the older casements archaic bits of sculpture--strange barbaric
features with beards of Assyrian correctness and forms clad in the
rigid draperies of the early Jumieges period of the sculptor's
art; lance above the roof ridges the quaint polychrome finials of the
earlier Palissy models; and crowd the rough cobble-paved courtyard with
a rare and distinguished assemblage of flamingoes, peacocks, herons,
cockatoos swinging from gabled windows, and game-cocks that strut about
in company with pink doves--and you have the famous inn of Guillaume le
Meanwhile an individual, with fine deep-gray eyes, and a face grave,
yet kindly, over which a smile was humorously breaking, was patiently
waiting at our carriage door. He could be no other than Monsieur Paul,
owner and inn-keeper, also artist, sculptor, carver, restorer, to whom,
in truth, this miracle of an inn owed its present perfection and
"We have been long expecting you, mesdames," Monsieur Paul's grave
voice was saying. "Monsieur Renard had written to announce your coming.
You took the trouble to drive along the coast this fine day? It is
idyllically lovely, is it not--under such a sun?"
Evidently the moment of enchantment was not to be broken by the worker
of the spell. Monsieur Paul and his inn were one; if one was a poem the
other was a poet. The poet was also lined with the man of the practical
moment. He had quickly summoned a host of serving-people to take charge
of us and our luggage.
"Lizette, show these ladies to the room of Madame de Sevigne. If they
desire a sitting-room--to the Marmousets."
The inn-keeper gave his commands in the quiet, well-bred tone of a man
of the world, to a woman in peasant's dress. She led us past the open
court to an inner one, where we were confronted with a building still
older, apparently, than those grouped about the outer quadrangle. The
peasant passed quickly beneath an overhanging gallery, draped in vines.
She was next preceding us up a spiral turret stairway; the adjacent
walls were hung here and there with faded bits of tapestry. Once more
she turned to lead us along an open gallery; on this several rooms
appeared to open. On each door a different sign was painted in rude
Gothic letters. The first was "Chambre de l'Officier;" the second,
"Chambre du Cure," and the next was flung widely open. It was the room
of the famous lady of the incomparable Letters. The room might have
been left--in the yesterday of two centuries--by the lady whose name it
bore. There was a beautiful Seventeenth century bedstead, a couple of
wide arm-chairs, with down pillows for seats, and a clothes press with
the carvings and brass work peculiar to the epoch of Louis XIV. The
chintz hangings and draperies were in keeping, being copies of the
brocades of that day. There were portraits in miniature of the
courtiers and the ladies of the Great Reign on the very ewers and
basins. On the flounced dressing-table, with its antique glass and a
diminutive patch-box, now the receptacle of Lubin's powder, a sprig of
the lovely Rose The was exhaling a faint, far-away century perfume. It
was surely a stage set for a real comedy; some of these high-coiffed
ladies, who knows? perhaps Madame de Sevigne herself would come to
life, and give to the room the only thing it lacked--the living
presence of that old world grace and speech.
Presently, we sallied forth on a further voyage of discovery. We had
reached the courtyard when Monsieur Paul crossed it; it was to ask if,
while waiting for the noon breakfast, we would care to see the kitchen;
it was, perhaps, different to those now commonly seen in modern
The kitchen which was thus modestly described as unlike those of our
own century might easily, except for the appetizing smell of the
cooking fowls and the meats, have been put under lock and key and
turned over to a care-taker as a full-fledged culinary museum of
antiquities. One entire side of the crowded but orderly little room was
taken up by a huge open fireplace. The logs resting on the great
andirons were the trunks of full-grown trees. On two of the spits were
long rows of fowl and legs of mutton roasting; the great chains were
being slowly turned by a _chef_ in the paper cap of his profession. In
deep burnished brass bowls lay water-cresses; in Caen dishes of an age
to make a bric-a-brac collector turn green with envy, a _Bearnaise_
sauce was being beaten by another gallic master-hand. Along the beams
hung old Rouen plates and platters; in the numberless carved Normandy
cupboards gleamed rare bits of Delft and Limoges; the walls may be said
to have been hung with Normandy brasses, each as burnished as a jewel.
The floor was sanded and the tables had attained that satiny finish
which comes only with long usage and tireless use of the brush. There
was also a shrine and a clock, the latter of antique Norman make and
The smell of the roasting fowls and the herbs used by the maker of the
sauces, a hungry palate found even more exciting than this most
original of kitchens. There was a wine that went with the sauce; this
fact Monsieur Paul explained, on our sitting down to the noonday meal;
one which, in remembrance of Monsieur Renard's injunctions, he would
suggest our trying. He crossed the courtyard and disappeared into the
bowels of the earth, beneath one of the inn buildings, to bring forth a
bottle incrusted with layers of moist dirt. This Sauterne was by
some, Monsieur Paul smilingly explained, considered as among the real
treasures of the inn. Both it and the sauce, we were enabled to assure
him a moment later, had that golden softness which make French wines
and French sauces at their best the rapture of the palate.
In the courtyard, as our breakfast proceeded, a variety of incidents
was happening. We were facing the open archway; through it one looked
out upon the high-road. A wheelbarrow passed, trundled by a peasant-
girl; the barrow stopped, the girl leaving it for an instant to cross
"_Bonjour, ma fille_--it goes well?" a deep guttural voice responded,
just outside of the window.
"_Justement_--I came to tell you the mare has foaled and Jean will be
"And Barbarine is still angry--"
"Make up with her, my child--anger is an evil bird to take to one's
heart," the deep voice went on.
"It is my mother," explained Monsieur Paul. "It is her favorite seat,
out yonder, on the green bench in the courtyard. I call it her judge's
bench," he smiled, indulgently, as he went on. "She dispenses justice
with more authority than any other magistrate in town. I am Mayor, as
it happens, just now; but madame my mother is far above me, in real
power. She rules the town and the country about, for miles. Everyone
comes to her sooner or later for counsel and command. You will soon see
A murmur of assent from all the table accompanied Monsieur Paul's
"_Femme vraiment remarquable_," hoarsely whispered a stout breakfaster,
behind his napkin, between two spoonsful of his soup.
"Not two in a century like her," said my neighbor.
"No--nor two in all France--_non plus_," retorted the stout man.
"She could rule a kingdom--hey, Paul?"
"She rules me--as you see--and a man is harder to govern than a
province, they say," smiled Monsieur Paul with a humorous relish,
obviously the offspring of experience. "In France, mesdames," he added,
a sweeter look of feeling coming into the deep eyes, "you see we are
always children--_toujours enfants_--as long as the mother lives. We
are never really old till she dies. May the good God preserve her!" and
he lifted his glass toward the green bench. The table drank the toast,
[Illustration: CHAMBRE DE LA PUCELLES--DIVES]
THE GREEN BENCH.
In the course of the first few days we learned what all Dives had known
for the past fifty years or so--that the focal point of interest in the
inn was centred in Madame Le Mois. She drew us, as she had the country
around for miles, to circle close about her green bench.
The bench was placed at the best possible point for one who, between
dawn and darkness, made it the business of her life to keep her eye on
her world. Not the tiniest mouse nor the most spectral shade could
enter or slip away beneath the open archway without undergoing
inspection from that omniscient eye, that seemed never to blink nor to
grow weary. This same eye could keep its watch, also, over the entire
establishment, with no need of the huge body to which it was attached
moving a hair's-breadth. Was it Nitouche, the head-cook, who was
grumbling because the kitchen-wench had not scoured the brass saucepans
to the last point of mirrory brightness? Behold both Nitouche and the
trembling peasant-girl, together with the brasses as evidence, all
could be brought at an instant's call, into the open court. Were the
maids--were Marianne or Lizette neglecting their work to flirt with the
coachmen in the sheds yonder?
"_Allons, mes filles--doucement, la-bas--et vos lits? qui les
fait--les bons saints du paradis, peut-etre?_" And Marianne and Lizette
would slink away to the waiting beds. Nothing escaped this eye. If the
_poule sultane_ was gone lame, limping in the inner quadrangle,
madame's eye saw the trouble--a thorn in the left claw, before the
feathered cripple had had time to reach her objective point, her
mistress's capacious lap, and the healing touch of her skilful
surgeon's fingers. Neither were the cockatoes nor the white parrots
given license to make all the noise in the court-yard. When madame had
an unusually loquacious moment, these more strictly professional
conversationists were taught their place.
"_E'ben, toi_--and thou wishest to proclaim to the world what a gymnast
thou art--swinging on thy perch? Quietly, quietly, there are also
others who wish to praise themselves! And now, my child, you were
telling me how good you had been to your old grandmother, and how she
scolded you. Well, and how about obedience to our parents, _hein_--how
about that?" This, as the old face bent to the maiden beside her.
There was one, assuredly, who had not failed in his duty to his
parents. Monsieur Paul's whole life, as we learned later, had been a
willing sacrifice to the unconscious tyranny of his mother's affection.
The son was gifted with those gifts which, in a Parisian atelier, would
easily have made him successful, if not famous. He had the artistic
endowment in an unusual degree; it was all one to him, whether he
modelled in clay, or carved in wood, or stone, or built a house, or
restored old bric-a-brac. He had inherited the old world roundness of
artistic ability--his was the plastic renascent touch that might have
developed into that of a Giotto or a Benvenuto.
It was such a sacrifice as this that he had lain at his mother's feet.
Think you for an instant the clever, witty, canny woman in Madame Le
Mois looked upon her son's renouncing the world of Paris, and holding
to the glories of Dives and their famous inn in the light of a
sacrifice? "_Parbleu!_" she would explode, when the subject was touched
on, "it was a lucky thing for him that Paul had had an old mother to
keep him from burning his fingers. Paris! What did the provinces want
with Paris? Paris had need enough of them, the great, idle, shiftless,
dissipated, cruel old city, that ground all their sons to powder, and
then scattered their ashes abroad like so many cinders. Oh, yes, Paris
couldn't get along without the provinces, to plunder and rob, to seduce
their sons away from living good, pure lives, and to suck these lives
as a pig would a trough of fresh water! But the provinces, if they
valued their souls, shunned Paris as they would the devil. And as for
artists--when it came to the young of the provinces, who thought they
could paint or model--
"_Tenez, madame_--this is what Paris does for our young. My neighbor
yonder," and she pointed, as only Frenchwomen point, sticking her thumb
into the air to designate a point back of her bench, "my neighbor had
a son like Paul. He too was always niggling at something. He niggled
so well a rich cousin sent him up to Paris. Well, in ten years he
comes back, famous, rich, too, with a wife and even a child. The
establishment is complete. Well, they come here to breakfast one fine
morning, with his mother, whom he put at a side table, with his
nurse--he is ashamed of his mother, you see. Well, then his wife talks
and I hear her. '_Mais, mon Charles, c'est toi qui est le plus
fameux--il n'y a que toi! Tu es un dieu, tu sais--il n'y a pas deux
comme toi!_' The famous one deigns to smile then, and to eat of his
breakfast. His digestion had gone wrong, it appears. The _Figaro_ had
placed his name second on a certain list, _after_ a rival's! He alone
must be great--there must not be another god of painting save him! He!
He! that's fine, that's greatness--to lose one's appetite because
another is praised, and to be ashamed of one's old mother!"
Madame Le Mois's face, for a moment, was terrible to look upon. Even in
her kindliest moments hers was a severe countenance, in spite of the
true Norman curves in mouth and nostril--the laughter-loving curves.
Presently, however, the fierceness of her severity melted; she had
caught sight of her son. He was passing her, now, with the wine bottles
for dinner piled up in his arms.
"You see," croaked the mother, in an exultant whisper, "I've saved him
from all that--he's happy, for he still works. In the winter he can
amuse himself, when he likes, with his carving and paintbrushes. Ah,
_tiens, du monde qui arrive!_" And the old woman seated herself, with
an air of great dignity, to receive the new-comers.
The world that came in under the low archway was of an altogether
different character from any we had as yet seen. In a satin-lined
victoria, amid the cushions, lay a young and lovely-eyed Anonyma.
Seated beside her was a weak-featured man, with a huge flower
decorating his coat lappel. This latter individual divided the seat
with an army of small dogs who leaped forth as the carriage stopped.
Madame Le Mois remained immovable on her bench. Her face was as
enigmatic as her voice, as it gave Suzette the order to show the lady
to the salon bleu. The high Louis XV. slipper, as it picked its way
carefully after Suzette, never seemed more distinctly astray than when
its fair wearer confided her safety to the insecure footing of the
rough, uneven cobbles. In a brief half-hour the frou-frou of her silken
skirts was once more sweeping the court-yard. She and her companion
and the dogs chose the open air and a tent of sky for their
banqueting-hall. Soon all were seated at one of the many tables placed
near the kitchen, beneath the rose-vines.
Madame gave the pair a keen, dissecting glance. Her verdict was
delivered more in the emphasis of her shrug and the humor of her broad
wink than in the loud-whispered "_Comme vous voyez, chere dame, de
toutes sortes ici, chez nous--mais--toujours bon genre!_"
The laughter of one who could not choose her world was stopped,
suddenly, by the dipping of the thick fingers into an old snuff-box.
That very afternoon the court-yard saw another arrival; this one was
treated in quite a different spirit.
A dog-cart was briskly driven into the yard by a gentleman who did not
appear to be in the best of humor. He drew his horse up with a sudden
fierceness; he as fiercely called out for the hostler. Monsieur Paul
bit his lip; but he composedly confronted the disturbed countenance
perched on the driver's seat. The gentleman wished.
"I want indemnity--that is what I want. Indemnity for my horse," cried
out a thick, coarse voice, with insolent authority.
"For your horse? I do not think I understand--"
"O--h, I presume not," retorted the man, still more insolently; "people
don't usually understand when they have to pay. I came here a week ago,
and stayed two days; and you starved my horse--and he died--that is
what happened--he died!"
The whole court-yard now rang with the cries of the assembled
household. The high, angry tones had called together the last
serving-man and scullery-maid; the cooks had come out from their
kitchens; they were brandishing their long-handled saucepans. The
peasant-women were shrieking in concert with the hostlers, who were
raising their arms to heaven in proof of their innocence. Dogs, cats,
cockatoes swinging on their perches, peacocks, parrots, pelicans, and
every one of the cocks swarmed from the barnyards and garden and
cellars, to add their shrill cries and shrieks to the universal babel.
Meanwhile, calm and unruffled as a Hindoo goddess, and strikingly
similar in general massiveness of structure and proportion to the
common reproduction of such deities, sat Madame Le Mois. She went on
with her usual occupation; she was dipping fresh-cut salad leaves into
great bowls of water as quietly as if only her own little family were
assembled before her. Once only she lifted her heavily-moulded,
sagacious eyebrow at the irate dog-cart driver, as if to measure his
pitiful strength. She allowed the fellow, however, to touch the
point of abuse before she crushed him.
Her first sentence reduced him to the ignominy of silence. All her
people were also silent. What, the deep sarcastic voice chanted on the
still air--what, this gentleman's horse had died--and yet he had waited
a whole week to tell them of the great news? He was, of a truth,
altogether too considerate. His own memory, perhaps, was also a short
one, since it told him nothing of the condition in which the poor beast
had arrived, dropping with fatigue, wet with sweat, his mouth all
blood, and an eye as of one who already was past the consciousness of
his suffering? Ah no, monsieur should go to those who also had short
"For we use our eyes--we do. We are used to deal with gentlemen--with
Christians" (the Hebrew nose of the owner of the dead horse, even more
plainly abused the privilege of its pedigree in proving its race, by
turning downward, at this onslaught of the mere's satire), "as I said,
with Christians," continued the mere, pitilessly. "And do those
gentlemen complain and put upon us the death of their horses? No, my
fine sir, they return--_ils reviennent, et sont revenus depuis la
With this fine climax madame announced the court as closed. She bowed
disdainfully, with a grand and magisterial air, to the defeated
claimant, who crept away, sulkily, through the low archway.
"That is the way to deal with such vermin, Paul; whip them, and they
turn tail." And the mere shook out a great laugh from her broad bosom,
as she regaled her wide nostrils with a fresh pinch of snuff. The
assembled household echoed the laugh, seasoning it with the glee of
scorn, as each went to his allotted place.
THE WORLD THAT CAME TO DIVES.
It was a world of many mixtures, of various ranks and habits of life
that found its way under the old archway, and sat down at the table
d'hote breakfasts and dinners. Madame and her gifted son were far too
clever to attempt to play the mistaken part of Providence; there was no
pointed assortment made of the sheep and the goats; at least, not in a
way to suggest the most remote intention of any such separation being
premeditated. Such separation as there was came about in the most
natural and in the pleasantest possible fashion. When Petitjean, the
pedler, and his wife drove in under the Gothic sign, the huge lumbering
vehicle was as quickly surrounded as when any of the neighboring
notabilities arrived in emblazoned chariots. Madame was the first to
waddle forward, nodding up toward the open hood as, with a short,
brisk, business "_Bonjour_," she welcomed the head of Petitjean and his
sharp-eyed spouse looking over the aprons.
The pedler is always popular with his world and Dives knew Petitjean to
be as honest as a pedler can ever hope to be in a world where small
pence are only made large by some one being sacrificed on the altar of
duplicity. Therefore it was that Petitjean's hearse-like cart was
always a welcome visitor;--one could at least be as sure of a just
return for one's money in trading with a pedler as from any other
source in this thieving world. In the end, one always got something
else besides the bargain to carry away with one. For Petitjean knew
all the gossip of the province; after dinner, when the stiff cider was
working in his veins, he would be certain to tell all one wanted to
know. Even Madame Le Mois, whose days were too busy in summer to
include the daily reading of her newspaper, had grown dependent, in
these her later years, on such sources of information as the peddler's
garrulous tongue supplied. In the end she had found his talent for
fiction quite as reliable as that of the journalists, besides
being infinitely more entertaining, abounding in personalities which
were the more racy, as the pedler felt himself to be exempt from that
curse of responsibility, which, in French journalism, is so often a
barrier to the full play of one's talent.
Therefore it was that Petitjean and his bright-eyed spouse were always
made welcome at Dives.
"It goes well, Madame Jean? Ah, there you are. Well, _hein_, also? It
is long since we saw you."
"Ah, madame, centuries, it is centuries since we were here. But what
will you have? with the bad season, the rains, the banks failing,
the--but you, madame, are well? And Monsieur Paul?" "_Ah, ca va tout
doucement_ Paul is well, the good God be praised, but I--I perish day
by day" At which the entire court-yard was certain to burst into
laughing protest. For the whole household of Guillaume le Conquerant
was quite sure to be assembled about the great wheels of the pedler's
wagon--only to look, not to buy, not yet. Petitjean, and his wife had
not dined yet, and a pedler's hunger is something to be respected--one
made money by waiting for the hour of digestion. The little crowd of
maids, hostlers, cooks, and scullery wenches, were only here to whet
their appetite, and to greet Petitjean. Nitouche, the head _chef_, put
a little extra garlic in his sauces that day. But in spite of this
compliment to their palate, the pedler and his wife dined in the
smaller room off the kitchen;--Madame was desolated, but the
_salle-a-manger_ was crowded just now. One was really suffocated in
there these days! Therefore it was that the two ate the herbaceous
sauces with an extra relish, as those conscious of having a larger
space for the play of vagrant elbows than their less fortunate
brethren. The gossip and trading came later. On the edge of the fading
daylight there was still time to see; the chosen articles could easily
be taken into the brightly lit kitchen to be passed before the lamps.
After the buying and bargaining came the talking. All the household
could find time to spend the evening on the old benches; these latter
lined the sidewalk just beneath the low kitchen casements. They had
been here for many a long year.
What a history of Dives these old benches could have told! What
troopers, and beggars, and cowled monks, and wayfarers had sat
there!--each sitter helping to wear away the wood till it had come to
have the depressions of a drinking-trough. Night after night in the
long centuries, as the darkness fell upon the hamlet--what tales and
confidences, and what murmured anguish of remorse, what cries for help,
what gay talk and light song must have welled up into the dome of sky!
Once, as we sat within the court-yard, under the stars, a young voice
sang out. It was so still and quiet every word the youth phrased was as
clear as his fresh young voice.
"_Tiens_--it is Mathieu--he is singing _Les Oreillers!_" cried Monsieur
Paul, with an accent of pride in his own tone.
The young voice sang on:
"_J'arrive en ce pays
De Basse Normandie,
Vous dire une chanson,
S'il plait la compagnie!_"
"It is an old Norman bridal song," Monsieur Paul went on, lowering his
voice. "One I taught a lot of young boys and lads last winter--for a
wedding held here--in the inn."
Still the fresh notes filled the air:
"_Les amours sont partis
Dans un bateau de verre;
Le bateau a casse
Les amours sont parterre._"
"How the old women laughed--and cried--at once! It was years since they
had heard it--the old song. And when these boys--their sons and
grandsons--sang it, and I had trained them well--they wept for pure
Again the song went on:
"_Ouvrez la porte, ouvrez!
Car si vous ne l'ouvrez
Vous serez accusee_"
"I dressed all the young girls in old costumes," our friend continued,
still in a whisper. "I ransacked all the old chests and closets about
here. I got the ladies of the chateaux near by to aid me; they were so
interested that many came down from Paris to see the wedding. It was a
pretty sight, each in a different dress! Every century since the
thirteenth was represented."
"_Attendez a demain,
La fraiche matinee,
Quand mon oiseau prive
Aura pris sa volee!_"
Clear, strong, free rang the young tenor's voice--and then it broke
into "_Comment--tu dis que Claire est la?_" whereat Monsieur Paul
"That will be the next wedding--what shall I devise for that? That will
also be the ending of a long lawsuit. But he should have sung the last
verse--the prettiest of all. Mathieu!" Paul lifted his voice, calling
into the dark.
_"Oui, Monsieur Paul!"_
"Sing us the last verse--"
"_Dans ce jardin du Roi
A pris sa reposee,
Cueillant le romarin
The last notes were but faint vibrations, coming from a lengthening
"Ah!" and Monsieur Paul breathed a sigh. "They don't care about
singing. They are doing it all the time they are so much in love. The
fathers' lawsuit ended only last month. They've waited three years--
happy Claire--happy Mathieu!"
THE CONVERSATION OF PATRIOTS.
The world that found its way to the mayor's table at this early period
of the summer season was largely composed of the class that travels
chiefly to amuse others. The commercial gentlemen in France, however,
have the outward bearing of those who travel to amuse themselves. The
selling of other people's goods--it is surely as good an excuse as any
other for seeing the world! Such an occupation offers an orator, one
gifted in conversational talents--talents it would be a pity to see
buried in the domestic napkin--a fine arena for display.
The French commercial traveller is indeed a genus apart; he makes a
fetish of his trade; he preaches his propaganda. The fat and the lean,
the tall and the little, the well or meanly dressed representatives of
the great French houses who sat down to dine, as our neighbors or
_vis-a-vis_, night after night, were, on the whole, a great credit to
their country. Their manners might have been mistaken for those of a
higher rank; their gifts as talkers were of such an order as to make
listening the better part of discretion.
Dining is always a serious act in France. At this inn the sauces of the
_chef_, with their reputation behind them, and the proof of their real
excellence before one, the dinner-hour was elevated to the importance
of a ceremony. How the petty merchants and the commercial gentlemen
ate, at first in silence, as if respecting the appeal imposed by a
great hunger, and then warming into talk as the acid cider was passed
again and again! What crunching of the sturdy, dark-colored bread
between the great knuckles! What huge helps of the famous sauces! What
insatiable appetites! What nice appreciation of the right touch of the
tricksy garlic! What nodding of heads, clinking of glasses, and
warmth of friendship established over the wine-cups! At dessert
everyone talked at once. On one occasion the subject of Gambetta's
death was touched on; all the table, as one man, broke out into an
effervescence of political babble.
"What a loss! What a death-blow to France was his death!" exclaimed a
heavy young man in a pink cravat.
"If Gambetta had lived, Alsace and Lorraine would be ours now, without
the firing of a gun!" added an elderly merchant at the foot of the
"Ah--h! without the firing of a gun they will come to us yet. I tell
you, without the firing of a gun--unless we insist on a battle,"
explosively rejoined a fiery-hued little man sitting next to Monsieur
Paul; "but you will see--we shall insist. There is between us and
Germany an inextinguishable hate--and we must kill, kill, right and
"_Allons--allons!_" protested the table, in chorus.
"Yes, yes, a general massacre, that is what we want; that is what we
must have. Men, women, and children--all must fall. I am a married
man--but not a woman or a child shall escape--when the time comes,"
continued the fiery-eyed man, getting more and more ferocious as he
warmed with the thought of his revenge.
"What a monster!" broke in Madame Le Mois, her deep base notes
unruffled by the spectacle of her bloodthirsty neighbor's violence;
"you--to bayonet a woman with a child in her arms!"
"I would--I would--"
"Then you would be more cruel than they were. They treated our women
There was a murmur of assenting applause, at this sentiment of justice,
from the table. But the fiery-eyed man was not to be put down.
"Oh, yes, they were generous enough in '71, but I should remember their
insults of 1815!"
"_Ancienne histoire--ca_" said the mere, dismissing the subject, with a
humorous wink at the table.
"As you see," was Monsieur Paul's comment on the conversation, as we
were taking our after-dinner stroll in the garden--"as you see, that
sort of person is the bad element in our country--the dangerous
element--unreasoning, revengeful, and ignorant. It is such men as he
who still uphold hatreds and keep the flame alive. It is better to have
no talent at all for politics--to be harmless like me, for instance,
whose worst vice is to buy up old laces and carvings."
"Yes--that is another of my vices--to perpetuate the old varieties.
They call me along our coast the millionnaire--of roses! Will you have
a 'Marie Louise,' mademoiselle?"
The garden was as complete in its old time aspect as the rest of the
inn belongings. Only the older, rarer varieties of flowers and rose
stalks had been chosen to bloom within the beautifully arranged
inclosure. _Citronnelle_, purple irises, fringed asters, sage,
lavender, _rose-peche_, bachelor's-button, _the d'Horace_, and the
wonderful electric fraxinelle, these and many other shrubs and plants
of the older centuries were massed here with the taste of one difficult
to please in horticultural arrangements. Our after-dinner walks became
an event in our day. At that hour the press of the day's work was over,
and Madame Mere or Monsieur Paul were always ready to join us for a
"For myself, I do not like large gardens," Monsieur Paul remarked,
during one of these after-dinner saunters. "The monks, in the old days,
knew just the right size a garden should be--small and sheltered, with
walls--like a strong arm about a pretty woman--to protect the shrubs
and flowers. One should enter the garden, also, by a gate which must
click as it closes--the click tickles the imagination--it is the sound
henceforth connected with silence, with perfumes and seclusion. How far
away we seem now, do we not?--from the bustle of the inn court-yard--and
yet I could throw a stone into it."
The only saunterers besides ourselves were the flamingo, who,
cautiously, timorously picked his way--as if he were conscious he was
only a bunch of feathers hoisted on stilts; the white parrot, who was
wabbling across the lawn to a favorite perch in the leaves of a
tropical palm; and the peacock, whose train had been spread with a due
regard to effect across a bed of purple irises, with a view to
annihilating the brilliancy of their rival hues.
The bit of sky framed by these four garden walls always seemed more
delicate in tone than that which covered the open court-yard. The birds
in the bushes had moments of melodious outbursts they did not,
apparently, indulge in along the high-road. And what with the fading
lights, the stars pricking their way among the palms, the scents of
flowers, and the talk of a poet, it is little wonder that this twilight
hour in the old garden was certain to be the most lyrical of the
IN LA CHAMBRE DES MARMOUSETS.
"It is the winters, mesdames, that are hard to bear. They are long--they
are dull. No one passes along the high-road. It is then, when sometimes
the snow is piled knee-deep in the court-yard, it is then I try to
amuse myself a little. Last year I did the Jumieges sculptures; they fit
in well, do they not?"
It was raining; and Monsieur Paul was paying us an evening call. A
great fire was burning in the beautiful Francois I. fireplace of our
sitting-room, the famous Chambre des Marmousets. We had not consented
that any of the lights should be lit, although the lovely little Louis
XIV. chandelier and the antique brass sconces were temptingly filled
with fresh candles. The flames of the great logs would suffer no rival
illuminations; if the trunks of full-grown trees could not suffice to
light up an old room, with low-raftered ceilings, and a mass of bric-a-
brac, what could a few thin waxen candles hope to do?
On many other occasions we had thought our marvellous sitting-room had
had exceptional moments of beauty. To turn in from the sunlit, open
court-yard; to pass beneath, the vine-hung gallery; to lift the great
latch of the low Gothic door and to enter the rich and sumptuous
interior, where the light came, as in cathedral aisles, only through
the jewels of fourteenth-century glass; to close the door; to sit
beneath the prismatic shower, ensconced in a nest of old tapestried
cushions, and to let the eye wander over the wealth of carvings, of
ceramics, of Spanish and Normandy trousseaux chests, on the collection
of antique chairs, Dutch porcelains, and priceless embroideries--all
the riches of a museum in a living-room--such a moment in the
Marmousets we had tested again and again with delectable results. At
twilight, also, when the garden was submerged in dew, this old
seigneurial chamber was a retreat fit for a sybarite or a modern
aesthete. The stillness, the soft luxurious cushions, the rich dusk
thickening in the corners, the complete isolation of the old room from
the noise and tumult of the inn life, its curious, its delightful
unmodernness, made this Marmouset room an ideal setting for any
mediaeval picture. Even a sentiment tinctured with modern cynicism
would, I think, have borrowed a little antique fervor, if, like the
photographic negative our nineteenth-century emotionalism somewhat too
closely resembles, in its colorless indefiniteness, the sentiment
were sufficiently exposed, in point of time and degree of
sensitiveness, to the charm of these old surroundings.
On this particular evening, however, the pattering of the rain without
on the cobbles and the great blaze of the fire within, made the old
room seem more beautiful than we had yet seen it. Perhaps the capture
of our host as a guest was the added treasure needed to complete our
collection. Monsieur Paul himself was in a mood of prodigal liberality;
he was, as he himself neatly termed the phrase, ripe for confession;
not a secret should escape revelation; all the inn mysteries should
yield up the fiction of their frauds; the full nakedness of fact should
be given to us.
"You see, _cheres dames_, it is not so difficult to create the beautiful,
if one has a little taste and great patience. My inn--it has become my
hobby, my pride, my wife, my children. Some men marry their art, I
espoused my inn. I found her poor, tattered, broken-down, in health, if
you will; verily, as your Shakespeare says of some country wench: 'a
poor thing but mine own.'" Monsieur Paul's possession of the English
language was scarcely as complete as the storehouse of his memory. He
would have been surprised, doubtless, to learn he had called poor
Audrey, "a pure ting, buttaire my noon!"
"She was, however," he continued, securely, in his own richer Norman,
"though a wench, a beautiful one. And I vowed to make her glorious.
'She shall be famous,' I vowed, and--and--better than most men I have
kept my vow. All France now has heard of Guillaume le Conquerant!"
The pride Monsieur Paul took in his inn was indeed a fine thing to see.
The years of toil he had spent on its walls and in its embellishment
had brought him the recompense much giving always brings; it had
enriched him quite as much as the wealth of his taste and talent had
bequeathed to the inn. Latterly, he said, he had travelled much, his
collection of curios and antiquities having called him farther afield
than many Frenchmen care to wander. His love of Delft had taken him to
Holland; his passion for Spanish leather to the country of Velasquez;
he must have a Virgin, a genuine fifteenth-century Virgin, all his
own; behold her there, in her stiff wooden skirts, a Neapolitan
captive. The brass braziers yonder, at which the courtiers of the
Henris had warmed their feet, stamping the night out in cold ante
chambers, had been secured at Blois; and his collection of tapestries,
of stained glass, of Normandy brasses, and Breton carvings had made his
own coast as familiar as the Dives streets.
"The priests who sold me these, madame," he went on, as he picked up a
priest's chasuble, now doing duty as a table covering "would sell their
fathers and their mothers. It is all a question of price."
After a review of the curios came the history of the human collection
of antiquities who had peopled the inn and this old room.
Many and various had been the visitors who had slept and dined here and
gone forth on their travels along the high-road.
The inn had had a noble origin; it had been built by no less a
personage than the great William himself. He had deemed the spot a
fitting one in which to build his boats to start forth for his modest
project of conquering England. He could watch their construction in the
waters of Dives River--that flows still, out yonder, among the grasses
of the sea-meadows. For some years the Norman dukes held to the inn, in
memory of the success of that clever boat-building. Then for five
centuries the inn became a manoir--the seigneurial residence of a
certain Sieur de Semilly. It was his arms we saw yonder, joined to
those of Savoy, in the door panel, one of the family having married
into a branch of that great house.
Of the famous ones of the world who had travelled along this Caen
post-road and stopped the night here, humanly tired, like any other
humble wayfarer, was a hurried visit from that king who loved his
trade--Louis XI. He and his suite crowded into the low rooms, grateful
for a bed and a fire, after the weary pilgrimage to the heights of Mont
St. Michel. Louis's piety, however, was not as lasting in its
physically exhaustive effects, as were the fleshly excesses of a
certain other king--one Henri IV., whose over-appreciation of the
oysters served him here, caused a royal attack of colic, as you may
read at your pleasure in the State Archives in Paris--since, quite
rightly, the royal secretary must write the court physician every
detail of so important an event. What with these kingly travellers and
such modern uncrowned kings as Puvis de Chavannes, Dumas, George Sand,
Daubigny, and Troyon, together with a goodly number of lesser great
ones, the famous little inn has had no reason to feel itself slighted
by the great of any century. Of all this motley company of notabilities
there were two whose visits seemed to have been indefinitely prolonged.
There was nothing, in this present flowery, picturesque assemblage of
buildings, to suggest a certain wild drama enacted here centuries ago.
Nothing either in yonder tender sky, nor in the silvery foliage on a
fair day, which should conjure up the image of William as he must have
stood again and again beside the little river; nor of the fury of his
impatience as the boats were building all too slowly for his hot hopes;
nor of the strange and motley crew he had summoned there from all
corners of Europe to cut the trees; to build and launch boats; to sail
them, finally, across the strip of water to that England he was to meet
at last, to grapple with, and overthrow, even as the English huscarles
in their turn bore down on that gay Minstrel Taillefer, who rode so
insolently forth to meet them, with a song in his throat, tossing his
sword in English eyes, still chanting the song of Roland as he fell.
None of the inn features were in the least informed with this great,
impressive picture of its past. Yet does William seem by far the most
realizable of all the personages who have inhabited the old house.
There was another visitor whose presence Monsieur Paul declared was as
entirely real as if she, also, had only just passed within the
"I know not why it is, but of all these great, _ces fameux_, Madame de
Sevigne seems to me the nearest, in point of time. Her visit appears to
have happened only yesterday. I never enter her room but I seem to see
her moving about, talking, laughing, speaking in epigrams. She mentions
the inn, you know, in her letters. She gives the details of her journey
I, also, knew not why; but, later, after Monsieur Paul had left us,
when he had shut himself out, along with the pattering raindrops, and
had closed us in with the warmth and the flickering fire-light, there
came, with astonishing clearness, a vision of that lady's visit here.
She and her company of friends might have been stopping, that very
instant, without, in the open court. I, also, seemed to hear the very
tones of their voices; their talk was as audible as the wind rustling
in the vines. In the growing stillness the vision grew and grew, till
this was what I saw and heard:
[Illustration: CHAMBRE DES MARMOUSETS--DIVES]
TWO BANQUETS AT DIVES.
A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY REVIVAL.
Outside the inn, some two hundred years ago, there was a great noise
and confusion; the cries of outriders, of mounted guardsmen and
halberdiers, made the quiet village as noisy as a camp. An imposing
cavalcade was being brought to a sharp stop; for the outriders had
suddenly perceived the open inn entrance, with its raised portcullis,
and they were shouting to the coachmen to turn in, beneath the archway,
to the paved court-yard within.
In an incredibly short space of time the open quadrangle presented a
brilliant picture; the dashing guardsmen were dismounting; the maids
and lackeys had quickly descended from their perches in the caleches
and coaches; and the gentlemen of the household were dusting their wide
hats and lace-trimmed coats. The halberdiers, ranging themselves in
line, made a prismatic grouping beneath the low eaves of the
picturesque old inn. In the very middle of the court-yard stood a
coach, resplendent in painted panels and emblazoned with ducal arms.
About this coach, as soon as the four horses which drew the vehicle
were brought to a standstill, cavaliers, footmen, and maids swarmed
with effusive zeal. One of the footmen made a rush for the door:
another let down the steps; one cavalier was already presenting an
outstretched, deferential hand, while still another held forth an arm,
as rigid as a post, for the use of the occupants of the ducal carriage.
Three ladies were seated within. Large and roomy as was the vehicle,
their voluminous draperies and the paraphernalia of their belongings
seemed completely to fill the wide, deep seats. The ladies were the
Duchesse de Chaulnes, Madame de Kerman, and Madame de Sevigne. The
faces of the Duchesse and of Madame de Kerman were invisible, being
still covered with their masks, which, both as a matter of habit and of
precaution against the sun's rays, they had religiously worn during the
long day's journey. But Madame de Sevigne had torn hers off; she was
holding it in her hand, as if glad to be relieved from its confinement.
All three ladies were in the highest possible spirits, Madame de
Sevigne obviously being the leader of the jests and the laughter.
They were in a mood to find everything amusing and delightful. Even
after they had left the coach and were carefully picking their way over
the rough stones--walking on their high-heeled "mules" at best, was
always a dangerous performance--their laughter and gayety continued in
undiminished exuberance. Madame de Sevigne's keen sense of humor found
so many things to ridicule. Could anything, for example, be more
comical than the spectacle they presented as they walked, in state,
with their long trains and high-heeled slippers, up these absurd little
turret steps, feeling their way as carefully as if they were each
a pickpocket or an assassin? The long line behind of maids carrying
their muffs, and of lackeys with the muff-dogs, and of pages holding
their trains, and the grinning innkeeper, bursting with pride and
courtesying as if he had St. Vitus's dance, all this crowd coiling
round the rude spiral stairway--it was enough to make one die of
laughter. Such state in such savage surroundings!--they and their
patch-boxes, and towering head-gears and trains, and dogs and fans, all
crowded into a place fit only for peasants!
When they reached their bedchambers the ridicule was turned into a
condescending admiration; they found their rooms unexpectedly clean and
airy. The furniture was all antique, of interesting design, and though
rude, really astonishingly comfortable. Beds and dressing-tables,
mostly of Henry III's time, were elaborately canopied in the hideous
crude draperies of that primitive epoch. How different were the elegant
shapes and brocades of their own time! Fortunately their women had
suitable hangings and draperies with them, as well, of course, as any
amount of linen and any number of mattresses. The settees and benches
would do very well, with the aid of their own hassocks and cushions,
and, after all, it was only for a night, they reminded the other.
The toilet, after the heat and exposure of the day, was necessarily a
long one. The Duchesse and Madame de Kerman had their faces to make
up--all the paint had run, and not a patch was in its place. Hair,
also, of this later de Maintenon period, with its elaborate artistic
ranges of curls, to say nothing of the care that must be given to the
coif and the "follette," these were matters that demanded the utmost
nicety of arrangement.
In an hour, however, the three ladies reassembled, in the panelled
lower room--in "la Chambre de la Pucelle." In spite of the care her two
companions had given to repairing the damages caused by their journey,
of the three, Madame de Sevigne looked by far the freshest and
youngest. She still wore her hair in the loosely flowing de Montespan
fashion; a style which, though now out of date, was one that exactly
suited her fair skin, her candid brow, and her brilliant eyes. These
latter, when one examined them closely, were found to be of different
colors; but this peculiarity, which might have been a serious defect in
any other countenance, in Madame de Sevigne's brilliant face was
perhaps one cause of its extraordinarily luminous quality. Not one
feature was perfect in that fascinatingly mobile face: the chin was a
trifle too long for a woman's chin; the lips, that broke into such
delicious curves when she laughed, when at rest betrayed the firmness
of her wit and the almost masculine quality of her reasoning judgment.
Even her arms and hands and her shoulders were "_mal tailles_" as her
contemporaries would have told you. But what a charm in those irregular
features! What a seductiveness in the ensemble of that not too-well-
proportioned figure! What an indescribable radiance seemed to emanate
from the entire personality of this most captivating of women!
As she moved about the low room, dark with the trembling shadows of
light that flowed from the bunches of candles in the sconces, Madame de
Sevigne's clear complexion, and her unpowdered chestnut curls, seemed
to spot the room with light. Her companions, though dressed in the very
height of the fashion, were yet not half as catching to the eye.
Neither their minute waists, nor their elaborate underskirts and
trains, nor their tall coffered coifs (the duchesse's was not unlike a
bishop's mitre, studded as it was with ruby-headed pins), nor the
correctness of these ladies' carefully placed patches, nor yet their
painted necks and tinted eyebrows, could charm as did the unmodish
figure of Madame de Sevigne--a figure so indifferently clad, and yet
one so replete with its distinction of innate elegance and the subtle
charm of her individuality.
With the entrance of these ladies dinner was served at once. The talk
flowed on; it was, however, more or less restrained by the presence of
the always too curious lackeys, of the bustling innkeeper, and the
gentlemen of the household in attendance on the party. As a spectacle,
the little room had never boasted before of such an assemblage of
fashion and greatness. Never before had the air under the rafters been
so loaded with scents and perfumes--these ladies seeming, indeed, to
breathe out odors. Never before had there been grouped there such
splendor of toilet, nor had such courtly accents been heard, nor such
finished laughter. The fire and the candlelight were in competition
which should best light up the tall transparent caps, the lace fichus,
the brocade bodices, and the long trains. The little muff-dogs,
released from their prisons, since the muffs were laid aside at dinner
time, blinked at the fire, curling their minute bodies--clipped
lion-fashion--about the huge andirons, as they snored to kill time,
knowing their own dinner would come only when their mistresses had
After the dessert had been served the ladies withdrew; they were
preceded by the ever-bowing innkeeper, who assured them, in his most
reverential tones, that they would find the room opening on the other
court-yard even warmer and more comfortable than the one they were in.
In spite of the walk across the paved court-yard and the enormous
height of their heels, always a fact to be remembered, the ladies
voted to make the change, since by that means they could be assured
the more entire seclusion. Mild as was the May air, Madame de Kerman's
hand-glass hanging at her side was quickly lifted in the very middle of
the open court-yard; she had scarcely passed the door when she had felt
one of her patches blowing off.
"I caught it just in time, dear duchesse," she cried, as she stood
quite still, replacing it with a fresh one picked from her patch-box,
as the others passed her.
"The very best patch-maker I have found lives in the rue St. Denis, at
the sign of La Perle des Mouches; have you discovered him, dear
friend?" said the duchesse, as they walked on toward the low door
beneath the galleries.
"No, dear duchesse, I fear I have not even looked for him--the science
of patches I have always found so much harder than the science of
living!" gayly answered Madame de Sevigne.
Madame de Kerman had now re joined them, and all three passed into la
Chambre des Marmousets.
THE AFTER-DINNER TALK OF THREE GREAT LADIES.
The three ladies grouped themselves about the fire, which they found
already lighted. The duchesse chose a Henry II. carved aim chair, one,
she laughingly remarked, quite large enough to have held both the King
and Diana. A lackey carrying the inevitable muff-dogs, their fans, and
scent-bottles, had followed the ladies; he placed a hassock at the
duchesse's feet, two beneath the slender feet of Madame de Kerman, and,
after having been bidden to open one of the casements, since it was
still so light without, withdrew, leaving the ladies alone.
Although Madame de Sevigne had comfortably ensconced herself in one of
the deep window seats, piling the cushions behind her, no sooner was
the window opened than with characteristic impetuosity she jumped up to
look out into the country that lay beyond the leaded glass. In spite of
the long day's drive in the open air, her appetite for blowing roses
and sweet earth smells had not been sated. Madame de Sevigne all her
life had been the victim of two loves and a passion; she adored society
and she loved nature; these were her lesser delights, that gave way
before the chief idolatry of her soul, her adoration for her daughter.
[Illustration: MADAME DE SEVIGNE]
As she stood by the open window, her charming face, always a mirror of
her emotions, was suffused with a glow and a bloom that made it seem
young again. Her eyes grew to twice their common size under the
"wandering" eyelids, as her gaze roved over the meadows and across the
tall grasses to the sea. A part of her youth was being, indeed, vividly
brought back to her; the sight of this marine landscape recalled many
memories; and with the recollection her whole face and figure seemed to
irradiate something of the inward ardor that consumed her. She had
passed this very road, through this same country before, long ago,
in her youth, with her children. She half smiled at the remembrance of
a description given of the impression produced by her appearance on the
journey by her friend the Abbe Arnauld; he had ecstatically compared
her to Latona seated in an open coach, between a youthful Apollo and a
young Diana. In spite of the abbe's poetical extravagance, Madame de
Sevigne recognized, in this moment of retrospect, the truth of the
picture. That, indeed, had been a radiant moment! Her life at that time
had been so full, and the rapture so complete--the rapture of
possessing her children--that she could remember to have had the sense
of fairly evaporating happiness. And now, the sigh came, how scattered
was this gay group! her son in Brittany, her daughter in Provence, two
hundred leagues away! And she, an elderly Latona, mourning her Apollo
and her divine huntress, her incomparable Diana.
The inextinguishable name of youth was burning still, however, in
Madame de Sevigne's rich nature. This adventure, this amazing adventure
of three ladies of the court having to pass the night in a rude little
Normandy inn, she, for one, was finding richly seasoned with the spice
of the unforeseen; it would be something to talk of and write about for
a month hence at Chaulnes and at Paris. Their entire journey, in point
of fact, had been a series of the most delightful episodes. It was now
nearly a month since they had started from Picardy, from the castle of
Chaulnes, going into Normandy _via_ Rouen. They had been on a driving
tour, their destination being Rennes, which they would reach in a week
or so. They had been travelling in great state, with the very best
coach, the very best horses; and they had been guarded by a whole
regiment of cavaliers and halberdiers. Every possible precaution had
been taken \against their being disagreeably surprised on their route.
Their chief fear on the journey had been, of course, the cry common in
their day of "_Au voleur!_" and the meeting of brigands and assassins;
for, once outside of Paris and the police reforms of that dear Colbert,
and one must be prepared to take one's life in one's hand. Happily, no
such misadventures had befallen them. The roads, it is true, they had
found for the most part in a horrible condition; they had been pitched
about from one end of their coach to the other they might easily have
imagined themselves at sea. The dust also had nearly blinded them, in
spite of their masks. The other nuisances most difficult to put up with
had been the swarm of beggars that infested the roadsides; and worst of
all had been the army of crippled, deformed, and mangy soldiers. These
latter they had encountered everywhere; their whines and cries, their
armless, legless bodies, their hideous filth, and their insolent
importunities, they had found a veritable pest.
Another annoyance had been the over-zealous courtesy of some of the
upper middle-class. Only yesterday, in the very midst of the dust and
under the burning noon sun, they had all been forced to alight, to
receive the homage tendered the duchesse, of some thirty women and as
many men. Each one of the sixty must, of course, kiss the duchesse's
hand. It was really an outrage to have exposed them to such a form of
torture! Poor Madame de Kerman, the delicate one of the party, had
entirely collapsed after the ceremony. The duchesse also had been
prostrated; it had wearied her more than all the rest of the journey.
Madame de Sevigne alone had not suffered. She was possessed of a degree
of physical fortitude which made her equal to any demand. The other two
ladies, as well as she herself, were now experiencing the pleasant
exhilaration which comes with the hour of rest after an excellent
dinner. They were in a condition to remember nothing except the
agreeable. Madame de Sevigne was the first to break the silence.
She turned, with a brisk yet graceful abruptness, to the two ladies
still seated before the low fire. With a charming outburst of
enthusiasm she exclaimed aloud:
"What a beauty, and youth, and tenderness this spring has, has it not?"
"Yes," answered the duchesse, smiling graciously into Madame de
Sevigne's brilliantly lit face; "yes, the weather in truth has been
"What an adorable journey we have had!" continued Madame de Sevigne,
in the same tone, her ardor undampened by the cooler accent of her
friend--she was used to having her enthusiasm greeted with
consideration rather than response. "What a journey!--only meeting
with the most agreeable of adventures; not the slightest inconvenience
anywhere; eating the very best of everything; and driving through
the heart of this enchanting springtime!"
Her listeners laughed quietly, with an accent of indulgence. It was the
habit of her world to find everything Madame de Sevigne did or said
charming. Even her frankness was forgiven her, her tact was so perfect;
and her spontaneity had always been accounted as her chief excellence;
in the stifled air of the court and the _ruelles_ it had been
frequently likened to the blowing in of a fresh May breeze. Her present
mood was one well known to both ladies.
"Always 'pretty pagan,' dear madame," smiled Madame de Kerman,
indulgently. "How well named--and what a happy hit of our friend
Arnauld d'Audilly! You are in truth a delicious--an adorable pagan! You
have such a sense of the joy of living! Why, even living in the country
has, it appears, no terrors for you. We hear of your walking about in
the moonlight-you make your very trees talk, they tell us, in
Italian--in Latin; you actually pass whole hours alone with the
hamadryads!" There was just a suspicion of irony in Madame de Kerman's
tone, in spite of its caressing softness; it was so impossible to
conceive of anyone really finding nature endurable, much less
pretending to discover in trees and flowers anything amusing or
suggestive of sentiment!
But Madame de Sevigne was quite impervious to her friend's raillery.
She responded, with perfect good humor:
"Why not?--why not try to discover beauties in nature? One can be so
happy in a wood! What a charming thing to hear a leaf sing! I know few
things more delightful than to watch the triumph of the month of May
when the nightingale, the cuckoo, and the lark open the spring in our
forests! And then, later, come those beautiful crystal days of
autumn--days that are neither warm, nor yet are they really cold! And
then the trees--how eloquent they can be made; with a little teaching
they may be made to converse so charmingly. _Bella cosa far aniente_,
says one of my trees; and another answers, _Amor odit inertes_. Ah,
when I had to bid farewell to all my leaves and trees; when my son had
to dispose of the forest of Buron, to pay for some of his follies, you
remember how I wept! It seemed to me I could actually feel the grief of
those dispossessed sylvans and of all those homeless dryads!"
"It is this, dear friend--this life you lead at Les Rochers--and your
enthusiasm, which keep you so young. Yes, I am sure of it. How
inconceivably young, for instance, you are looking this very evening!
You and the glow out yonder make youth seem no longer a legend."
The duchesse delivered her flattering little speech with a caressing
tone. She moved gently forward in her chair, as if to gain a better
view of the twilight and her friend. At the sound of the duchesse's
voice Madame de Sevigne again turned, with the same charming smile and
the quick impulsiveness of movement common to her. During her long
monologue she had remained standing; but she left the window now to
regain her seat amid the cushions of the window. There was something
better than the twilight and the spring in the air; here, within, were
two delightful friends-and listeners; there was before her, also, the
prospect of one of those endless conversations that were the chief
delight of her life.
She laughed as she seated herself--a gay, frank, hearty little
laugh--and she spread out her hands with the opening of her fan, as,
with her usual vivacious spontaneity, her mood changed.
"Fancy, dear duchesse, the punishment that comes to one who commits the
crime of looking young--younger than one ought! My son-in-law, M. de
Grignan, actually avows he is in daily terror lest I should give him a
All three ladies laughed gayly at this absurdity; the subject of Madame
de Sevigne's remarrying had come to be a venerable joke now. It had
been talked of at court and in society for nearly forty years; but such
was the conquering power of her charms that these two friends, her
listeners, saw nothing really extravagant in her son-in-law's fear; she
was one of those rare women who, even at sixty, continue to suggest the
altar rather than the grave. Madame de Kerman was the first to recover
her breath after the laughter.
"Dear friend, you might assure him that after a youth and the golden
meridian of your years passed in smiling indifference to the sighs of a
Prince de Conti, of a Turenne, of a Fouquet, of a Bussy de Rabutin, at
sixty it is scarcely likely that--"
"Ah, dear lady at sixty, when one has the complexion and the curls, to
say nothing of the eyes of our dear enchantress, a woman is as
dangerous as at thirty!" The duchesse's flattery was charmingly put,
with just enough vivacity of tone to save it from the charge of
insipidity. Madame de Sevigne bowed her curls to her waist.
"Ah, dear duchesse, it isn't age," she retorted, quickly, "that could
make me commit follies. It is the fact that that son-in-law of mine
actually surrounds me with spies--he keeps me in perpetual
surveillance. Such a state of captivity is capable of making me forget
everything; I am beginning to develop a positive rage for follies. You
know that has been my chief fault--always; discretion has been left out
of my composition. But I say now, as I have always said, that if I
could manage to live two hundred years, I should become the most
delightful person in the world!"
She herself was the first to lead in the laughter that followed her
outburst; and then the duchesse broke in:
"You talk of defects, dear friend; but reflect what a life yours has
been. So surrounded and courted, and yet you were always so guarded; so
free, and yet so wise! So gay, and yet so chaste!"
"If you rubbed out all those flattering colors, dear duchesse, and
wrote only, 'She worshipped her children, and preferred friends to
lovers,' the portrait would be far nearer to the truth. It is easy to
be chaste if one has only known one passion in one's life, and that the
Again a change passed over Madame de Sevigne's mobile face; the
bantering tone was lost in a note of deep feeling. This gift of
sensibility had always been accounted as one of Madame de Sevigne's
chief charms; and now, at sixty, she was as completely the victim of
her moods as in her earlier youth.
"Where is your daughter, and how is she?" sympathetically queried the
"Oh, she is still at Grignan, as usual; she is well, thank God. But,
dear duchesse, after all these years of separation I suffer still,
cruelly." The tears sprang to Madame de Sevigne's eyes, as she added,
with passion and a force one would scarcely have expected in one whose
manners were so finished, "the truth is, dear friends, I cannot live
without her. I do not find I have made the least progress in that
career. But, even now, believe me, these tears are sweeter than all
else in life--more enrapturing than the most transporting joy!"
Madame de Kerman smiled tenderly into the rapturous mother's face; but
the duchesse moved, as if a little restless and uneasy under this
shower of maternal feeling. For thirty years her friends had had to
listen to Madame de Sevigne's rhapsodies over the perfections of her
incomparable daughter. Although sensibility was not the emotional
fashion of the day, maternity, in the person of Madame de Sevigne, had
been apotheosized into the queen of the passions, if only because of
its rarity; still, even this lady's most intimate friends sometimes
wearied of banqueting off the feast of Madame de Grignan's virtues.
"Have you heard from Madame de La Fayette recently?" asked the
duchesse, allowing just time enough to elapse, before putting the
question, for Madame de Sevigne's emotion to subside into composure.
The duchesse was too exquisitely bred to allow her impatience to take
the form of even the appearance of haste.
"Oh, yes," was Madame de Sevigne's quiet reply; the turn in the
conversation had been instantly understood, in spite of the delicacy of
the duchesse's methods. "Oh, yes--I have had a line--only a line. You
know how she detests writing, above all things. Her letters are all the
same--two lines to say that she has no time in which to say it!"
"Did she not once write you a pretty little series of epigrams about
"Oh, yes--some time ago, when I was with my daughter. I've quoted them
so often, they have become famous. 'You are in Provence, my beauty;
your hours are free, and your mind still more so. Your love for
corresponding with everyone still endures within you, it appears; as
for me, the desire to write to any human being has long since passed
away-forever; and if I had a lover who insisted on a letter every
morning, I should certainly break with him!'"
"What a curious compound she is! And how well her soubriquet becomes
"Yes, it is perfect--'_Le Brouillard_'--the fog. It is indeed a fog
that has always enveloped her, and what charming horizons are disclosed
once it is lifted!"
"And her sensibilities--of what an exquisite quality; and what a rare,
precious type, indeed, is the whole of her nature! Do you remember how
alarmed she would become when listening to music?"
"And yet, with all this sensibility and delicacy of organization there
was another side to her nature." Madame de Kerman paused a moment
before she went on; she was not quite sure how far she dared go in her
criticism; Madame de La Fayette was such an intimate friend of Madame
"You mean," that lady broke out, with unhesitating candor, "that she is
also a very selfish person. You know that is my daughter's theory of
her--she is always telling me how Madame de La Fayette is making use of
me; that while her sensitiveness is such that she cannot sustain the
tragedy of a farewell visit--if I am going to Les Rochers or to
Provence, when I go to pay my last visit I must pretend it is only an
ordinary running-in; yet her delicacy does not prevent her from making
very indelicate proposals, to suit her own convenience. You remember
what one of her commands was, don't you?"
"No," answered the duchesse, for both herself and her companion. "Pray
Madame de Sevigne went on to narrate that once, when at Les Rochers,
Madame de La Fayette was quite certain that she, Madame de Sevigne, was
losing her mind, for no one could live in the provinces and remain
sane, poring over stupid books and sitting over fires.
"She was certain I should sicken and die, besides losing the tone of my
mind," laughed Madame de Sevigne, as she called up the picture of her
dissolution and rapid disintegration; "and therefore it was necessary
at once that I should come up to Paris. This latter command was
delivered in the tone of a judge of the Supreme Court. The penalty of
my disobedience was to be her ceasing to love me. I was to come up to
Paris directly--on the minute; I was to live with you, dear duchesse; I
was not to buy any horses until spring; and, best of all, I was to
find on my arrival a purse of a thousand crowns which would be lent me
without interest! What a proposition, _mon Dieu_, what a proposition!
To have no house of my own, to be dependent, to have no carriage, and
to be in debt a thousand crowns!"
As Madame de Sevigne lifted her hands the laces of her sleeves were
fairly trembling with the force of her indignation. There were certain
things that always put her in a passion, and Madame de La Fayette's
peculiarities she had found at times unendurable. Her listeners had
followed her narration with the utmost intensity and absorption. When
she stopped, their eyes met in a look of assenting comment.
"It was perfectly characteristic, all of it! She judged you, doubtless,
by herself. She always seems to me, even now, to keep one eye on her
comfort and the other on her purse!"
"Ah, dear duchesse, how keen you are!" laughingly acquiesced Madame de
Sevigne, as with a shrug she accepted the verdict--her indignation
melting with the shrug. "And how right! No woman ever drives better
bargains, without moving a finger. From her invalid's chair she can
conduct a dozen lawsuits. She spends half her existence in courting
death; she caresses her maladies; she positively hugs them; but she can
always be miraculously resuscitated at the word money!"
"Yes," added with a certain relish Madame de Kerman. "And this is the
same woman who must be forever running away from Paris because she can
no longer endure the exertion of talking, or of replying, or of
listening; because she is wearied to extinction, as she herself admits,
of saying good-morning and good-evening. She must hide herself in some
pastoral retreat, where simply, as she says, 'to exist is enough;'
where she can remain, as it were, miraculously suspended between
heaven and earth!"
A ripple of amused laughter went round the little group; there was
nothing these ladies enjoyed so keenly as a delicate dish of gossip,
seasoned with wit, and stuffed with epigrams. This talk was exactly to
their taste. The silence and seclusion of their surroundings were an
added stimulus to confidence and to a freer interchange of opinions
about their world. Paris and Versailles seemed so very far away; it
would appear safe to say almost anything about one's dearest friends.
There was nothing to remind them of the restraints of levees, or the
penalty indiscretion must pay for folly breathed in that whispering
gallery--the _ruelle_. It was indeed a delightful hour; altogether an
The fire had burned so low only a few embers were alive now, and the
candles were beginning to flicker and droop in the sconces. But the
three ladies refused to find the little room either cold or dark; their
talk was not half done yet, and their muffs would keep them warm. The
shadow of the deepening gloom they found delightfully provocative of
After a short pause, while Madame de Kerman busied herself with the
tongs and the fagots, trying to reinvigorate the dying flames, the
duchesse asked, in a somewhat more intimate tone than she had used yet:
"And the duke--do you really think she loved the Duke de La
"She reformed him, dear duchesse; at least she always proclaims his
reform as the justification of her love."
"You--you esteemed him yourself very highly, did you not?"
"Oh, I loved him tenderly; how could one help it? He was the best as
well as the most brilliant of men! I never knew a tenderer heart;
domestic joys and sorrows affected him in a way to render him
incomparable. I have seen him weep over the death of his mother, who
only died eight years before him, you know, with a depth of sincerity
that made me adore him."
"He must in truth have been a very sincere person."
"Sincere!" cried Madame de Sevigne, her eyes flaming. "Had you but seen
his deathbed! His bearing was sublime! Believe me, dear friend, it was
not in vain that M. de La Rochefoucauld had written philosophic
reflections all his life; he had already anticipated his last moments
in such a way that there was nothing either new or strange in death
when it came to him."
"Madame de La Fayette truly mourned him--don't you think so? You were
with her a great deal, were you not, after his death?"
"I never left her. It was the most pitiable sight to see her in her
loneliness and her misery. You see, their common ill-health and their
sedentary habits, had made them so necessary to each other! It was, as
it were, two souls in a single body. Nothing could exceed the
confidence and charm of their friendship; it was incomparable. To
Madame de La Fayette his loss came as her death-blow; life seems at an
end for her; for where, indeed, can she find another such friend, or
such intercourse, such sweetness and charm--such confidence and
There was a moment's silence after Madame de Sevigne's eloquent
outburst. The eyes of the three friends were lost for a moment in the
twinkling flames. The duchesse and Madame de Kerman exchanged meaning
"Since the duke's death her thoughts are more and more turned toward
religion. I hear she has been fortunate in her choice of directors, has
she not? Du Guet is said to be an ideal confessor for the authoress of
'La Princesse de Cleves.'" There was just a suspicion of malice in the
"Oh, he was born to take her in hand. He knew just when to speak
with authority, and when to make use of the arts of persuasion. He
wrote to her once, you remember: 'You, who have passed your life in
dreaming--cease to dream! You, who have taken such pride unto yourself
for being so true in all things, were very far, indeed, from the
truth--you were only half true--falsely true. Your godless wisdom
was in reality purely a matter of good taste!'"
"What audacity! Bossuet himself could not have put the truth more
nakedly." The duchesse was one of those to whom truths were novelties,
and unpleasant ones.
"Bossuet, if I remember rightly, was with the Duke de La Rochefoucauld
at the last, was he not?"
"Yes," responded Madame de Sevigne; "he was with him; he administered
the supreme unction. The duke was in a beautiful state of grace. M,
Vinet, you remember, said of him that he died with 'perfect decorum.'"
"Speaking of dying reminds me"--cried suddenly Madame de Sevigne--"how
are the duke's hangings getting on?"
"They begin, the duke writes me, to hang again to-morrow," answered the
duchesse, with a certain air of disdain, the first appearance of this
weapon of the great now coming to the _grande dame's_ aid. Her husband,
the Duke de Chaulnes' trouble with his revolutionary citizens at Rennes
was a subject that never failed to arouse a feeling of angry contempt
in her. It was too preposterous, the idea of those insolent creatures
rising against him, their rightful duke and master!
The duchesse's feeling in the matter was fully shared by her friends.
In all the court there was but one opinion in the matter--hanging was
really far too good for the wretched creatures.
"Monsieur de Chaulnes," the duchesse went on, with ironical contempt in
her voice, "still goes on punishing Rennes!"
"This province and the duke's treatment of it will serve as a capital
example to all others. It will teach those rascals," Madame de Kerman
continued, in lower tones, "to respect their governors, and not to
throw stones into their gardens!"
"Fancy that--the audacity of throwing stones into their duke's garden!
Why, did you know, they actually--those insolent creatures actually
called him--called the duke--'_gros cochon?_'"
All three ladies gasped in horror at this unparalleled instance of
audacity; they threw up their hands, as they groaned over the picture,
in low tones of finished elegance.
"It is little wonder the duke hangs right and left! The dear duke--what
a model governor! How I should like to have seen him sack that street
at Rennes, with all the ridiculous old men, and the women in
childbirth, and the children, turned out pele-mele! And the hanging,
too--why, hanging now seems to me a positively refreshing performance!"
And Madame de Sevigne laughed with unstinted gayety as at an excellent
The picture of Rennes and the cruelty dealt its inhabitants was a
pleasant picture, in the contemplation of which these ladies evidently
found much delectation. They were quiet for a longer period of time
than usual; they continued silent, as they looked into the fire,
smiling; the flames there made them think of other flames as forms of
"A curious people those Bas Bretons," finally ejaculated Madame de
Sevigne. "I never could understand how Bertrand Duguesclin made them
the best soldiers of his day in France!"
"You know Lower Brittany very well, do you not, dear friend?"
"Not so well as the coast. Les Rochers is in Upper Brittany, you know.
I know the south better still. Ah, what a charming journey I once took
along the Loire with my friend _Bien-Bon_, the Abbe de Coulanges. We
found it the most enchanting country in the world--the country of
feasts and of famine; feasts for us and famine for the people. I
remember we had to cross the river; our coach was placed on the barge,
and we were rowed along by stout peasants. Through the glass windows of
the coach we looked out at a series of changing pictures--the views
were charming. We sat, of course, entirely at our ease, on our soft
cushions. The country people, crowded together below, were--ugh!--like
pigs in straw."
"Was Bien-Bon with you when you made that little excursion to St.
Germain?" queried the duchesse.
"Ah, that was a gay night," joyously responded Madame de Sevigne. "How
well we amused ourselves on that little visit that we paid Madame de
Maintenon--when she was only Madame Scarron."
"Was she so handsome then as they say she was--at that time?"
"Very handsome; she was good, too, and amiable, and easy to talk to;
one talked well and readily with her. She was then only the governess
of the king's bastards, you know--of the children he had had by Madame
de Montespan. That was the first step toward governing the king. Well,
one night--the night to which you refer--I remember we were all supping
with Madame de La Fayette. We had been talking endlessly! Suddenly it
occurred to us it would be a most amusing adventure to take Madame
Scarron home, to the very last end of the Faubourg Saint Germain, far
beyond where Madame de La Fayette lived--near Vaugirard, out into the
Bois, in the country. The Abbe came too. It was midnight when we
started. The house, when at last we reached it, we found large and
beautiful, with large and fine rooms and a beautiful garden; for Madame
Scarron, as governess of the king's children, had a coach and a lot of
servants and horses. She herself dressed then modestly and yet
magnificently, as a woman should, who spent her life among people of
the highest rank. We had a merry outing, returning in high spirits,
blessed in having no end of lanterns, and thus assured against
"She and Madame de La Fayette were very close friends, I remember,
during that time," mused the duchesse, "when they were such near
"Yes," Madame de Sevigne went on, as unwearied now, although it was
nearly midnight, as in the beginning of the long evening. "Yes; I
always thought Madame de Maintenon's satirical little joke about Madame
de La Fayette's bed festooned with gold--'I might have fifty thousand
pounds income, and never should I live in the style of a great lady;
never should I have a bed festooned with gold like Madame de La
Fayette'--was the beginning of their rupture."
"All the same, Madame de La Fayette, lying on that bed, beneath the
gold hangings, was a much more simple person than ever was Madame de
"Your speaking of bed reminds me, dear ladies ours must be quite cold
by this time. How we have chatted! What a delightful gossip! But we
must not forget that our journey to-morrow is to be a long one!"
The duchesse rose, the other two ladies rising instantly, observing, in
spite of the intimate relations in which they stood toward the
duchesse, the deference due to her more exalted rank. The latter
clapped her hands; outside the door a shuffling and a low groan were
heard--the groan came from the sleepy lackey, roused from his deep
slumber, as he uncoiled himself from the close knot into which his legs
and body were knit in the curve of the narrow stairs.
The ladies, a few seconds later, were wending their way up the steep
turret steps. They were preceded by torches and followed by quite a
long train of maids and lackeys. For a long hour, at least, the little
inn resounded with the sound of hurrying feet, of doors closing and
shutting; with the echo of voices giving commands and of others purring
in sleepy accents of obedience. Then one by one the sounds died away;
the lights went out in the bedchambers; faint flickerings stole through
the chinks of doors and windows. The watchman cried out the hour,
and the gleam of a lantern flashed here and there, illuminating the
open court-yard. The cocks crowed shrilly into the night air. A
halberdier turned in his sleep where he lay, on some straw beneath the
coach-shed, his halberd rattling as it struck the cobbles. And over the
whole--over the gentle slumber of the great ladies and the sleep of
beast and man--there fell the peace and the stillness of the
midnight--of that midnight of long ago.
[Illustration: CHAMBRE DE LA PUCELLE--DIVES]
A NINETEENTH-CENTURY BREAKFAST.
The very next morning, after the rain, and the vision I had had of
Madame de Sevigne, conjured up by my surroundings and the reading of
her letters, Monsieur Paul paid us an early call. He came to beg the
loan of our sitting-room, he said. He had had a despatch from a
coaching-party from Trouville; they were to arrive for breakfast. The
whip and owner of the coach was a great friend of his, he proffered by
way of explanation--a certain count who had a genius for
friendship--one who also had an artist's talent for admiring the
beautiful. He was among those who were in a state of perpetual
adoration before the inn's perfections. He made yearly pilgrimages from
his chateau above Rouen to eat a noon breakfast in the Chambre des
Marmousets. Now, a breakfast served elsewhere than in this chamber
would be, from his point of view, to have journeyed to a shrine to find
the niche empty. The gift that was begged of us, therefore, was the
loan for a few hours of the famous little room.
In less than a half hour we were watching the entrance of the coach by
the side of Madame Le Mois. We were all three seated on the green
Faintly at first, and presently gaining in distinctness, came the fall
of horses' hoofs and the rumble of wheels along the highway. A little
cavalcade was soon passing beneath the archway. First there dashed in
two horsemen, who had sprung to the ground almost as soon as their
steeds' hoofs struck the paved court-yard. Then there swept by a jaunty
dog cart, driven by a mannish figure radiantly robed in white. Swiftly
following came the dash and jingle of four coach-horses, bathed in
sweat, rolling the vehicle into the court as if its weight were a thing
of air. All save one among the gay party seated on the high seats, were
too busy with themselves and their chatter, to take heed of their
surroundings. A lady beneath her deep parasol was busily engaged in a
gay traffic of talk with the groups of men peopling the back seats of
the coach. One of the men, however, was craning his neck beyond the
heads of his companions; he was running his eye rapidly up and down the
long inn facade. Finally his glance rested on us; and then, with a
rush, a deep red mounted the man's cheek, as he tore off his derby to
wave it, as if in a triumph of discovery. Renard had been true to his
promise. He had come to see his friends and to test the famous
Sauterne. He flung himself down from his lofty perch to take his seat,
entirely as a matter of course, beside us on the green bench.
"What luck, hey?--greatest luck in the world, finding you in, like
this. I've been in no end of a tremble, fearing you'd gone to Caen, or
Falaise, or somewhere, and that I shouldn't see you after all. Well,
how are you? How goes it? What do you think of old Dives and Monsieur
Paul, and the rest of it? I see you're settled; you took the palace
chamber. Trust American women--they know the best, and get it."
"But these people, who are they, and how did you--?" We were
unfeignedly glad to see him, but curiosity is a passion not to be
trifled with--after a month in the provinces.
"Oh--the De Troisacs? Old friends of mine--known them years. Jolly lot.
Charming fellow, De Troisac--only good Frenchman I've ever known.
They're just off their yacht; saw them all yesterday at the Trouville
Casino. Said they were running down here for breakfast to-day, asked
me, and I came, of course." He laughed as he added: "I said I should
come, you remember, to get some of that Sauterne. A man will go any
distance for a good bottle of wine, you know."
Meanwhile, in the court-yard, the party on the coach, by means of
ladders and the helping of the grooms, were scrambling down from their
seats. Renard's friend, the Comte de Troisac, was easily picked out
from the group of men. He was the elder of the party--stoutish, with
frank eyes and a smiling mouth; he was bustling about from the gaunt
grooms to the ladder, and from ladder to the coach-seat, giving his
commands right and left, and executing most of them himself. A tall,
slim woman, with drooping eyelids, and an air of extreme elegance and
of cultivated fatigue, was also easily recognizable as the countess. It
took two grooms, two of the gentlemen guests, and her husband to
assist her to the ground. Her passage down the steps of the ladder had
been long enough, however, to enable her to display a series of pretty
poses, each one more effective than the others. When one has an instep
of ideal elevation, what is the use of being born a Frenchwoman, unless
one knows how to make use of opportunity?
From the dog-cart, that had rattled in across the cobbles with a dash
and a spurt, there came quite a different accent and pose. The whitish
personage, whom we had mistakenly supposed to be a man, wore
petticoats; the male attire only held as far as the waist of the lady.
The stiff white shirt-front, the knotted tie--a faultless male
knot--the loose driving-jacket, with its sprig of white geranium, and
the round straw-hat worn in mannish fashion, close to the level
brows, was a costume that would have deceived either sex. Below the
jacket flowed the straight lines of a straight skirt, that no further
conjectures should be rendered necessary. This lady had a highbred air
of singular distinction, accentuated by a tremendously knowing look.
She was at once elegant and rakish; the _gamin_ in her was obviously
the touch of _caviare_ to season the woman of fashion. The mixture made
an extraordinarily attractive ensemble. As she jumped to the ground,
throwing her reins to a groom, her jump was a master-stroke; it landed
her squarely on her feet; even as she struck the ground her hands were
thrust deeply into her pockets. The man seated beside her, who now
leaped out after her, seemed timid and awkward by contrast with her
alert precision. This couple moved at once toward the bench on which
madame was seated. With the coming in of the coach and the cart she had
risen, waddling forward to meet the party. Monsieur Paul was at the
coach-wheels before the grooms had shot themselves down; De Troisac,
with eager friendliness, stretched forth a hand from the top of his
seat, exclaiming, with gay heartiness, "Ah, mon bon--comment ca va?"
The mere was as eagerly greeted. Even the countess dismissed her
indifference for the moment, as she held out her hand to Madame Le
"Dear Madame Le Mois--and it goes well with you? And the gout and the
rheumatism, they have ceased to torment you? Quelle bonne nouvelle! And
here are the dear old cocks and the wounded bantam. The cockatoos--ah,
there they are, still swinging in the air! Comme c'est joli--et
frais--et que ca sent bon!"
Madame and Monsieur Paul were equally effusive in their inquiries and
exclamations--it was clearly a meeting of old friends. Madame Le Mois'
face was meanwhile a study. The huge surface was glistening with
pleasure; she was unfeignedly glad to see these Parisians:--but there
was no elation at this meeting on such easy terms with greatness. Her
shrewdness was as alive as ever; she was about to make money out of the
visit--they were to have of her best, but they must pay for it. Between
her rapid fire of questionings as to the countess's health and the
history of her travels, there was as rapid a shower of commands,
sometimes shouted out, above all the hubbub, to the cooks standing
gaping in the kitchen doorway, or whispered hoarsely to Ernestine and
Marianne, who were flying about like wild pigeons, a little drunk with
the novelty of this first breakfast of the season.
"_Allons, mon enfant--cours--cours_--get thy linen, my child, and the
silver candelabres. It is to be laid in the Marmousets, thou knowest.
Paul will come presently. And the salads, pluck them and bring them in
The great world was all very well, and it was well to be on friendly,
even intimate terms, with it; but, _Dieu!_ one's own bread is of
importance too! And the countess, for all her delicacy, was a _bonne
The countess and her friend, after a moment of standing in the court-
yard, of patting the pelican, of trying their blandishments on the
flamingo, of catching up the bantam, and filling the air with their
purring, and caressing, and incessant chatter, passed beneath the low
door to the inner sanctum of madame. The two ladies were clearly bent
on a few moments of unreserved gossip and that repairing of the toilet
which is a religious act to women of fashion the world over.
In the court-yard the scene was still a brilliant one. The gayly
painted coach was now deserted. It stood, a chariot of state, as it
were, awaiting royalty; its yellow sides gleamed like topaz in the sun.
The grooms were unharnessing the leaders, that were still bathed in the
white of their sweat. The count's dove-colored flannels were a soft
mass against the snow of the _chef's_ apron and cap; the two were in
deep consultation at the kitchen door. Monsieur Paul was showing, with
all the absorption of the artist, his latest Jumieges carvings to the
taller, more awkward of the gentlemen, to the one driven in by the
The cockatoos had not ceased shrieking from the very beginning of the
hubbub; nor had the squirrels stopped running along the bars of their
cage, a-flutter with excitement. The peacocks trailed their trains
between the coach-wheels, announcing, squawkingly, their delight at the
advent of a larger audience. Above the cries of the fowls and the
shrieks of the cocks, the chatter of human tongues, the subdued murmur
of the ladies' voices coming through the open lattice, and the stamp of
horses' hoofs, there swept above it all the light June breeze, rustling
in the vines, shaking the thick branches against the wooden facades.
The two ladies soon made their appearance in the sunlit court-yard. The
murmur of their talk and their laughter reached us, along with the
froufrou of their silken petticoats.
"You were not bored, _chere enfant_, driving Monsieur d'Agreste all
that long distance?"
The countess was smiling tenderly into her companion's face. She had
stopped her to readjust the geranium sprig that was drooping in her
friend's cover-coat. The smile was the smile of a sympathizing angel,
but what a touch of hidden malice there was in the notes of her
caressing voice! As she repinned the _boutonniere_, she gave the
dancing eyes, that were brimming with the mirth of the coming retort,
the searching inquest of her glance.
"Bored! _Dieu, que non!_" The black little beauty threw back her
throat, laughing, as she rolled her great eyes. "Bored--with all the
tricks I was playing? Fernande! pity me, there was such a little time,
and so much to do!"
"So little time--only fourteen kilos!" The countess compressed her
lips; they were smiling no longer.
"Ah, but you see, I had so much to combat. You had a whole season, last
summer, in which to play your game, your solemn game." Here the gay
young widow rippled forth a pearly scale of treble laughter. "And I
have had only a week, thus far!"
"Yes, but what time you make!"
And this time both ladies laughed, although, still, only one laughed
"Ah! those women--how they love each other," commented Renard, as
he sat on the bench, swinging his legs, with his eyes following
the two vanishing figures. "Only women who are intimate--Parisian
intimates--can cut to the bone like that, with a surgeon's dexterity."
He explained then that the handsome brunette was a widow, a certain
Baronne d'Autun, noted for her hunting and her conquests; the last on
the latter list was Monsieur d'Agreste, a former admirer of the
countess; he was somewhat famous as a scientist and socialist, so good
a socialist as to refuse to wear his title of duke. The other two
gentlemen of the party, who had joined them now, the two horsemen, were
the Comtes de Mirant and de Fonbriant. These latter were two typical
young swells of the Jockey Club model; their vacant, well-bred faces
wore the correct degree of fashionable pallor, and their manners