Part 2 out of 5
Though she was much agitated herself she failed not to remark his
emotion, and on the threshold of the atelier, she blew a kiss back to him
from the tips of her gloved fingers, without speaking or smiling. Then
she went back to Fraulein Schult, who was still sitting in the place
where she had left her, and said: "Let us go."
The next time Madame de Nailles saw her stepdaughter she was dazzled by a
radiant look in her young face.
"What has happened to you?" she asked, "you look triumphant."
"Yes--I have good reason to triumph," said Jacqueline. "I think that I
have won a victory."
"How so? Over yourself?"
"No, indeed--victories over one's self give us the comfort of a good
conscience, but they do not make us gay--as I am."
"Then tell me--"
"No-no! I can not tell you yet. I must be silent two days more," said
Jacqueline, throwing herself into her mother's arms.
Madame de Nailles asked no more questions, but she looked at her
stepdaughter with an air of great surprise. For some weeks past she had
had no pleasure in looking at Jacqueline. She began to be aware that
near her, at her side, an exquisite butterfly was about for the first
time to spread its wings--wings of a radiant loveliness, which, when they
fluttered in the air, would turn all eyes away from other butterflies,
which had lost some of their freshness during the summer.
A difficult task was before her. How could she keep this too precocious
insect in its chrysalis state? How could she shut it up in its dark
cocoon and retard its transformation?
"Jacqueline," she said, and the tones of her voice were less soft than
those in which she usually addressed her, "it seems to me that you are
wasting your time a great deal. You hardly practise at all; you do
almost nothing at the 'cours'. I don't know what can be distracting your
attention from your lessons, but I have received complaints which should
make a great girl like you ashamed of herself. Do you know what I am
beginning to think?--That Madame de Monredon's system of education has
done better than mine."
"Oh! mamma, you can't be thinking of sending me to a convent!" cried
Jacqueline, in tones of comic despair.
"I did not say that--but I really think it might be good for you to make
a retreat where your cousin Giselle is, instead of plunging into follies
which interrupt your progress."
"Do you call Madame d'Etaples's 'bal blanc' a folly?"
"You certainly will not go to it--that is settled," said the young
In all other ways Madame de Nailles did her best to assist in the success
of the surprise. On the second of June, the eve of Ste.-Clotilde's day,
she went out, leaving every opportunity for the grand plot to mature.
Had she not absented herself in like manner the year before at the same
date--thus enabling an upholsterer to drape artistically her little salon
with beautiful thick silk tapestries which had just been imported from
the East? Her idea was that this year she might find a certain lacquered
screen which she coveted. The Baroness belonged to her period; she liked
Japanese things. But, alas! the charming object that awaited her, with
a curtain hung over it to prolong the suspense, had nothing Japanese
about it whatever. Madame de Nailles received the good wishes of her
family, responded to them with all proper cordiality, and then was
dragged up joyously to a picture hanging on the wall of her room, but
still concealed under the cloth that covered it.
"How good of you!" she said, with all confidence to her husband.
"It is a picture by Marien!--A portrait by Marien! A likeness of
And he uncovered the masterpiece of the great artist, expecting to be
joyous in the joy with which she would receive it. But something strange
occurred. Madame de Nailles sprang back a step or two, stretching out
her arms as if repelling an apparition, her face was distorted, her head
was turned away; then she dropped into the nearest seat and burst into
"Mamma!--dear little mamma!--what is it?" cried Jacqueline, springing
forward to kiss her.
Madame de Nailles disengaged herself angrily from her embrace.
"Let me alone!" she cried, "let me alone!--How dared you?"
And impetuously, hardly restraining a gesture of horror and hate, she
rushed into her own chamber. Thither her husband followed her, anxious
and bewildered, and there he witnessed a nervous attack which ended in a
torrent of reproaches:
Was it possible that he had, not seen the impropriety of those sittings
to Marien? Oh, yes! No doubt he was an old friend of the family, but
that did not prevent all these deceptions, all these disguises, and all
the other follies which he had sanctioned--he--Jacqueline's father!--from
being very improper. Did he wish to take from her all authority over his
child?--a girl who was already too much disposed to emancipate herself.
Her own efforts had all been directed to curb this alarming propensity--
yes, alarming--alarming for the future. And all in vain! There was no
use in saying more. 'Mon Dieu'! had he no trust in her devotion to his
child, in her prudence and her foresight, that he must thwart her thus?
And she had always imagined that for ten years she had faithfully
fulfilled a mother's duties! What ingratitude from every one!
Mademoiselle Schult should be sent away at once. Jacqueline should go to
a convent. They would break off all intercourse with Marien. They had
conspired against her--every one.
And then she wept more bitterly than ever--tears of rage, salt tears
which rubbed the powder off her cheeks and disfigured the face that had
remained beautiful by her power of will and self-control. But now the
disorder of her nerves got the better of precautions. The blonde angel,
whose beauty was on the wane, was transformed into a fury. Her six-and-
thirty years were fully apparent, her complexion appeared slightly
blotched, all her defects were obtrusive in contrast with the precocious
development of beauty in Jacqueline. She was firmly resolved that her
stepdaughter's obtrusive womanhood should remain in obscurity a very much
longer time, under pretence that Jacqueline was still a child. She was a
child, at any rate! The portrait was a lie! an imposture! an affront!
Meantime M. de Nailles, almost beside himself, fancied at first that his
wife was going mad, but in the midst of her sobs and reproaches he
managed to discover that he had somehow done her wrong, and when, with a
broken voice, she cried, "You no longer love me!" he did not know what
to do to prove how bitterly he repented having grieved her. He
stammered, he made excuses, he owned that he had been to blame, that he
had been very stupid, and he begged her pardon. As to the portrait, it
should be taken from the salon, where, if seen, it might become a pretext
for foolish compliments to Jacqueline. Why not send it at once to
Grandchaux? In short, he would do anything she wished, provided she
would leave off crying.
But Madame de Nailles continued to weep. Her husband was forced at last
to leave her and to return to Jacqueline, who stood petrified in the
"Yes," he said, "your mamma is right. We have made a deplorable mistake
in what we have done. Besides, you must know that this unlucky picture
is not in the least like you. Marien has made some use of your features
to paint a fancy portrait--so we will let nobody see it. They might
laugh at you."
In this way he hoped to repair the evil he had done in flattering his
daughter's vanity, and promoting that dangerous spirit of independence,
denounced to him a few minutes before, but of which, up to that time, he
had never heard.
Jacqueline, in her turn, began to sob.
Mademoiselle Schult had cause, too, to wipe her eyes, pretending a more
or less sincere repentance for her share in the deception. Vigorously
cross-questioned by Madame de Nailles, who called upon her to tell all
she knew, under pain of being dismissed immediately, she saw but one way
of retaining her situation, which was to deliver up Jacqueline, bound
hand and foot, to the anger of her stepmother, by telling all she knew of
the childish romance of which she had been the confidante. As a reward
she was permitted (as she had foreseen) to retain her place in the
character of a spy.
It was a sad Ste.-Clotilde's day that year. Marien, who came in the
evening, heard with surprise that the Baroness was indisposed and could
see no one. For twelve days after this he continued in disgrace, being
refused admittance when he called. Those twelve days were days of
anguish for Jacqueline. To see Marien no longer, to be treated with
coldness by her father, to see in the blue eyes of her stepmother--eyes
so soft and tender when they looked upon her hitherto--only a harsh,
mistrustful glare, almost a look of hatred, was a punishment greater than
she could bear. What had she done to deserve punishment? Of what was
she accused? She spoke of her wretchedness to Fraulein Schult, who,
perfidiously, day after day, drew from her something to report to Madame
de Nailles. That lady was somewhat consoled, while suffering tortures of
jealousy, to know that the girl to whom these sufferings were due was
paying dearly for her fault and was very unhappy.
On the twelfth day something occurred which, though it made no noise in
the household, had very serious consequences. The effect it produced on
Jacqueline was decisive and deplorable. The poor child, after going
through all the states of mind endured by those who suffer under
unmerited disgrace--revolt, indignation, sulkiness, silent obstinacy--
felt unable to bear it longer. She resolved to humble herself, hoping
that by so doing the wall of ice that had arisen between her stepmother
and herself might be cast down. By this time she cared less to know of
what fault she was supposed to be guilty than to be taken back into favor
as before. What must she do to obtain forgiveness? Explanations are
usually worthless; besides, none might be granted her. She remembered
that when she was a small child she had obtained immediate oblivion of
any fault by throwing herself impulsively into the arms of her little
mamma, and asking her to forget whatever she had done to displease her,
for she had not done it on purpose. She would do the same thing now.
Putting aside all pride and obstinacy, she would go to this mamma, who,
for some days, had seemed so different. She would smother her in kisses.
She might possibly be repelled at first. She would not mind it. She was
sure that in the end she would be forgiven.
No sooner was this resolution formed than she hastened to put it into
execution. It was the time of day when Madame de Nailles was usually
alone. Jacqueline went to her bedchamber, but she was not there, and a
moment after she stood on the threshold of the little salon. There she
stopped short, not quite certain how she should proceed, asking herself
what would be her reception.
"How shall I do it?" she thought. "How had I better do it?"
"Bah!" she answered these doubts. "It will be very easy. I will go in
on tiptoe, so that she can't hear me. I will slip behind her chair, and
I will hug her suddenly, so tight, so tenderly, and kiss her till she
tells me that all has been forgiven."
As she thought thus Jacqueline noiselessly opened the door of the salon,
over which, on the inner side, hung a thick plush 'portiere'. But as she
was about to lift it, the sound of a voice within made her stand
motionless. She recognized the tones of Marien. He was pleading,
imploring, interrupted now and then by the sharp and still angry voice of
her mamma. They were not speaking above their breath, but if she
listened she could hear them, and, without any scruples of conscience,
she did listen intently, anxious to see her way through the dark fog in
which, for twelve days, she had wandered.
"I do not go quite so far as that," said Madame de Nailles, dryly. "It
is enough for me that she produced an illusion of such beauty upon you.
Now I know what to expect--"
"That is nonsense," replied Marien--"mere foolishness. You jealous!
jealous of a baby whom I knew when she wore white pinafores, who has
grown up under my very eyes? But, so far as I am concerned, she exists
no longer. She is not, she never will be in my eyes, a woman. I shall
think of her as playing with her doll, eating sugar-plums, and so on."
Jacqueline grew faint. She shivered and leaned against the door-post.
"One would not suppose so, to judge by the picture with which she has
inspired you. You may say what you like, but I know that in all this
there was a set purpose to insult me."
"In the first place, on no pretext ought you to have been induced to
paint her portrait."
"Do you think so? Consider, had I refused, the danger of awakening
suspicion? I accepted the commission most unwillingly, much put out by
it, as you may suppose. But you are making too much of an imaginary
fault. Consign the wretched picture to the barn, if you like. We will
never say another word about so foolish a matter. You promise me to
forget it, won't you?.... Dear! you will promise me?" he added, after a
Madame de Nailles sighed and replied: "If not she it will be some one
else. I am very unhappy.... I am weak and contemptible...."
"Clotilde!" replied Marien, in an accent that went to Jacqueline's heart
like a knife.
She fancied that after this she heard the sound of a kiss, and, with her
cheeks aflame and her head burning, she rushed away. She understood
little of what she had overheard. She only realized that he had given
her up, that he had turned her into ridicule, that he had said
"Clotilde!" to her mother, that he had called her dear--she!--the woman
she had so adored, so venerated, her best friend, her father's wife, her
mother by adoption! Everything in this world seemed to be giving way
under her feet. The world was full of falsehood and of treason, and
life, so bad, so cruel, was no longer what she had supposed it to be.
It had broken its promise to herself, it had made her bad--bad forever.
She loved no one, she believed in no one. She wished she were dead.
How she reached her own room in this state Jacqueline never knew. She
was aware at last of being on her knees beside her bed, with her face
hidden in the bed-clothes. She was biting them to stifle her desire to
scream. Her hands were clenched convulsively.
"Mamma!" she cried, "mamma!"
Was this a reproach addressed to her she had so long called by that name?
Or was it an appeal, vibrating with remorse, to her real mother, so long
forgotten in favor of this false idol, her rival, her enemy?
Undoubtedly, Jacqueline was too innocent, too ignorant to guess the real
truth from what she had overheard. But she had learned enough to be no
longer the pure-minded young girl of a few hours before. It seemed to
her as if a fetid swamp now lay before her, barring her entrance into
life. Vague as her perceptions were, this swamp before her seemed more
deep, more dark, more dreadful from uncertainty, and Jacqueline felt that
thenceforward she could make no step in life without risk of falling into
it. To whom now could she open her heart in confidence--that heart
bleeding and bruised as if it had been trampled one as if some one had
crushed it? The thing that she now knew was not like her own little
personal secrets, such as she had imprudently confided to Fraulein
Schult. The words that she had overheard she could repeat to no one.
She must carry them in her heart, like the barb of an arrow in a secret
wound, where they would fester and grow more painful day by day.
"But, above all," she said at length, rising from her knees, "let me show
She bathed her fevered face in cold water, then she walked up to her
mirror. As she gazed at herself with a strange interest, trying to see
whether the entire change so suddenly accomplished in herself had left
its visible traces on her features, she seemed to see something in her
eyes that spoke of the clairvoyance of despair. She smiled at herself,
to see whether the new Jacqueline could play the part, which--whether she
would or not--was now assigned to her. What a sad smile it was!
"I have lost everything," she said, "I have lost everything!" And she
remembered, as one remembers something in the far-off long ago, how that
very morning, when she awoke, her first thought had been "Shall I see him
to-day?" Each day she passed without seeing him had seemed to her a lost
day, and she had accustomed herself to go to sleep thinking of him,
remembering all he had said to her, and how he had looked at her. Of
course, sometimes she had been unhappy, but what a difference it seemed
between such vague unhappiness and what she now experienced? And then,
when she was sad, she could always find a refuge in that dear mamma--in
that Clotilde whom she vowed she would never kiss again, except with such
kisses as might be necessary to avoid suspicion. Kisses of that kind
were worth nothing. Quite the contrary! Could she kiss her father now
without a pang? Her father! He had gone wholly over to the side of that
other in this affair. She had seen him in one moment turn against
herself. No!--no one was left her!.... If she could only lay her head
in Modeste's lap and be soothed while she crooned her old songs as in the
nursery! But, whatever Marien or any one else might choose to say, she
was no longer a baby. The bitter sense of her isolation arose in her.
She could hardly breathe. Suddenly she pressed her lips upon the glass
which reflected her own image, so sad, so pale, so desolate. She put the
pity for herself into a long, long, fervent kiss, which seemed to say:
"Yes, I am all alone--alone forever." Then, in a spirit of revenge, she
opened what seemed a safety-valve, preventing her from giving way to any
She rushed for a little box which she had converted into a sort of
reliquary. She took out of it the half-burned cigarette, the old glove,
the withered violets, and a visiting-card with his name, on which three
unimportant lines had been written. She insulted these keepsakes, she
tore them with her nails, she trampled them underfoot, she reduced them
to fragments; she left nothing whatever of them, except a pile of shreds,
which at last she set fire to. She had a feeling as if she were employed
in executing two great culprits, who deserved cruel tortures at her
hands; and, with them, she slew now and forever the foolish fancy she had
called her love. By a strange association of ideas, the famous
composition, so praised by M. Regis, came back to her memory, and she
"Je ne veux me souvenir.... me souvenir de rien!"
"If I remember, I shall be more unhappy. All has been a dream. His look
was a dream, his pressure of my hand, his kiss on the last day, all--all
--were dreams. He was making a fool of me when he gave me that pink
which is now in this pile of ashes. He was laughing when he told me I
was more beautiful than was natural. Never have I been--never shall I be
in his eyes--more than the baby he remembers playing with her doll."
And unconsciously, as Jacqueline said these words, she imitated the
careless accent with which she had heard them fall from the lips of the
artist. And she would have again to meet him! If she had had thunder
and lightning at her command, as she had had the match with which she had
set fire to the memorials of her juvenile folly, Marien would have been
annihilated on the spot. She was at that moment a murderess at heart.
But the dinner-bell rang. The young fury gave a last glance at the
adornments of her pretty bedchamber, so elegant, so original--all blue
and pink, with a couch covered with silk embroidered with flowers.
She seemed to say to them all: "Keep my secret. It is a sad one. Be
careful: keep it safely." The cupids on the clock, the little book-rest
on a velvet stand, the picture of the Virgin that hung over her bed, with
rosaries and palms entwined about it, the photographs of her girl-friends
standing on her writing table in pretty frames of old-fashioned silk-all
seemed to see her depart with a look of sympathy.
She went down to the dining-room, resolved to prove that she would not
submit to punishment. The best way to brave Madame de Nailles was, she
thought, to affect great calmness and indifference, aye, even, if she
could, some gayety. But the task before her was more difficult than she
had expected. Apparently, as a proof of reconciliation, Marien had been
kept to dinner. To see him so soon again after his words of outrage was
more than she could bear. For one moment the earth seemed to sink under
her feet; she roused her pride by an heroic effort, and that sustained
her. She exchanged with the artist, as she always did, a friendly "Good-
evening!" and ate her dinner, though it nearly choked her.
Madame de Nailles had red eyes; and Jacqueline made the reflection that
women who are thirty-five should never weep. She knew that her face had
not been made ugly by her tears, and this gave her a perverse
satisfaction in the midst of her misery. Of Marien she thought: "He sits
there as if he had been put 'en penitence'." No doubt he could not
endure scenes, and the one he had just passed through must have given him
the downcast look which Jacqueline noticed with contempt.
What she did not know was that his depression had more than one cause.
He felt--and felt with shame and with discouragement--that the fetters of
a connection which had long since ceased to charm had been fastened on
his wrists tighter than ever; and he thought: "I shall lose all my
energy, I shall lose even my talent! While I wear these chains I shall
see ever before me--ah! tortures of Tantalus!--the vision of a new love,
fresh as the dawn which beckons to me as it passes before my sight, which
lays on me the light touch of a caress, while I am forced to see it glide
away, to let it vanish, disappear forever! And alas! that is not all.
If I have deceived an inexperienced heart by words spoken or deeds done
in a moment of weakness or temptation, can I flatter myself that I have
acted like an honest man?"
This is what Marien was really thinking, while Jacqueline looked at him
with an expression she strove to make indifferent, but which he
interpreted, though she knew it not: "You have done me all the harm you
M. de Nailles meantime went on talking, with little response from his
wife or his guest, about some vehement discussion of a new law going on
just then in the Chamber, and he became so interested in his own
discourse that he did not remark the constraint of the others.
Marien at last, tired of responding in monosyllables to his remarks,
said abruptly, a short time before dessert was placed upon the table,
something about the probability of his soon going to Italy.
"A pilgrimage of art to Florence!" cried the Baron, turning at once from
politics. "That's good. But wait a little--let it be after the rising
of the Chamber. We will follow your steps. It has been the desire of my
wife's life--a little jaunt to Italy. Has it not, Clotilde? So we will
all go in September or October. What say you?"
"In September or October, whichever suits you," said Marien, with
Not one month of liberty! Why couldn't they leave him to his Savanarola!
Must he drag about a ball and chain like a galley-slave?
Clotilde rewarded M. de Nailles with a smile--the first smile she had
given him since their quarrel about Jacqueline.
"My wife has got over her displeasure," he said to himself, delightedly.
Jacqueline, on her part, well remembered the day when Hubert had spoken
to her for the first time of his intended journey, and how he had added,
in a tone which she now knew to be badinage, but which then, alas! she
had believed serious: "Suppose we go together!"
And her impulse to shed tears became so great, that when they left the
dinner-table she escaped to her own room, under pretence of a headache.
"Yes--you are looking wretchedly," said her stepmother. And, turning to
M. de Nailles, she added: "Don't you think, 'mon ami', she is as yellow
as a quince!" Marien dared not press the hand which she, who had been
his little friend for years, offered him as usual, but this time with
"You are suffering, my poor Jacqueline!" he ventured to say.
"Oh! not much," she answered, with a glance at once haughty and defiant,
"to-morrow I shall be quite well again."
And, saying this, she had the courage to laugh.
But she was not quite well the next day; and for many days after she was
forced to stay in bed. The doctor who came to see her talked about "low
fever," attributed it to too rapid growth, and prescribed sea-bathing for
her that summer. The fever, which was not very severe, was of great
service to Jacqueline. It enabled her to recover in quiet from the
effects of a bitter deception.
Madame de Nailles was not sufficiently uneasy about her to be always at
her bedside. Usually the sick girl stayed alone, with her window-
curtains closed, lying there in the soft half-light that was soothing to
her nerves. The silence was broken at intervals by the voice of Modeste,
who would come and offer her her medicine. When Jacqueline had taken it,
she would shut her eyes, and resume, half asleep, her sad reflections.
These were always the same. What could be the tie between her stepmother
She tried to recall all the proofs of friendship she had seen pass
between them, but all had taken place openly. Nothing that she could
remember seemed suspicious. So she thought at first, but as she thought
more, lying, feverish, upon her bed, several things, little noticed at
the time, were recalled to her remembrance. They might mean nothing, or
they might mean much. In the latter case, Jacqueline could not
understand them very well. But she knew he had called her "Clotilde,"
that he had even dared to say "thou" to her in private--these were things
she knew of her own knowledge. Her pulse beat quicker as she thought of
them; her head burned. In that studio, where she had passed so many
happy hours, had Marien and her stepmother ever met as lovers?
Her stepmother and Marien! She could not understand what it meant.
Must she apply to them a dreadful word that she had picked up in the
history books, where it had been associated with such women as Margaret
of Burgundy, Isabeau of Bavaria, Anne Boleyn, and other princesses of
very evil reputation? She had looked it out in the dictionary, where the
meaning given was: "To be unfaithful to conjugal vows." Even then she
could not understand precisely the meaning of adultery, and she set
herself to solve it during the long lonely days when she was
convalescent. When she was able to walk from one room to another, she
wandered in a loose dressing-gown, whose long, lank folds showed that she
had grown taller and thinner during her illness, into the room that held
the books, and went boldly up to the bookcase, the key of which had been
left in the lock, for everybody had entire confidence in Jacqueline's
scrupulous honesty. Never before had she broken a promise; she knew that
a well-brought-up young girl ought to read only such books as were put
into her hands. The idea of taking a volume from those shelves had no
more occurred to her than the idea of taking money out of somebody's
purse; that is, up to this moment it had not occurred to her to do so;
but now that she had lost all respect for those in authority over her,
Jacqueline considered herself released from any obligation to obey them.
She therefore made use of the first opportunity that presented itself to
take down a novel of George Sand, which she had heard spoken of as a very
dangerous book, not doubting it would throw some light on the subject
that absorbed her. But she shut up the volume in a rage when she found
that it had nothing but excuses to offer for the fall of a married woman.
After that, and guided only by chance, she read a number of other novels,
most of which were of antediluvian date, thus accounting, she supposed,
for their sentiments, which she found old fashioned. We should be wrong,
however, if we supposed that Jacqueline's crude judgment of these books
had nothing in common with true criticism. Her only object, however, in
reading all this sentimental prose was to discover, as formerly she had
found in poetry, something that applied to her own case; but she soon
discovered that all the sentimental heroines in the so-called bad books
were persons who had had bad husbands; besides, they were either widows
or old women--at least thirty years old! It was astounding! There was
nothing--absolutely nothing--about young girls, except instances in which
they renounced their hopes of happiness. What an injustice! Among these
victims the two that most attracted her sympathy were Madame de Camors
and Renee Mauperin. But what horrors surrounded them! What a varied
assortment of deceptions, treacheries, and mysteries, lay hidden under
the outward decency and respectability of what men called "the world!"
Her young head became a stage on which strange plays were acted. What
one reads is good or bad for us, according to the frame of mind in which
we read it--according as we discover in a volume healing for the sickness
of our souls--or the contrary. In view of the circumstances in which she
found herself, what Jacqueline absorbed from these books was poison.
When, after the physical and moral crisis through which she had passed,
Jacqueline resumed the life of every day, she had in her sad eyes, around
which for some time past had been dark circles, an expression of anxiety
such as the first contact with a knowledge of evil might have put into
Eve's eyes after she had plucked the apple. Her investigations had very
imperfectly enlightened her. She was as much perplexed as ever, with
some false ideas besides. When she was well again, however, she
continued weak and languid; she felt somehow as if, she had come back to
her old surroundings from some place far away. Everything about her now
seemed sad and unfamiliar, though outwardly nothing was altered.
Her parents had apparently forgotten the unhappy episode of the picture.
It had been sent away to Grandchaux, which was tantamount to its being
buried. Hubert Marien had resumed his habits of intimacy in the family.
From that time forth he took less and less notice of Jacqueline--whether
it were that he owed her a grudge for all the annoyance she had been the
means of bringing upon him, or whether he feared to burn himself in the
flame which had once scorched him more than he admitted to himself, who
can say? Perhaps he was only acting in obedience to orders.
A CONVENT FLOWER
One of Jacqueline's first walks, after she had recovered, was to see her
cousin Giselle at her convent. She did not seek this friend's society
when she was happy and in a humor for amusement, for she thought her a
little straightlaced, or, as she said, too like a nun; but nobody could
condole or sympathize with a friend in trouble like Giselle. It seemed
as if nature herself had intended her for a Sister of Charity--a Gray
Sister, as Jacqueline would sometimes call her, making fun of her
somewhat dull intellect, which had been benumbed, rather than stimulated,
by the education she had received.
The Benedictine Convent is situated in a dull street on the left bank of
the Seine, all gardens and hotels--that is, detached houses. Grass
sprouted here and there among the cobblestones. There were no street-
lamps and no policemen. Profound silence reigned there. The petals of
an acacia, which peeped timidly over its high wall, dropped, like flakes
of snow, on the few pedestrians who passed by it in the springtime.
The enormous porte-cochere gave entrance into a square courtyard, on one
side of which was the chapel, on the other, the door that led into the
convent. Here Jacqueline presented herself, accompanied by her old
nurse, Modeste. She had not yet resumed her German lessons, and was
striving to put off as long as possible any intercourse with Fraulein
Schult, who had known of her foolish fancy, and who might perhaps renew
the odious subject. Walking with Modeste, on the contrary, seemed like
going back to the days of her childhood, the remembrance of which soothed
her like a recollection of happiness and peace, now very far away; it was
a reminiscence of the far-off limbo in which her young soul, pure and
white, had floated, without rapture, but without any great grief or pain.
The porteress showed them into the parlor. There they found several
pupils who were talking to members of their families, from whom they were
separated by a grille, whose black bars gave to those within the
appearance of captives, and made rather a barrier to eager demonstrations
of affection, though they did not hinder the reception of good things to
"Tiens! I have brought you some chocolate," said Jacqueline to Giselle,
as soon as her cousin appeared, looking far prettier in her black cloth
frock than when she wore an ordinary walking-costume. Her fair hair was
drawn back 'a la Chinoise' from a white forehead resembling that of a
German Madonna; it was one of those foreheads, slightly and delicately
curved, which phrenologists tell us indicate reflection and enthusiasm.
But Giselle, without thanking Jacqueline for the chocolate, exclaimed at
once: "Mon Dieu! What has been the matter with you?"
She spoke rather louder than usual, it being understood that
conversations were to be carried on in a low tone, so as not to interfere
with those of other persons. She added: "I find you so altered."
"Yes--I have been ill," said Jacqueline, carelessly, "sorrow has made me
ill," she added, in a whisper, looking to see whether the nun, who was
discreetly keeping watch, walking to and fro behind the grille, might
chance to be listening. "Oh, ask me no questions! I must never tell
you--but for me, you must know--the happiness of my life is at an end--
is at an end--"
She felt herself to be very interesting while she was speaking thus; her
sorrows were somewhat assuaged. There was undoubtedly a certain pleasure
in letting some one look down into the unfathomable, mysterious depths of
a suffering soul.
She had expected much curiosity on the part of Giselle, and had resolved
beforehand to give her no answers; but Giselle only sighed, and said,
"Ah--my poor darling! I, too, am very unhappy. If you only knew--"
"How? Good heavens! what can have happened to you here?"
"Here? oh! nothing, of course; but this year I am to leave the convent
--and I think I can guess what will then be before me."
Here, seeing that the nun who was keeping guard was listening, Giselle,
with great presence of mind, spoke louder on indifferent subjects till
she had passed out of earshot, then she rapidly poured her secret into
From a few words that had passed between her grandmother and Madame
d'Argy, she had found out that Madame de Monredon intended to marry her.
"But that need not make you unhappy," said Jacqueline, "unless he is
really distasteful to you."
"That is what I am not sure about--perhaps he is not the one I think.
But I hardly know why--I have a dread, a great dread, that it is one of
our neighbors in the country. Grandmamma has several times spoken in my
presence of the advantage of uniting our two estates--they touch each
other--oh! I know her ideas! she wants a man well-born, one who has a
position in the world--some one, as she says, who knows something of
life--that is, I suppose, some one no longer young, and who has not much
hair on his head--like Monsieur de Talbrun."
"Is he very ugly--this Monsieur de Talbrun?"
"He's not ugly--and not handsome. But, just think! he is thirty-four!"
Jacqueline blushed, seeing in this speech a reflection on her own taste
in such matters.
"That's twice my age," sighed Giselle.
"Of course that would be dreadful if he were to stay always twice your
age--for instance, if you were now thirty-five, he would be seventy, and
a hundred and twenty when you reached your sixtieth year--but really to
be twice your age now will only make him seventeen years older than
In the midst of this chatter, which was beginning to attract the notice
of the nun, they broke off with a laugh, but it was only one of those
laughs 'au bout des levres', uttered by persons who have made up their
minds to be unhappy. Then Giselle went on:
"I know nothing about him, you understand--but he frightens me.
I tremble to think of taking his arm, of talking to him, of being his
wife. Just think even of saying thou to him!"
"But married people don't say thou to each other nowadays," said
Jacqueline, "it is considered vulgar."
"But I shall have to call him by his Christian name!"
"What is Monsieur de Talbrun's Christian name?"
"Humph! That is not a very pretty name, but you could get over the
difficulty--you could say 'mon ami'. After all, your sorrows are less
"Poor Jacqueline!" said Giselle, her soft hazel eyes moist with
"I have lost at one blow all my illusions, and I have made a horrible
discovery, that it would be wicked to tell to any one--you understand--
not even to my confessor."
"Heavens! but you could tell your mother!"
"You forget, I have no mother," replied Jacqueline in a tone which
frightened her friend: "I had a dear mamma once, but she would enter less
than any one into my sorrows; and as to my father--it would make things
worse to speak to him," she added, clasping her hands. "Have you ever
read any novels, Giselle?"
"Hem!" said the discreet voice of the nun, by way of warning.
"Two or three by Walter Scott."
"Oh! then you can imagine nothing like what I could tell you. How
horrid that nun is, she stops always as she comes near us! Why can't she
do as Modeste does, and leave us to talk by ourselves?"
It seemed indeed as if the Argus in a black veil had overheard part of
this conversation, not perhaps the griefs of Jacqueline, which were not
very intelligible, but some of the words spoken by Giselle, for, drawing
near her, she said, gently: "We, too, shall all grieve to lose you, my
dearest child; but remember one can serve God anywhere, and save one's
soul--in the world as well as in a convent." And she passed on, giving a
kind smile to Jacqueline, whom she knew, having seen her several times in
the convent parlor, and whom she thought a nice girl, notwithstanding
what she called her "fly-away airs"--"the airs they acquire from modern
education," she said to herself, with a sigh.
"Those poor ladies would have us think of nothing but a future life,"
said Jacqueline, shrugging her shoulders.
"We ought to think of it first of all," said Giselle, who had become
serious. "Sometimes I think my place should have been among these ladies
who have brought me up. They are so good, and they seem to be so happy.
Besides, do you know, I stand less in awe of them than I do of my
grandmother. When grandmamma orders me I never shall dare to object,
even if--But you must think me very selfish, my poor Jacqueline! I am
talking only of myself. Do you know what you ought to do as you go away?
You should go into the chapel, and pray with all your heart for me, that
I may be brought in safety through my troubles about which I have told
you, and I will do the same for yours, about which you have not told me.
An exchange of prayers is the best foundation for a friendship," she
added; for Giselle had many little convent maxims at her fingers' ends,
to which, when she uttered them, her sincerity of look and tone gave a
"You are right," said Jacqueline, much moved. "It has done me good to
see you. Take this chocolate."
"And you must take this," said Giselle, giving her a little illuminated
card, with sacred words and symbols.
"Adieu, dearest-say, have you ever detested any one?"
"Never!" cried Giselle, with horror.
"Well! I do detest--detest--You are right, I will go into the chapel.
I need some exorcism."
And laughing at her use of this last word--the same little mirthless
laugh that she had uttered before--Jacqueline went away, followed by the
admiring glances of the other girls, who from behind the bars of their
cage noted the brilliant plumage of this bird who was at liberty. She
crossed the courtyard, and, followed by Modeste, entered the chapel,
where she sank upon her knees. The mystic half-light of the place,
tinged purple by its passage through the stained windows, seemed to
enlarge the little chancel, parted in two by a double grille, behind
which the nuns could hear the service without being seen.
The silence was so deep that the low murmur of a prayer could now and
then be heard. The worshipers might have fancied themselves a hundred
leagues from all the noises of the world, which seemed to die out when
they reached the convent walls.
Jacqueline read, and re-read mechanically, the words printed in letters
of gold on the little card Giselle had given her. It was a symbolical
picture, and very ugly; but the words were: "Oh! that I had wings like a
dove, for then would I flee away and be at rest."
"Wings!" she repeated, with vague aspiration. The aspiration seemed to
disengage her from herself, and from this earth, which had nothing more
to offer her. Ah! how far away was now the time when she had entered
churches, full of happiness and hope, to offer a candle that her prayer
might be granted, which she felt sure it would be! All was vanity! As
she gazed at the grille, behind which so many women, whose worldly lives
had been cut short, now lived, safe from the sorrows and temptations of
this world, Jacqueline seemed for the first time to understand why
Giselle regretted that she might not share forever the blessed peace
enjoyed in the convent. A torpor stole over her, caused by the dimness,
the faint odor of the incense, and the solemn silence. She imagined
herself in the act of giving up the world. She saw herself in a veil,
with her eyes raised to Heaven, very pale, standing behind the grille.
She would have to cut off her hair.
That seemed hard, but she would make the sacrifice. She would accept
anything, provided the ungrateful pair, whom she would not name, could
feel sorrow for her loss--maybe even remorse. Full of these ideas, which
certainly had little in common with the feelings of those who seek to
forgive those who trespass against them, Jacqueline continued to imagine
herself a Benedictine sister, under the soothing influence of her
surroundings, just as she had mistaken the effects of physical weakness
when she was ill for a desire to die. Such feelings were the result of a
void which the whole universe, as she thought, never could fill, but it
was really a temporary vacuum, like that caused by the loss of a first
tooth. These teeth come out with the first jar, and nature intends them
to be speedily replaced by others, much more permanent; but children cry
when they are pulled out, and fancy they are in very tight. Perhaps they
suffer, after all, nearly as much as they think they do.
"Mademoiselle!" said Modeste, touching her on the shoulder.
"I was content to be here," answered Jacqueline, with a sigh. "Do you
know, Modeste," she went on, when they got out of doors, "that I have
almost made up my mind to be a nun. What do you say to that?"
"Heaven forbid!" cried the old nurse, much startled.
"Life is so hard," replied her young mistress.
"Not for you, anyhow. It would be a sin to say so."
"Ah! Modeste, we so little know the real truth of things--we can see only
appearances. Don't you think that a linen band over my forehead would be
very becoming to me? I should look like Saint Theresa."
"And what would be the good of your looking like Saint Theresa, when
there would be nobody to tell you so?" said Modeste, with the practical
good-sense that never forsook her. "You would be beautiful for yourself
alone. You would not even be allowed a looking-glass just talk about
that fancy to Monsieur--we should soon see what he would say to such a
M. de Nailles, having just left the Chamber, was crossing the Pont de la
Concorde on foot at this moment. His daughter ran up to him, and caught
him by the arm. They walked homeward talking of very different things
from bolts and bars. The Baron, who was a weak man, thought in his heart
that he had been too severe with his daughter for some time past. As he
recalled what had taken place, the anger of Madame de Nailles in the
matter of the picture seemed to him to have been extreme and unnecessary.
Jacqueline was just at an age when young girls are apt to be nervous and
impressionable; they had been wrong to be rough with one who was so
sensitive. His wife was quite of his opinion, she acknowledged (not
wishing him to think too much on the subject) that she had been too
"Yes," she had said, frankly, "I am jealous; I want things to myself. I
own I was angry when I thought that Jacqueline was about to throw off my
authority, and hurt when I found she was capable of keeping up a
concealment--when I believed she was so open always with me. My behavior
was foolish, I acknowledge. But what can we do? Neither of us can go
and ask her pardon?"
"Of course not," said the father, "all we can do is to treat her with a
little more consideration for the future; and, with your permission, I
shall use her illness as an excuse for spoiling her a little."
"You have carte blanche, my dear, I agree to everything." So M. de
Nailles, with his daughter's arm in his, began to spoil her, as he had
"You are still rather pale," he said, "but sea-bathing will change all
that. Would you like to go to the seaside next month?"
Jacqueline answered with a little incredulous smile:
"Oh, certainly, papa."
"You don't seem very sure about it. In the first place, where shall we
go? Your mamma seems to fancy Houlgate?"
"Of course we must do what she wishes," replied Jacqueline, rather
"But, little daughter, what would you like? What do you say to Treport?"
"I should like Treport very much, because there we should be near Madame
Jacqueline had felt much drawn to Madame d'Argy since her troubles, for
she had been the nearest friend of her own mother--her own dead mother,
too long forgotten. The chateau of Madame d'Argy, called Lizerolles, was
only two miles from Treport, in a charming situation on the road to St.
"That's the very thing, then!" said M. de Nailles.
"Fred is going to spend a month at Lizerolles with his mother. You might
ride on horseback with him. He is going to enjoy a holiday, poor fellow!
before he has to be sent off on long and distant voyages."
"I don't know how to ride," said Jacqueline, still in the tone of a
"The doctor thinks riding would be good for you, and you have time enough
yet to take some lessons. Mademoiselle Schult could take you nine or ten
times to the riding-school. And I will go with you the first time,"
added M. de Nailles, in despair at not having been able to please her.
"To-day we will go to Blackfern's and order a habit--a riding-habit!
Can I do more?"
At this, as if by magic, whether she would or not, the lines of sadness
and sullenness disappeared from Jacqueline's face; her eyes sparkled.
She gave one more proof, that to every Parisienne worthy of the name,
the two pleasures in riding are, first to have a perfectly fitting habit,
secondly, to have the opportunity of showing how pretty she can be after
a new fashion.
"Shall we go to Blackfern's now?"
"This very moment, if you wish it."
"You really mean Blackfern? Yvonne's habit came from Blackfern's!"
Yvonne d'Etaples was the incarnation of chic--of fashionable elegance--
in Jacqueline's eyes. Her heart beat with pleasure when she thought how
Belle and Dolly would envy her when she told them: "I have a myrtle-green
riding-habit, just like Yvonne's." She danced rather than walked as they
went together to Blackfern's. A habit was much nicer than a long gown.
A quarter of an hour later they were in the waiting-room, where the last
creations of the great ladies' tailor, were displayed upon lay figures,
among saleswomen and 'essayeuses', the very prettiest that could be found
in England or the Batignolles, chosen because they showed off to
perfection anything that could be put upon their shoulders, from the
ugliest to the most extravagant. Deceived by the unusual elegance of
these beautiful figures, ladies who are neither young nor well-shaped
allow themselves to be beguiled and cajoled into buying things not suited
to them. Very seldom does a hunchbacked dowager hesitate to put upon her
shoulders the garment that draped so charmingly those of the living
statue hired to parade before her. Jacqueline could not help laughing as
she watched this way of hunting larks; and thought the mirror might have
warned them, like a scarecrow, rather than have tempted them into the
The head tailor of the establishment made them wait long enough to allow
the pretty showgirls to accomplish their work of temptation. They
fascinated Jacqueline's father by their graces and their glances, while
at the same time they warbled into his daughter's ear, with a slightly
foreign' accent: "That would be so becoming to Mademoiselle."
For ladies going to the seaside there were things of the most exquisite
simplicity: this white fur, trimmed with white velvet, for instance; that
jacket like the uniform of a naval officer with a cap to match--"All to
please Fred," said Jacqueline, laughing. M. de Nailles, while they
waited for the tailor, chose two costumes quite as original as those of
Mademoiselle d'Etaples, which delighted Jacqueline all the more, because
she thought it probable they would displease her stepmother. At last the
magnificent personage, his face adorned with luxuriant whiskers, appeared
with the bow of a great artist or a diplomatist; took Jacqueline's
measure as if he were fulfilling some important function, said a few
brief words to his secretary, and then disappeared; the group of English
beauties saying in chorus that Mademoiselle might come back that day week
and try it on.
Accordingly, a week later Jacqueline, seated on the wooden-horse used for
this purpose, had the satisfaction of assuring herself that her habit,
fitting marvelously to her bust, showed not a wrinkle, any more than a
'gant de Suede' shows on the hand; it was closely fitted to a figure not
yet fully developed, but which the creator of the chef-d'oeuvre deigned
to declare was faultless. Usually, he said, he recommended his customers
to wear a certain corset of a special cut, with elastic material over the
hips covered by satin that matched the riding-habit, but at
Mademoiselle's age, and so supple as she was, the corset was not
necessary. In short, the habit was fashioned to perfection, and fitted
like her skin to her little flexible figure. In her close-fitting
petticoat, her riding-trousers and nothing else, Jacqueline felt herself
half naked, though she was buttoned up to her throat. She had taken an
attitude on her wooden horse such as might have been envied by an
accomplished equestrienne, her elbows held well back, her shoulders down,
her chest expanded, her right leg over the pommel, her left foot in the
stirrup, and never after did any real gallop give her the same delight as
this imaginary ride on an imaginary horse, she looking at herself with
entire satisfaction all the time in an enormous cheval-glass.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Great interval between a dream and its execution
Music--so often dangerous to married happiness
Old women--at least thirty years old!
Seldom troubled himself to please any one he did not care for
Small women ought not to grow stout
Sympathetic listening, never having herself anything to say
The bandage love ties over the eyes of men
Waste all that upon a thing that nobody will ever look at
Women who are thirty-five should never weep
By THERESE BENTZON (MME. BLANC)
THE BLUE BAND
Love, like any other human malady, should be treated according to the age
and temperament of the sufferer. Madame de Nailles, who was a very keen
observer, especially where her own interests were concerned, lent herself
with the best possible grace to everything that might amuse and distract
Jacqueline, of whom she had by this time grown afraid. Not that she now
dreaded her as a rival. The attitude of coldness and reserve that the
young girl had adopted in her intercourse with Marien, her stepmother
could see, was no evidence of coquetry. She showed, in her behavior to
the friend of the family, a freedom from embarrassment which was new to
her, and a frigidity which could not possibly have been assumed so
persistently. No! what struck Madame de Nailles was the suddenness of
this transformation. Jacqueline evidently took no further interest in
Marien; she had apparently no longer any affection for herself--she, who
had been once her dear little mamma, whom she had loved so tenderly, now
felt herself to be considered only as a stepmother. Fraulein Schult,
too, received no more confidences. What did it all mean?
Had Jacqueline, through any means, discovered a secret, which, in her
hands, might be turned into a most dangerous weapon? She had a way of
saying before the guilty pair: "Poor papa!" with an air of pity, as she
kissed him, which made Madame de Nailles's flesh creep, and sometimes she
would amuse herself by making ambiguous remarks which shot arrows of
suspicion into a heart already afraid. "I feel sure," thought the
Baroness, "that she has found out everything. But, no! it seems
impossible. How can I discover what she knows?"
Jacqueline's revenge consisted in leaving her stepmother in doubt. She
more than suspected, not without cause, that Fraulein Schult was false to
her, and had the wit to baffle all the clever questions of her
"My worship of a man of genius--a great artist? Oh! that has all come
to an end since I have found out that his devotion belongs to an elderly
lady with a fair complexion and light hair. I am only sorry for him."
Jacqueline had great hopes that these cruel words would be reported--as
they were--to her stepmother, and, of course, they did not mitigate the
Baroness's uneasiness. Madame de Nailles revenged herself for this
insult by dismissing the innocent echo of the impertinence--of course,
under some plausible pretext. She felt it necessary also to be very
cautious how she treated the enemy whom she was forced to shelter under
her own roof. Her policy--a policy imposed on her by force of
circumstances--was one of great indulgence and consideration, so that
Jacqueline, soon feeling that she was for the present under no control,
took the bit between her teeth. No other impression can adequately
convey an idea of the sort of fury with which she plunged into pleasure
and excitement, a state of mind which apparently, without any transition,
succeeded her late melancholy. She had done with sentiment, she thought,
forever. She meant to be practical and positive, a little Parisienne,
and "in the swim." There were plenty of examples among those she knew
that she could follow. Berthe, Helene, and Claire Wermant were excellent
leaders in that sort of thing. Those three daughters of the 'agent de
change' were at this time at Treport, in charge of a governess, who let
them do whatever they pleased, subject only to be scolded by their
father, who came down every Saturday to Treport, on that train that was
called the 'train des maris'. They had made friends with two or three
American girls, who were called "fast," and Jacqueline was soon enrolled
in the ranks of that gay company.
The cure that was begun on the wooden horse at Blackfern's was completed
on the sea-shore.
The girls with whom she now associated were nine or ten little imps of
Satan, who, with their hair flying in the wind and their caps over one
ear, made the quiet beach ring with their boy-like gayety. They were
called "the Blue Band," because of a sort of uniform that they adopted.
We speak of them intentionally as masculine, and not feminine, because
what is masculine best suited their appearance and behavior, for, though
all could flirt like coquettes of experience, they were more like boys
than girls, if judged by their age and their costume.
These Blues lived close to one another on that avenue that is edged with
chalets, cottages, and villas, whose lower floors are abundantly provided
with great glass windows, which seem to let the ocean into their very
rooms, as well as to lay bare everything that passes in them to the
public eye, as frankly as if their inmates bivouacked in the open street.
Nothing was private; neither the meals, nor the coming and going of
visitors. It must be said, however, that the inhabitants of these glass
houses were very seldom at home. Bathing, and croquet, or tennis, at low
water, on the sands, searching for shells, fishing with nets, dances at
the Casino, little family dances alternating with concerts, to which even
children went till nine o'clock, would seem enough to fill up the days of
these young people, but they had also to make boating excursions to
Cayeux, Crotoy, and Hourdel, besides riding parties in the beautiful
country that surrounded the Chateau of Lizerolles, where they usually
dismounted on their return.
At Lizerolles they were received by Madame d'Argy, who was delighted that
they provided safe amusement for her son, who appeared in the midst of
this group of half-grown girls like a young cock among the hens of his
harem. Frederic d'Argy, the young naval officer, who was enjoying his
holiday, as M. de Nailles had said, was enjoying it exceedingly. How
often, long after, on board the ship Floye, as he paced the silent
quarter-deck, far from any opportunity of flirting, did he recall the
forms and faces of these young girls, some dark, some fair, some rosy-
half-women and half-children, who made much of him, and scolded him, and
teased him, and contended for his attentions, while no better could be
had, on purpose to tease one another. Oh! what a delightful time he had
had! They did not leave him to himself one moment. He had to lift them
into their saddles, to assist them as they clambered over the rocks, to
superintend their attempts at swimming, to dance with them all by turns,
and to look after them in the difficult character of Mentor, for he was
older than they, and were they not entrusted to his care? What a serious
responsibility! Had not Mentor even found himself too often timid and
excited when one little firm foot was placed in his hand, when his arm
was round one little waist, when he could render her as a cavalier a
thousand little services, or accept with gladness the role of her
consoler. He did everything he could think of to please them, finding
all of them charming, though Jacqueline never ceased to be the one he
preferred, a preference which she might easily have inferred from the
poor lad's unusual timidity and awkwardness when he was brought into
contact with her. But she paid no attention to his devotion, accepting
himself and all he did for her as, in some sort, her personal property.
He was of no consequence, he did not count; what was he but her comrade
and former playfellow?
Happily for Fred, he took pleasure in the familiarity with which she
treated him--a familiarity which, had he known it, was not flattering.
He was in the seventh heaven for a whole fortnight, during which he was
the recipient of more dried flowers and bows of ribbon than he ever got
in all the rest of his life--the American girls were very fond of giving
keepsakes--but then his star waned. He was no longer the only one. The
grown-up brother of the Wermants came to Treport--Raoul, with his air of
a young man about town--a boulevardier, with his jacket cut in the latest
fashion, with his cockle-shell of a boat, which he managed as well on
salt water as on fresh, sculling with his arms bare, a cigarette in his
mouth, a monocle in his eye, and a pith-helmet, such as is worn in India.
The young ladies used to gather on the sands to watch him as he struck
the water with the broad blade of his scull, near enough for them to see
and to admire his nautical ability. They thought all his jokes amusing,
and they delighted in his way of seizing his partner for a waltz and
bearing her off as if she were a prize, hardly allowing her to touch the
Fred thought him, with his stock of old jokes, very ill-mannered. He
laughed at his sculling, and had a great mind to strike him after he saw
him waltzing with Jacqueline. But he had to acknowledge the general
appreciation felt for the fellow whom he called vulgar.
Raoul Wermant did not stay long at Treport. He had only come to see his
sisters on his way to Dieppe, where he expected to meet a certain Leah
Skip, an actress from the 'Nouveautes'. If he kept her waiting, however,
for some days, it was because he was loath to leave the handsome Madame
de Villegry, who was living near her friend Madame de Nailles, recruiting
herself after the fatigues of the winter season. Such being the
situation, the young girls of the Blue Band might have tried in vain to
make any impression upon him. But the hatred with which he inspired Fred
found some relief in the composition of fragments of melancholy verse,
which the young midshipman hid under his mattresses. It is not an
uncommon thing for naval men to combine a love of the sea with a love of
poetry. Fred's verses were not good, but they were full of dejection.
The poor fellow compared Raoul Wermant to Faust, and himself to Siebel.
He spoke of
The youth whose eyes were brimming with salt tears,
Whose heart was troubled by a thousand fears,
Poor slighted lover!-since in his heavy heart
All his illusions perish and depart.
Again, he wrote of Siebel:
O Siebel!--thine is but the common fate!
They told thee Fortune upon youth would wait;
'Tis false when love's in question-and you may--
Here he enumerated all the proofs of tenderness possible for a woman to
give her lover, and then he added:
You may know all, poor Siebel!--all, some day,
When weary of this life and all its dreams,
You learn to know it is not what it seems;
When there is nothing that can cheer you more,
All that remains is fondly to adore!
And after trying in vain to find a rhyme for lover, he cried:
Oh! tell me--if one grief exceeds another
Is not this worst, to feel mere friendship moves
To cruel kindness the dear girl he loves?
Fred's mother surprised him one night while he was watering with his
tears the ink he was putting to so sorry a use. She had been aware that
he sat up late at night--his sleeplessness was not the insomnia of
genius--for she had seen the glare of light from his little lamp burning
later than the usual bedtime of the chateau, in one of the turret
chambers at Lizerolles.
In vain Fred denied that he was doing anything, in vain he tried to put
his papers out of sight; his mother was so persuasive that at last he
owned everything to her, and in addition to the comfort he derived from
his confession, he gained a certain satisfaction to his 'amour-propre',
for Madame d'Argy thought the verses beautiful. A mother's geese are
always swans. But it was only when she said, "I don't see why you should
not marry your Jacqueline--such a thing is not by any means impossible,"
and promised to do all in her power to insure his happiness, that Fred
felt how dearly he loved his mother. Oh, a thousand times more than he
had ever supposed he loved her! However, he had not yet done with the
agonies that lie in wait for lovers.
Madame de Monredon arrived one day at the Hotel de la Plage, accompanied
by her granddaughter, whom she had taken away from the convent before the
beginning of the holidays. Since she had fully arranged the marriage
with M. de Talbrun, it seemed important that Giselle should acquire some
liveliness, and recruit her health, before the fatal wedding-day arrived.
M. de Talbrun liked ladies to be always well and always lively, and it
was her duty to see that Giselle accommodated herself to his taste; sea-
bathing, life in the open air, and merry companions, were the things she
needed to make her a little less thin, to give her tone, and to take some
of her convent stiffness out of her. Besides, she could have free
intercourse with her intended husband, thanks to the greater freedom of
manners permitted at the sea-side. Such were the ideas of Madame de
Poor Giselle! In vain they dressed her in fine clothes, in vain they
talked to her and scolded her from morning till night, she continued to
be the little convent-bred schoolgirl she had always been; with downcast
eyes, pale as a flower that has known no sunlight, and timid to a point
of suffering. M. de Talbrun frightened her as much as ever, and she had
looked forward to the comfort of weeping in the arms of Jacqueline, who,
the last time she had seen her, had been herself so unhappy. But what
was her astonishment to find the young girl, who, a few weeks before, had
made her such tragic confidences through the grille in the convent
parlor, transformed into a creature bent on excitement and amusement.
When she attempted to allude to the subject on which Jacqueline had
spoken to her at the convent, and to ask her what it was that had then
made her so unhappy, Jacqueline cried: "Oh! my dear, I have forgotten
all about it!" But there was exaggeration in this profession of
forgetfulness, and she hurriedly drew Giselle back to the game of
croquet, where they were joined by M. de Talbrun.
The future husband of Giselle was a stout young fellow, short and thick-
set, with broad shoulders, a large flat face, and strong jaws, ornamented
with an enormous pair of whiskers, which partly compensated him for a
loss of hair. He had never done anything but shoot and hunt over his
property nine months in the year, and spend the other three months in
Paris, where the jockey Club and ballet-dancers sufficed for his
amusement. He did not pretend to be a man whose bachelor life had been
altogether blameless, but he considered himself to be a "correct" man,
according to what he understood by that expression, which implied neither
talents, virtues, nor good manners; nevertheless, all the Blue Band
agreed that he was a finished type of gentleman-hood. Even Raoul's
sisters had to confess, with a certain disgust, that, whatever people may
say, in our own day the aristocracy of wealth has to lower its flag
before the authentic quarterings of the old noblesse. They secretly
envied Giselle because she was going to be a grande dame, while all the
while they asserted that old-fashioned distinctions had no longer any
meaning. Nevertheless, they looked forward to the day when they, too,
might take their places in the Faubourg St. Germain. One may purchase
that luxury with a fortune of eight hundred thousand francs.
The croquet-ground, which was underwater at high tide, was a long stretch
of sand that fringed the shingle. Two parties were formed, in which care
was taken to make both sides as nearly equal as possible, after which the
game began, with screams, with laughter, a little cheating and some
disputes, as is the usual custom. All this appeared to amuse Oscar de
Talbrun--exceedingly. For the first time during his wooing he was not
bored. The Misses Sparks--Kate and Nora--by their "high spirits"
agreeably reminded him of one or two excursions he had made in past days
into Bohemian society.
He formed the highest opinion of Jacqueline when he saw how her still
short skirts showed pretty striped silk stockings, and how her well-
shaped foot was planted firmly on a blue ball, when she was preparing to
roquer the red one. The way in which he fixed his eyes upon her gave
great offense to Fred, and did it not alarm and shock Giselle? No!
Giselle looked on calmly at the fun and talk around her, as unmoved as
the stump of a tree, spoiling the game sometimes by her ignorance or her
awkwardness, well satisfied that M. de Talbrun should leave her alone.
Talking with him was very distasteful to her.
"You have been more stupid than usual," had been what her grandmother had
never failed to say to her in Paris after one of his visits, which he
alternated with bouquets. But at Treport no one seemed to mind her being
stupid, and indeed M. de Talbrun hardly thought of her existence, up to
the moment when they were all nearly caught by the first wave that came
rolling in over the croquet-ground, when all the girls took flight,
flushed, animated, and with lively gesticulation, while the gentlemen
followed with the box into which had been hastily flung hoops, balls, and
On their way Count Oscar condescendingly explained to Fred, as to a
novice, that the only good thing about croquet was that it brought men
and girls together. He was himself very good at games, he said, having
remarkably firm muscles and exceptionally sharp sight; but he went on to
add that he had not been able to show what he could do that day. The wet
sand did not make so good a croquet-ground as the one he had had made in
his park! It is a good thing to know one's ground in all circumstances,
but especially in playing croquet. Then, dexterously passing from the
game to the players, he went on to say, under cover of giving Fred a
warning, that a man need not fear going too far with those girls from
America--they had known how to flirt from the time they were born. They
could look out for themselves, they had talons and beaks; but up to a
certain point they were very easy to get on with. Those other players
were queer little things; the three sisters Wermant were not wanting in
chic, but, hang it!--the sweetest flower of them all, to his mind, was
the tall one, the dark one--unripe fruit in perfection! "And a year or
two hence," added M. de Talbrun, with all the self-confidence of an
expert, "every one will be talking about her in the world of society."
Poor Fred kept silent, trying to curb his wrath. But the blood mounted
to his temples as he listened to these remarks, poured into his ear by a
man of thirty-five, between puffs of his cigar, because there was nobody
else to whom he could make them. But they seemed to Fred very ill-
mannered and ill-timed. If he had not dreaded making himself absurd,
he would gladly have stood forth as the champion of the Sparks, the
Wermants, and all the other members of the Blue Band, so that he might
give vent to the anger raging in his heart on hearing that odious
compliment to Jacqueline. Why was he not old enough to marry her? What
right had that detestable Talbrun to take notice of any girl but his
fiancee? If he himself could marry now, his choice would soon be made!
No doubt, later--as his mother had said to him. But would Jacqueline
wait? Everybody was beginning to admire her. Somebody would carry her
off--somebody would cut him out while he was away at sea. Oh, horrible
thought for a young lover!
That night, at the Casino, while dancing a quadrille with Giselle, he
could not refrain from saying to her, "Don't you object to Monsieur de
Talbrun's dancing so much with Jacqueline?"
"Who?--I?" she cried, astonished, "I don't see why he should not." And
then, with a faint laugh, she added: "Oh, if she would only take him--
and keep him!"
But Madame de Monredon kept a sharp eye upon M. de Talbrun. "It seems to
me," she said, looking fixedly into the face of her future grandson-in-
law, "that you really take pleasure in making children skip about with
"So I do," he replied, frankly and good-humoredly. "It makes me feel
And Madame de Monredon was satisfied. She was ready to admit that most
men marry women who have not particularly enchanted them, and she had
brought up Giselle with all those passive qualities, which, together with
a large fortune, usually suit best with a 'mariage de convenance'.
Meantime Jacqueline piqued herself upon her worldly wisdom, which she
looked upon as equal to Madame de Monredon's, since the terrible event
which had filled her mind with doubts. She thought M. de Talbrun would
do well enough for a husband, and she took care to say so to Giselle.
"It is a fact," she told her, with all the self-confidence of large
experience, "that men who are very fascinating always remain bachelors.
That is probably why Monsieur de Cymier, Madame de Villegry's handsome
cousin, does not think of marrying."
She was mistaken. The Comte de Cymier, a satellite who revolved around
that star of beauty, Madame de Villegry, had been by degrees brought
round by that lady herself to thoughts of matrimony.
Madame de Villegry, notwithstanding her profuse use of henna and many
cosmetics, which was always the first thing to strike those who saw her,
prided herself on being uncompromised as to her moral character. There
are some women who, because they stop short of actual vice, consider
themselves irreproachable. They are willing, so to speak, to hang out
the bush, but keep no tavern. In former times an appearance of evil was
avoided in order to cover evil deeds, but at present there are those who,
under the cover of being only "fast," risk the appearance of evil.
Madame de Villegry was what is sometimes called a "professional beauty."
She devoted many hours daily to her toilette, she liked to have a crowd
of admirers around her. But when one of them became too troublesome, she
got rid of him by persuading him to marry. She had before this proposed
several young girls to Gerard de Cymier, each one plainer and more
insignificant than the others. It was to tell his dear friend that the
one she had last suggested was positively too ugly for him, that the
young attache to an embassy had come down to the sea-side to visit her.
The day after his arrival he was sitting on the shingle at Madame
de Villegry's feet, both much amused by the grotesque spectacle presented
by the bathers, who exhibited themselves in all degrees of ugliness and
deformity. Of course Madame de Villegry did not bathe, being, as she
said, too nervous. She was sitting under a large parasol and enjoying
her own superiority over those wretched, amphibious creatures who waddled
on the sands before her, comparing Madame X to a seal and Mademoiselle Z
to the skeleton of a cuttle-fish.
"Well! it was that kind of thing you wished me to marry," said M. de
Cymier, in a tone of resentment.
"But, my poor friend, what would you have? All young girls are like
that. They improve when they are married."
"If one could only be sure."
"One is never sure of anything, especially anything relating to young
girls. One can not say that they do more than exist till they are
married. A husband has to make whatever he chooses out of them. You are
quite capable of making what you choose of your wife. Take the risk,
"I could educate her as to morals--though, I must say, I am not much used
to that kind of instruction; but you will permit me to think that, as to
person, I should at least wish to see a rough sketch of what I may expect
in my wife before my marriage."
At that moment, a girl who had been bathing came out of the water a few
yards from them; the elegant outline of her slender figure, clad in a
bathing-suit of white flannel, which clung to her closely, was thrown
into strong relief by the clear blue background of a summer sky.
"Tiens!--but she is pretty!" cried Gerard, breaking off what he was
saying: "And she is the first pretty one I have seen!"
Madame de Villegry took up her tortoiseshell opera-glasses, which were
fastened to her waist, but already the young girl, over whose shoulders
an attentive servant had flung a wrapper--a 'peignoir-eponge'--had run
along the boardwalk and stopped before her, with a gay "Good-morning!"
"Jacqueline!" said Madame de Villegry. "Well, my dear child, did you
find the water pleasant?"
"Delightful!" said the young girl, giving a rapid glance at M. de
Cymier, who had risen.
He was looking at her with evident admiration, an admiration at which she
felt much flattered. She was closely wrapped in her soft, snow-white
peignoir, bordered with red, above which rose her lovely neck and head.
She was trying to catch, on the point of one little foot, one of her
bathing shoes, which had slipped from her. The foot which, when well
shod, M. de Talbrun, through his eyeglass, had so much admired, was still
prettier without shoe or stocking. It was so perfectly formed, so white,
with a little pink tinge here and there, and it was set upon so delicate
an ankle! M. de Cymier looked first at the foot, and then his glance
passed upward over all the rest of the young figure, which could be seen
clearly under the clinging folds of the wet drapery. Her form could be
discerned from head to foot, though nothing was uncovered but the pretty
little arm which held together with a careless grace the folds of her
raiment. The eye of the experienced observer ran rapidly over the
outline of her figure, till it reached the dark head and the brown hair,
which rippled in little curls over her forehead. Her complexion,
slightly golden, was not protected by one of those absurd hats which many
bathers place on top of oiled silk caps which fit them closely. Neither
was the precaution of oiled silk wanted to protect the thick and curling
hair, now sprinkled with great drops that shone like pearls and diamonds.
The water, instead of plastering her hair upon her temples, had made it
more curly and more fleecy, as it hung over her dark eyebrows, which,
very near together at the nose, gave to her eyes a peculiar, slightly
oblique expression. Her teeth were dazzling, and were displayed by the
smile which parted her lips--lips which were, if anything, too red for
her pale complexion. She closed her eyelids now and then to shade her
eyes from the too blinding sunlight. Those eyes were not black, but that
hazel which has golden streaks. Though only half open, they had quickly
taken in the fact that the young man sitting beside Madame de Villegry
was very handsome.
As she went on with a swift step to her bathing-house, she drew out two
long pins from her back hair, shaking it and letting it fall down her
back with a slightly impatient and imperious gesture; she wished,
probably, that it might dry more quickly.
"The devil!" said M. de Cymier, watching her till she disappeared into
the bathing-house. "I never should have thought that it was all her own!
There is nothing wanting in her. That is a young creature it is pleasant
"Yes," said Madame de Villegry, quietly, "she will be very good-looking
when she is eighteen."
"Is she nearly eighteen?"
"She is and she is not, for time passes so quickly. A girl goes to sleep
a child, and wakes up old enough to be married. Would you like to be
informed, without loss of time, as to her fortune?"
"Oh! I should not care much about her dot. I look out first for other
"I know, of course; but Jacqueline de Nailles comes of a very good
"Is she the daughter of the deputy?"
"Yes, his only daughter. He has a pretty house in the Parc Monceau and
a chateau of some importance in the Haute-Vienne."
"Very good; but, I repeat, I am not mercenary. Of course, if I should
marry, I should like, for my wife's sake, to live as well as a married
man as I have lived as a bachelor."
"Which means that you would be satisfied with a fortune equal to your
own. I should have thought you might have asked more. It is true that
if you have been suddenly thunderstruck that may alter your calculations
--for it was very sudden, was it not? Venus rising from the sea!"
"Please don't exaggerate! But you are not so cruel, seeing you are
always urging me to marry, as to wish me to take a wife who looks like a
fright or a horror."
"Heaven preserve me from any such wish! I should be very glad if my
little friend Jacqueline were destined to work your reformation."
"I defy the most careful parent to find anything against me at this
moment, unless it be a platonic devotion. The youth of Mademoiselle de
Nailles is an advantage, for I might indulge myself in that till we were
married, and then I should settle down and leave Paris, where nothing
keeps me but--"
"But a foolish fancy," laughed Madame de Villegry. "However, in return
for your madrigal, accept the advice of a friend. The Nailles seem to me
to be prosperous, but everybody in society appears so, and one never
knows what may happen any day. You would not do amiss if, before you go
on, you were to talk with Wermant, the 'agent de change', who has a
considerable knowledge of the business affairs of Jacqueline's father.
He could tell you about them better than I can."
"Wermant is at Treport, is he not? I thought I saw him--"
"Yes, he is here till Monday. You have twenty-four hours."
"Do you really think I am in such a hurry?"
"Will you take a bet that by this time to-morrow you will not know
exactly the amount of her dot and the extent of her expectations?"
"You would lose. I have something else to think of--now and always."
"What?" she said, carelessly.
"You have forbidden me ever to mention it."
Silence ensued. Then Madame de Villegry said, smiling:
"I suppose you would like me to present you this evening to my friends
the De Nailles?"
And in fact they all met that evening at the Casino, and Jacqueline, in a
gown of scarlet foulard, which would have been too trying for any other
girl, seemed to M. de Cymier as pretty as she had been in her bathing-
costume. Her hair was not dressed high, but it was gathered loosely
together and confined by a ribbon of the same color as her gown, and she
wore a little sailor hat besides. In this costume she had been called by
M. de Talbrun the "Fra Diavolo of the Seas," and she never better
supported that part, by liveliness and audacity, than she did that
evening, when she made a conquest that was envied--wildly envied--by the
three Demoiselles Wermant and the two Misses Sparks, for the handsome
Gerard, after his first waltz with Madame de Villegry, asked no one to be
his partner but Mademoiselle de Nailles.
The girls whom he neglected had not even Fred to fall back upon, for
Fred, the night before, had received orders to join his ship. He had
taken leave of Jacqueline with a pang in his heart which he could hardly
hide, but to which no keen emotion on her part seemed to respond.
However, at least, he was spared the unhappiness of seeing the star of
De Cymier rising above the horizon.
"If he could only see me," thought Jacqueline, waltzing in triumph with
M. de Cymier. "If he could only see me I should be avenged."
But he was not Fred. She was not giving him a thought. It was the last
flash of resentment and hatred that came to her in that moment of
triumph, adding to it a touch of exquisite enjoyment.
Thus she performed the obsequies of her first love!
Not long after this M. de Nailles said to his wife:
"Do you know, my dear, that our little Jacqueline is very much admired?
Her success has been extraordinary. It is not likely she will die an old
The Baronne assented rather reluctantly.
"Wermant was speaking to me the other day," went on M. de Nailles. "It
seems that that young Count de Cymier, who is always hanging around you,
by the way, has been making inquiries of him, in a manner that looks as
if it had some meaning, as to what is our fortune, our position. But
really, such a match seems too good to be true."
"Why so?" said the Baronne. "I know more about it than you do, from
Blanche de Villegry. She gave me to understand that her cousin was much
struck by Jacqueline at first sight, and ever since she does nothing but
talk to me of M. de Cymier--of his birth, his fortune, his abilities--
the charming young fellow seems gifted with everything. He could be
Secretary of Legation, if he liked to quit Paris: In the meantime attache
to an Embassy looks very well on a card. Attache to the Ministry of the
Foreign Affairs does not seem so good. Jacqueline would be a countess,
possibly an ambassadress. What would you think of that!"
Madame de Nailles, who understood policy much better than her husband,
had suddenly become a convert to opportunism, and had made a change of
base. Not being able to devise a plan by which to suppress her young
rival, she had begun to think that her best way to get rid of her would
be by promoting her marriage. The little girl was fast developing into a
woman--a woman who would certainly not consent quietly to be set aside.
Well, then, it would be best to dispose of her in so natural a way. When
Jacqueline's slender and graceful figure and the freshness of her bloom
were no longer brought into close comparison with her own charms, she
felt she should appear much younger, and should recover some of her
prestige; people would be less likely to remark her increasing stoutness,
or the red spots on her face, increased by the salt air which was so
favorable to young girls' complexions. Yes, Jacqueline must be married;
that was the resolution to which Madame de Nailles had come after several
nights of sleeplessness. It was her fixed idea, replacing in her brain
that other fixed idea which, willingly or unwillingly, she saw she must
give up--the idea of keeping her stepdaughter in the shade.
"Countess! Ambassadress!" repeated M. de Nailles, with rather a
melancholy smile. "You are going too fast, my dear Clotilde. I don't
doubt that Wermant gave the best possible account of our situation; but
when it comes to saying what I could give her as a dot, I am very much
afraid. We should have, in that case, to fall back on Fred, for I have
not told you everything. This morning Madame d'Argy, who has done
nothing but weep since her boy went away, and who, she says, never will
get accustomed to the life of misery and anxiety she will lead as a
sailor's mother, exclaimed, as she was talking to me: 'Ah! there is but
one way of keeping him at Lizerolles, of having him live there as the
D'Argys have lived before him, quietly, like a good landlord, and that
would be to give him your daughter; with her he would be entirely
"Ah! so that is the reason why she asked whether Jacqueline might not
stay with her when we go to Italy! She wishes to court her by proxy.
But I don't think she will succeed. Monsieur de Cymier has the best
"Do you suppose the child suspects--"
"That he admires her? My dear friend, we have to do with a very sharp--
sighted young person. Nothing escapes the observation of Mademoiselle
And Madame de Nailles, in her turn, smiled somewhat bitterly.
"Well," said Jacqueline's father, after a few moments' reflection, "it
may be as well that she should weigh for and against a match before
deciding. She may spend several years that are difficult and dangerous
trying to find out what she wants and to make up her mind."
"Hang it! You would not marry off Jacqueline at once?"
"Bah! many a girl, practically not as old as she, is married at sixteen
"Why! I fancied you thought so differently!"
"Our ways of thinking are sometimes altered by events, especially when
they are founded upon sincere and disinterested affection."
"Like that of good parents, such as we are," added M. de Nailles, ending
her sentence with an expression of grateful emotion.
For one moment the Baronne paled under this compliment.
"What did you say to Madame d'Argy?" she hastened to ask.
"I said we must give the young fellow's beard time to grow."
"Yes, that was right. I prefer Monsieur de Cymier a hundred times over.
Still, if nothing better offers--a bird in the hand, you know--"
Madame de Nailles finished her sentence by a wave of her fan.
"Oh! our bird in the hand is not to be despised. A very handsome
"Where Jacqueline would be bored to death. I should rather see her
radiant at some foreign court. Let me manage it. Let me bring her out.
Give me carte blanche and let me have some society this winter."
Madame de Nailles, whether she knew it or not--probably she did, for she
had great skill in reading the thoughts of others--was acting precisely
in accordance with the wishes or the will of Jacqueline, who, having
found much enjoyment in the dances at the Casino, had made up her mind
that she meant to come out into society before any of her young
"I shall not have to beg and implore her," she said to herself,
anticipating the objections of her stepmother. "I shall only have
politely to let her suspect that such a thing may have occurred as having
had a listener at a door. I paid dearly enough for this hold over her.
I have no scruple in using it."
Madame de Nailles was not mistaken in her stepdaughter; she was very far
advanced beyond her age, thanks to the cruel wrong that had been done her
by the loss of her trust in her elders and her respect for them. Her
heart had had its past, though she was still hardly more than a child--
a sad past, though its pain was being rapidly effaced. She now thought
about it only at intervals. Time and circumstances were operating on her
as they act upon us generally; only in her case more quickly than usual,
which produced in her character and feelings phenomena that might have
seemed curious to an observer. She was something of a woman, something
of a child, something of a philosopher. At night, when she was dancing
with Wermant, or Cymier, or even Talbrun, or on horseback, an exercise
which all the Blues were wild about, she was an audacious flirt, a girl
up to anything; and in the morning, at low tide, she might be seen, with
her legs and feet bare, among the children, of whom there were many on
the sands, digging ditches, making ramparts, constructing towers and
fortifications in wet sand, herself as much amused as if she had been one
of the babies themselves. There was screaming and jumping, and rushing
out of reach of the waves which came up ready to overthrow the most
complicated labors of the little architects, rough romping of all kinds,
enough to amaze and disconcert a lover.
But no one could have guessed at the thoughts which, in the midst of all
this fun and frolic, were passing through the too early ripened mind of
Jacqueline. She was thinking that many things to which we attach great
value and importance in this world are as easily swept away as the sand
barriers raised against the sea by childish hands; that everywhere there
must be flux and reflux, that the beach the children had so dug up would
soon become smooth as a mirror, ready for other little ones to dig it
over again, tempting them to work, and yet discouraging their industry.
Her heart, she thought, was like the sand, ready for new impressions.
The elegant form of M. de Cymier slightly overshadowed it, distinct among
other shadows more confused.
And Jacqueline said to herself with a smile, exactly what her father and
Madame de Nailles had said to each other:
"Countess!--who knows? Ambassadress! Perhaps--some day--"
A PUZZLING CORRESPONDENCE
"But I can not see any reason why we should not take Jacqueline with us
to Italy. She is just of an age to profit by it."
These words were spoken by M. de Nailles after a long silence at the
breakfast-table. They startled his hearers like a bomb.
Jacqueline waited to hear what would come next, fixing a keen look upon
her stepmother. Their eyes met like the flash of two swords.
The eyes of the one said: "Now, let us hear what you will answer!" while
the other strove to maintain that calmness which comes to some people in
a moment of danger. The Baroness grew a little pale, and then said, in
her softest tones:
"You are quite right, 'mon ami', but Jacqueline, I think, prefers to
"I decidedly prefer to stay," said Jacqueline.
Her adversary, much relieved by this response, could not repress a sigh.
"It seems singular," said M. de Nailles.
"What! that I prefer to pass a month or six weeks with Madame d'Argy?
Besides, Giselle is going to be married during that time."
"They might put it off until we come back, I should suppose."
"Oh! I don't think they would," cried the Baroness. "Madame de Monredon
is so selfish. She was offended to think we should talk of going away on
the eve of an event she considers so important. Besides, she has so
little regard for me that I should think her more likely to hasten the
wedding-day rather than retard it, if it were only for the pleasure of
giving us a lesson."
"I am sorry. I should have been glad to be, as she wished, one of
Giselle's witnesses, but people don't take my position into
consideration. If I do not take advantage of the recess--"
"Besides," interrupted Jacqueline, carelessly, "your journey must
coincide with that of Monsieur Marien."
She had the pleasure of seeing her stepmother again slightly change
color. Madame de Nailles was pouring out for herself a cup of tea with
singular care and attention.
"Of course," said M. de Nailles. His daughter pitied him, and cried,
with an increasing wish to annoy her stepmother: "Mamma, don't you see
that your teapot has no tea in it? Yes," she went on, "it must be
delightful to travel in Italy in company with a great artist who would
explain everything; but then one would be expected to visit all the
picture-galleries, and I hate pictures, since--"
She paused and again looked meaningly at her stepmother, whose soft blue
eyes showed anguish of spirit, and seemed to say: "Oh, what a cruel hold
she has upon me!" Jacqueline continued, carelessly-- "Picture-galleries
I don't care for--I like nature a hundred times better. Some day I
should like to take a journey to suit myself, my own journey! Oh, papa,
may I? A journey on foot with you in the Tyrol?"
Madame de Nailles was no great walker.
"Both of us, just you and I alone, with our alpenstocks in our hands--it
would be lovely! But Italy and painters--"
Here, with a boyish flourish of her hands, she seemed to send that
classic land to Jericho!
"Do promise me, papa!"
"Before asking a reward, you must deserve it," said her father, severely,
who saw something was wrong.
During her stay at Lizerolles, which her perverseness, her resentment,
and a repugnance founded on instincts of delicacy, had made her prefer to
a journey to Italy, Jacqueline, having nothing better to do, took it into
her head to write to her friend Fred. The young man received three
letters at three different ports in the Mediterranean and in the West
Indies, whose names were long associated in his mind with delightful and
cruel recollections. When the first was handed to him with one from his
mother, whose letters always awaited him at every stopping-place, the
blood flew to his face, his heart beat violently, he could have cried
aloud but for the necessity of self-command in the presence of his
comrades, who had already remarked in whispers to each other, and with
envy, on the pink envelope, which exhaled 'l'odor di femina'. He hid his
treasure quickly, and carried it to a spot where he could be alone; then
he kissed the bold, pointed handwriting that he recognized at once,
though never before had it written his address. He kissed, too, more
than once, the pink seal with a J on it, whose slender elegance reminded
him of its owner. Hardly did he dare to break the seal; then forgetting
altogether, as we might be sure, his mother's letter, which he knew
beforehand was full of good advice and expressions of affection, he
eagerly read this, which he had not expected to receive:
"LIZEROLLES, October, 5, 188-
"MY DEAR FRED:
"Your mother thinks you would be pleased to receive a letter from
me, and I hope you will be. You need not answer this if you do not
care to do so. You will notice, 'par parenthese', that I take this
opportunity of saying you and not thou to you. It is easier to
change the familiar mode of address in writing than in speaking, and
when we meet again the habit will have become confirmed. But, as I
write, it will require great attention, and I can not promise to
keep to it to the end. Half an hour's chat with an old friend will
also help me to pass the time, which I own seems rather long, as it
is passed by your sweet, dear mother and myself at Lizerolles. Oh,
if you were only here it would be different! In the first place,
we should talk less of a certain Fred, which would be one great
advantage. You must know that you are the subject of our discourse
from morning to night; we talk only of the dangers of the seas, the
future prospects of a seaman, and all the rest of it. If the wind
is a little higher than usual, your mother begins to cry; she is
sure you are battling with a tempest. If any fishing-boat is
wrecked, we talk of nothing but shipwrecks; and I am asked to join
in another novena, in addition to those with which we must have
already wearied Notre Dame de Treport. Every evening we spread out
the map: 'See, Jacqueline, he must be here now--no, he is almost
there,' and lines of red ink are traced from one port to another,
and little crosses are made to show the places where we hope you
will get your letters--'Poor boy, poor, dear boy!' In short,
notwithstanding all the affectionate interest I take in you, this is
sometimes too much for me. In fact, I think I must be very fond of
thee not to have grown positively to hate thee for all this fuss.
There! In this last sentence, instead of saying you, I have said
thee! That ought to gild the pill for you!
We do not go very frequently to visit Treport, except to invoke for
you the protection of Heaven, and I like it just as well, for since
the last fortnight in September, which was very rainy, the beach is
dismal--so different from what it was in the summer. The town looks
gloomy under a cloudy sky with its blackened old brick houses! We
are better off at Lizerolles, whose autumnal beauties you know so
well that I will say nothing about them. --Oh, Fred, how often I
regret that I am not a boy! I could take your gun and go shooting
in the swamps, where there are clouds of ducks now. I feel sure
that if you were in my place, you could kill time without killing
game; but I am at the end of my small resources when I have played a
little on the piano to amuse your mother and have read her the
'Gazette de France'. In the evening we read a translation of some
English novel. There are neighbors, of course, old fogies who stay
all the year round in Picardy--but, tell me, don't you find them
sometimes a little too respectable? My greatest comfort is in your
dog, who loves me as much as if I were his master, though I can not
take him out shooting. While I write he is lying on the hem of my
gown and makes a little noise, as much as to tell me that I recall
you to his remembrance. Yet you are not to suppose that I am
suffering from ennui, or am ungrateful, nor above all must you
imagine that I have ceased to love your excellent mother with all my
heart. I love her, on the contrary, more than ever since I passed
this winter through a great, great sorrow--a sorrow which is now
only a sad remembrance, but which has changed for me the face of
everything in this world. Yes, since I have suffered myself, I
understand your mother. I admire her, I love her more than ever.
How happy you are, my dear Fred, to have such a sweet mother,--
a real mother who never thinks about her face, or her figure, or her
age, but only of the success of her son; a dear little mother in a
plain black gown, and with pretty gray hair, who has the manners and
the toilette that just suit her, who somehow always seems to say:
'I care for nothing but that which affects my son.' Such mothers are
rare, believe me. Those that I know, the mothers of my friends, are
for the most part trying to appear as young as their daughters--nay,
prettier, and of course more elegant. When they have sons they make
them wear jackets a l'anglaise and turn-down collars, up to the age
when I wore short skirts. Have you noticed that nowadays in Paris
there are only ladies who are young, or who are trying to make
themselves appear so? Up to the last moment they powder and paint,
and try to make themselves different from what age has made them.
If their hair was black it grows blacker--if red, it is more red.
But there is no longer any gray hair in Paris--it is out of fashion.
That is the reason why I think your mother's pretty silver curls so
lovely and 'distingues'. I kiss them every night for you, after I
have kissed them for myself.
"Have a good voyage, come back soon, and take care of yourself, dear
The young sailor read this letter over and over again. The more he read
it the more it puzzled him. Most certainly he felt that Jacqueline gave
him a great proof of confidence when she spoke to him of some mysterious
unhappiness, an unhappiness of which it was evident her stepmother was
the cause. He could see that much; but he was infinitely far from
suspecting the nature of the woes to which she alluded. Poor Jacqueline!
He pitied her without knowing what for, with a great outburst of
sympathy, and an honest desire to do anything in the world to make her
happy. Was it really possible that she could have been enduring any
grief that summer when she had seemed so madly gay, so ready for a little
flirtation? Young girls must be very skilful in concealing their inmost
feelings! When he was unhappy he had it out by himself, he took refuge
in solitude, he wanted to be done with existence. Everybody knew when
anything went wrong with him. Why could not Jacqueline have let him know
more plainly what it was that troubled her, and why could she not have
shown a little tenderness toward him, instead of assuming, even when she
said the kindest things to him, her air of mockery? And then, though she
might pretend not to find Lizerolles stupid, he could see that she was
bored there. Yet why had she chosen to stay at Lizerolles rather than go
Alas! how that little pink letter made him reflect and guess, and turn
things over in his mind, and wish himself at the devil--that little pink
letter which he carried day and night on his breast and made it crackle
as it lay there, when he laid his hand on the satin folds so near his
heart! It had an odor of sweet violets which seemed to him to overpower
the smell of pitch and of salt water, to fill the air, to perfume
"That young fellow has the instincts of a sailor," said his superior
officers when they saw him standing in attitudes which they thought
denoted observation, though with him it was only reverie. He would stand
with his eyes fixed upon some distant point, whence he fancied he could
see emerging from the waves a small, brown, shining head, with long hair
streaming behind, the head of a girl swimming, a girl he knew so well.
"One can see that he takes an interest in nautical phenomena, that he is
heart and soul in his profession, that he cares for nothing else. Oh,
he'll make a sailor! We may be sure of that!"
Fred sent his young friend and cousin, by way of reply, a big packet of
manuscript, the leaves of which were of all sizes, over which he had
poured forth torrents of poetry, amorous and descriptive, under the
title: At Sea.
Never would he have dared to show her this if the ocean had not lain
between them. He was frightened when his packet had been sent. His only
comfort was in the thought that he had hypocritically asked Jacqueline
for her literary opinion of his verses; but she could not fail, he
thought, to understand.
Long before an answer could have been expected, he got another letter,
sky-blue this time, much longer than the first, giving him an account of
"Your mother and I went together to Normandy, where the marriage was
to take place after the manner of old times, 'in the fashion of the
Middle Ages,' as our friends the Wermants said to me, who might
perhaps not have laughed at it had they been invited. Madame de
Monredon is all for old customs, and she had made it a great point
that the wedding should not take place in Paris. Had I been
Giselle, I should not have liked it. I know nothing more elegant or
more solemn than the entrance of a bridal party into the Madeleine,
but we shall have to be content with Saint-Augustin. Still, the
toilettes, as they pass up the aisle, even there, are very
effective, and the decoration of the tall, high altar is
magnificent. Toc! Toc! First come the beadles with their
halberds, then the loud notes of the organ, then the wide doors are
thrown open, making a noise as they turn on their great hinges,
letting the noise of carriages outside be heard in the church; and
then comes the bride in a ray of sunshine. I could wish for nothing
more. A grand wedding in the country is much more quiet, but it is
old-fashioned. In the little village church the guests were very
much crowded, and outside there was a great mob of country folk.
Carpets had been laid down over the dilapidated pavement, composed
principally of tombstones. The rough walls were hung with scarlet.
All the clergy of the neighborhood were present. A Monsignor--
related to the Talbruns--pronounced the nuptial benediction; his
address was a panegyric on the two families. He gave us to
understand that if he did not go back quite as far as the Crusades,
it was only because time was wanting.
Madame de Monredon was all-glorious, of course. She certainly
looked like an old vulture, in a pelisse of gray velvet, with a
chinchilla boa round her long, bare neck, and her big beak, with
marabouts overshadowing it, of the same color. Monsieur de Talbrun
--well! Monsieur de Talbrun was very bald, as bald as he could be.
To make up for the want of hair on his head, he has plenty of it on