Part 3 out of 5
his hands. It is horrid, and it makes him look like an animal. You
have no idea how queer he looked when he sat down, with his big,
pink head just peeping over the back of the crimson velvet chair,
which was, however, almost as tall as he is. He is short, you may
remember. As to our poor Giselle, the prettiest persons sometimes
look badly as brides, and those who are not pretty look ugly. Do
you recollect that picture--by Velasquez, is it not? of a fair
little Infanta stiffly swathed in cloth of gold, as becomes her
dignity, and looking crushed by it? Giselle's gown was of point
d'Alencon, old family lace as yellow as ancient parchment, but of
inestimable value. Her long corsage, made in the fashion of Anne of
Austria, looked on her like a cuirass, and she dragged after her,
somewhat awkwardly, a very long train, which impeded her movement as
she walked. A lace veil, as hereditary and time-worn as the gown,
but which had been worn by all the Monredons at their weddings, the
present dowager's included, hid the pretty, light hair of our dear
little friend, and was supported by a sort of heraldic comb and some
orange-flowers; in short, you can not imagine anything more heavy or
more ugly. Poor Giselle, loaded down with it, had red eyes, a face
of misery, and the air of a martyr. For all this her grandmother
scolded her sharply, which of course did not mend matters. 'Du
reste', she seemed absorbed in prayer or thought during the
ceremony, in which I took up the offerings, by the way, with a young
lieutenant of dragoons just out of the military school at Saint Cyr:
a uniform always looks well on such occasions. Nor was Monsieur de
Talbrun one of those lukewarm Christians who hear mass with their
arms crossed and their noses in the air. He pulled a jewelled
prayerbook out of his pocket, which Giselle had given him. Speaking
of presents, those he gave her were superb: pearls as big as
hazelnuts, a ruby heart that was a marvel, a diamond crescent that I
am afraid she will never wear with such an air as it deserves, and
two strings of diamonds 'en riviere', which I should suppose she
would have reset, for rivieres are no longer in fashion. The stones
"But, poor dear! she could care little for such things. All she
wanted was to get back as quickly as she could into her usual
clothes. She said to me, again and again: 'Pray God for me that I
may be a good wife. I am so afraid I may not be. To belong to
Monsieur de Talbrun in this world, and in the next; to give up
everything for him, seems so extraordinary. Indeed, I think I
hardly knew what I was promising.' I felt sorry for her; I kissed
her. I was ready to cry myself, and poor Giselle went on: 'If you
knew, dear, how I love you! how I love all my friends! really to
love, people must have been brought up together--must have always
known each other.' I don't think she was right, but everybody has
his or her ideas about such things. I tried, by way of consoling
her, to draw her attention to the quantities of presents she had
received. They were displayed on several tables in the smaller
drawing-room, but her grandmother would not let them put the name of
the giver upon each, as is the present custom. She said that it
humiliated those who had not been able to make gifts as expensive as
others. She is right, when one comes to think of it. Nor would she
let the trousseau be displayed; she did not think it proper, but I
saw enough to know that there were marvels in linen, muslin, silks,
and surahs, covered all over with lace. One could see that the
great mantua-maker had not consulted the grandmother, who says that
women of distinction in her day did not wear paltry trimmings.
"Dinner was served under a tent for all the village people during
the two mortal hours we had to spend over a repast, in which Madame
de Monredon's cook excelled himself. Then came complimentary
addresses in the old-fashioned style, composed by the village
schoolmaster who, for a wonder, knew what he was about; groups of
village children, boys and girls, came bringing their offerings,
followed by pet lambs decked with ribbons; it was all in the style
of the days of Madame de Genlis. While we danced in the salons
there was dancing in the barn, which had been decorated for the
occasion. In short; lords and ladies and laborers all seemed to
enjoy themselves, or made believe they did. The Parisian gentlemen
who danced were not very numerous. There were a few friends of
Monsieur de Talbrun's, however--among them, a Monsieur de Cymier,
whom possibly you remember having seen last summer at Treport; he
led the cotillon divinely. The bride and bridegroom drove away
during the evening, as they do in England, to their own house, which
is not far off. Monsieur de Talbrun's horses--a magnificent pair,
harnessed to a new 'caleche'--carried off Psyche, as an old
gentleman in gold spectacles said near me. He was a pretentious old
personage, who made a speech at table, very inappropriate and much
applauded. Poor Giselle! I have not seen her since, but she has
written me one of those little notes which, when she was in the
convent, she used to sign Enfant de Marie. It begged me again to
pray earnestly for her that she might not fail in the fulfilment of
her new duties. It seems hard, does it not? Let us hope that
Monsieur de Talbrun, on his part, may not find that his new life
rather wearies him! Do you know what should have been Giselle's
fate--since she has a mania about people being thoroughly acquainted
before marriage? What would two or three years more or less have
mattered? She would have made an admirable wife for a sailor; she
would have spent the months of your absence kneeling before the
altar; she would have multiplied the lamentations and the
tendernesses of your excellent mother. I have been thinking this
ever since the wedding-day--a very sad day, after all.
"But how I have let my pen run on. I shall have to put on two
stamps, notwithstanding my thin paper. But then you have plenty of
time to read on board-ship, and this account may amuse you. Make
haste and thank me for it.
"Your old friend,
Amuse him! How could he be amused by so great an insult? What! thank
her for giving him over even in thought to Giselle or to anybody? Oh,
how wicked, how ungrateful, how unworthy!
The six pages of foreign-post paper were crumpled up by his angry
fingers. Fred tore them with his teeth, and finally made them into a
ball which he flung into the sea, hating himself for having been so
foolish as to let himself be caught by the first lines, as a foolish fish
snaps at the bait, when, apropos to the church in which she would like to
be married, she had added "But we should have to be content with Saint-
Those words had delighted him as if they had really been meant for
himself and Jacqueline. This promise for the future, that seemed to
escape involuntarily from her pen, had made him find all the rest of her
letter piquant and amusing. As he read, his mind had reverted to that
little phrase which he now found he had interpreted wrongly. What a
fall! How his hopes now crumbled under his feet! She must have done it
on purpose--but no, he need not blacken her! She had written without
thought, without purpose, in high spirits; she wanted to be witty, to be
droll, to write gossip without any reference to him to whom her letter
was addressed. That we who some day would make a triumphal entry into
St. Augustin would be herself and some other man--some man with whom her
acquaintance had been short, since she did not seem to feel in that
matter like Giselle. Some one she did not yet know? Was that sure? She
might know her future husband already, even now she might have made her
choice--Marcel d'Etaples, perhaps, who looked so well in uniform, or that
M. de Cymier, who led the cotillon so divinely. Yes! No doubt it was
he--the last-comer. And once more Fred suffered all the pangs of
jealousy. It seemed to him that in his loneliness, between sky and sea,
those pangs were more acute than he had ever known them. His comrades
teased him about his melancholy looks, and made him the butt of all their
jokes in the cockpit. He resolved, however, to get over it, and at the
next port they put into, Jacqueline's letter was the cause of his
entering for the first time some discreditable scenes of dissipation.
At Bermuda he received another letter, dated from Paris, where Jacqueline
had rejoined her parents, who had returned from Italy. She sent him a
commission. Would he buy her a riding-whip? Bermuda was renowned for
its horsewhips, and her father had decided that she must go regularly to
the riding-school. They seemed anxious now to give her, as preliminary
to her introduction into society, not only such pleasures as horseback
exercise, but intellectual enjoyment also. She had been taken to the
Institute to hear M. Legouve, and what was better still, in December her
stepmother would give a little party every fortnight and would let her
sit up till eleven o'clock. She was also to be taken to make some calls.
In short, she felt herself rising in importance, but the first thing that
had made her feel so was Fred's choice of her to be his literary
confidant. She was greatly obliged to him, and did not know how she
could better prove to him that she was worthy of so great an honor than
by telling him quite frankly just what she thought of his verses. They
were very, very pretty. He had talent--great talent. Only, as in
attending the classes of M. Regis she had acquired some little knowledge
of the laws of versification, she would like to warn him against
impairing a thought for the benefit of a rhyme, and she pointed out
several such places in his compositions, ending thus:
"Bravo! for sunsets, for twilights, for moonshine, for deep silence, for
starry nights, and silvery seas--in such things you excel; one feels as
if one were there, and one envies you the fairy scenes of ocean. But, I
implore you, be not sentimental. That is the feeble part of your poetry,
to my thinking, and spoils the rest. By the way, I should like to ask
you whose are those soft eyes, that silky hair, that radiant smile, and
all that assortment of amber, jet, and coral occurring so often in your
visions? Is she--or rather, are they--black, yellow, green, or tattooed,
for, of course, you have met everywhere beauties of all colors? Several
times when it appeared as if the lady of your dreams were white, I
fancied you were drawing a portrait of Isabelle Ray. All the girls, your
old friends, to whom I have shown At Sea, send you their compliments, to
which I join my own. Each of them will beg you to write her a sonnet;
but first of all, in virtue of our ancient friendship, I want one myself.
So! she had shown to others what was meant for her alone; what
profanation! And what was more abominable, she had not recognized that
he was speaking of herself. Ah! there was nothing to be done now but to
forget her. Fred tried to do so conscientiously during all his cruise in
the Atlantic, but the moment he got ashore and had seen Jacqueline, he
fell again a victim to her charms.
BEAUTY AT THE FAIR
She was more beautiful than ever, and her first exclamation on seeing him
was intended to be flattering: "Ah! Fred, how much you have improved!
But what a change! What an extraordinary change! Why, look at him! He
is still himself, but who would have thought it was Fred!"
He was not disconcerted, for he had acquired aplomb in his journeys round
the globe, but he gave her a glance of sad reproach, while Madame de
Nailles said, quietly:
"Yes, really--How are you, Fred? The tan on your face is very becoming
to you. You have broadened at the shoulders, and are now a man--
something more than a man, an experienced sailor, almost an old seadog."
And she laughed, but only softly, because a frank laugh would have shown
little wrinkles under her eyes and above her cheeks, which were getting
Her toilette, which was youthful, yet very carefully adapted to her
person, showed that she was by no means as yet "laid on the shelf," as
Raoul Wermant elegantly said of her. She stood up, leaning over a table
covered with toys, which it was her duty to sell at the highest price
possible, for the place of a meeting so full of emotions for Fred was a
The moment he arrived in Paris the young officer had been, so to speak,
seized by the collar. He had found a great glazed card, bidding him to
attend this fair, in a fashionable quarter, and forthwith he had
forgotten his resolution of not going near the Nailles for a long time.
"This is not the same thing," he said to himself. "One must not let
one's self be supposed to be stingy." So with these thoughts he went to
the bazaar, very glad in his secret heart to have an excuse for breaking
The fair was for the benefit of sufferers from a fire--somewhere or
other. In our day multitudes of people fall victims to all kinds of
dreadful disasters, explosions of boilers, explosions of fire-damp, of
everything that can explode, for the agents of destruction seem to be in
a state of unnatural excitement as well as human beings. Never before,
perhaps, have inanimate things seemed so much in accordance with the
spirit of the times. Fred found a superb placard, the work of Cheret,
a pathetic scene in a mine, banners streaming in the air, with the words
'Bazar de Charite' in gold letters on a red ground, and the courtyard of
the mansion where the fair was held filled with more carriages than one
sees at a fashionable wedding. In the vestibule many footmen were in
attendance, the chasseurs of an Austrian ambassador, the great hulking
fellows of the English embassy, the gray-liveried servants of old
Rozenkranz, with their powdered heads, the negro man belonging to Madame
Azucazillo, etc., etc. At each arrival there was a frou-frou of satin
and lace, and inside the sales room was a hubbub like the noise in an
aviary. Fred, finding himself at once in the full stream of Parisian
life, but for the moment not yet part of it, indulged in some of those
philosophic reflections to which he had been addicted on shipboard.
Each of the tables showed something of the tastes, the character, the
peculiarities of the lady who had it in charge. Madame Sterny, who had
the most beautiful hands in the world, had undertaken to sell gloves,
being sure that the gentlemen would be eager to buy if she would only
consent to try them on; Madame de Louisgrif, the 'chanoiness', whose
extreme emaciation was not perceived under a sort of ecclesiastical cape,
had an assortment of embroideries and objects of devotion, intended only
for ladies--and indeed for only the most serious among them; for the
table that held umbrellas, parasols and canes suited to all ages and both
sexes, a good, upright little lady had been chosen. Her only thought was
how much money she could make by her sales. Madame Strahlberg, the
oldest of the Odinskas, obviously expected to sell only to gentlemen; her
table held pyramids of cigars and cigarettes, but nothing else was in the
corner where she presided, supple and frail, not handsome, but far more
dangerous than if she had been, with her unfathomable way of looking at
you with her light eyes set deep under her eyebrows, eyes that she kept
half closed, but which were yet so keen, and the cruel smile that showed
her little sharp teeth. Her dress was of black grenadine embroidered
with silver. She wore half mourning as a sort of announcement that she
was a widow, in hopes that this might put a stop to any wicked gossip
which should assert that Count Strahlberg was still living, having got a
divorce and been very glad to get it. Yet people talked about her, but
hardly knew what to bring against her, because, though anything might be
suspected, nothing was known. She was received and even sought after in
the best society, on account of her wonderful talents, which she employed
in a manner as perverse as everything else about her, but which led some
people to call her the 'Judic des salons'. Wanda Strahlberg was now
holding between her lips, which were artificially red, in contrast to the
greenish paleness of her face, which caused others to call her a vampire,
one of the cigarettes she had for sale. With one hand, she was playing,
graceful as a cat, with her last package of regalias, tied with green
ribbon, which, when offered to the highest bidder, brought an enormous
sum. Her sister Colette was selling flowers, like several other young
girls, but while for the most part these waited on their customers in
silence, she was full of lively talk, and as unblushing in her eagerness
to sell as a 'bouquetiere' by profession. She had grown dangerously
pretty. Fred was dazzled when she wanted to fasten a rose into his
buttonhole, and then, as he paid for it, gave him another, saying: "And
here is another thrown in for old acquaintance' sake."
"Charity seems to cover many things," thought the young man as he
withdrew from her smiles and her glances, but yet he had seen nothing so
attractive among the black, yellow, green or tattooed ladies about whom
Jacqueline had been pleased to tease him.
It was Jacqueline's voice that arrested him. It was sharp and almost
angry. She, too, was selling flowers, while at the same time she was
helping Madame de Nailles with her toys; but she was selling with that
decorum and graceful reserve which custom prescribes for young girls.
"Fred, I do hope you will wear no roses but mine. Those you have are
frightful. They make you look. like a village bridegroom. Take out
those things; come! Here is a pretty boutonniere, and I will fasten it
much better in your buttonhole--let me."
In vain did he try to seem cold to her; his heart thawed in spite of
himself. She held him so charmingly by the lapel of his coat, touching
his cheek with the tip end of an aigrette which set so charmingly on the
top of the most becoming of fur caps which she wore. Her hair was turned
up now, showing her beautiful neck, and he could see little rebellious
hairs curling at their own will over her pure, soft skin, while she,
bending forward, was engaged in his service. He admired, too, her
slender waist, only recently subjected to the restraint of a corset. He
forgave her on the spot. At this moment a man with brown hair, tall,
elegant, and with his moustache turned up at the ends, after the old
fashion of the Valois, revived recently, came hurriedly up to the table
of Madame de Nailles. Fred felt that that inimitable moustache reduced
his not yet abundant beard to nothing.
"Mademoiselle Jacqueline," said the newcomer, "Madame de Villegry has
sent me to beg you to help her at the buffet. She can not keep pace with
her customers, and is asking for volunteers."
All this was uttered with a familiar assurance which greatly shocked the
young naval man.
"You permit me, Madame?"
The Baroness bowed with a smile, which said, had he chosen to interpret
it, "I give you permission to carry her off now--and forever, if you wish
At that moment she was placing in the half-unwilling arms of Hubert
Marien an enormous rubber balloon and a jumping-jack, in return for five
Louis which he had laid humbly on her table. But Jacqueline had not
waited for her stepmother's permission; she let herself be borne off
radiant on the arm of the important personage who had come for her, while
Colette, who perhaps had remarked the substitution for her two roses,
whispered in Fred's ear, in atone of great significance "Monsieur de
The poor fellow started, like a man suddenly awakened from a happy dream
to face the most unwelcome of realities. Impelled by that natural
longing, that we all have, to know the worst, he went toward the buffet,
affecting a calmness which it cost him a great effort to maintain. As he
went along he mechanically gave money to each of the ladies whom he knew,
moving off without waiting for their thanks or stopping to choose
anything from their tables. He seemed to feel the floor rock under his
feet, as if he had been walking the deck of a vessel. At last he reached
a recess decorated with palms, where, in a robe worthy of 'Peau d'Ane'
in the story, and absolutely a novelty in the world of fashions robe all
embroidered with gold and rubies, which glittered with every movement
made by the wearer--Madame de Villegry was pouring out Russian tea and
Spanish chocolate and Turkish coffee, while all kinds of deceitful
promises of favor shone in her eyes, which wore a certain tenderness
expressive of her interest in charity. A party of young nymphs formed
the court of this fair goddess, doing their best to lend her their aid.
Jacqueline was one of them, and, at the moment Fred approached, she was
offering, with the tips of her fingers, a glass of champagne to M. de
Cymier, who at the same time was eagerly trying to persuade her to
believe something, about which she was gayly laughing, while she shook
her head. Poor Fred, that he might hear, and suffer, drank two mouthfuls
of sherry which he could hardly swallow.
"One who was really charitable would not hesitate," said M. de Cymier,
"especially when every separate hair would be paid for if you chose.
Just one little curl--for the sake of the poor. It is very often done:
anything is allowable for the sake of the poor."
"Maybe it is because, as you say, that it is very often done that I shall
not do it," said Jacqueline, still laughing. "I have made up my mind
never to do what others have done before me."
"Well, we shall see," said M. de Cymier, pretending to threaten her.
And her young head was thrown back in a burst of inextinguishable
Fred fled, that he might not be tempted to make a disturbance. When he
found himself again in the street, he asked himself where he should go.
His anger choked him; he felt he could not keep his resentment to
himself, and yet, however angry he might be with Jacqueline, he would
have been unwilling to hear his mother give utterance to the very
sentiments that he was feeling, or to harsh judgments, of which he
preferred to keep the monopoly. It came into his mind that he would pay
a little visit to Giselle, who, of all the people he knew, was the least
likely to provoke a quarrel. He had heard that Madame de Talbrun did not
go out, being confined to her sofa by much suffering, which, it might be
hoped, would soon come to an end; and the certainty that he should find
her if he called at once decided him. Since he had been in Paris he had
done nothing but leave cards. This time, however, he was sure that the
lady upon whom he called would be at home. He was taken at once into the
young wife's boudoir, where he found her very feeble, lying back upon her
cushions, alone, and working at some little bits of baby-clothes. He was
not slow to perceive that she was very glad to see him. She flushed with
pleasure as he came into the room, and, dropping her sewing, held out to
him two little, thin hands, white as wax. "Take that footstool--sit down
there--what a great, great pleasure it is to see you back again!" She
was more expansive than she had been formerly; she had gained a certain
ease which comes from intercourse with the world, but how delicate she
seemed! Fred for a moment looked at her in silence, she seemed so
changed as she lay there in a loose robe of pale blue cashmere, whose
train drawn over her feet made her look tall as it stretched to the end
of the gilded couch, round which Giselle had collected all the little
things required by an invalid--bottles, boxes, work-bag, dressing-case,
and writing materials.
"You see," she said, with her soft smile, "I have plenty to occupy me,
and I venture to be proud of my work and to think I am creating marvels."
As she spoke she turned round on her closed hand a cap that seemed
microscopic to Fred.
"What!" he cried, "do you expect him to be small enough to wear that!"
"Him! you said him; and I am sure you will be right. I know it will be a
boy," replied Giselle, eagerly, her fair face brightened by these words.
"I have some that are still smaller. Look!" and she lifted up a pile of
things trimmed with ribbons and embroidery. "See; these are the first!
Ah! I lie here and fancy how he will look when he has them on. He will
be sweet enough to eat. Only his papa wants us to give him a name that I
think is too long for him, because it has always been in the family--
"His name will be longer than himself, I should say, judging by the
dimensions of this cap," said Fred, trying to laugh.
"Bah!" replied Giselle, gayly, "but we can get over it by calling him
Gue-gue or Ra-ra. What do you think? The difficulty is that names of
that kind are apt to stick to a boy for fifty years, and then they seem
ridiculous. Now a pretty abbreviation like Fred is another matter. But
I forget they have brought up my chocolate. Please ring, and let them
bring you a cup. We will take our luncheon together, as we used to do."
"Thank you, I have no appetite. I have just come from a certain buffet
where I lost it all."
"Oh! I suppose you have been to the Bazaar--the famous Charity Fair!
You must have made a sensation there on your return, for I am told that
the gentlemen who are expected to spend the most are likely to send their
money, and not to show themselves. There are many complaints of it."
"There were plenty of men round certain persons," replied Fred, dryly.
"Madame de Villegry's table was literally besieged."
"Really! What, hers! You surprise me! So it was the good things she
gave you that make you despise my poor chocolate," said Giselle, rising
on her elbow, to receive the smoking cup that a servant brought her on a
little silver salver.
"I didn't take much at her table," said Fred, ready to enter on his
grievances. "If you wish to know the reason why, I was too indignant to
eat or drink."
"Yes, the word is not at all too strong. When one has passed whole
months away from what is unwholesome and artificial, such things as make
up life in Paris, one becomes a little like Alceste, Moliere's
misanthrope, when one gets back to them. It is ridiculous at my age, and
yet if I were to tell you--"
"What?--you puzzle me. What can there be that is unwholesome in selling
things for the poor?"
"The poor! A pretty pretext! Was it to benefit the poor that that
odious Countess Strahlberg made all those disreputable grimaces? I have
seen kermesses got up by actresses, and, upon my word, they were good
form in comparison."
"Oh! Countess Strahlberg! People have heard about her doings until they
are tired of them," said Giselle, with that air of knowing everything
assumed by a young wife whose husband has told her all the current
scandals, as a sort of initiation.
"And her sister seems likely to be as bad as herself before long."
"Poor Colette! She has been so badly brought up. It is not her fault."
"But there's Jacqueline," cried Fred, in a sudden outburst, and already
feeling better because he could mention her name.
"Allons, donc! You don't mean to say anything against Jacqueline?"
cried Giselle, clasping her hands with an air of astonishment. "What can
she have done to scandalize you--poor little dear?"
Fred paused for half a minute, then he drew the stool in the form of an
X, on which he was sitting, a little nearer to Giselle's sofa, and,
lowering his voice, told her how Jacqueline had acted under his very
eyes. As he went on, watching as he spoke the effect his words produced
upon Giselle, who listened as if slightly amused by his indignation, the
case seemed not nearly so bad as he had supposed, and a delicious sense
of relief crept over him when she to whom he told his wrongs after
hearing him quietly to the end, said, smiling:
"And what then? There is no great harm in all that. Would you have had
her refuse to go with the gentleman Madame de Villegry had sent to fetch
her? And why, may I ask, should she not have done her best to help by
pouring out champagne? An air put on to please is indispensable to a
woman, if she wishes to sell anything. Good Heavens! I don't approve
any more than you do of all these worldly forms of charity, but this kind
of thing is considered right; it has come into fashion. Jacqueline had
the permission of her parents, and I really can't see any good reason why
you should complain of her. Unless--why not tell me the whole truth,
Fred? I know it--don't we always know what concerns the people that we
care for? And I might possibly some day be of use to you. Say! don't
you think you are--a little bit jealous?"
Less encouragement than this would have sufficed to make him open his
heart to Giselle. He was delighted that some woman was willing he should
confide in her. And what was more, he was glad to have it proved that he
had been all wrong. A quarter of an hour later Giselle had comforted
him, happy herself that it had been in her power to undertake a task of
consolation, a work in which, with sweet humility, she felt herself at
ease. On the great stage of life she knew now she should never play any
important part, any that would bring her greatly into view. But she felt
that she was made to be a confidant, one of those perfect confidants who
never attempt to interfere rashly with the course of events, but who wait
upon the ways of Providence, removing stones, and briers and thorns, and
making everything turn out for the best in the end. Jacqueline, she
said, was so young! A little wild, perhaps, but what a treasure! She
was all heart! She would need a husband worthy of her, such a man as
Fred. Madame d'Argy, she knew, had already said something on the subject
to her father. But it would have to be the Baroness that Fred must bring
over to their views; the Baroness was acquiring more and more influence
over her husband, who seemed to be growing older every day. M. de
Nailles had evidently much, very much upon his mind. It was said in
business circles that he had for some time past been given to
speculation. Oscar said so. If that were the case, many of Jacqueline's
suitors might withdraw. Not all men were so disinterested as Fred.
"Oh! As to her dot--what do I care for her dot?" cried the young man.
"I have enough for two, if she would only be satisfied to live quietly at
"Yes," said the judicious little matron, nodding her head, "but who would
like to marry a midshipman? Make haste and be a lieutenant, or an
She smiled at herself for having made the reward depend upon exertion,
with a sort of maternal instinct. It was the same instinct that would
lead her in the future to promise Enguerrand a sugar-plum if he said his
lesson. "Nobody will steal your Jacqueline till you are ready to carry
her off. Besides, if there were any danger I could give you timely
"Ah! Giselle, if she only had your kind heart--your good sense."
"Do you think I am better and more reasonable than other people? In what
way? I have done as so many other girls do; I have married without
knowing well what I was doing."
She stopped short, fearing she might have said too much, and indeed Fred
looked at her anxiously.
"You don't regret it, do you?"
"You must ask Monsieur de Talbrun if he regrets it," she said, with a
laugh. "It must be hard on him to have a sick wife, who knows little of
what is passing outside of her own chamber, who is living on her reserve
fund of resources--a very poor little reserve fund it is, too!"
Then, as if she thought that Fred had been with her long enough, she
said: "I would ask you to stay and see Monsieur de Talbrun, but he won't
be in, he dines at his club. He is going to see a new play tonight which
they say promises to be very good."
"What! Will he leave you alone all the evening?"
"Oh! I am very glad he should find amusement. Just think how long it is
that I have been pinned down here! Poor Oscar!"
The arrival of the expected Enguerrand hindered Giselle from pleading
Fred's cause as soon as she could have wished. Her life for twenty-four
hours was in great danger, and when the crisis was past, which M. de
Talbrun treated very indifferently, as a matter of course, her first cry
was "My baby!" uttered in a tone of tender eagerness such as had never
been heard from her lips before.
The nurse brought him. He lay asleep swathed in his swaddling clothes
like a mummy in its wrappings, a motionless, mysterious being, but he
seemed to his mother beautiful--more beautiful than anything she had seen
in those vague visions of happiness she had indulged in at the convent,
which were never to be realized. She kissed his little purple face, his
closed eyelids, his puckered mouth, with a sort of respectful awe. She
was forbidden to fatigue herself. The wet-nurse, who had been brought
from Picardy, drew near with her peasant cap trimmed with long blue
streamers; her big, experienced hands took the baby from his mother, she
turned him over on her lap, she patted him, she laughed at him. And the
mother-happiness that had lighted up Giselle's pale face died away.
"What right," she thought, "has that woman to my child?" She envied the
horrid creature, coarse and stout, with her tanned face, her bovine
features, her shapeless figure, who seemed as if Nature had predestined
her to give milk and nothing more. Giselle would so gladly have been in
her place! Why wouldn't they permit her to nurse her baby?
M. de Talbrun said in answer to this question:
"It is never done among people in our position. You have no idea, of all
it would entail on you--what slavery, what fatigue! And most probably
you would not have had milk enough."
"Oh! who can tell? I am his mother! And when this woman goes he will
have to have English nurses, and when he is older he will have to go to
school. When shall I have him to myself?"
And she began to cry.
"Come, come!" said M. de Talbrun, much astonished, "all this fuss about
that frightful little monkey!"
Giselle looked at him almost as much astonished as he had been at her.
Love, with its jealousy, its transports, its anguish, its delights had
for the first time come to her--the love that she could not feel for her
husband awoke in her for her son. She was ennobled--she was transfigured
by a sense of her maternity; it did for her what marriage does for some
women--it seemed as if a sudden radiance surrounded her.
When she raised her infant in her arms, to show him to those who came to
see her, she always seemed like a most chaste and touching representation
of the Virgin Mother. She would say, as she exhibited him: "Is he not
superb?" Every one said: "Yes, indeed!" out of politeness, but, on
leaving the mother's presence, would generally remark: "He is Monsieur de
Talbrun in baby-clothes: the likeness is perfectly horrible!"
The only visitor who made no secret of this impression was Jacqueline,
who came to see her cousin as soon as she was permitted--that is, as soon
as her friend was able to sit up and be prettily dressed, as became the
mother of such a little gentleman as the heir of all the Talbruns. When
Jacqueline saw the little creature half-smothered in the lace that
trimmed his pillows, she burst out laughing, though it was in the
presence of his mother.
"Oh, mon Dieu!" she cried, "how ugly! I never should have supposed we
could have been as ugly as that! Why, his face is all the colors of the
rainbow; who would have imagined it? And he crumples up his little face
like those things in gutta-percha. My poor Giselle, how can you bear to
show him! I never, never could covet a baby!"
Giselle, in consternation, asked herself whether this strange girl, who
did not care for children, could be a proper wife for Fred; but her
habitual indulgence came to her aid, and she thought:
"She is but a child herself, she does not know what she is saying," and
profiting by her first tete-a-tete with Jacqueline's stepmother, she
spoke as she had promised to Madame de Nailles.
"A matchmaker already!" said the Baroness, with a smile. "And so soon
after you have found out what it costs to be a mother! How good of you,
my dear Giselle! So you support Fred as a candidate? But I can't say I
think he has much chance; Monsieur de Nailles has his own ideas."
She spoke as if she really thought that M. de Nailles could have any
ideas but her own. When the adroit Clotilde was at a loss, she was
likely to evoke this chimerical notion of her husband's having an opinion
of his own.
"Oh! Madame, you can do anything you like with him!"
The clever woman sighed:
"So you fancy that when people have been long married a wife retains as
much influence over her husband as you have kept over Monsieur de
Talbrun? You will learn to know better, my dear."
"But I have no influence," murmured Giselle, who knew herself to be her
"Oh! I know better. You are making believe!"
"Well, but we were not talking about me, but--"
"Oh! yes. I understood. I will think about it. I will try to bring
over Monsieur de Nailles."
She was not at all disposed to drop the meat for the sake of the shadow,
but she was not sure of M. de Cymier, notwithstanding all that Madame de
Villegry was at pains to tell her about his serious intentions. On the
other hand, she would have been far from willing to break with a man so
brilliant, who made himself so agreeable at her Tuesday receptions.
"Meantime, it would be well if you, dear, were to try to find out what
Jacqueline thinks. You may not find it very easy."
"Will you authorize me to tell her how well he loves her? Oh, then, I am
quite satisfied!" cried Giselle.
But she was under a mistake. Jacqueline, as soon as she began to speak
to her of Fred's suit, stopped her:
"Poor fellow! Why can't he amuse himself for some time longer and let me
do the same? Men seem to me so strange! Now, Fred is one who, just
because he is good and serious by nature, fancies that everybody else
should be the same; he wishes me to be tethered in the flowery meads of
Lizerolles, and browse where he would place me. Such a life would be an
end of everything--an end to my life, and I should not like it at all.
I should prefer to grow old in Paris, or some other capital, if my
husband happened to be engaged in diplomacy. Even supposing I marry--
which I do not think an absolute necessity, unless I can not get rid
otherwise of an inconvenient chaperon--and to do my stepmother justice,
she knows well enough that I will not submit to too much of her
"Jacqueline, they say you see too much of the Odinskas."
"There! that's another fault you find in me. I go there because Madame
Strahlberg is so kind as to give me some singing-lessons. If you only
knew how much progress I am making, thanks to her. Music is a thousand
times more interesting, I can tell you, than all that you can do as
mistress of a household. You don't think so? Oh! I know Enguerrand's
first tooth, his first steps, his first gleams of intelligence, and all
that. Such things are not in my line, you know. Of course I think your
boy very funny, very cunning, very--anything you like to fancy him, but
forgive me if I am glad he does not belong to me. There, don't you see
now that marriage is not my vocation, so please give up speaking to me
"As you will," said Giselle, sadly, "but you will give great pain to a
good man whose heart is wholly yours."
"I did not ask for his heart. Such gifts are exasperating. One does not
know what to do with them. Can't he--poor Fred--love me as I love him,
and leave me my liberty?"
"Your liberty!" exclaimed Giselle; "liberty to ruin your life, that's
what it will be."
"Really, one would suppose there was only one kind of existence in your
eyes--this life of your own, Giselle. To leave one cage to be shut up in
another--that is the fate of many birds, I know, but there are others who
like to use their wings to soar into the air. I like that expression.
Come, little mother, tell me right out, plainly, that your lot is the
only one in this world that ought to be envied by a woman."
Giselle answered with a strange smile:
"You seem astonished that I adore my baby; but since he came great things
seem to have been revealed to me. When I hold him to my breast I seem to
understand, as I never did before, duty and marriage, family ties and
sorrows, life itself, in short, its griefs and joys. You can not
understand that now, but you will some day. You, too, will gaze upon the
horizon as I do. I am ready to suffer; I am ready for self-sacrifice.
I know now whither my life leads me. I am led, as it were, by this
little being, who seemed to me at first only a doll, for whom I was
embroidering caps and dresses. You ask whether I am satisfied with my
lot in life. Yes, I am, thanks to this guide, this guardian angel,
thanks to my precious Enguerrand."
Jacqueline listened, stupefied, to this unexpected outburst, so unlike
her cousin's usual language; but the charm was broken by its ending with
the tremendously long name of Enguerrand, which always made her laugh, it
was in such perfect harmony with the feudal pretensions of the Monredons
and the Talbruns.
"How solemn and eloquent and obscure you are, my dear," she answered.
"You speak like a sibyl. But one thing I see, and that is that you are
not so perfectly happy as you would have us believe, seeing that you feel
the need of consolations. Then, why do you wish me to follow your
"Fred is not Monsieur de Talbrun," said the young wife, for the moment
"Do you mean to say--"
"I meant nothing, except that if you married Fred you would have had the
advantage of first knowing him."
"Ah! that's your fixed idea. But I am getting to know Monsieur de
Cymier pretty well."
"You have betrayed yourself," cried Giselle, with indignation. "Monsieur
"Monsieur de Cymier is coming to our house on Saturday evening, and I
must get up a Spanish song that Madame Strahlberg has taught me, to charm
his ears and those of other people. Oh! I can do it very well. Won't
you come and hear me play the castanets, if Monsieur Enguerrand can spare
you? There is a young Polish pianist who is to play our accompaniment.
Ah, there is nothing like a Polish pianist to play Chopin! He is
charming, poor young man! an exile, and in poverty; but he is cared for
by those ladies, who take him everywhere. That is the sort of life I
should like--the life of Madame Strahlberg--to be a young widow, free to
do what I pleased."
"She may be a widow--but some say she is divorced."
"Oh! is it you who repeat such naughty scandals, Giselle? Where shall
charity take refuge in this world if not in your heart? I am going--your
seriousness may be catching. Kiss me before I go."
"No," said Madame de Talbrun, turning her head away.
After this she asked herself whether she ought not to discourage Fred.
She could not resolve on doing so, yet she could not tell him what was
false; but by eluding the truth with that ability which kind-hearted
women can always show when they try to avoid inflicting pain, she
succeeded in leaving the young man hope enough to stimulate his ambition.
FRED ASKS A QUESTION
Time, whatever may be said of it by the calendars, is not to be measured
by days, weeks, and months in all cases; expectation, hope, happiness and
grief have very different ways of counting hours, and we know from our
own experience that some are as short as a minute, and others as long as
a century. The love or the suffering of those who can tell just how long
they have suffered, or just how long they have been in love, is only
moderate and reasonable.
Madame d'Argy found the two lonely years she passed awaiting the return
of her son, who was winning his promotion to the rank of ensign, so long,
that it seemed to her as if they never would come to an end. She had
given a reluctant consent to his notion of adopting the navy as a
profession, thinking that perhaps, after all, there might be no harm in
allowing her dear boy to pass the most dangerous period of his youth
under strict discipline, but she could not be patient forever! She
idolized her son too much to be resigned to living without him; she felt
that he was hers no longer. Either he was at sea or at Toulon, where she
could very rarely join him, being detained at Lizerolles by the necessity
of looking after their property. With what eagerness she awaited his
promotion, which she did not doubt was all the Nailles waited for to give
their consent to the marriage; of their happy half-consent she hastened
to remind them in a note which announced the new grade to which he had
been promoted. Her indignation was great on finding that her formal
request received no decided answer; but, as her first object was Fred's
happiness, she placed the reply she had received in its most favorable
light when she forwarded it to the person whom it most concerned. She
did this in all honesty. She was not willing to admit that she was being
put off with excuses; still less could she believe in a refusal.
She accepted the excuse that M. de Nailles gave for returning no decided
answer, viz.: that "Jacqueline was too young," though she answered him
with some vehemence: "Fred was born when I was eighteen." But she had to
accept it. Her ensign would have to pass a few more months on the coast
of Senegal, a few more months which were made shorter by the
encouragement forwarded to him by his mother, who was careful to send him
everything she could find out that seemed to be, or that she imagined
might be, in his favor; she underlined such things and commented upon
them, so as to make the faintest hypothesis seem a certainty. Sometimes
she did not even wait for the post. Fred would find, on putting in at
some post, a cablegram: "Good news," or "All goes well," and he would be
beside himself with joy and excitement until, on receiving his poor, dear
mother's next letter, he found out on how slight a foundation her
assurance had been founded.
Sometimes, she wrote him disagreeable things about Jacqueline, as if she
would like to disenchant him, and then he said to himself: "By this, I am
to understand that my affairs are not going on well; I still count for
little, notwithstanding my promotion." Ah! if he could only have had,
so near the beginning of his career, any opportunity of distinguishing
himself! No brilliant deed would have been too hard for him. He would
have scaled the very skies. Alas! he had had no chance to win
distinction, he had only had to follow in the beaten track of ordinary
duty; he had encountered no glorious perils, though at St. Louis he had
come very near leaving his bones, but it was only a case of typhoid
fever. This fever, however, brought about a scene between M. de Nailles
and his mother.
"When," she cried, with all the fury of a lioness, "do you expect to come
to the conclusion that my son is a suitable match for Jacqueline? Do you
imagine that I shall let him wait till he is a post-captain to satisfy
the requirements of Mademoiselle your daughter--provided he does not die
in a hospital? Do you think that I shall be willing to go on living--
if you can call it living!--all alone and in continual apprehension? Why
do you let him keep on in uncertainty? You know his worth, and you know
that with him Jacqueline would be happy. Instead of that--instead of
saying once for all to this young man, who is more in love with her than
any other man will ever be: 'There, take her, I give her to you,' which
would be the straightforward, sensible way, you go on encouraging the
caprices of a child who will end by wasting, in the life you are
permitting her to lead, all the good qualities she has and keeping
nothing but the bad ones."
"Mon Dieu! I can't see that Jacqueline leads a life like that!" said M.
de Nailles, who felt that he must say something.
"You don't see, you don't see! How can any one see who won't open his
eyes? My poor friend, just look for once at what is going on around you,
under your own roof--"
"Jacqueline is devoted to music," said her father, good-humoredly.
Madame d'Argy in her heart thought he was losing his mind.
And in truth he was growing older day by day, becoming more and more
anxious, more and more absorbed in the great struggle--not for life; that
might exhaust a man, but at least it was energetic and noble--but for
superfluous wealth, for vanity, for luxury, which, for his own part, he
cared nothing for, and which he purchased dearly, spurred on to exertion
by those near to him, who insisted on extravagances.
"Oh! yes, Jacqueline, I know, is devoted to music," went on Madame
d'Argy, with an air of extreme disapproval, "too much so! And when she
is able to sing like Madame Strahlberg, what good will it do her? Even
now I see more than one little thing about her that needs to be reformed.
How can she escape spoiling in that crowd of Slavs and Yankees, people of
no position probably in their own countries, with whom you permit her to
associate? People nowadays are so imprudent about acquaintances! To be
a foreigner is a passport into society. Just think what her poor mother
would have said to the bad manners she is adopting from all parts of the
globe? My poor, dear Adelaide! She was a genuine Frenchwoman of the old
type; there are not many such left now. Ah!" continued Madame d'Argy,
without any apparent connection with her subject, "Monsieur de Talbrun's
mother, if he had one, would be truly happy to see him married to
"But," faltered M. de Nailles, struck by the truth of some of these
remarks, "I make no opposition--quite the contrary--I have spoken several
times about your son, but I was not listened to!"
"What can she say against Fred?"
"Nothing. She is very fond of him, that you know as well as I do. But
those childish attachments do not necessarily lead to love and marriage."
"Friendship on her side might be enough," said Madame d'Argy, in the tone
of a woman who had never known more than that in marriage. "My poor Fred
has enthusiasm and all that, enough for two. And in time she will be
madly in love with him--she must! It is impossible it should be
"Very good, persuade her yourself if you can; but Jacqueline has a pretty
strong will of her own."
Jacqueline's will was a reality, though the ideas of M. de Nailles may
have been illusion.
"And my wife, too!" resumed the Baron, after a long sigh. "I don't know
how it is, but Jacqueline, as she has grown up, has become like an
unbroken colt, and those two, who were once all in all to each other, are
now seldom of one mind. How am I to act when their two wills cross mine,
as they often do? I have so many things on my mind. There are times
"Yes, one can see that. You don't seem to know where you are. And do
you think that the disposition she shows to act, as you say, like an
unbroken colt, is nothing to me? Do you think I am quite satisfied with
my son's choice? I could have wished that he had chosen for his wife--
but what is the use of saying what I wished? The important thing is that
he should be happy in his own way. Besides, I dare say the young thing
will calm down of her own accord. Her mother's daughter must be good at
heart. All will come right when she is removed from a circle which is
doing her no good; it is injuring her in people's opinion already, you
must know. And how will it be by-and-bye? I hear people saying
everywhere: 'How can the Nailles let that young girl associate so much
with foreigners?' You say they are old school-fellows, they went to the
'cours' together. But see if Madame d'Etaples and Madame Ray, under the
same pretext, let Isabelle and Yvonne associate with the Odinskas! As to
that foolish woman, Madame d'Avrigny, she goes to their house to look up
recruits for her operettas, and Madame Strahlberg has one advantage over
regular artists, there is no call to pay her. That is the reason why she
invites her. Besides which, she won't find it so easy to marry Dolly."
"Oh! there are several reasons for that," said the Baron, who could see
the mote in his neighbor's eye, "Mademoiselle d'Avrigny has led a life so
very worldly ever since she was a child, so madly fast and lively, that
suitors are afraid of her. Jacqueline, thank heaven, has never yet been
in what is called the world. She only visits those with whom she is on
terms of intimacy."
"An intimacy which includes all Paris," said Madame d'Argy, raising her
eyes to heaven. "If she does not go to great balls, it is only because
her stepmother is bored by them. But with that exception it seems to me
she is allowed to do anything. I don't see the difference. But, to be
sure, if Jacqueline is not for us, you have a right to say that I am
interfering in what does not concern me."
"Not at all," said the unfortunate father, "I feel how much I ought to
value your advice, and an alliance with your family would please me more
He said the truth, for he was disturbed by seeing M. de Cymier so slow in
making his proposals, and he was also aware that young girls in our day
are less sought for in marriage than they used to be. His friend
Wermant, rich as he was, had had some trouble in capturing for Berthe a
fellow of no account in the Faubourg St. Germain, and the prize was not
much to be envied. He was a young man without brains and without a sou,
who enjoyed so little consideration among his own people that his wife
had not been received as she expected, and no one spoke of Madame de
Belvan without adding: "You know, that little Wermant, daughter of the
'agent de change'."
Of course, Jacqueline had the advantage of good birth over Berthe, but
how great was her inferiority in point of fortune! M. de Nailles
sometimes confided these perplexities to his wife, without, however,
receiving much comfort from her. Nor did the Baroness confess to her
husband all her own fears. In secret she often asked herself, with the
keen insight of a woman of the world well trained in artifice and who
possessed a thorough knowledge of mankind, whether there might not be
women capable of using a young girl so as to put the world on a wrong
scent; whether, in other words, Madame de Villegry did not talk
everywhere about M. de Cymier's attentions to Mademoiselle de Nailles in
order to conceal his relations to herself? Madame de Villegry indeed
cared little about standing well in public opinion, but rather the
contrary; she would not, however, for the world have been willing, by too
openly favoring one man among her admirers, to run the risk of putting
the rest to flight. No doubt M. de Cymier was most assiduous in his
attendance on the receptions and dances at Madame de Nailles's, but he
was there always at the same time as Madame de Villegry herself. They
would hold whispered conferences in corners, which might possibly have
been about Jacqueline, but there was no proof that they were so, except
what Madame de Villegry herself said. "At any rate," thought Madame de
Nailles, "if Fred comes forward as a suitor it may stimulate Monsieur de
Cymier. There are men who put off taking a decisive step till the last
moment, and are only to be spurred up by competition."
So every opportunity was given to Fred to talk freely with Jacqueline
when he returned to Paris. By this time he wore two gold-lace stripes
upon his sleeve. But Jacqueline avoided any tete-a-tete with him as if
she understood the danger that awaited her. She gave him no chance of
speaking alone with her. She was friendly--nay, sometimes affectionate
when other people were near them, but more commonly she teased him,
bewildered him, excited him. After an hour or two spent in her society
he would go home sometimes savage, sometimes desponding, to ponder in his
own room, and in his own heart, what interpretation he ought to put upon
the things that she had said to him.
The more he thought, the less he understood. He would not have confided
in his mother for the world; she might have cast blame on Jacqueline.
Besides her, he had no one who could receive his confidences, who would
bear with his perplexities, who could assist in delivering him from the
network of hopes and fears in which, after every interview with
Jacqueline, he seemed to himself to become more and more entangled.
At last, however, at one of the soirees given every fortnight by Madame
de Nailles, he succeeded in gaining her attention.
"Give me this quadrille," he said to her.
And, as she could not well refuse, he added, as soon as she had taken his
arm: "We will not dance, and I defy you to escape me."
"This is treason!" she cried, somewhat angrily. "We are not here to
talk; I can almost guess beforehand what you have to say, and--"
But he had made her sit down in the recess of that bow-window which had
been called the young girls' corner years ago. He stood before her,
preventing her escape, and half-laughing, though he was deeply moved.
"Since you have guessed what I wanted to say, answer me quickly."
"Must I? Must I, really? Why didn't you ask my father to do your
commission? It is so horribly disagreeable to do these things for one's
"That depends upon what the things may be that have to be said. I should
think it ought to be very agreeable to pronounce the word on which the
happiness of a whole life is to depend."
"Oh! what a grand phrase! As if I could be essential to anybody's
happiness? You can't make me believe that!"
"You are mistaken. You are indispensable to mine."
"There! my declaration has been made," thought Fred, much relieved that
it was over, for he had been afraid to pronounce the decisive words.
"Well, if I thought that were true, I should be very sorry," said
Jacqueline, no longer smiling, but looking down fixedly at the pointed
toe of her little slipper; "because--"
She stopped suddenly. Her face flushed red.
"I don't know how to explain to you;" she said.
"Explain nothing," pleaded Fred; "all I ask is Yes, nothing more. There
is nothing else I care for."
She raised her head coldly and haughtily, yet her voice trembled as she
"You will force me to say it? Then, no! No!" she repeated, as if to
reaffirm her refusal.
Then, alarmed by Fred's silence, and above all by his looks, he who had
seemed so gay shortly before and whose face now showed an anguish such as
she had never yet seen on the face of man, she added:
"Oh, forgive me!--Forgive me," she repeated in a lower voice, holding out
her hand. He did not take it.
"You love some one else?" he asked, through his clenched teeth.
She opened her fan and affected to examine attentively the pink landscape
painted on it to match her dress.
"Why should you think so? I wish to be free."
"Free? Are you free? Is a woman ever free?"
Jacqueline shook her head, as if expressing vague dissent.
"Free at least to see a little of the world," she said, "to choose, to
use my wings, in short--"
And she moved her slender arms with an audacious gesture which had
nothing in common with the flight of that mystic dove upon which she had
meditated when holding the card given her by Giselle.
"Free to prefer some other man," said Fred, who held fast to his idea
with the tenacity of jealousy.
"Ah! that is different. Supposing there were anyone whom I liked--not
more, but differently from the way I like you--it is possible. But you
spoke of loving!"
"Your distinctions are too subtle," said Fred.
"Because, much as it seems to astonish you, I am quite capable of seeing
the difference," said Jacqueline, with the look and the accent of a
person who has had large experience. "I have loved once--a long time
ago, a very long time ago, a thousand years and more. Yes, I loved some
one, as perhaps you love me, and I suffered more than you will ever
suffer. It is ended; it is over--I think it is over forever."
"How foolish! At your age!"
"Yes, that kind of love is ended for me. Others may please me, others do
please me, as you said, but it is not the same thing. Would you like to
see the man I once loved?" asked Jacqueline, impelled by a juvenile
desire to exhibit her experience, and also aware instinctively that to
cast a scrap of past history to the curious sometimes turns off their
attention on another track. "He is near us now," she added.
And while Fred's angry eyes, under his frowning brows, were wandering all
round the salon, she pointed to Hubert Marien with a movement of her fan.
Marien was looking on at the dancing, with his old smile, not so
brilliant now as it had been. He now only smiled at beauty collectively,
which was well represented that evening in Madame de Nailles's salon.
Young girls 'en masse' continued to delight him, but his admiration as an
artist became less and less personal.
He had grown stout, his hair and beard were getting gray; he was
interested no longer in Savonarola, having obtained, thanks to his
picture, the medal of honor, and the Institute some months since had
opened its doors to him.
"Marien? You are laughing at me!" cried Fred.
"It is simply the truth."
Some magnetic influence at that moment caused the painter to turn his
eyes toward the spot where they were talking.
"We were speaking of you," said Jacqueline.
And her tone was so singular that he dared not ask what they were saying.
With humility which had in it a certain touch of bitterness he said,
"You might find something better to do than to talk good or evil of a
poor fellow who counts now for nothing."
"Counts for nothing! A fellow to be pitied!" cried Fred, "a man who has
just been elected to the Institute--you are hard to satisfy!"
Jacqueline sat looking at him like a young sorceress engaged in sticking
pins into the heart of a waxen figure of her enemy. She never missed an
opportunity of showing her implacable dislike of him.
She turned to Fred: "What I was telling you," she said, "I am quite
willing to repeat in his presence. The thing has lost its importance now
that he has become more indifferent to me than any other man in the
She stopped, hoping that Marien had understood what she was saying and
that he resented the humiliating avowal from her own lips that her
childish love was now only a memory.
"If that is the only confession you have to make to me," said Fred, who
had almost recovered his composure, "I can put up with my former rival,
and I pass a sponge over all that has happened in your long past of
seventeen years and a half, Jacqueline. Tell me only that at present you
like no one better than me."
She smiled a half-smile, but he did not see it. She made no answer.
"Is he here, too--like the other!" he asked, sternly.
And she saw his restless eyes turn for an instant to the conservatory,
where Madame de Villegry, leaning back in her armchair, and Gerard de
Cymier, on a low seat almost at her feet, were carrying on their platonic
"Oh! you must not think of quarrelling with him," cried Jacqueline,
frightened at the look Fred fastened on De Cymier.
"No, it would be of no use. I shall go out to Tonquin, that's all."
"Fred! You are not serious."
"You will see whether I am not serious. At this very moment I know a man
who will be glad to exchange with me."
"What! go and get yourself killed at Tonquin for a foolish little girl
like me, who is very, very fond of you, but hardly knows her own mind.
It would be absurd!"
"People are not always killed at Tonquin, but I must have new interests,
something to divert my mind from--"
"Fred! my dear Fred"--Jacqueline had suddenly become almost tender,
almost suppliant. "Your mother! Think of your mother! What would she
say? Oh, my God!"
"My mother must be allowed to think that I love my profession better than
all else. But, Jacqueline," continued the poor fellow, clinging in
despair to the very smallest hope, as a drowning man catches at a straw,
"if you do not, as you said, know exactly your own mind--if you would
like to question your own heart--I would wait--"
Jacqueline was biting the end of her fan--a conflict was taking place
within her breast. But to certain temperaments there is pleasure in
breaking a chain or in leaping a barrier; she said:
"Fred, I am too much your friend to deceive you."
At that moment M. de Cymier came toward them with his air of assurance:
"Mademoiselle, you forget that you promised me this waltz," he said.
"No, I never forget anything," she answered, rising.
Fred detained her an instant, saying, in a low voice:
"Forgive me. This moment, Jacqueline, is decisive. I must have an
answer. I never shall speak to you again of my sorrow. But decide now--
on the spot. Is all ended between us?"
"Not our old friendship, Fred," said Jacqueline, tears rising in her
"So be it, then, if you so will it. But our friendship never will show
itself unless you are in need of friendship, and then only with the
discretion that your present attitude toward me has imposed."
"Are you ready, Mademoiselle," said Gerard, who, to allow them to end
their conversation, had obligingly turned his attention to some madrigals
that Colette Odinska was laughing over.
Jacqueline shook her head resolutely, though at that moment her heart
felt as if it were in a vise, and the moisture in her eyes looked like
anything but a refusal. Then, without giving herself time for further
thought, she whirled away into the dance with M. de Cymier. It was over,
she had flung to the winds her chance for happiness, and wounded a heart
more cruelly than Hubert Marien had ever wounded hers. The most horrible
thing in this unending warfare we call love is that we too often repay to
those who love us the harm that has been done us by those whom we have
loved. The seeds of mistrust and perversity sown by one man or by one
woman bear fruit to be gathered by some one else.
A COMEDY AND A TRAGEDY
The departure of Frederic d'Argy for Tonquin occasioned a break in the
intercourse between his mother and the family of De Nailles. The wails
of Hecuba were nothing to the lamentations of poor Madame d'Argy; the
unreasonableness of her wrath and the exaggeration in her reproaches
hindered even Jacqueline from feeling all the remorse she might otherwise
have felt for her share in Fred's departure. She told her father, who
the first time in her life addressed her with some severity, that she
could not be expected to love all the young men who might threaten to go
to the wars, or to fling themselves from fourth-story windows, for her
"It was very indelicate and inconsiderate of Fred to tell any one that it
was my fault that he was doing anything so foolish," she said, with true
feminine deceit, "but he has taken the very worst possible means to make
me care for him. Everybody has too much to say about this matter which
concerns only him and me. Even Giselle thought proper to write me a
And she gave vent to her feelings in an exclamation of three syllables
that she had learned from the Odinskas, which meant: "I don't care!"
(je m'en moque).
But this was not true. She cared very much for Giselle's good opinion,
and for Madame d'Argy's friendship. She suffered much in her secret
heart at the thought of having given so much pain to Fred. She guessed
how deep it was by the step to which it had driven him. But there was in
her secret soul something more than all the rest, it was a puerile, but
delicious satisfaction in feeling her own importance, in having been able
to exercise an influence over one heart which might possibly extend to
that of M. de Cymier. She thought he might be gratified by knowing that
she had driven a young man to despair, if he guessed for whose sake she
had been so cruel. He knew it, of course. Madame de Nailles took care
that he should not be ignorant of it, and the pleasure he took in such a
proof of his power over a young heart was not unlike that pleasure
Jacqueline experienced in her coquetry--which crushed her better
feelings. He felt proud of the sacrifice this beautiful girl had made
for his sake, though he did not consider himself thereby committed to any
decision, only he felt more attached to her than ever. Ever since the
day when Madame de Villegry had first introduced him at the house of
Madame de Nailles, he had had great pleasure in going there. The
daughter of the house was more and more to his taste, but his liking for
her was not such as to carry him beyond prudence. "If I chose," he would
say to himself after every time he met her, "if I chose I could own that
jewel. I have only to stretch out my hand and have it given me." And
the next morning, after going to sleep full of that pleasant thought, he
would awake glad to find that he was still as free as ever, and able to
carry on a flirtation with a woman of the world, which imposed no
obligations upon him, and yet at the same time make love to a young girl
whom he would gladly have married but for certain reports which were
beginning to circulate among men of business concerning the financial
position of M. de Nailles.
They said that he was withdrawing money from secure investments to repair
(or to increase) considerable losses made by speculation, and that he
operated recklessly on the Bourse. These rumors had already withdrawn
Marcel d'Etaples from the list of his daughter's suitors. The young
fellow was a captain of Hussars, who had no scruple in declaring the
reason of his giving up his interest in the young lady. Gerard de
Cymier, more prudent, waited and watched, thinking it would be quite time
enough to go to the bottom of things when he found himself called upon to
make a decision, and greatly interested meantime in the daily increase of
Jacqueline's beauty. It was evident she cared for him. After all, it
was doing the little thing no harm to let her live on in the intoxication
of vanity and hope, and to give her something to dwell upon in her
innocent dreams. Never did Gerard allow himself to overstep the line he
had marked out for himself; a glance, a slight pressure of the hand,
which might have been intentional, or have meant nothing, a few ambiguous
words in which an active imagination might find something to dream about,
a certain way of passing his arm round her slight waist which would have
meant much had it not been done in public to the sound of music, were all
the proofs the young diplomatist had ever given of an attraction that was
real so far as consisted with his complete selfishness, joined to his
professional prudence, and that systematic habit of taking up fancies at
any time for anything, which prevents each fancy as it occurs from
ripening into passion.
He alluded indirectly to Fred's departure in a way that turned it into
ridicule. While playing a game of 'boston' he whispered into
Jacqueline's ear something about the old-fashionedness and stupidity of
Paul and Virginia, and his opinion of "calf-love," as the English call an
early attachment, and something about the right of every girl to know a
suitor long before she consents to marry him. He said he thought that
the days of courtship must be the most delightful in the life of a woman,
and that a man who wished to cut them short was a fellow without delicacy
From this Jacqueline drew the conclusion that he was not willing to
resemble such a fellow, and was more and more persuaded that there was
tenderness in the way he pressed her waist, and that his voice had the
softness of a caress when he spoke to her. He made many inquiries as to
what she liked and what she wished for in the future, as if his great
object in all things was to anticipate her wishes. As for his intimacy
with Madame de Villegry, Jacqueline thought nothing of it,
notwithstanding her habitual mistrust of those she called old women.
In the first place, Madame de Villegry was her own mistress, nothing
hindered them from having been married long ago had they wished it;
besides, had not Madame de Villegry brought the young man to their house
and let every one see, even Jacqueline herself, what was her object in
doing so? In this matter she was their ally, a most zealous and kind
ally, for she was continually advising her young friend as to what was
most becoming to her and how she might make herself most attractive to
men in general, with little covert allusions to the particular tastes of
Gerard, which she said she knew as well as if he had been her brother.
All this was lightly insinuated, but never insisted upon, with the tact
which stood Madame de Villegry in stead of talent, and which had enabled
her to perform some marvellous feats upon the tight-rope without losing
her balance completely. She, too, made fun of the tragic determination
of Fred, which all those who composed the society of the De Nailles had
been made aware of by the indiscreet lamentations of Madame d'Argy.
"Is not Jacqueline fortunate?" cried. Colette Odinska, who, herself
always on a high horse, looked on love in its tragic aspect, and would
have liked to resemble Marie Stuart as much as she could, "is she not
fortunate? She has had a man who has gone abroad to get himself killed
--and all for her!"
Colette imagined herself under the same circumstances, making the most of
a slain lover, with a crape veil covering her fair hair, her mourning
copied from that of her divorced sister, who wore her weeds so
charmingly, but who was getting rather tired of a single life.
As for Miss Kate Sparks and Miss Nora, they could not understand why the
breaking of half-a-dozen hearts should not be the prelude to every
marriage. That, they said with much conviction, was always the case in
America, and a girl was thought all the more of who had done so.
Jacqueline, however, thought more than was reasonable about the dangers
that the friend of her childhood was going to encounter through her
fault. Fred's departure would have lent him a certain prestige, had not
a powerful new interest stepped in to divert her thoughts. Madame
d'Avrigny was getting up her annual private theatricals, and wanted
Jacqueline to take the principal part in the play, saying that she ought
to put her lessons in elocution to some use. The piece chosen was to
illustrate a proverb, and was entirely new. It was as unexceptionable as
it was amusing; the most severe critic could have found no fault with its
morality or with its moral, which turned on the eagerness displayed by
young girls nowadays to obtain diplomas. Scylla and Charybdis was its
name. Its story was that of a young bride, who, thinking to please a
husband, a stupid and ignorant man, was trying to obtain in secret a high
place in the examination at the Sorbonne--'un brevet superieur'. The
husband, disquieted by the mystery, is at first suspicious, then jealous,
and then is overwhelmed with humiliation when he discovers that his wife
knows more of everything than himself. He ends by imploring her to give
up her higher education if she wishes to please him. The little play had
all the modern loveliness and grace which Octave Feuillet alone can give,
and it contained a lesson from which any one might profit; which was by
no means always the case with Madame d'Avrigny's plays, which too often
were full of risky allusions, of critical situations, and the like;
likely, in short, to "sail too close to the wind," as Fred had once
described them. But Madame d'Avrigny's prime object was the amusement of
society, and society finds pleasure in things which, if innocence
understood them, would put her to the blush. This play, however, was an
exception. There had been very little to cut out this time. Madame de
Nailles had been asked to take the mother's part, but she declined, not
caring to act such a character in a house where years before in all her
glory she had made a sensation as a young coquette. So Madame d'Avrigny
had to take the part herself, not sorry to be able to superintend
everything on the stage, and to prompt Dolly, if necessary--Dolly, who
had but four words to say, which she always forgot, but who looked lovely
in a little cap as a femme de chambre.
People had been surprised that M. de Cymier should have asked for the
part of the husband, a local magistrate, stiff and self-important, whom
everybody laughed at. Jacqueline alone knew why he had chosen it: it
would give him the opportunity of giving her two kisses. Of course those
kisses were to be reserved for the representation, but whether
intentionally or otherwise, the young husband ventured upon them at every
rehearsal, in spite of the general outcry--not, however, very much in
earnest, for it is well understood that in private theatricals certain
liberties may be allowed, and M. de Cymier had never been remarkable for
reserve when he acted at the clubs, where the female parts were taken by
ladies from the smaller theatres. In this school he had acquired some
reputation as an amateur actor. "Besides," as he remarked on making his
apology, "we shall do it very awkwardly upon the stage if we are not
allowed to practise it beforehand." Jacqueline burst out laughing, and
did not make much show of opposition. To play the part of his wife, to
hear him say to her, to respond with the affectionate and familiar 'toi',
was so amusing! It was droll to see her cut out her husband in
chemistry, history, and grammar, and make him confound La Fontaine with
Corneille. She had such a little air while doing it! And at the close,
when he said to her: "If I give you a pony to-morrow, and a good hearty
kiss this very minute, shall you be willing to give up getting that
degree?" she responded, with such gusto: "Indeed, I shall!" and her
manner was so eager, so boyish, so full of fun, that she was wildly
applauded, while Gerard embraced her as heartily as he liked, to make up
to himself for her having had, as his wife, the upper hand.
All this kissing threw him rather off his balance, and he might soon have
sealed his fate, had not a very sad event occurred, which restored his
The dress rehearsal was to take place one bright spring day at about four
o'clock in the afternoon. A large number of guests was assembled at the
house of Madame d'Avrigny. The performance had been much talked about
beforehand in society. The beauty, the singing, and the histrionic
powers of the principal actress had been everywhere extolled. Fully
conscious of what was expected of her, and eager to do herself credit in
every way, Jacqueline took advantage of Madame Strahlberg's presence to
run over a little song, which she was to--sing between the acts and in
which she could see no meaning whatever. This little song, which, to
most of the ladies present, seemed simply idiotic, made the men in the
audience cry "Oh!" as if half-shocked, and then "Encore! Encore!" in a
sort of frenzy. It was a so-called pastoral effusion, in which Colinette
rhymed with herbette, and in which the false innocence of the eighteenth
century was a cloak for much indelicate allusion.
"I never," said Jacqueline in self-defense, before she began the song,
"sang anything so stupid. And that is saying much when one thinks of all
the nonsensical words that people set to music! It's a marvel how any
one can like this stuff. Do tell me what there is in it?" she added,
turning to Gerard, who was charmed by her ignorance.
Standing beside the grand piano, with her arms waving as she sang,
repeating, by the expression of her eyes, the question she had asked and
to which she had received no answer, she was singing the verses she
considered nonsense with as much point as if she had understood them,
thanks to the hints given her by Madame Strahlberg, who was playing her
accompaniment, when the entrance of a servant, who pronounced her name
aloud, made a sudden interruption. "Mademoiselle de Nailles is wanted at
home at once. Modeste has come for her."
Madame d'Avrigny went out to say to the old servant: "She can not
possibly go home with you! It is only half an hour since she came.
The rehearsal is just beginning."
But something Modeste said in answer made her give a little cry, full of
consternation. She came quickly back, and going up to Jacqueline:
"My dear," she said, "you must go home at once--there is bad news, your
father is ill."
The solemnity of Madame d'Avrigny's voice, the pity in her expression,
the affection with which she spoke and above all her total indifference
to the fate of her rehearsal, frightened Jacqueline. She rushed away,
not waiting to say good-by, leaving behind her a general murmur of "Poor
thing!" while Madame d'Avrigny, recovering from her first shock, was
already beginning to wonder--her instincts as an impresario coming once
more to the front--whether the leading part might not be taken by
Isabelle Ray. She would have to send out two hundred cards, at least,
and put off her play for another fortnight. What a pity! It seemed as
if misfortunes always happened just so as to interfere with pleasures.
The fiacre which had brought Modeste was at the door. The old nurse
helped her young lady into it.
"What has happened to papa?" cried Jacqueline, impetuously.
There was something horrible in this sudden transition from gay
excitement to the sharpest anxiety.
"Nothing--that is to say--he is very sick. Don't tremble like that, my
darling-courage!" stammered Modeste, who was frightened by her
"He was taken sick, you say. Where? How happened it?"
"In his study. Pierre had just brought him his letters. We thought we
heard a noise as if a chair had been thrown down, and a sort of cry.
I ran in to see. He was lying at full length on the floor."
"And now? How is he now?"
"We did what we could for him. Madame came back. He is lying on his
Modeste covered her face with her hands.
"You have not told me all. What else?"
"Mon Dieu! you knew your poor father had heart disease. The last time
the doctor saw him he thought his legs had swelled--"
"Had!" Jacqueline heard only that one word. It meant that the life of
her father was a thing of the past. Hardly waiting till the fiacre could
be stopped, she sprang out, rushed into the house, opened the door of her
father's chamber, pushing aside a servant who tried to stop her, and fell
upon her knees beside the bed where lay the body of her father, white and
"Papa! My poor dear--dear papa!"
The hand she pressed to her lips was as cold as ice. She raised her
frightened eyes to the face over which the great change from life to
death had passed. "What does it mean?" Jacqueline had never looked on
death before, but she knew this was not sleep.
"Oh, speak to me, papa! It is I--it is Jacqueline!"
Her stepmother tried to raise her--tried to fold her in her arms.
"Let me alone!" she cried with horror.
It seemed to her as if her father, where he was now, so far from her, so
far from everything, might have the power to look into human hearts, and
know the perfidy he had known nothing of when he was living. He might
see in her own heart, too, her great despair. All else seemed small and
of no consequence when death was present.
Oh! why had she not been a better daughter, more loving, more devoted?
why had she ever cared for anything but to make him happy?
She sobbed aloud, while Madame de Nailles, pressing her handkerchief to
her eyes, stood at the foot of the bed, and the doctor, too, was near,
whispering to some one whom Jacqueline at first had not perceived--the
friend of the family, Hubert Marien.
Marien there? Was it not natural that, so intimate as he had always been
with the dead man, he should have hastened to offer his services to the
Jacqueline flung herself upon her father's corpse, as if to protect it
from profanation. She had an impulse to bear it away with her to some
desert spot where she alone could have wept over it.
She lay thus a long time, beside herself with grief.
The flowers which covered the bed and lay scattered on the floor, gave a
festal appearance to the death-chamber. They had been purchased for a
fete, but circumstances had changed their destination. That evening
there was to have been a reception in the house of M. de Nailles, but the
unexpected guest that comes without an invitation had arrived before the
music and the dancers.
THE STORM BREAKS
Monsieur de Nailles was dead, struck down suddenly by what is called
indefinitely heart-failure. The trouble in that organ from which he had
long suffered had brought on what might have been long foreseen, and yet
every one seemed, stupefied by the event. It came upon them like a
thunderbolt. It often happens so when people who are really ill persist
in doing all that may be done with safety by other persons. They
persuaded themselves, and those about them are easily persuaded, that
small remedies will prolong indefinitely a state of things which is
precarious to the last degree. Friends are ready to believe, when the
sufferer complains that his work is too hard for him, that he thinks too
much of his ailments and that he exaggerates trifles to which they are
well accustomed, but which are best known to him alone. When M. de
Nailles, several weeks before his death, had asked to be excused and to
stay at home instead of attending some large gathering, his wife, and
even Jacqueline, would try to convince him that a little amusement would
be good for him; they were unwilling to leave him to the repose he
needed, prescribed for him by the doctors, who had been unanimous that he
must "put down the brakes," give less attention to business, avoid late
hours and over-exertion of all kinds. "And, above all," said one of the
lights of science whom he had consulted recently about certain feelings
of faintness which were a bad symptom, "above all, you must keep yourself
from mental anxiety."
How could he, when his fortune, already much impaired, hung on chances as
uncertain as those in a game of roulette? What nonsense! The failure of
a great financial company had brought about a crisis on the Bourse. The
news of the inability of Wermant, the 'agent de change', to meet his
engagements, had completed the downfall of M. de Nailles. Not only
death, but ruin, had entered that house, where, a few hours before,
luxury and opulence had seemed to reign.
"We don't know whether there will be anything left for us to live upon,"
cried Madame de Nailles, with anguish, even while her husband's body lay
in the chamber of death, and Jacqueline, kneeling beside it, wept,
unwilling to receive comfort or consolation.
She turned angrily upon her stepmother and cried:
"What matter? I have no father--there is nothing else I care for."
But from that moment a dreadful thought, a thought she was ashamed of,
which made her feel a monster of selfishness, rose in her mind, do what
she would to hinder it. Jacqueline was sensible that she cared for
something else; great as was her sense of loss, a sort of reckless
curiosity seemed haunting her, while all the time she felt that her great
grief ought not to give place to anything besides. "How would Gerard de
Cymier behave in these circumstances?" She thought about it all one
dreadful night as she and Modeste, who was telling her beads softly,
sat in the faint light of the death-chamber. She thought of it at dawn,
when, after one of those brief sleeps which come to the young under all
conditions, she resumed with a sigh a sense of surrounding realities.
Almost in the same instant she thought: "My dear father will never wake
again," and "Does he love me?--does he now wish me to be his wife?--
will he take me away?" The devil, which put this thought into her heart,
made her eager to know the answer to these questions. He suggested how
dreadful life with her stepmother would be if no means of escape were
offered her. He made her foresee that her stepmother would marry again--
would marry Marien. "But I shall not be there!" she cried, "I will not
countenance such an infamy!" Oh, how she hoped Gerard de Cymier loved
her! The hypocritical tears of Madame de Nailles disgusted her. She
could not bear to have such false grief associated with her own.
Men in black, with solemn faces, came and bore away the body, no longer
like the form of the father she had loved. He had gone from her forever.
Pompous funeral rites, little in accordance with the crash that soon
succeeded them, were superintended by Marien, who, in the absence of near
relatives, took charge of everything. He seemed to be deeply affected,
and behaved with all possible kindness and consideration to Jacqueline,
who could not, however, bring herself to thank him, or even to look at
him. She hated him with an increase of resentment, as if the soul of her
dead father, who now knew the truth, had passed into her own.
Meantime, M. de Cymier took care to inform himself of the state of
things. It was easy enough to do so. All Paris was talking of the
shipwreck in which life and fortune had been lost by a man whose
kindliness as a host at his wife's parties every one had appreciated.
That was what came, people said, of striving after big dividends! The
house was to be sold, with the horses, the pictures, and the furniture.
What a change for his poor wife and daughter! There were others who
suffered by the Wermant crash, but those were less interesting than the
De Nailles. M. de Belvan found himself left by his father-in-law's
failure with a wife on his hands who not only had not a sou, but who was
the daughter of an 'agent de change' who had behaved dishonorably.
This was a text for dissertations on the disgrace of marrying for money;
those who had done the same thing, minus the same consequences, being
loudest in reprobating alliances of that kind. M. de Cymier listened
attentively to such talk, looking and saying the right things, and as he
heard more and more about the deplorable condition of M. de Nailles's
affairs, he congratulated himself that a prudent presentiment had kept
him from asking the hand of Jacqueline. He had had vague doubts as to
the firm foundation of the opulence which made so charming a frame for
her young beauty; it seemed to him as if she were now less beautiful than
he had imagined her; the enchantment she had exercised upon him was
thrown off by simple considerations of good sense. And yet he gave a
long sigh of regret when he thought she was unattainable except by
marriage. He, however, thanked heaven that he had not gone far enough
to have compromised himself with her. The most his conscience could
reproach him with was an occasional imprudence in moments of
forgetfulness; no court of honor could hold him bound to declare himself
her suitor. The evening that he made up his mind to this he wrote two
letters, very nearly alike; one was to Madame d'Avrigny, the other to
Madame de Nailles, announcing that, having received orders to join the
Embassy to which he was attached at Vienna, he was about to depart at
once, with great regret that he should not be able to take leave of any
one. To Madame d'Avrigny he made apologies for having to give up his
part in her theatricals; he entreated Madame de Nailles to accept both
for herself and for Mademoiselle Jacqueline his deepest condolences and
the assurance of his sympathy. The manner in which this was said was all
it ought to have been, except that it might have been rather more brief.
M. de Cymier said more than was necessary about his participation in
their grief, because he was conscious of a total lack of sympathy. He
begged the ladies would forgive him if, from feelings of delicacy and a
sense of the respect due to a great sorrow, he did not, before leaving
Paris, which he was about do to probably for a long time, personally
present to them 'ses hommages attristes'. Then followed a few lines in
which he spoke of the pleasant recollections he should always retain of
the hospitality he had enjoyed under M. de Nailles's roof, in a way that
gave them clearly to understand that he had no expectation of ever
entering their family on a more intimate footing.
Madame de Nailles received this letter just as she had had a conversation
with a man of business, who had shown her how complete was the ruin for
which in a great measure she herself was responsible. She had no longer
any illusions as to her position. When the estate had been settled there
would be nothing left but poverty, not only for herself, who, having
brought her husband no dot, had no right to consider herself wronged by
the bankruptcy, but for Jacqueline, whose fortune, derived from her
mother, had suffered under her father's management (there are such men--
unfaithful guardians of a child's property, but yet good fathers) in
every way in which it was possible to evade the provisions of the Code
intended to protect the rights of minor children. In the little salon
so charmingly furnished, where never before had sorrow or sadness been
discussed, Madame de Nailles poured out her complaints to her
stepdaughter and insisted upon plans of strict economy, when M. de
Cymier's letter was brought in.
"Read!" said the Baroness, handing the strange document to Jacqueline,
after she had read it through.
Then she leaned back in her chair with a gesture which signified: "This
is the last straw!" and remained motionless, apparently overwhelmed,
with her face covered by one hand, but furtively watching the face of the
girl so cruelly forsaken.
That face told nothing, for pride supplies some sufferers with necessary
courage. Jacqueline sat for some time with her eyes fixed on the
decisive adieu which swept away what might have been her secret hope.
The paper did not tremble in her hand, a half-smile of contempt passed
over her mouth. The answer to the restless question that had intruded
itself upon her in the first moments of her grief was now before her.
Its promptness, its polished brutality, had given her a shock, but not
the pain she had expected. Perhaps her great grief--the real, the true,
the grief death brings--recovered its place in her heart, and prevented
her from feeling keenly any secondary emotion. Perhaps this man, who
could pay court to her in her days of happiness and disappear when the
first trouble came, seemed to her not worth caring for.
She silently handed back the letter to her stepmother.
"No more than I expected," said the Baroness.
"Indeed?" replied Jacqueline with complete indifference. She wished to
give no opening to any expressions of sympathy on the part of Madame de
"Poor Madame d'Avrigny," she added, "has bad luck; all her actors seem to
be leaving her."
This speech was the vain bravado of a young soldier going into action.
The poor child betrayed herself to the experienced woman, trained either
to detect or to practise artifice, and who found bitter amusement in
watching the girl's assumed 'sang-froid'. But the mask fell off at the
first touch of genuine sympathy. When Giselle, forgetful of a certain
coolness between them ever since Fred's departure, came to clasp her in
her arms, she showed only her true self, a girl suffering all the
bitterness of a cruel, humiliating desertion. Long talks ensued between
the friends, in which Jacqueline poured into Giselle's ear her sad
discoveries in the past, her sorrows and anxieties in the present, and
her vague plans for the future. "I must go away," she said; "I must
escape somewhere; I can not go on living with Madame de Nailles--I should
go mad, I should be tempted every day to upbraid her with her conduct."
Giselle made no attempt to curb an excitement which she knew would resist
all she could say to calm it. She feigned agreement, hoping thereby to
increase her future influence, and advised her friend to seek in a
convent the refuge that she needed. But she must do nothing rashly; she
should only consider it a temporary retreat whose motive was a wish to
remain for a while within reach of religious consolation. In that way
she would give people nothing to talk about, and her step mother could
not be offended. It was never of any use to get out of a difficulty by
breaking all the glass windows with a great noise, and good resolutions
are made firmer by being matured in quietness. Such were the lessons
Giselle herself had been taught by the Benedictine nuns, who, however
deficient they might be in the higher education of women, knew at least
how to bring up young girls with a view to making them good wives.
Giselle illustrated this day by day in her relations to a husband as
disagreeable as a husband well could be, a man of small intelligence,
who was not even faithful to her. But she did not cite herself as an
example. She never talked about herself, or her own difficulties.
"You are an angel of sense and goodness," sobbed Jacqueline. "I will do
whatever you wish me to do."
"Count upon me--count upon all your friends," said Madame de Talbrun,
And then, enumerating the oldest and the truest of these friends, she
unluckily named Madame d'Argy. Jacqueline drew herself back at once:
"Oh, for pity's sake!" she cried, "don't mention them to me!"
Already a comparison between Fred's faithful affection and Gerard de
Cymier's desertion had come into her mind, but she had refused to
entertain it, declaring resolutely to herself that she never should
repent her refusal. She was sore, she was angry with all men, she wished
all were like Cymier or like Marien, that she might hate every one of
them; she came to the conclusion in her heart of hearts that all of them,
even the best, if put to the proof, would turn out selfish. She liked to
think so--to believe in none of them. Thus it happened that an
unexpected visit from Fred's mother, among those that she received
in her first days of orphanhood, was particularly agreeable to her.
Madame d'Argy, on hearing of the death and of the ruin of M. de Nailles,
was divided by two contradictory feelings. She clearly saw the hand of
Providence in what had happened: her son was in the squadron on its way
to attack Formosa; he was in peril from the climate, in peril from
Chinese bullets, and assuredly those who had brought him into peril could
not be punished too severely; on the other hand, the last mail from
Tonquin had brought her one of those great joys which always incline us
to be merciful. Fred had so greatly distinguished himself in a series of
fights upon the river Min that he had been offered his choice between the
Cross of the Legion of Honor or promotion. He told his mother now that
he had quite recovered from a wound he had received which had brought him
some glory, but which he assured her had done him no bodily harm, and he
repeated to her what he would not tell her at first, some words of praise
from Admiral Courbet of more value in his eyes than any reward.
Triumphant herself, and much moved by pity for Jacqueline, Madame d'Argy
felt as if she must put an end to a rupture which could not be kept up
when a great sorrow had fallen on her old friends, besides which she
longed to tell every one, those who had been blind and ungrateful in
particular, that Fred had proved himself a hero. So Jacqueline and her
stepmother saw her arrive as if nothing had ever come between them.
There were kisses and tears, and a torrent of kindly meant questions,
affectionate explanations, and offers of service. But Fred's mother
could not help showing her own pride and happiness to those in sorrow.
They congratulated her with sadness. Madame d'Argy would have liked to
think that the value of what she had lost was now made plain to
Jacqueline. And if it caused her one more pang--what did it matter?
He and his mother had suffered too. It was the turn of others. God was
just. Resentment, and kindness, and a strange mixed feeling of
forgiveness and revenge contended together in the really generous heart
of Madame d'Argy, but that heart was still sore within her. Pity,
however, carried the day, and had it not been for the irritating coldness
of "that little hard-hearted thing," as she called Jacqueline, she would
have entirely forgiven her. She never suspected that the exaggerated
reserve of manner that offended her was owing to Jacqueline's dread
(commendable in itself) of appearing to wish in her days of misfortune
for the return of one she had rejected in the time of prosperity.
In spite of the received opinion that society abandons those who are
overtaken by misfortune, all the friends of the De Nailles flocked to
offer their condolences to the widow and the orphan with warm
demonstrations of interest. Curiosity, a liking to witness, or to
experience, emotion, the pleasure of being able to tell what has been
seen and heard, to find out new facts and repeat them again to others,
joined to a sort of vague, commonplace, almost intrusive pity, are
sentiments, which sometimes in hours of great disaster, produce what
appears to wear the look of sympathy. A fortnight after M. de Nailles's
death, between the acts of Scylla and Charybdis, the principal parts in
which were taken by young d'Etaples and Isabelle Ray, the company, as it
ate ices, was glibly discussing the real drama which had produced in
their own elegant circle much of the effect a blow has upon an ant-hill--
fear, agitation, and a tumultuous rush to the scene of the disaster.
Great indignation was expressed against the man who had risked the
fortune of his family in speculation. Oh! the thing had been going on
for a long while. His fortune had been gradually melting away;
Grandchaux was loaded down with mortgages and would bring almost nothing
at a forced sale.
Everybody forgot that had M. de Nailles's speculations been successful
they would have been called matters of business, conducted with great
ability on a large scale. When a performer falls from the tightrope, who
remembers all the times he has not failed? It is simply said that he
fell from his own carelessness.
"The poor Baroness is touchingly resigned," said Madame de Villegry, with
a deep sigh; "and heaven knows how many other cares she has besides the
loss of money! I don't mean only the death of her husband--and you know
how much they were attached to each other--I am speaking of that
unaccountable resolution of Jacqueline's."
Madame d'Avrigny here came forward with her usual equanimity which
nothing disturbed, unless it were something which interfered with the
success of her salon.
She was of course very sorry for her friends in trouble, but the
vicissitudes that had happened to her theatricals she had more at heart.
"After all," she said, "the first act did not go off badly, did it? The
musical part made up for the rest. That divine Strahlberg is ready for
any emergency. How well she sang that air of 'La Petite Mariee!' It was
exquisite, but I regretted Jacqueline. She was so charming in that
lively little part. What a catastrophe!
What a terrible catastrophe! Were you speaking of the retreat she wishes
to make in a convent? Well, I quite understand how she feels about it!
I should feel the same myself. In the bewilderment of a first grief one
does not care to see anything of the world. 'Mon Dieu'! youth always
has these exaggerated notions. She will come back to us. Poor little
thing! Of course it was no fault of hers, and I should not think of
blaming Monsieur de Cymier. The exigencies of his career--but you all
must own that unexpected things happen so suddenly in this life that it
is enough to discourage any one who likes to open her house and provide
amusement for her friends."
Every one present pitied her for the contretemps over which she had
triumphed so successfully. Then she resumed, serenely:
"Don't you think that Isabelle played the part almost as well as
Jacqueline? Up to the last moment I was afraid that something would go
wrong. When one gets into a streak of ill-luck--but all went off to
perfection, thank heaven!"
Meantime Madame Odinska was whispering to one of those who sat near her
her belief that Jacqueline would never get over her father's loss.
"It would not astonish me," she said, "to hear that the child, who has
a noble nature, would remain in the convent and take the veil."
Any kind of heroic deed seemed natural to this foolish enthusiast, who,
as a matter of fact, in her own life, had never shown any tendency to
heroic virtues; her mission in life had seemed to be to spoil her
daughters in every possible way, and to fling away more money than
belonged to her.
"Really? Was she so very fond of her father!" asked Madame Ray,
incredulously. "When he was alive, they did not seem to make much of
him in his own house. Maybe this retreat is a good way of getting over
a little wound to her 'amour-propre'."
"The proper thing, I think," said Madame d'Etaples, "would be for the
mother and daughter to keep together, to bear the troubles before them
hand in hand. Jacqueline does not seem to think much of the last wishes
of the father she pretends to be so fond of. The Baroness showed me,
with many tears, a letter he left joined to his will, which was written
some years ago, and which now, of course, is of no value. He told mother
and daughter to take care of each other and hoped they would always
remain friends, loving each other for love of him. Jacqueline's conduct
amazes me; it looks like ingratitude."
"Oh! she is a hard-hearted little thing! I always thought so!" said
Madame de Villegry, carelessly.
Here the rising of the curtain stopped short these discussions, which
displayed so much good-nature and perspicacity. But some laid the blame
on the influence of that little bigot of a Talbrun, who had secretly
blown up the fire of religious enthusiasm in Jacqueline, when Madame
d'Avrigny's energetic "Hush!" put an end to the discussion. It was time
to come back to more immediate interests, to the play which went on in
spite of wind and tide.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A mother's geese are always swans
Bathers, who exhibited themselves in all degrees of ugliness
Fred's verses were not good, but they were full of dejection
Hang out the bush, but keep no tavern
A familiarity which, had he known it, was not flattering
His sleeplessness was not the insomnia of genius
Importance in this world are as easily swept away as the sand
Natural longing, that we all have, to know the worst
Notion of her husband's having an opinion of his own
Pride supplies some sufferers with necessary courage
Seemed to enjoy themselves, or made believe they did
This unending warfare we call love
Unwilling to leave him to the repose he needed
By THERESE BENTZON (MME. BLANC)