Part 1 out of 2
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
By THERESE BENTZON (MME. BLANC)
THE BLUE BAND
Love, like any other human malady, should be treated according to the age
and temperament of the sufferer. Madame de Nailles, who was a very keen
observer, especially where her own interests were concerned, lent herself
with the best possible grace to everything that might amuse and distract
Jacqueline, of whom she had by this time grown afraid. Not that she now
dreaded her as a rival. The attitude of coldness and reserve that the
young girl had adopted in her intercourse with Marien, her stepmother
could see, was no evidence of coquetry. She showed, in her behavior to
the friend of the family, a freedom from embarrassment which was new to
her, and a frigidity which could not possibly have been assumed so
persistently. No! what struck Madame de Nailles was the suddenness of
this transformation. Jacqueline evidently took no further interest in
Marien; she had apparently no longer any affection for herself--she, who
had been once her dear little mamma, whom she had loved so tenderly, now
felt herself to be considered only as a stepmother. Fraulein Schult,
too, received no more confidences. What did it all mean?
Had Jacqueline, through any means, discovered a secret, which, in her
hands, might be turned into a most dangerous weapon? She had a way of
saying before the guilty pair: "Poor papa!" with an air of pity, as she
kissed him, which made Madame de Nailles's flesh creep, and sometimes she
would amuse herself by making ambiguous remarks which shot arrows of
suspicion into a heart already afraid. "I feel sure," thought the
Baroness, "that she has found out everything. But, no! it seems
impossible. How can I discover what she knows?"
Jacqueline's revenge consisted in leaving her stepmother in doubt. She
more than suspected, not without cause, that Fraulein Schult was false to
her, and had the wit to baffle all the clever questions of her
"My worship of a man of genius--a great artist? Oh! that has all come
to an end since I have found out that his devotion belongs to an elderly
lady with a fair complexion and light hair. I am only sorry for him."
Jacqueline had great hopes that these cruel words would be reported--as
they were--to her stepmother, and, of course, they did not mitigate the
Baroness's uneasiness. Madame de Nailles revenged herself for this
insult by dismissing the innocent echo of the impertinence--of course,
under some plausible pretext. She felt it necessary also to be very
cautious how she treated the enemy whom she was forced to shelter under
her own roof. Her policy--a policy imposed on her by force of
circumstances--was one of great indulgence and consideration, so that
Jacqueline, soon feeling that she was for the present under no control,
took the bit between her teeth. No other impression can adequately
convey an idea of the sort of fury with which she plunged into pleasure
and excitement, a state of mind which apparently, without any transition,
succeeded her late melancholy. She had done with sentiment, she thought,
forever. She meant to be practical and positive, a little Parisienne,
and "in the swim." There were plenty of examples among those she knew
that she could follow. Berthe, Helene, and Claire Wermant were excellent
leaders in that sort of thing. Those three daughters of the 'agent de
change' were at this time at Treport, in charge of a governess, who let
them do whatever they pleased, subject only to be scolded by their
father, who came down every Saturday to Treport, on that train that was
called the 'train des maris'. They had made friends with two or three
American girls, who were called "fast," and Jacqueline was soon enrolled
in the ranks of that gay company.
The cure that was begun on the wooden horse at Blackfern's was completed
on the sea-shore.
The girls with whom she now associated were nine or ten little imps of
Satan, who, with their hair flying in the wind and their caps over one
ear, made the quiet beach ring with their boy-like gayety. They were
called "the Blue Band," because of a sort of uniform that they adopted.
We speak of them intentionally as masculine, and not feminine, because
what is masculine best suited their appearance and behavior, for, though
all could flirt like coquettes of experience, they were more like boys
than girls, if judged by their age and their costume.
These Blues lived close to one another on that avenue that is edged with
chalets, cottages, and villas, whose lower floors are abundantly provided
with great glass windows, which seem to let the ocean into their very
rooms, as well as to lay bare everything that passes in them to the
public eye, as frankly as if their inmates bivouacked in the open street.
Nothing was private; neither the meals, nor the coming and going of
visitors. It must be said, however, that the inhabitants of these glass
houses were very seldom at home. Bathing, and croquet, or tennis, at low
water, on the sands, searching for shells, fishing with nets, dances at
the Casino, little family dances alternating with concerts, to which even
children went till nine o'clock, would seem enough to fill up the days of
these young people, but they had also to make boating excursions to
Cayeux, Crotoy, and Hourdel, besides riding parties in the beautiful
country that surrounded the Chateau of Lizerolles, where they usually
dismounted on their return.
At Lizerolles they were received by Madame d'Argy, who was delighted that
they provided safe amusement for her son, who appeared in the midst of
this group of half-grown girls like a young cock among the hens of his
harem. Frederic d'Argy, the young naval officer, who was enjoying his
holiday, as M. de Nailles had said, was enjoying it exceedingly. How
often, long after, on board the ship Floye, as he paced the silent
quarter-deck, far from any opportunity of flirting, did he recall the
forms and faces of these young girls, some dark, some fair, some rosy-
half-women and half-children, who made much of him, and scolded him, and
teased him, and contended for his attentions, while no better could be
had, on purpose to tease one another. Oh! what a delightful time he had
had! They did not leave him to himself one moment. He had to lift them
into their saddles, to assist them as they clambered over the rocks, to
superintend their attempts at swimming, to dance with them all by turns,
and to look after them in the difficult character of Mentor, for he was
older than they, and were they not entrusted to his care? What a serious
responsibility! Had not Mentor even found himself too often timid and
excited when one little firm foot was placed in his hand, when his arm
was round one little waist, when he could render her as a cavalier a
thousand little services, or accept with gladness the role of her
consoler. He did everything he could think of to please them, finding
all of them charming, though Jacqueline never ceased to be the one he
preferred, a preference which she might easily have inferred from the
poor lad's unusual timidity and awkwardness when he was brought into
contact with her. But she paid no attention to his devotion, accepting
himself and all he did for her as, in some sort, her personal property.
He was of no consequence, he did not count; what was he but her comrade
and former playfellow?
Happily for Fred, he took pleasure in the familiarity with which she
treated him--a familiarity which, had he known it, was not flattering.
He was in the seventh heaven for a whole fortnight, during which he was
the recipient of more dried flowers and bows of ribbon than he ever got
in all the rest of his life--the American girls were very fond of giving
keepsakes--but then his star waned. He was no longer the only one. The
grown-up brother of the Wermants came to Treport--Raoul, with his air of
a young man about town--a boulevardier, with his jacket cut in the latest
fashion, with his cockle-shell of a boat, which he managed as well on
salt water as on fresh, sculling with his arms bare, a cigarette in his
mouth, a monocle in his eye, and a pith-helmet, such as is worn in India.
The young ladies used to gather on the sands to watch him as he struck
the water with the broad blade of his scull, near enough for them to see
and to admire his nautical ability. They thought all his jokes amusing,
and they delighted in his way of seizing his partner for a waltz and
bearing her off as if she were a prize, hardly allowing her to touch the
Fred thought him, with his stock of old jokes, very ill-mannered. He
laughed at his sculling, and had a great mind to strike him after he saw
him waltzing with Jacqueline. But he had to acknowledge the general
appreciation felt for the fellow whom he called vulgar.
Raoul Wermant did not stay long at Treport. He had only come to see his
sisters on his way to Dieppe, where he expected to meet a certain Leah
Skip, an actress from the 'Nouveautes'. If he kept her waiting, however,
for some days, it was because he was loath to leave the handsome Madame
de Villegry, who was living near her friend Madame de Nailles, recruiting
herself after the fatigues of the winter season. Such being the
situation, the young girls of the Blue Band might have tried in vain to
make any impression upon him. But the hatred with which he inspired Fred
found some relief in the composition of fragments of melancholy verse,
which the young midshipman hid under his mattresses. It is not an
uncommon thing for naval men to combine a love of the sea with a love of
poetry. Fred's verses were not good, but they were full of dejection.
The poor fellow compared Raoul Wermant to Faust, and himself to Siebel.
He spoke of
The youth whose eyes were brimming with salt tears,
Whose heart was troubled by a thousand fears,
Poor slighted lover!-since in his heavy heart
All his illusions perish and depart.
Again, he wrote of Siebel:
O Siebel!--thine is but the common fate!
They told thee Fortune upon youth would wait;
'Tis false when love's in question-and you may--
Here he enumerated all the proofs of tenderness possible for a woman to
give her lover, and then he added:
You may know all, poor Siebel!--all, some day,
When weary of this life and all its dreams,
You learn to know it is not what it seems;
When there is nothing that can cheer you more,
All that remains is fondly to adore!
And after trying in vain to find a rhyme for lover, he cried:
Oh! tell me--if one grief exceeds another
Is not this worst, to feel mere friendship moves
To cruel kindness the dear girl he loves?
Fred's mother surprised him one night while he was watering with his
tears the ink he was putting to so sorry a use. She had been aware that
he sat up late at night--his sleeplessness was not the insomnia of
genius--for she had seen the glare of light from his little lamp burning
later than the usual bedtime of the chateau, in one of the turret
chambers at Lizerolles.
In vain Fred denied that he was doing anything, in vain he tried to put
his papers out of sight; his mother was so persuasive that at last he
owned everything to her, and in addition to the comfort he derived from
his confession, he gained a certain satisfaction to his 'amour-propre',
for Madame d'Argy thought the verses beautiful. A mother's geese are
always swans. But it was only when she said, "I don't see why you should
not marry your Jacqueline--such a thing is not by any means impossible,"
and promised to do all in her power to insure his happiness, that Fred
felt how dearly he loved his mother. Oh, a thousand times more than he
had ever supposed he loved her! However, he had not yet done with the
agonies that lie in wait for lovers.
Madame de Monredon arrived one day at the Hotel de la Plage, accompanied
by her granddaughter, whom she had taken away from the convent before the
beginning of the holidays. Since she had fully arranged the marriage
with M. de Talbrun, it seemed important that Giselle should acquire some
liveliness, and recruit her health, before the fatal wedding-day arrived.
M. de Talbrun liked ladies to be always well and always lively, and it
was her duty to see that Giselle accommodated herself to his taste; sea-
bathing, life in the open air, and merry companions, were the things she
needed to make her a little less thin, to give her tone, and to take some
of her convent stiffness out of her. Besides, she could have free
intercourse with her intended husband, thanks to the greater freedom of
manners permitted at the sea-side. Such were the ideas of Madame de
Poor Giselle! In vain they dressed her in fine clothes, in vain they
talked to her and scolded her from morning till night, she continued to
be the little convent-bred schoolgirl she had always been; with downcast
eyes, pale as a flower that has known no sunlight, and timid to a point
of suffering. M. de Talbrun frightened her as much as ever, and she had
looked forward to the comfort of weeping in the arms of Jacqueline, who,
the last time she had seen her, had been herself so unhappy. But what
was her astonishment to find the young girl, who, a few weeks before, had
made her such tragic confidences through the grille in the convent
parlor, transformed into a creature bent on excitement and amusement.
When she attempted to allude to the subject on which Jacqueline had
spoken to her at the convent, and to ask her what it was that had then
made her so unhappy, Jacqueline cried: "Oh! my dear, I have forgotten
all about it!" But there was exaggeration in this profession of
forgetfulness, and she hurriedly drew Giselle back to the game of
croquet, where they were joined by M. de Talbrun.
The future husband of Giselle was a stout young fellow, short and thick-
set, with broad shoulders, a large flat face, and strong jaws, ornamented
with an enormous pair of whiskers, which partly compensated him for a
loss of hair. He had never done anything but shoot and hunt over his
property nine months in the year, and spend the other three months in
Paris, where the jockey Club and ballet-dancers sufficed for his
amusement. He did not pretend to be a man whose bachelor life had been
altogether blameless, but he considered himself to be a "correct" man,
according to what he understood by that expression, which implied neither
talents, virtues, nor good manners; nevertheless, all the Blue Band
agreed that he was a finished type of gentleman-hood. Even Raoul's
sisters had to confess, with a certain disgust, that, whatever people may
say, in our own day the aristocracy of wealth has to lower its flag
before the authentic quarterings of the old noblesse. They secretly
envied Giselle because she was going to be a grande dame, while all the
while they asserted that old-fashioned distinctions had no longer any
meaning. Nevertheless, they looked forward to the day when they, too,
might take their places in the Faubourg St. Germain. One may purchase
that luxury with a fortune of eight hundred thousand francs.
The croquet-ground, which was underwater at high tide, was a long stretch
of sand that fringed the shingle. Two parties were formed, in which care
was taken to make both sides as nearly equal as possible, after which the
game began, with screams, with laughter, a little cheating and some
disputes, as is the usual custom. All this appeared to amuse Oscar de
Talbrun--exceedingly. For the first time during his wooing he was not
bored. The Misses Sparks--Kate and Nora--by their "high spirits"
agreeably reminded him of one or two excursions he had made in past days
into Bohemian society.
He formed the highest opinion of Jacqueline when he saw how her still
short skirts showed pretty striped silk stockings, and how her well-
shaped foot was planted firmly on a blue ball, when she was preparing to
roquer the red one. The way in which he fixed his eyes upon her gave
great offense to Fred, and did it not alarm and shock Giselle? No!
Giselle looked on calmly at the fun and talk around her, as unmoved as
the stump of a tree, spoiling the game sometimes by her ignorance or her
awkwardness, well satisfied that M. de Talbrun should leave her alone.
Talking with him was very distasteful to her.
"You have been more stupid than usual," had been what her grandmother had
never failed to say to her in Paris after one of his visits, which he
alternated with bouquets. But at Treport no one seemed to mind her being
stupid, and indeed M. de Talbrun hardly thought of her existence, up to
the moment when they were all nearly caught by the first wave that came
rolling in over the croquet-ground, when all the girls took flight,
flushed, animated, and with lively gesticulation, while the gentlemen
followed with the box into which had been hastily flung hoops, balls, and
On their way Count Oscar condescendingly explained to Fred, as to a
novice, that the only good thing about croquet was that it brought men
and girls together. He was himself very good at games, he said, having
remarkably firm muscles and exceptionally sharp sight; but he went on to
add that he had not been able to show what he could do that day. The wet
sand did not make so good a croquet-ground as the one he had had made in
his park! It is a good thing to know one's ground in all circumstances,
but especially in playing croquet. Then, dexterously passing from the
game to the players, he went on to say, under cover of giving Fred a
warning, that a man need not fear going too far with those girls from
America--they had known how to flirt from the time they were born. They
could look out for themselves, they had talons and beaks; but up to a
certain point they were very easy to get on with. Those other players
were queer little things; the three sisters Wermant were not wanting in
chic, but, hang it!--the sweetest flower of them all, to his mind, was
the tall one, the dark one--unripe fruit in perfection! "And a year or
two hence," added M. de Talbrun, with all the self-confidence of an
expert, "every one will be talking about her in the world of society."
Poor Fred kept silent, trying to curb his wrath. But the blood mounted
to his temples as he listened to these remarks, poured into his ear by a
man of thirty-five, between puffs of his cigar, because there was nobody
else to whom he could make them. But they seemed to Fred very ill-
mannered and ill-timed. If he had not dreaded making himself absurd,
he would gladly have stood forth as the champion of the Sparks, the
Wermants, and all the other members of the Blue Band, so that he might
give vent to the anger raging in his heart on hearing that odious
compliment to Jacqueline. Why was he not old enough to marry her? What
right had that detestable Talbrun to take notice of any girl but his
fiancee? If he himself could marry now, his choice would soon be made!
No doubt, later--as his mother had said to him. But would Jacqueline
wait? Everybody was beginning to admire her. Somebody would carry her
off--somebody would cut him out while he was away at sea. Oh, horrible
thought for a young lover!
That night, at the Casino, while dancing a quadrille with Giselle, he
could not refrain from saying to her, "Don't you object to Monsieur de
Talbrun's dancing so much with Jacqueline?"
"Who?--I?" she cried, astonished, "I don't see why he should not." And
then, with a faint laugh, she added: "Oh, if she would only take him--
and keep him!"
But Madame de Monredon kept a sharp eye upon M. de Talbrun. "It seems to
me," she said, looking fixedly into the face of her future grandson-in-
law, "that you really take pleasure in making children skip about with
"So I do," he replied, frankly and good-humoredly. "It makes me feel
And Madame de Monredon was satisfied. She was ready to admit that most
men marry women who have not particularly enchanted them, and she had
brought up Giselle with all those passive qualities, which, together with
a large fortune, usually suit best with a 'mariage de convenance'.
Meantime Jacqueline piqued herself upon her worldly wisdom, which she
looked upon as equal to Madame de Monredon's, since the terrible event
which had filled her mind with doubts. She thought M. de Talbrun would
do well enough for a husband, and she took care to say so to Giselle.
"It is a fact," she told her, with all the self-confidence of large
experience, "that men who are very fascinating always remain bachelors.
That is probably why Monsieur de Cymier, Madame de Villegry's handsome
cousin, does not think of marrying."
She was mistaken. The Comte de Cymier, a satellite who revolved around
that star of beauty, Madame de Villegry, had been by degrees brought
round by that lady herself to thoughts of matrimony.
Madame de Villegry, notwithstanding her profuse use of henna and many
cosmetics, which was always the first thing to strike those who saw her,
prided herself on being uncompromised as to her moral character. There
are some women who, because they stop short of actual vice, consider
themselves irreproachable. They are willing, so to speak, to hang out
the bush, but keep no tavern. In former times an appearance of evil was
avoided in order to cover evil deeds, but at present there are those who,
under the cover of being only "fast," risk the appearance of evil.
Madame de Villegry was what is sometimes called a "professional beauty."
She devoted many hours daily to her toilette, she liked to have a crowd
of admirers around her. But when one of them became too troublesome, she
got rid of him by persuading him to marry. She had before this proposed
several young girls to Gerard de Cymier, each one plainer and more
insignificant than the others. It was to tell his dear friend that the
one she had last suggested was positively too ugly for him, that the
young attache to an embassy had come down to the sea-side to visit her.
The day after his arrival he was sitting on the shingle at Madame
de Villegry's feet, both much amused by the grotesque spectacle presented
by the bathers, who exhibited themselves in all degrees of ugliness and
deformity. Of course Madame de Villegry did not bathe, being, as she
said, too nervous. She was sitting under a large parasol and enjoying
her own superiority over those wretched, amphibious creatures who waddled
on the sands before her, comparing Madame X to a seal and Mademoiselle Z
to the skeleton of a cuttle-fish.
"Well! it was that kind of thing you wished me to marry," said M. de
Cymier, in a tone of resentment.
"But, my poor friend, what would you have? All young girls are like
that. They improve when they are married."
"If one could only be sure."
"One is never sure of anything, especially anything relating to young
girls. One can not say that they do more than exist till they are
married. A husband has to make whatever he chooses out of them. You are
quite capable of making what you choose of your wife. Take the risk,
"I could educate her as to morals--though, I must say, I am not much used
to that kind of instruction; but you will permit me to think that, as to
person, I should at least wish to see a rough sketch of what I may expect
in my wife before my marriage."
At that moment, a girl who had been bathing came out of the water a few
yards from them; the elegant outline of her slender figure, clad in a
bathing-suit of white flannel, which clung to her closely, was thrown
into strong relief by the clear blue background of a summer sky.
"Tiens!--but she is pretty!" cried Gerard, breaking off what he was
saying: "And she is the first pretty one I have seen!"
Madame de Villegry took up her tortoiseshell opera-glasses, which were
fastened to her waist, but already the young girl, over whose shoulders
an attentive servant had flung a wrapper--a 'peignoir-eponge'--had run
along the boardwalk and stopped before her, with a gay "Good-morning!"
"Jacqueline!" said Madame de Villegry. "Well, my dear child, did you
find the water pleasant?"
"Delightful!" said the young girl, giving a rapid glance at M. de
Cymier, who had risen.
He was looking at her with evident admiration, an admiration at which she
felt much flattered. She was closely wrapped in her soft, snow-white
peignoir, bordered with red, above which rose her lovely neck and head.
She was trying to catch, on the point of one little foot, one of her
bathing shoes, which had slipped from her. The foot which, when well
shod, M. de Talbrun, through his eyeglass, had so much admired, was still
prettier without shoe or stocking. It was so perfectly formed, so white,
with a little pink tinge here and there, and it was set upon so delicate
an ankle! M. de Cymier looked first at the foot, and then his glance
passed upward over all the rest of the young figure, which could be seen
clearly under the clinging folds of the wet drapery. Her form could be
discerned from head to foot, though nothing was uncovered but the pretty
little arm which held together with a careless grace the folds of her
raiment. The eye of the experienced observer ran rapidly over the
outline of her figure, till it reached the dark head and the brown hair,
which rippled in little curls over her forehead. Her complexion,
slightly golden, was not protected by one of those absurd hats which many
bathers place on top of oiled silk caps which fit them closely. Neither
was the precaution of oiled silk wanted to protect the thick and curling
hair, now sprinkled with great drops that shone like pearls and diamonds.
The water, instead of plastering her hair upon her temples, had made it
more curly and more fleecy, as it hung over her dark eyebrows, which,
very near together at the nose, gave to her eyes a peculiar, slightly
oblique expression. Her teeth were dazzling, and were displayed by the
smile which parted her lips--lips which were, if anything, too red for
her pale complexion. She closed her eyelids now and then to shade her
eyes from the too blinding sunlight. Those eyes were not black, but that
hazel which has golden streaks. Though only half open, they had quickly
taken in the fact that the young man sitting beside Madame de Villegry
was very handsome.
As she went on with a swift step to her bathing-house, she drew out two
long pins from her back hair, shaking it and letting it fall down her
back with a slightly impatient and imperious gesture; she wished,
probably, that it might dry more quickly.
"The devil!" said M. de Cymier, watching her till she disappeared into
the bathing-house. "I never should have thought that it was all her own!
There is nothing wanting in her. That is a young creature it is pleasant
"Yes," said Madame de Villegry, quietly, "she will be very good-looking
when she is eighteen."
"Is she nearly eighteen?"
"She is and she is not, for time passes so quickly. A girl goes to sleep
a child, and wakes up old enough to be married. Would you like to be
informed, without loss of time, as to her fortune?"
"Oh! I should not care much about her dot. I look out first for other
"I know, of course; but Jacqueline de Nailles comes of a very good
"Is she the daughter of the deputy?"
"Yes, his only daughter. He has a pretty house in the Parc Monceau and
a chateau of some importance in the Haute-Vienne."
"Very good; but, I repeat, I am not mercenary. Of course, if I should
marry, I should like, for my wife's sake, to live as well as a married
man as I have lived as a bachelor."
"Which means that you would be satisfied with a fortune equal to your
own. I should have thought you might have asked more. It is true that
if you have been suddenly thunderstruck that may alter your calculations
--for it was very sudden, was it not? Venus rising from the sea!"
"Please don't exaggerate! But you are not so cruel, seeing you are
always urging me to marry, as to wish me to take a wife who looks like a
fright or a horror."
"Heaven preserve me from any such wish! I should be very glad if my
little friend Jacqueline were destined to work your reformation."
"I defy the most careful parent to find anything against me at this
moment, unless it be a platonic devotion. The youth of Mademoiselle de
Nailles is an advantage, for I might indulge myself in that till we were
married, and then I should settle down and leave Paris, where nothing
keeps me but--"
"But a foolish fancy," laughed Madame de Villegry. "However, in return
for your madrigal, accept the advice of a friend. The Nailles seem to me
to be prosperous, but everybody in society appears so, and one never
knows what may happen any day. You would not do amiss if, before you go
on, you were to talk with Wermant, the 'agent de change', who has a
considerable knowledge of the business affairs of Jacqueline's father.
He could tell you about them better than I can."
"Wermant is at Treport, is he not? I thought I saw him--"
"Yes, he is here till Monday. You have twenty-four hours."
"Do you really think I am in such a hurry?"
"Will you take a bet that by this time to-morrow you will not know
exactly the amount of her dot and the extent of her expectations?"
"You would lose. I have something else to think of--now and always."
"What?" she said, carelessly.
"You have forbidden me ever to mention it."
Silence ensued. Then Madame de Villegry said, smiling:
"I suppose you would like me to present you this evening to my friends
the De Nailles?"
And in fact they all met that evening at the Casino, and Jacqueline, in a
gown of scarlet foulard, which would have been too trying for any other
girl, seemed to M. de Cymier as pretty as she had been in her bathing-
costume. Her hair was not dressed high, but it was gathered loosely
together and confined by a ribbon of the same color as her gown, and she
wore a little sailor hat besides. In this costume she had been called by
M. de Talbrun the "Fra Diavolo of the Seas," and she never better
supported that part, by liveliness and audacity, than she did that
evening, when she made a conquest that was envied--wildly envied--by the
three Demoiselles Wermant and the two Misses Sparks, for the handsome
Gerard, after his first waltz with Madame de Villegry, asked no one to be
his partner but Mademoiselle de Nailles.
The girls whom he neglected had not even Fred to fall back upon, for
Fred, the night before, had received orders to join his ship. He had
taken leave of Jacqueline with a pang in his heart which he could hardly
hide, but to which no keen emotion on her part seemed to respond.
However, at least, he was spared the unhappiness of seeing the star of
De Cymier rising above the horizon.
"If he could only see me," thought Jacqueline, waltzing in triumph with
M. de Cymier. "If he could only see me I should be avenged."
But he was not Fred. She was not giving him a thought. It was the last
flash of resentment and hatred that came to her in that moment of
triumph, adding to it a touch of exquisite enjoyment.
Thus she performed the obsequies of her first love!
Not long after this M. de Nailles said to his wife:
"Do you know, my dear, that our little Jacqueline is very much admired?
Her success has been extraordinary. It is not likely she will die an old
The Baronne assented rather reluctantly.
"Wermant was speaking to me the other day," went on M. de Nailles. "It
seems that that young Count de Cymier, who is always hanging around you,
by the way, has been making inquiries of him, in a manner that looks as
if it had some meaning, as to what is our fortune, our position. But
really, such a match seems too good to be true."
"Why so?" said the Baronne. "I know more about it than you do, from
Blanche de Villegry. She gave me to understand that her cousin was much
struck by Jacqueline at first sight, and ever since she does nothing but
talk to me of M. de Cymier--of his birth, his fortune, his abilities--
the charming young fellow seems gifted with everything. He could be
Secretary of Legation, if he liked to quit Paris: In the meantime attache
to an Embassy looks very well on a card. Attache to the Ministry of the
Foreign Affairs does not seem so good. Jacqueline would be a countess,
possibly an ambassadress. What would you think of that!"
Madame de Nailles, who understood policy much better than her husband,
had suddenly become a convert to opportunism, and had made a change of
base. Not being able to devise a plan by which to suppress her young
rival, she had begun to think that her best way to get rid of her would
be by promoting her marriage. The little girl was fast developing into a
woman--a woman who would certainly not consent quietly to be set aside.
Well, then, it would be best to dispose of her in so natural a way. When
Jacqueline's slender and graceful figure and the freshness of her bloom
were no longer brought into close comparison with her own charms, she
felt she should appear much younger, and should recover some of her
prestige; people would be less likely to remark her increasing stoutness,
or the red spots on her face, increased by the salt air which was so
favorable to young girls' complexions. Yes, Jacqueline must be married;
that was the resolution to which Madame de Nailles had come after several
nights of sleeplessness. It was her fixed idea, replacing in her brain
that other fixed idea which, willingly or unwillingly, she saw she must
give up--the idea of keeping her stepdaughter in the shade.
"Countess! Ambassadress!" repeated M. de Nailles, with rather a
melancholy smile. "You are going too fast, my dear Clotilde. I don't
doubt that Wermant gave the best possible account of our situation; but
when it comes to saying what I could give her as a dot, I am very much
afraid. We should have, in that case, to fall back on Fred, for I have
not told you everything. This morning Madame d'Argy, who has done
nothing but weep since her boy went away, and who, she says, never will
get accustomed to the life of misery and anxiety she will lead as a
sailor's mother, exclaimed, as she was talking to me: 'Ah! there is but
one way of keeping him at Lizerolles, of having him live there as the
D'Argys have lived before him, quietly, like a good landlord, and that
would be to give him your daughter; with her he would be entirely
"Ah! so that is the reason why she asked whether Jacqueline might not
stay with her when we go to Italy! She wishes to court her by proxy.
But I don't think she will succeed. Monsieur de Cymier has the best
"Do you suppose the child suspects--"
"That he admires her? My dear friend, we have to do with a very sharp--
sighted young person. Nothing escapes the observation of Mademoiselle
And Madame de Nailles, in her turn, smiled somewhat bitterly.
"Well," said Jacqueline's father, after a few moments' reflection, "it
may be as well that she should weigh for and against a match before
deciding. She may spend several years that are difficult and dangerous
trying to find out what she wants and to make up her mind."
"Hang it! You would not marry off Jacqueline at once?"
"Bah! many a girl, practically not as old as she, is married at sixteen
"Why! I fancied you thought so differently!"
"Our ways of thinking are sometimes altered by events, especially when
they are founded upon sincere and disinterested affection."
"Like that of good parents, such as we are," added M. de Nailles, ending
her sentence with an expression of grateful emotion.
For one moment the Baronne paled under this compliment.
"What did you say to Madame d'Argy?" she hastened to ask.
"I said we must give the young fellow's beard time to grow."
"Yes, that was right. I prefer Monsieur de Cymier a hundred times over.
Still, if nothing better offers--a bird in the hand, you know--"
Madame de Nailles finished her sentence by a wave of her fan.
"Oh! our bird in the hand is not to be despised. A very handsome
"Where Jacqueline would be bored to death. I should rather see her
radiant at some foreign court. Let me manage it. Let me bring her out.
Give me carte blanche and let me have some society this winter."
Madame de Nailles, whether she knew it or not--probably she did, for she
had great skill in reading the thoughts of others--was acting precisely
in accordance with the wishes or the will of Jacqueline, who, having
found much enjoyment in the dances at the Casino, had made up her mind
that she meant to come out into society before any of her young
"I shall not have to beg and implore her," she said to herself,
anticipating the objections of her stepmother. "I shall only have
politely to let her suspect that such a thing may have occurred as having
had a listener at a door. I paid dearly enough for this hold over her.
I have no scruple in using it."
Madame de Nailles was not mistaken in her stepdaughter; she was very far
advanced beyond her age, thanks to the cruel wrong that had been done her
by the loss of her trust in her elders and her respect for them. Her
heart had had its past, though she was still hardly more than a child--
a sad past, though its pain was being rapidly effaced. She now thought
about it only at intervals. Time and circumstances were operating on her
as they act upon us generally; only in her case more quickly than usual,
which produced in her character and feelings phenomena that might have
seemed curious to an observer. She was something of a woman, something
of a child, something of a philosopher. At night, when she was dancing
with Wermant, or Cymier, or even Talbrun, or on horseback, an exercise
which all the Blues were wild about, she was an audacious flirt, a girl
up to anything; and in the morning, at low tide, she might be seen, with
her legs and feet bare, among the children, of whom there were many on
the sands, digging ditches, making ramparts, constructing towers and
fortifications in wet sand, herself as much amused as if she had been one
of the babies themselves. There was screaming and jumping, and rushing
out of reach of the waves which came up ready to overthrow the most
complicated labors of the little architects, rough romping of all kinds,
enough to amaze and disconcert a lover.
But no one could have guessed at the thoughts which, in the midst of all
this fun and frolic, were passing through the too early ripened mind of
Jacqueline. She was thinking that many things to which we attach great
value and importance in this world are as easily swept away as the sand
barriers raised against the sea by childish hands; that everywhere there
must be flux and reflux, that the beach the children had so dug up would
soon become smooth as a mirror, ready for other little ones to dig it
over again, tempting them to work, and yet discouraging their industry.
Her heart, she thought, was like the sand, ready for new impressions.
The elegant form of M. de Cymier slightly overshadowed it, distinct among
other shadows more confused.
And Jacqueline said to herself with a smile, exactly what her father and
Madame de Nailles had said to each other:
"Countess!--who knows? Ambassadress! Perhaps--some day--"
A PUZZLING CORRESPONDENCE
"But I can not see any reason why we should not take Jacqueline with us
to Italy. She is just of an age to profit by it."
These words were spoken by M. de Nailles after a long silence at the
breakfast-table. They startled his hearers like a bomb.
Jacqueline waited to hear what would come next, fixing a keen look upon
her stepmother. Their eyes met like the flash of two swords.
The eyes of the one said: "Now, let us hear what you will answer!" while
the other strove to maintain that calmness which comes to some people in
a moment of danger. The Baroness grew a little pale, and then said, in
her softest tones:
"You are quite right, 'mon ami', but Jacqueline, I think, prefers to
"I decidedly prefer to stay," said Jacqueline.
Her adversary, much relieved by this response, could not repress a sigh.
"It seems singular," said M. de Nailles.
"What! that I prefer to pass a month or six weeks with Madame d'Argy?
Besides, Giselle is going to be married during that time."
"They might put it off until we come back, I should suppose."
"Oh! I don't think they would," cried the Baroness. "Madame de Monredon
is so selfish. She was offended to think we should talk of going away on
the eve of an event she considers so important. Besides, she has so
little regard for me that I should think her more likely to hasten the
wedding-day rather than retard it, if it were only for the pleasure of
giving us a lesson."
"I am sorry. I should have been glad to be, as she wished, one of
Giselle's witnesses, but people don't take my position into
consideration. If I do not take advantage of the recess--"
"Besides," interrupted Jacqueline, carelessly, "your journey must
coincide with that of Monsieur Marien."
She had the pleasure of seeing her stepmother again slightly change
color. Madame de Nailles was pouring out for herself a cup of tea with
singular care and attention.
"Of course," said M. de Nailles. His daughter pitied him, and cried,
with an increasing wish to annoy her stepmother: "Mamma, don't you see
that your teapot has no tea in it? Yes," she went on, "it must be
delightful to travel in Italy in company with a great artist who would
explain everything; but then one would be expected to visit all the
picture-galleries, and I hate pictures, since--"
She paused and again looked meaningly at her stepmother, whose soft blue
eyes showed anguish of spirit, and seemed to say: "Oh, what a cruel hold
she has upon me!" Jacqueline continued, carelessly-- "Picture-galleries
I don't care for--I like nature a hundred times better. Some day I
should like to take a journey to suit myself, my own journey! Oh, papa,
may I? A journey on foot with you in the Tyrol?"
Madame de Nailles was no great walker.
"Both of us, just you and I alone, with our alpenstocks in our hands--it
would be lovely! But Italy and painters--"
Here, with a boyish flourish of her hands, she seemed to send that
classic land to Jericho!
"Do promise me, papa!"
"Before asking a reward, you must deserve it," said her father, severely,
who saw something was wrong.
During her stay at Lizerolles, which her perverseness, her resentment,
and a repugnance founded on instincts of delicacy, had made her prefer to
a journey to Italy, Jacqueline, having nothing better to do, took it into
her head to write to her friend Fred. The young man received three
letters at three different ports in the Mediterranean and in the West
Indies, whose names were long associated in his mind with delightful and
cruel recollections. When the first was handed to him with one from his
mother, whose letters always awaited him at every stopping-place, the
blood flew to his face, his heart beat violently, he could have cried
aloud but for the necessity of self-command in the presence of his
comrades, who had already remarked in whispers to each other, and with
envy, on the pink envelope, which exhaled 'l'odor di femina'. He hid his
treasure quickly, and carried it to a spot where he could be alone; then
he kissed the bold, pointed handwriting that he recognized at once,
though never before had it written his address. He kissed, too, more
than once, the pink seal with a J on it, whose slender elegance reminded
him of its owner. Hardly did he dare to break the seal; then forgetting
altogether, as we might be sure, his mother's letter, which he knew
beforehand was full of good advice and expressions of affection, he
eagerly read this, which he had not expected to receive:
"LIZEROLLES, October, 5, 188-
"MY DEAR FRED:
"Your mother thinks you would be pleased to receive a letter from
me, and I hope you will be. You need not answer this if you do not
care to do so. You will notice, 'par parenthese', that I take this
opportunity of saying you and not thou to you. It is easier to
change the familiar mode of address in writing than in speaking, and
when we meet again the habit will have become confirmed. But, as I
write, it will require great attention, and I can not promise to
keep to it to the end. Half an hour's chat with an old friend will
also help me to pass the time, which I own seems rather long, as it
is passed by your sweet, dear mother and myself at Lizerolles. Oh,
if you were only here it would be different! In the first place,
we should talk less of a certain Fred, which would be one great
advantage. You must know that you are the subject of our discourse
from morning to night; we talk only of the dangers of the seas, the
future prospects of a seaman, and all the rest of it. If the wind
is a little higher than usual, your mother begins to cry; she is
sure you are battling with a tempest. If any fishing-boat is
wrecked, we talk of nothing but shipwrecks; and I am asked to join
in another novena, in addition to those with which we must have
already wearied Notre Dame de Treport. Every evening we spread out
the map: 'See, Jacqueline, he must be here now--no, he is almost
there,' and lines of red ink are traced from one port to another,
and little crosses are made to show the places where we hope you
will get your letters--'Poor boy, poor, dear boy!' In short,
notwithstanding all the affectionate interest I take in you, this is
sometimes too much for me. In fact, I think I must be very fond of
thee not to have grown positively to hate thee for all this fuss.
There! In this last sentence, instead of saying you, I have said
thee! That ought to gild the pill for you!
We do not go very frequently to visit Treport, except to invoke for
you the protection of Heaven, and I like it just as well, for since
the last fortnight in September, which was very rainy, the beach is
dismal--so different from what it was in the summer. The town looks
gloomy under a cloudy sky with its blackened old brick houses! We
are better off at Lizerolles, whose autumnal beauties you know so
well that I will say nothing about them. --Oh, Fred, how often I
regret that I am not a boy! I could take your gun and go shooting
in the swamps, where there are clouds of ducks now. I feel sure
that if you were in my place, you could kill time without killing
game; but I am at the end of my small resources when I have played a
little on the piano to amuse your mother and have read her the
'Gazette de France'. In the evening we read a translation of some
English novel. There are neighbors, of course, old fogies who stay
all the year round in Picardy--but, tell me, don't you find them
sometimes a little too respectable? My greatest comfort is in your
dog, who loves me as much as if I were his master, though I can not
take him out shooting. While I write he is lying on the hem of my
gown and makes a little noise, as much as to tell me that I recall
you to his remembrance. Yet you are not to suppose that I am
suffering from ennui, or am ungrateful, nor above all must you
imagine that I have ceased to love your excellent mother with all my
heart. I love her, on the contrary, more than ever since I passed
this winter through a great, great sorrow--a sorrow which is now
only a sad remembrance, but which has changed for me the face of
everything in this world. Yes, since I have suffered myself, I
understand your mother. I admire her, I love her more than ever.
How happy you are, my dear Fred, to have such a sweet mother,--
a real mother who never thinks about her face, or her figure, or her
age, but only of the success of her son; a dear little mother in a
plain black gown, and with pretty gray hair, who has the manners and
the toilette that just suit her, who somehow always seems to say:
'I care for nothing but that which affects my son.' Such mothers are
rare, believe me. Those that I know, the mothers of my friends, are
for the most part trying to appear as young as their daughters--nay,
prettier, and of course more elegant. When they have sons they make
them wear jackets a l'anglaise and turn-down collars, up to the age
when I wore short skirts. Have you noticed that nowadays in Paris
there are only ladies who are young, or who are trying to make
themselves appear so? Up to the last moment they powder and paint,
and try to make themselves different from what age has made them.
If their hair was black it grows blacker--if red, it is more red.
But there is no longer any gray hair in Paris--it is out of fashion.
That is the reason why I think your mother's pretty silver curls so
lovely and 'distingues'. I kiss them every night for you, after I
have kissed them for myself.
"Have a good voyage, come back soon, and take care of yourself, dear
The young sailor read this letter over and over again. The more he read
it the more it puzzled him. Most certainly he felt that Jacqueline gave
him a great proof of confidence when she spoke to him of some mysterious
unhappiness, an unhappiness of which it was evident her stepmother was
the cause. He could see that much; but he was infinitely far from
suspecting the nature of the woes to which she alluded. Poor Jacqueline!
He pitied her without knowing what for, with a great outburst of
sympathy, and an honest desire to do anything in the world to make her
happy. Was it really possible that she could have been enduring any
grief that summer when she had seemed so madly gay, so ready for a little
flirtation? Young girls must be very skilful in concealing their inmost
feelings! When he was unhappy he had it out by himself, he took refuge
in solitude, he wanted to be done with existence. Everybody knew when
anything went wrong with him. Why could not Jacqueline have let him know
more plainly what it was that troubled her, and why could she not have
shown a little tenderness toward him, instead of assuming, even when she
said the kindest things to him, her air of mockery? And then, though she
might pretend not to find Lizerolles stupid, he could see that she was
bored there. Yet why had she chosen to stay at Lizerolles rather than go
Alas! how that little pink letter made him reflect and guess, and turn
things over in his mind, and wish himself at the devil--that little pink
letter which he carried day and night on his breast and made it crackle
as it lay there, when he laid his hand on the satin folds so near his
heart! It had an odor of sweet violets which seemed to him to overpower
the smell of pitch and of salt water, to fill the air, to perfume
"That young fellow has the instincts of a sailor," said his superior
officers when they saw him standing in attitudes which they thought
denoted observation, though with him it was only reverie. He would stand
with his eyes fixed upon some distant point, whence he fancied he could
see emerging from the waves a small, brown, shining head, with long hair
streaming behind, the head of a girl swimming, a girl he knew so well.
"One can see that he takes an interest in nautical phenomena, that he is
heart and soul in his profession, that he cares for nothing else. Oh,
he'll make a sailor! We may be sure of that!"
Fred sent his young friend and cousin, by way of reply, a big packet of
manuscript, the leaves of which were of all sizes, over which he had
poured forth torrents of poetry, amorous and descriptive, under the
title: At Sea.
Never would he have dared to show her this if the ocean had not lain
between them. He was frightened when his packet had been sent. His only
comfort was in the thought that he had hypocritically asked Jacqueline
for her literary opinion of his verses; but she could not fail, he
thought, to understand.
Long before an answer could have been expected, he got another letter,
sky-blue this time, much longer than the first, giving him an account of
"Your mother and I went together to Normandy, where the marriage was
to take place after the manner of old times, 'in the fashion of the
Middle Ages,' as our friends the Wermants said to me, who might
perhaps not have laughed at it had they been invited. Madame de
Monredon is all for old customs, and she had made it a great point
that the wedding should not take place in Paris. Had I been
Giselle, I should not have liked it. I know nothing more elegant or
more solemn than the entrance of a bridal party into the Madeleine,
but we shall have to be content with Saint-Augustin. Still, the
toilettes, as they pass up the aisle, even there, are very
effective, and the decoration of the tall, high altar is
magnificent. Toc! Toc! First come the beadles with their
halberds, then the loud notes of the organ, then the wide doors are
thrown open, making a noise as they turn on their great hinges,
letting the noise of carriages outside be heard in the church; and
then comes the bride in a ray of sunshine. I could wish for nothing
more. A grand wedding in the country is much more quiet, but it is
old-fashioned. In the little village church the guests were very
much crowded, and outside there was a great mob of country folk.
Carpets had been laid down over the dilapidated pavement, composed
principally of tombstones. The rough walls were hung with scarlet.
All the clergy of the neighborhood were present. A Monsignor--
related to the Talbruns--pronounced the nuptial benediction; his
address was a panegyric on the two families. He gave us to
understand that if he did not go back quite as far as the Crusades,
it was only because time was wanting.
Madame de Monredon was all-glorious, of course. She certainly
looked like an old vulture, in a pelisse of gray velvet, with a
chinchilla boa round her long, bare neck, and her big beak, with
marabouts overshadowing it, of the same color. Monsieur de Talbrun
--well! Monsieur de Talbrun was very bald, as bald as he could be.
To make up for the want of hair on his head, he has plenty of it on
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