Part 2 out of 2
It was the General who entered. He advanced with measured stride, puffed
like some sea-monster, and seized Camors by the lapel of his coat. Then
he said, impressively:
"Well, young gentleman!"
"What are you doing in here?"
"Oh, I am at work."
"At work? Um! Sit down there--sit down, sit down!" He threw himself on
the sofa where Mademoiselle had been, which rather changed the
perspective for Camors.
"Well, well!" he repeated, after a long pause.
"But what then, General?"
"What then? The deuce! Why, have you not noticed that I have been for
some days extraordinarily agitated?"
"No, General, I have not noticed it."
"You are not very observing! I am extraordinarily agitated--enough to
fatigue the eyes. So agitated, upon my word of honor, that there are
moments when I am tempted to believe your aunt is right: that I have
disease of the heart!"
"Bah, General! My aunt is dreaming; you have the pulse of an infant."
"You believe so, really? I do not fear death; but it is always annoying
to think of it. But I am too much agitated--it is necessary to put a
stop to it. You understand?"
"Perfectly; but how can it concern me?"
"Concern you? You are about to hear. You are my cousin, are you not?"
"Truly, General, I have that honor."
"But very distant, eh? I have thirty-six cousins as near as you, and--
the devil! To speak plainly, I owe you nothing."
"And I have never demanded payment even of that, General."
"Ah, I know that! Well, you are my cousin, very far removed! But you
are more than that. Your father saved my life in the Atlas. He has
related it all to you--No? Well, that does not astonish me; for he was
no braggart, that father of yours; he was a man! Had he not quitted the
army, a brilliant career was before him. People talk a great deal of
Pelissier, of Canrobert, of MacMahon, and of others. I say nothing
against them; they are good men doubtless--at least I hear so; but your
father would have eclipsed them all had he taken the trouble. But he
didn't take the trouble!
"Well, for the story: We were crossing a gorge of the Atlas; we were in
retreat; I had lost my command; I was following as a volunteer. It is
useless to weary you with details; we were in retreat; a shower of stones
and bullets poured upon us, as if from the moon. Our column was slightly
disordered; I was in the rearguard--whack! my horse was down, and I
We were in a narrow gorge with sloping sides some fifteen feet high; five
dirty guerillas slid down the sides and fell upon me and on the beast--
forty devils! I can see them now! Just here the gorge took a sudden
turn, so no one could see my trouble; or no one wished to see it, which
comes to the same thing.
"I have told you things were in much disorder; and I beg you to remember
that with a dead horse and five live Arabs on top of me, I was not very
comfortable. I was suffocating; in fact, I was devilish far from
"Just then your father ran to my assistance, like the noble fellow he
was! He drew me from under my horse; he fell upon the Arabs. When I was
up, I aided him a little--but that is nothing to the point--I never shall
There was a pause, when the General added:
"Let us understand each other, and speak plainly. Would it be very
repugnant to your feelings to have seven hundred thousand francs a year,
and to be called, after me, Marquis de Campvallon d'Armignes? Come,
speak up, and give me an answer."
The young Count reddened slightly.
"My name is Camors," he said, gently.
"What! You would not wish me to adopt you? You refuse to become the
heir of my name and of my fortune?"
"Do you not wish time to reflect upon it?"
"No, General. I am sincerely grateful for your goodness; your generous
intentions toward me touch me deeply, but in a question of honor I never
reflect or hesitate."
The General puffed fiercely, like a locomotive blowing off steam. Then
he rose and took two or three turns up and down the gallery, shuffling
his feet, his chest heaving. Then he returned and reseated himself.
"What are your plans for the future?" he asked, abruptly.
"I shall try, in the first place, General, to repair my fortune, which is
much shattered. I am not so great a stranger to business as people
suppose, and my father's connections and my own will give me a footing in
some great financial or industrial enterprise. Once there, I shall
succeed by force of will and steady work. Besides, I shall fit myself
for public life, and aspire, when circumstances permit me, to become a
"Well, well, a man must do something. Idleness is the parent of all
vices. See; like yourself, I am fond of the horse--a noble animal.
I approve of racing; it improves the breed of horses, and aids in
mounting our cavalry efficiently. But sport should be an amusement, not
a profession. Hem! so you aspire to become a deputy?"
"Then I can help you in that, at least. When you are ready I will send
in my resignation, and recommend to my brave and faithful constituents
that you take my place. Will that suit you?"
"Admirably, General; and I am truly grateful. But why should you
"Why? Well, to be useful to you in the first place; in the second, I am
sick of it. I shall not be sorry to give personally a little lesson to
the government, which I trust will profit by it. You know me--I am no
Jacobin; at first I thought that would succeed. But when I see what is
"What is going on, General?"
"When I see a Tonnelier a great dignitary! It makes me long for the pen
of Tacitus, on my word. When I was retired in 'forty-eight, under a mean
and cruel injustice they did me, I had not reached the age of exemption.
I was still capable of good and loyal service; but probably I could have
waited until an amendment. I found it at least in the confidence of my
brave and faithful constituents. But, my young friend, one tires of
everything. The Assemblies at the Luxembourg--I mean the Palace of the
Bourbons--fatigue me. In short, whatever regret I may feel at parting
from my honorable colleagues, and from my faithful constituents, I shall
abdicate my functions whenever you are ready and willing to accept them.
Have you not some property in this district?"
"Yes, General, a little property which belonged to my mother; a small
manor, with a little land round it, called Reuilly."
"Reuilly! Not two steps from Des Rameures! Certainly--certainly! Well,
that is one foot in the stirrup."
"But then there is one difficulty; I am obliged to sell it."
"The devil! And why?"
"It is all that is left to me, and it only brings me eleven thousand
francs a year; and to embark in business I need capital--a beginning.
I prefer not to borrow."
The General rose, and once more his military tramp shook the gallery.
Then he threw himself back on the sofa.
"You must not sell that property! I owe you nothing, 'tis true, but I
have an affection for you. You refuse to be my adopted son. Well, I
regret this, and must have recourse to other projects to aid you. I warn
you I shall try other projects. You must not sell your lands if you wish
to become a deputy, for the country people--especially those of Des
Rameures--will not hear of it. Meantime you will need funds. Permit me
to offer you three hundred thousand francs. You may return them when you
can, without interest, and if you never return them you will confer a
very great favor upon me."
"But in truth, General--"
"Come, come! Accept it as from a relative--from a friend--from your
father's friend--on any ground you please, so you accept. If not, you
will wound me seriously."
Camors rose, took the General's hand, and pressing it with emotion, said,
"I accept, sir. I thank you!"
The General sprang up at these words like a furious lion, his moustache
bristling, his nostrils dilating, his chest heaving. Staring at the
young Count with real ferocity, he suddenly drew him to his breast and
embraced him with great fervor. Then he strode to the door with his
usual solemnity, and quickly brushing a tear from his cheek, left the
The General was a good man; but, like many good people, he had not been
happy. You might smile at his oddities: you never could reproach him
He was a small man, but he had a great soul. Timid at heart, especially
with women, he was delicate, passionate, and chaste. He had loved but
little, and never had been loved at all. He declared that he had retired
from all friendship with women, because of a wrong that he had suffered.
At forty years of age he had married the daughter of a poor colonel who
had been killed by the enemy. Not long after, his wife had deceived him
with one of his aides-de-camp.
The treachery was revealed to him by a rival, who played on this occasion
the infamous role of Iago. Campvallon laid aside his starred epaulettes,
and in two successive duels, still remembered in Africa, killed on two
successive days the guilty one and his betrayer. His wife died shortly
after, and he was left more lonely than ever. He was not the man to
console himself with venal love; a gross remark made him blush; the corps
de ballet inspired him with terror. He did not dare to avow it, but the
dream of his old age, with his fierce moustache and his grim countenance,
was the devoted love of some young girl, at whose feet he might pour out,
without shame, without distrust even, all the tenderness of his simple
and heroic heart.
On the evening of the day which had been marked for Camors by these two
interesting episodes, Mademoiselle de Luc d'Estrelles did not come down
to dinner, but sent word she had a headache. This message was received
with a general murmur, and with some sharp remarks from Madame de la
Roche-Jugan, which implied Mademoiselle was not in a position which
justified her in having a headache. The dinner, however, was not less
gay than usual, thanks to Mesdames Bacquiere and Van-Cuyp, and to their
husbands, who had arrived from Paris to pass Sunday with them.
To celebrate this happy meeting, they drank very freely of champagne,
talked slang, and imitated actors, causing much amusement to the
servants. Returning to the drawing-room, these innocent young things
thought it very funny to take their husbands' hats, put their feet in
them, and, thus shod, to run a steeplechase across the room. Meantime
Madame de la Roche-Jagan felt the General's pulse frequently, and found
Next morning at breakfast all the General's guests assembled, except
Mademoiselle d'Estrelles, whose headache apparently was no better. They
remarked also the absence of the General, who was the embodiment of
politeness and punctuality. A sense of uneasiness was beginning to creep
over all, when suddenly the door opened and the General appeared leading
Mademoiselle d'Estrelles by the hand.
The young girl's eyes were red; her face was very pale. The General's
face was scarlet. He advanced a few steps, like an actor about to
address his audience; cast fierce glances on all sides of him, and
cleared his throat with a sound that echoed like the bass notes of a
grand piano. Then he spoke in a voice of thunder:
"My dear guests and friends, permit me to present to you the Marquise de
An iceberg at the North Pole is not colder than was the General's salon
at this announcement.
He held the young lady by the hand, and retaining his position in the
centre of the room, launched out fierce glances. Then his eyes began to
wander and roll convulsively in their sockets, as if he was himself
astonished at the effect his announcement had produced.
Camors was the first to come to the rescue, and taking his hand, said:
"Accept, my dear General, my congratulations. I am extremely happy, and
rejoice at your good fortune; the more so, as I feel the lady is so well
worthy of you." Then, bowing to Mademoiselle d'Estrelles with a grave
grace, he pressed her hand, and turning away, was struck dumb at seeing
Madame de la Roche-Jugan in the arms of the General. She passed from his
into those of Mademoiselle d'Estrelles, who feared at first, from the
violence of the caresses, that there was a secret design to strangle her.
"General," said Madame de la Roche-Jugan in a plaintive voice, "you
remember I always recommended her to you. I always spoke well of her.
She is my daughter--my second child. Sigismund, embrace your sister!
You permit it, General? Ah, we never know how much we love these
children until we lose them! I always spoke well of her; did I not--Ge--
General?" And here Madame de la Roche-Jugan burst into tears.
The General, who began to entertain a high opinion of the Countess's
heart, declared that Mademoiselle d'Estrelles would find in him a friend
and father. After which flattering assurance, Madame de la Roche-Jugan
seated herself in a solitary corner, behind a curtain, whence they heard
sobs and moans issue for a whole hour. She could not even breakfast;
happiness had taken away her appetite.
The ice once broken, all tried to make themselves agreeable. The
Tonneliers did not behave, however, with the same warmth as the tender
Countess, and it was easy to see that Mesdames Bacquiere and VanCuyp
could not picture to themselves, without envy, the shower of gold and
diamonds about to fall into the lap of their cousin. Messrs. Bacquiere
and Van-Cuyp were naturally the first sufferers, and their charming wives
made them understand, at intervals during the day, that they thoroughly
despised them. It was a bitter Sunday for those poor fellows. The
Tonnelier family also felt that little more was to be done there, and
left the next morning with a very cold adieu.
The conduct of the Countess was more noble. She declared she would wait
upon her dearly beloved Charlotte from the altar to the very threshold of
the nuptial chamber; that she would arrange her trousseau, and that the
marriage should take place from her house.
"Deuce take me, my dear Countess!" cried the General, "I must declare
one thing--you astonish me. I was unjust, cruelly unjust, toward you.
I reproach myself, on my faith! I believed you worldly, interested, not
open-hearted. But you are none of these; you are an excellent woman--
a heart of gold--a noble soul! My dear friend, you have found the best
way to convert me. I have always believed the religion of honor was
sufficient for a man--eh, Camors? But I am not an unbeliever, my dear
Countess, and, on my sacred word, when I see a perfect creature like you,
I desire to believe everything she believes, if only to be pleasant to
When Camors, who was not quite so innocent, asked himself what was the
secret of his aunt's politic conduct, but little effort was necessary to
Madame de la Roche-Jugan, who had finally convinced herself that the
General had an aneurism, flattered herself that the cares of matrimony
would hasten the doom of her old friend. In any event, he was past
seventy years of age. But Charlotte was young, and so also was
Sigismund. Sigismund could become tender; if necessary, could quietly
court the young Marquise until the day when he could marry her, with all
her appurtenances, over the mausoleum of the General. It was for this
that Madame de la Roche-Jugan, crushed for a moment under the unexpected
blow that ruined her hopes, had modified her tactics and drawn her
batteries, so to speak, under cover of the enemy. This was what she was
contriving while she was weeping behind the curtain.
Camors's personal feelings at the announcement of this marriage were not
of the most agreeable description. First, he was obliged to acknowledge
that he had unjustly judged Mademoiselle d'Estrelles, and that at the
moment of his accusing her of speculating on his small fortune, she was
offering to sacrifice for him the annual seven hundred thousand francs of
He felt his vanity injured, that he had not had the best part of this
affair. Besides, he felt obliged to stifle from this moment the secret
passion with which the beautiful and singular girl had inspired him.
Wife or widow of the General, it was clear that Mademoiselle d'Estrelles
had forever escaped him. To seduce the wife of this good old man from
whom he accepted such favors, or even to marry her, widowed and rich,
after refusing her when poor, were equal unworthiness and baseness that
honor forbade in the same degree and with the same rigor as if this
honor, which he made the only law of his life, were not a mockery and an
Camors, however, did not fail to comprehend the position in this light,
and he resigned himself to it.
During the four or five days he remained at Campvallon his conduct was
perfect. The delicate and reserved attentions with which he surrounded
Mademoiselle d'Estrelles were tinged with a melancholy that showed her at
the same time his gratitude, his respect, and his regrets.
M. de Campvallon had not less reason to congratulate himself on the
conduct of the young Count. He entered into the folly of his host with
affectionate grace. He spoke to him little of the beauty of his fiancee:
much of her high moral qualities; and let him see his most flattering
confidence in the future of this union.
On the eve of his departure Camors was summoned into the General's study.
Handing his young relative a check for three hundred thousand francs, the
"My dear young friend, I ought to tell you, for the peace of your
conscience, that I have informed Mademoiselle d'Estrelles of this little
service I render you. She has a great deal of love and affection for
you, my dear young friend; be sure of that.
"She therefore received my communication with sincere pleasure. I also
informed her that I did not intend taking any receipt for this sum, and
that no reclamation of it should be made at any time, on any account.
"Now, my dear Camors, do me one favor. To tell you my inmost thought, I
shall be most happy to see you carry into execution your project of
laudable ambition. My own new position, my age, my tastes, and those I
perceive in the Marquise, claim all my leisure--all my liberty of action.
Consequently, I desire as soon as possible to present you to my generous
and faithful constituents, as well for the Corps Legislatif as for the
General Council. You had better make your preliminary arrangements as
soon as possible. Why should you defer it? You are very well
cultivated--very capable. Well, let us go ahead--let us begin at once.
What do you say?"
"I should prefer, General, to be more mature; but it would be both folly
and ingratitude in me not to accede to your kind wish. What shall I do
"Well, my young friend, instead of leaving tomorrow for Paris, you must
go to your estate at Reuilly: go there and conquer Des Rameures."
"And who are the Des Rameures, General?"
"You do not know the Des Rameures? The deuce! no; you can not know
them! That is unfortunate, too.
"Des Rameures is a clever fellow, a very clever fellow, and all-powerful
in his neighborhood. He is an original, as you will see; and with him
lives his niece, a charming woman. I tell you, my boy, you must please
them, for Des Rameures is the master of the county. He protects me, or
else, upon my honor, I should be stopped on the road!"
"But, General, what shall I do to please this Des Rameures?"
"You will see him. He is, as I tell you, a great oddity. He has not
been in Paris since 1825; he has a horror of Paris and Parisians. Very
well, it only needs a little tact to flatter his views on that point. We
always need a little tact in this world, young man."
"But his niece, General?"
"Ah, the deuce! You must please the niece also. He adores her, and she
manages him completely, although he grumbles a little sometimes."
"And what sort of woman is she?"
"Oh, a respectable woman--a perfectly respectable woman. A widow;
somewhat a devotee, but very well informed. A woman of great merit."
"But what course must I take to please this lady?"
"What course? By my faith, young man, you ask a great many questions.
I never yet learned to please a woman. I am green as a goose with them
always. It is a thing I can not understand; but as for you, my young
comrade, you have little need to be instructed in that matter. You can't
fail to please her; you have only to make yourself agreeable. But you
will know how to do it--you will conduct yourself like an angel, I am
"Captivate Des Rameures and his niece--this is your advice!"
Early next morning Camors left the Chateau de Campvallon, armed with
these imperfect instructions; and, further, with a letter from the
General to Des Rameures.
He went in a hired carriage to his own domain of Reuilly, which lay ten
leagues off. While making this transit he reflected that the path of
ambition was not one of roses; and that it was hard for him, at the
outset of his enterprise, to by compelled to encounter two faces likely
to be as disquieting as those of Des Rameures and his niece.
THE OLD DOMAIN OF REUILLY
The domain of Reuilly consisted of two farms and of a house of some
pretension, inhabited formerly by the maternal family of M. de Camors.
He had never before seen this property when he reached it on the evening
of a beautiful summer day. A long and gloomy avenue of elms, interlacing
their thick branches, led to the dwelling-house, which was quite unequal
to the imposing approach to it; for it was but an inferior construction
of the past century, ornamented simply by a gable and a bull's-eye, but
flanked by a lordly dovecote.
It derived a certain air of dignity from two small terraces, one above
the other, in front of it, while the triple flight of steps was supported
by balusters of granite. Two animals, which had once, perhaps, resembled
lions, were placed one upon each side of the balustrade at the platform
of the highest terrace; and they had been staring there for more than a
hundred and fifty years. Behind the house stretched the garden; and in
its midst, mounted on a stone arch, stood a dismal sun-dial with hearts
and spades painted between its figures; while the trees around it were
trimmed into the shapes of confessionals and chess-pawns. To the right,
a labyrinth of young trees, similarly clipped in the fashion of the time,
led by a thousand devious turns to a mysterious valley, where one heard
continually a low, sad murmur. This proceeded from a nymph in terra-
cotta, from whose urn dripped, day and night, a thin rill of water into a
small fishpond, bordered by grand old poplars, whose shadows threw upon
its surface, even at mid-day, the blackness of Acheron.
Camors's first reflection at viewing this prospect was an exceedingly
painful one; and the second was even more so.
At another time he would doubtless have taken an interest in searching
through these souvenirs of the past for traces of an infant nurtured
there, who had a mother, and who had perhaps loved these old relics. But
his system did not admit of sentiment, so he crushed the ideas that
crowded to his mind, and, after a rapid glance around him, called for his
The old steward and his wife--who for thirty years had been the sole
inhabitants of Reuilly--had been informed of his coming. They had spent
the day in cleaning and airing the house; an operation which added to the
discomfort they sought to remove, and irritated the old residents of the
walls, while it disturbed the sleep of hoary spiders in their dusty webs.
A mixed odor of the cellar, of the sepulchre, and of an old coach, struck
Camors when he penetrated into the principal room, where his dinner was
to be served.
Taking up one or two flickering candles, the like of which he had never
seen before, Camors proceeded to inspect the quaint portraits of his
ancestors, who seemed to stare at him in great surprise from their
cracked canvases. They were a dilapidated set of old nobles, one having
lost a nose, another an arm, others again sections of their faces. One
of them--a chevalier of St. Louis--had received a bayonet thrust through
the centre in the riotous times of the Revolution; but he still smiled at
Camors, and sniffed at a flower, despite the daylight shining through
Camors finished his inspection, thinking to himself they were a highly
respectable set of ancestors, but not worth fifteen francs apiece. The
housekeeper had passed half the previous night in slaughtering various
dwellers in the poultry-yard; and the results of the sacrifice now
successively appeared, swimming in butter. Happily, however, the
fatherly kindness of the General had despatched a hamper of provisions
from Campvallon, and a few slices of pate, accompanied by sundry glasses
of Chateau-Yquem helped the Count to combat the dreary sadness with which
his change of residence, solitude, the night, and the smoke of his
candles, all conspired to oppress him.
Regaining his usual good spirits, which had deserted him for a moment, he
tried to draw out the old steward, who was waiting on him. He strove to
glean from him some information of the Des Rameures; but the old servant,
like every Norman peasant, held it as a tenet of faith that he who gave a
plain answer to any question was a dishonored man. With all possible
respect he let Camors understand plainly that he was not to be deceived
by his affected ignorance into any belief that M. le Comte did not know a
great deal better than he who and what M. des Rameures was--where he
lived, and what he did; that M. le Comte was his master, and as such was
entitled to his respect, but that he was nevertheless a Parisian, and--
as M. des Rameures said--all Parisians were jesters.
Camors, who had taken an oath never to get angry, kept it now; drew from
the General's old cognac a fresh supply of patience, lighted a cigar, and
left the room.
For a few moments he leaned over the balustrade of the terrace and looked
around. The night, clear and beautiful, enveloped in its shadowy veil
the widestretching fields, and a solemn stillness, strange to Parisian
ears, reigned around him, broken only at intervals by the distant bay of
a hound, rising suddenly, and dying into peace again. His eyes becoming
accustomed to the darkness, Camors descended the terrace stairs and
passed into the old avenue, which was darker and more solemn than a
cathedral-aisle at midnight, and thence into an open road into which it
led by chance.
Strictly speaking, Camors had never, until now, been out of Paris; for
wherever he had previously gone, he had carried its bustle, worldly and
artificial life, play, and the races with him; and the watering-places
and the seaside had never shown him true country, or provincial life.
It gave him a sensation for the first time; but the sensation was an
As he advanced up this silent road, without houses or lights, it seemed
to him he was wandering amid the desolation of some lunar region. This
part of Normandy recalled to him the least cultivated parts of Brittany.
It was rustic and savage, with its dense shrubbery, tufted grass, dark
valleys, and rough roads.
Some dreamers love this sweet but severe nature, even at night; they love
the very things that grated most upon the pampered senses of Camors, who
strode on in deep disgust, flattering himself, however, that he should
soon reach the Boulevard de Madeleine. But he found, instead, peasants'
huts scattered along the side of the road, their low, mossy roofs seeming
to spring from the rich soil like an enormous fungus growth. Two or
three of the dwellers in these huts were taking the fresh evening air on
their thresholds, and Camors could distinguish through the gloom their
heavy figures and limbs, roughened by coarse toil in the fields, as they
stood mute, motionless, and ruminating in the darkness like tired beasts.
Camors, like all men possessed by a dominant idea, had, ever since he
adopted the religion of his father as his rule of life, taken the pains
to analyze every impression and every thought. He now said to himself,
that between these countrymen and a refined man like himself there was
doubtless a greater difference than between them and their beasts of
burden; and this reflection was as balm to the scornful aristocracy that
was the cornerstone of his theory. Wandering on to an eminence, his
discouraged eye swept but a fresh horizon of apple-trees and heads of
barley, and he was about to turn back when a strange sound suddenly
arrested his steps. It was a concert of voice and instruments, which in
this lost solitude seemed to him like a dream, or a miracle. The music
was good-even excellent. He recognized a prelude of Bach, arranged by
Gounod. Robinson Crusoe, on discovering the footprint in the sand, was
not more astonished than Camors at finding in this desert so lively a
symptom of civilization.
Filled with curiosity, and led by the melody he heard, he descended
cautiously the little hill, like a king's son in search of the enchanted
princess. The palace he found in the middle of the path, in the shape of
the high back wall of a dwelling, fronting on another road. One of the
upper windows on this side, however, was open; a bright light streamed
from it, and thence he doubted not the sweet sounds came.
To an accompaniment of the piano and stringed instruments rose a fresh,
flexible woman's voice, chanting the mystic words of the master with such
expression and power as would have given even him delight. Camors,
himself a musician, was capable of appreciating the masterly execution of
the piece; and was so much struck by it that he felt an irresistible
desire to see the performers, especially the singer. With this impulse
he climbed the little hedge bordering the road, placed himself on the
top, and found himself several feet above the level of the lighted
window. He did not hesitate to use his skill as a gymnast to raise
himself to one of the branches of an old oak stretching across the lawn;
but during the ascent he could not disguise from himself that his was
scarcely a dignified position for the future deputy of the district. He
almost laughed aloud at the idea of being surprised in this position by
the terrible Des Rameures, or his niece.
He established himself on a large, leafy branch, directly in front of the
interesting window; and notwithstanding that he was at a respectful
distance, his glance could readily penetrate into the chamber where the
concert was taking place. A dozen persons, as he judged, were there
assembled; several women, of different ages, were seated at a table
working; a young man appeared to be drawing; while other persons lounged
on comfortable seats around the room. Around the piano was a group which
chiefly attracted the attention of the young Count. At the instrument
was seated a grave young girl of about twelve years; immediately behind
her stood an old man, remarkable for his great height, his head bald,
with a crown of white hair, and his bushy black eyebrows. He played the
violin with priestly dignity. Seated near him was a man of about fifty,
in the dress of an ecclesiastic, and wearing a huge pair of silver-rimmed
spectacles, who played the violincello with great apparent gusto.
Between them stood the singer. She was a pale brunette, slight and
graceful, and apparently not more than twenty-five years of age. The
somewhat severe oval of her face was relieved by a pair of bright black
eyes that seemed to grow larger as she sang. One hand rested gently on
the shoulder of the girl at the piano, and with this she seemed to keep
time, pressing gently on the shoulder of the performer to stimulate her
zeal. And that hand was delicious!
A hymn by Palestrina had succeeded the Bach prelude. It was a quartette,
to which two new voices lent their aid. The old priest laid aside his
violoncello, stood up, took off his spectacles, and his deep bass
completed the full measure of the melody.
After the quartette followed a few moments of general conversation,
during which--after embracing the child pianist, who immediately left the
room--the songstress walked to the window. She leaned out as if to
breathe the fresh air, and her profile was sharply relieved against the
bright light behind her, in which the others formed a group around the
priest, who once more donned his spectacles, and drew from his pocket a
paper that appeared to be a manuscript.
The lady leaned from the window, gently fanning herself, as she looked
now at the sky, now at the dark landscape. Camors imagined he could
distinguish her gentle breathing above the sound of the fan; and leaning
eagerly forward for a better view, he caused the leaves to rustle
slightly. She started at the sound, then remained immovable, and the
fixed position of her head showed that her gaze was fastened upon the oak
in which he was concealed.
He felt the awkwardness of his position, but could not judge whether or
not he was visible to her; but, under the danger of her fixed regard, he
passed the most painful moments of his life.
She turned into the room and said, in a calm voice, a few words which
brought three or four of her friends to the window; and among them Camors
recognized the old man with the violin.
The moment was a trying one. He could do nothing but lie still in his
leafy retreat--silent and immovable as a statue. The conduct of those at
the window went far to reassure him, for their eyes wandered over the
gloom with evident uncertainty, convincing him that his presence was only
suspected, not discovered. But they exchanged animated observations, to
which the hidden Count lent an attentive ear. Suddenly a strong voice--
which he recognized as belonging to him of the violin-rose over them all
in the pleasing order: "Loose the dog!"
This was sufficient for Camors. He was not a coward; he would not have
budged an inch before an enraged tiger; but he would have travelled a
hundred miles on foot to avoid the shadow of ridicule. Profiting by the
warning and a moment when he seemed unobserved, he slid from the tree,
jumped into the next field, and entered the wood at a point somewhat
farther down than the spot where he had scaled the hedge. This done, he
resumed his walk with the assured tread of a man who had a right to be
there. He had gone but a few steps, when he heard behind him the wild
barking of the dog, which proved his retreat had been opportune.
Some of the peasants he had noticed as he passed before, were still
standing at their doors. Stopping before one of them he asked:
"My friend, to whom does that large house below there, facing the other
road, belong? and whence comes that music?"
"You probably know that as well as I," replied the man, stolidly.
"Had I known, I should hardly have asked you," said Camors.
The peasant did not deign further reply. His wife stood near him; and
Camors had remarked that in all classes of society women have more wit
and goodhumor than their husbands. Therefore he turned to her and said:
"You see, my good woman, I am a stranger here. To whom does that house
belong? Probably to Monsieur des Rameures?"
"No, no," replied the woman, "Monsieur des Rameures lives much farther
"Ah! Then who lives here?"
"Why, Monsieur de Tecle, of course!"
"Ah, Monsieur de Tecle! But tell me, he does not live alone? There is a
lady who sings--his wife?--his sister? Who is she?"
"Ah, that is his daughter-in-law, Madame de Tecle Madame Elise, who--"
"Ah! thank you, thank you, my good woman! You have children? Buy them
sabots with this," and drop ping a gold piece in the lap of the obliging
peasant, Camors walked rapidly away. Returning home the road seemed less
gloomy and far shorter than when he came. As he strode on, humming the
Bach prelude, the moon rose, the country looked more beautiful, and, in
short, when he perceived, at the end of its gloomy avenue, his chateau
bathed in the white light, he found the spectacle rather enjoyable than
otherwise. And when he had once more ensconced himself in the maternal
domicile, and inhaled the odor of damp paper and mouldy trees that
constituted its atmosphere, he found great consolation in the reflection
that there existed not very far away from him a young woman who possessed
a charming face, a delicious voice, and a pretty name.
Next morning, after plunging into a cold bath, to the profound
astonishment of the old steward and his wife, the Comte de Camors went to
inspect his farms. He found the buildings very similar in construction
to the dams of beavers, though far less comfortable; but he was amazed to
hear his farmers arguing, in their patois, on the various modes of
culture and crops, like men who were no strangers to all modern
improvements in agriculture. The name of Des Rameures frequently
occurred in the conversation as confirmation of their own theories, or
experiments. M. des Rameures gave preference to this manure, to this
machine for winnowing; this breed of animals was introduced by him. M.
des Rameures did this, M. des Rameures did that, and the farmers did like
him, and found it to their advantage. Camors found the General had not
exaggerated the local importance of this personage, and that it was most
essential to conciliate him. Resolving therefore to call on him during
the day, he went to breakfast.
This duty toward himself fulfilled, the young Count lounged on the
terrace, as he had the evening before, and smoked his cigar. Though it
was near midday, it was doubtful to him whether the solitude and silence
appeared less complete and oppressive than on the preceding night. A
hushed cackling of fowls, the drowsy hum of bees, and the muffled chime
of a distant bell--these were all the sounds to be heard.
Camors lounged on the terrace, dreaming of his club, of the noisy Paris
crowd, of the rumbling omnibuses, of the playbill of the little kiosk,
of the scent of heated asphalt--and the memory of the least of these
enchantments brought infinite peace to his soul. The inhabitant of Paris
has one great blessing, which he does not take into account until he
suffers from its loss--one great half of his existence is filled up
without the least trouble to himself. The all-potent vitality which
ceaselessly envelops him takes away from him in a vast degree the
exertion of amusing himself. The roar of the city, rising like a great
bass around him, fills up the gaps in his thoughts, and never leaves that
disagreeable sensation--a void.
There is no Parisian who is not happy in the belief that he makes all the
noise he hears, writes all the books he reads, edits all the journals on
which he breakfasts, writes all the vaudevilles on which he sups, and
invents all the 'bon mots' he repeats.
But this flattering allusion vanishes the moment chance takes him a mile
away from the Rue Vivienne. The proof confounds him, for he is bored
terribly, and becomes sick of himself. Perhaps his secret soul, weakened
and unnerved, may even be assailed by the suspicion that he is a feeble
human creature after all! But no! He returns to Paris; the collective
electricity again inspires him; he rebounds; he recovers; he is busy,
keen to discern, active, and recognizes once more, to his intense
satisfaction, that he is after all one of the elect of God's creatures--
momentarily degraded, it may be, by contact with the inferior beings who
people the departments.
Camors had within himself more resources than most men to conquer the
blue-devils; but in these early hours of his experience in country life,
deprived of his club, his horses, and his cook, banished from all his old
haunts and habits, he began to feel terribly the weight of time. He,
therefore, experienced a delicious sensation when suddenly he heard that
regular beat of hoofs upon the road which to his trained ear announced
the approach of several riding-horses. The next moment he saw advancing
up his shaded avenue two ladies on horseback, followed by a groom with a
Though quite amazed at this charming spectacle, Camors remembered his
duty as a gentleman and descended the steps of the terrace. But the two
ladies, at sight of him, appeared as surprised as himself, suddenly drew
rein and conferred hastily. Then, recovering, they continued their way,
traversed the lower court below the terraces, and disappeared in the
direction of the lake.
As they passed the lower balustrade Camors bowed low, and they returned
his salutation by a slight inclination; but he was quite sure, in spite
of the veils that floated from their riding-hats, that he recognized the
black-eyed singer and the young pianist. After a moment he called to his
"Monsieur Leonard," he said, "is this a public way?"
"It certainly is not a public way, Monsieur le Comte," replied Leonard.
"Then what do these ladies mean by using this road?"
"Bless me, Monsieur le Comte, it is so long since any of the owners have
been at Reuilly! These ladies mean no harm by passing through your
woods; and sometimes they even stop at the chateau while my wife gives
them fresh milk. Shall I tell them that this displeases Monsieur le
"My good Leonard, why the deuce do you suppose it displeases me? I only
asked for information. And now who are the ladies?"
"Oh! Monsieur, they are quite respectable ladies; Madame de Tecle, and
her daughter, Mademoiselle Marie."
"So? And the husband of Madame, Monsieur de Tecle, never rides out with
"Heavens! no, Monsieur. He never rides with them." And the old steward
smiled a dry smile. "He has been among the dead men for a long time, as
Monsieur le Comte well knows."
"Granting that I know it, Monsieur Leonard, I wish it understood these
ladies are not to be interfered with. You comprehend?"
Leonard seemed pleased that he was not to be the bearer of any
disagreeable message; and Camors, suddenly conceiving that his stay at
Reuilly might be prolonged for some time, reentered the chateau and
examined the different rooms, arranging with the steward the best plan of
making the house habitable. The little town of I------, but two leagues
distant, afforded all the means, and M. Leonard proposed going there at
once to confer with the architect.
ELISE DE TECLE
Meantime Camors directed his steps toward the residence of M. des
Rameures, of which he at last obtained correct information. He took the
same road as the preceding evening, passed the monastic-looking building
that held Madame de Tecle, glanced at the old oak that had served him for
an observatory, and about a mile farther on he discovered the small house
with towers that he sought.
It could only be compared to those imaginary edifices of which we have
all read in childhood's happy days in taking text, under an attractive
picture: "The castle of M. de Valmont was agreeably situated at the
summit of a pretty hill." It had a really picturesque surrounding of
fields sloping away, green as emerald, dotted here and there with great
bouquets of trees, or cut by walks adorned with huge roses or white
bridges thrown over rivulets. Cattle and sheep were resting here and
there, which might have figured at the Opera Comique, so shining were the
skins of the cows and so white the wool of the sheep. Camors swung open
the gate, took the first road he saw, and reached the top of the hill
amid trees and flowers. An old servant slept on a bench before the door,
smiling in his dreams.
Camors waked him, inquired for the master of the house, and was ushered
into a vestibule. Thence he entered a charming apartment, where a young
lady in a short skirt and round hat was arranging bouquets in Chinese
She turned at the noise of the opening door, and Camors saw--Madame de
As he saluted her with an air of astonishment and doubt, she looked
fixedly at him with her large eyes. He spoke first, with more of
hesitation than usual.
"Pardon me, Madame, but I inquired for Monsieur des Rameures."
"He is at the farm, but will soon return. Be kind enough to wait."
She pointed to a chair, and seated herself, pushing away with her foot
the branches that strewed the floor.
"But, Madame, in the absence of Monsieur des Rameures may I have the
honor of speaking with his niece?"
The shadow of a smile flitted over Madame de Tecle's brown but charming
face. "His niece?" she said: "I am his niece."
"You I Pardon me, Madame, but I thought--they said--I expected to find an
elderly--a--person--that is, a respectable" he hesitated, then added
simply" and I find I am in error."
Madame de Tecle seemed completely unmoved by this compliment.
"Will you be kind enough, Monsieur," she said, "to let me know whom I
have the honor of receiving?"
"I am Monsieur de Camors."
"Ah! Then I have excuses also to make. It was probably you whom we saw
this morning. We have been very rude--my daughter and I--but we were
ignorant of your arrival; and Reuilly has been so long deserted."
"I sincerely hope, Madame, that your daughter and yourself will make no
change in your rides."
Madame de Tecle replied by a movement of the hand that implied certainly
she appreciated the offer, and certainly she should not accept it. Then
there was a pause long enough to embarrass Camors, during which his eye
fell upon the piano, and his lips almost formed the original remark--
"You are a musician, Madame." Suddenly recollecting his tree, however,
he feared to betray himself by the allusion, and was silent.
"You come from Paris, Monsieur de Camors?" Madame de Tecle at length
"No, Madame, I have been passing several weeks with my kinsman, General
de Campvallon, who has also the honor, I believe, to be a friend of
yours; and who has requested me to call upon you."
"We are delighted that you have done so; and what an excellent man the
"Excellent indeed, Madame." There was another pause.
"If you do not object to a short walk in the sun," said Madame de Tecle
at length, "let us walk to meet my uncle. We are almost sure to meet
him." Camors bowed. Madame de Tecle rose and rang the bell: "Ask
Mademoiselle Marie," she said to the servant, "to be kind enough to put
on her hat and join us."
A moment after, Mademoiselle Marie entered, cast on the stranger the
steady, frank look of an inquisitive child, bowed slightly to him, and
they all left the room by a door opening on the lawn.
Madame de Tecle, while responding courteously to the graceful speeches of
Camors, walked on with a light and rapid step, her fairy-like little
shoes leaving their impression on the smooth fine sand of the path.
She walked with indescribable, unconscious grace; with that supple,
elastic undulation which would have been coquettish had it not been
undeniably natural. Reaching the wall that enclosed the right side of
the park, she opened a wicket that led into a narrow path through a large
field of ripe corn. She passed into this path, followed in single file
by Mademoiselle Marie and by Camors. Until now the child had been very
quiet, but the rich golden corn-tassels, entangled with bright daisies,
red poppies, and hollyhocks, and the humming concert of myriads of flies-
blue, yellow, and reddishbrownwhich sported amid the sweets, excited her
beyond self-control. Stopping here and there to pluck a flower, she
would turn and cry, "Pardon, Monsieur;" until, at length, on an apple-
tree growing near the path she descried on a low branch a green apple, no
larger than her finger. This temptation proved irresistible, and with
one spring into the midst of the corn, she essayed to reach the prize, if
Providence would permit. Madame de Tecle, however, would not permit.
She seemed much displeased, and said, sharply:
"Marie, my child! In the midst of the corn! Are you crazy!"
The child returned promptly to the path, but unable to conquer her wish
for the apple, turned an imploring eye to Camors and said, softly:
"Pardon, Monsieur, but that apple would make my bouquet complete."
Camors had only to reach up, stretch out his hand, and detach the branch
from the tree.
"A thousand thanks!" cried the child, and adding this crowning glory to
her bouquet, she placed the whole inside the ribbon around her hat and
walked on with an air of proud satisfaction.
As they approached the fence running across the end of the field, Madame
de Tecle suddenly said: "My uncle, Monsieur;" and Camors, raising his
head, saw a very tall man looking at them over the fence and shading his
eyes with his hand. His robust limbs were clad in gaiters of yellow
leather with steel buttons, and he wore a loose coat of maroon velvet and
a soft felt hat. Camors immediately recognized the white hair and heavy
black eyebrows as the same he had seen bending over the violin the night
"Uncle," said Madame de Tecle, introducing the young Count by a wave of
the hand: "This is Monsieur de Camors."
"Monsieur de Camors," repeated the old man, in a deep and sonorous voice,
"you are most welcome;" and opening the gate he gave his guest a soft,
brown hand, as he continued: "I knew your mother intimately, and am
charmed to have her son under my roof. Your mother was a most amiable
person, Monsieur, and certainly merited--" The old man hesitated, and
finished his sentence by a sonorous "Hem!" that resounded and rumbled
in his chest as if in the vault of a church.
Then he took the letter Camors handed to him, held it a long distance
from his eyes, and began reading it. The General had told the Count it
would be impolite to break suddenly to M. des Rameures the plan they had
concocted. The latter, therefore, found the note only a very warm
introduction of Camors. The postscript gave him the announcement of the
"The devil!" he cried. "Did you know this, Elise? Campvallon is to be
All women, widows, matrons, or maids, are deeply interested in matters
pertaining to marriage.
"What, uncle! The General! Can it be? Are you sure?"
"Um--rather. He writes the news himself. Do you know the lady, Monsieur
"Mademoiselle de Luc d'Estrelles is my cousin," Camors replied.
"Ah! That is right; and she is of a certain age?"
"She is about twenty-five."
M. des Rameures received this intelligence with one of the resonant
coughs peculiar to him.
"May I ask, without indiscretion, whether she is endowed with a pleasing
"She is exceedingly beautiful," was the reply.
"Hem! So much the better. It seems to me the General is a little old
for her: but every one is the best judge of his own affairs: Hem! the
best judge of his own affairs. Elise, my dear, whenever you are ready we
will follow you. Pardon me, Monsieur le Comte, for receiving you in this
rustic attire, but I am a laborer. Agricola--a mere herdsman--'custos
gregis', as the poet says. Walk before me, Monsieur le Comte, I beg you.
Marie, child, respect my corn!
"And can we hope, Monsieur de Camors, that you have the happy idea of
quitting the great Babylon to install yourself among your rural
possessions? It will be a good example, Monsieur--an excellent example!
For unhappily today more than ever we can say with the poet:
'Non ullus aratro
Dignus honos; squalent abductis arva colonis,
"And, by gracious! I've forgotten the rest--poor memory! Ah, young sir,
never grow old-never grow old!"
"'Et curvae rigidum falces conflantur in ensem,"'
said Camors, continuing the broken quotation.
"Ah! you quote Virgil. You read the classics. I am charmed, really
charmed. That is not the characteristic of our rising generation, for
modern youth has an idea it is bad taste to quote the ancients. But that
is not my idea, young sir--not in the least. Our fathers quoted freely
because they were familiar with them. And Virgil is my poet. Not that I
approve of all his theories of cultivation. With all the respect I
accord him, there is a great deal to be said on that point; and his plan
of breeding in particular will never do--never do! Still, he is
delicious, eh? Very well, Monsieur Camors, now you see my little domain
--'mea paupera regna'--the retreat of the sage. Here I live, and live
happily, like an old shepherd in the golden age--loved by my neighbors,
which is not easy; and venerating the gods, which is perhaps easier. Ah,
young sir, as you read Virgil, you will excuse me once more. It was for
me he wrote:
'Fortunate senex, hic inter flumina nota,
Et fontes sacros frigus captabis opacum.'
And this as well:
'Fortunatus et ille deos qui novit agrestes,
Panaque, Silvanumque senem!'"
"Nymphasque sorores!" finished Camors, smiling and moving his head
slightly in the direction of Madame de Tecle and her daughter, who
"Quite to the point. That is pure truth!" cried M. des Rameures, gayly.
"Did you hear that, niece?"
"And did you understand it, niece?"
"I do not believe you, my dear! I do not believe you!" The old man
laughed heartily. "Do not believe her, Monsieur de Camors; women have
the faculty of understanding compliments in every language."
This conversation brought them to the chateau, where they sat down on a
bench before the drawing-room windows to enjoy the view.
Camors praised judiciously the well-kept park, accepted an invitation to
dinner the next week, and then discreetly retired, flattering himself
that his introduction had made a favorable impression upon M. des
Rameures, but regretting his apparent want of progress with the fairy-
He was in error.
"This youth," said M. des Rameures, when he was left alone with Madame de
Tecle, "has some touch of the ancients, which is something; but he still
resembles his father, who was vicious as sin itself. His eyes and his
smile recall some traits of his admirable mother; but positively, my dear
Elise, he is the portrait of his father, whose manners and whose
principles they say he has inherited."
"Who says so, uncle?"
"Current rumor, niece."
"Current rumor, my dear uncle, is often mistaken, and always exaggerates.
For my part, I like the young man, who seems thoroughly refined and at
"Bah! I suppose because he compared you to a nymph in the fable."
"If he compared me to a nymph in the fable he was wrong; but he never
addressed to me a word in French that was not in good taste. Before we
condemn him, uncle, let us see for ourselves. It is a habit you have
always recommended to me, you know."
"You can not deny, niece," said the old man with irritation, "that he
exhales the most decided and disagreeable odor of Paris! He is too
polite--too studied! Not a shadow of enthusiasm--no fire of youth!
He never laughs as I should wish to see a man of his age laugh; a young
man should roar to split his waistband!"
"What! you would see him merry so soon after losing his father in such a
tragic manner, and he himself nearly ruined! Why, uncle, what can you
"Well, well, perhaps you are right. I retract all I have said against
him. If he be half ruined I will offer him my advice--and my purse if he
need it--for the sake of the memory of his mother, whom you resemble.
Ah, 'tis thus we end all our disputes, naughty child! I grumble; I am
passionate; I act like a Tartar. Then you speak with your good sense and
sweetness, my darling, and the tiger becomes a lamb. All unhappy beings
whom you approach in the same way submit to your subtle charm. And that
is the reason why my old friend, La Fontaine, said of you:
'Sur differentes fleurs l'abeille se repose,
Et fait du miel de toute chose!'"
A DISH OF POLITICS
Elise de Tecle was thirty years of age, but appeared much younger. At
seventeen she had married, under peculiar conditions, her cousin Roland
de Tecle. She had been left an orphan at an early age and educated by
her mother's brother, M. des Rameures. Roland lived very near her
Everything brought them together--the wishes of the family, compatibility
of fortune, their relations as neighbors, and a personal sympathy. They
were both charming; they were destined for each other from infancy, and
the time fixed for their marriage was the nineteenth birthday of Elise.
In anticipation of this happy event the. Comte de Tecle rebuilt almost
entirely one wing of his castle for the exclusive use of the young pair.
Roland was continually present, superintending and urging on the work
with all the ardor of a lover.
One morning loud and alarming cries from the new wing roused all the
inhabitants of the castle; the Count burned to the spot, and found his
son stunned and bleeding in the arms of one of the workmen. He had
fallen from a high scaffolding to the pavement. For several months the
unfortunate young man hovered between life and death; but in the
paroxysms of fever he never ceased calling for his cousin--his betrothed;
and they were obliged to admit the young girl to his bedside. Slowly he
recovered, but was ever after disfigured and lame; and the first time
they allowed him to look in a glass he had a fainting-fit that proved
But he was a youth of high principle and true courage. On recovering
from his swoon he wept a flood of bitter tears, which would not, however,
wash the scars from his disfigured face. He prayed long and earnestly;
then shut himself up with his father. Each wrote a letter, the one to M.
des Rameures, the other to Elise. M. des Rameures and his niece were
then in Germany. The excitement and fatigue consequent upon nursing her
cousin had so broken her health that the physicians urged a trial of the
baths of Ems. There she received these letters; they released her from
her engagement and gave her absolute liberty.
Roland and his father implored her not to return in haste; explained that
their intention was to leave the country in a few weeks' time and
establish themselves at Paris; and added that they expected no answer,
and that their resolution--impelled by simple justice to her--was
Their wishes were complied with. No answer came.
Roland, his sacrifice once made, seemed calm and resigned; but he fell
into a sort of languor, which made fearful progress and hinted at a
speedy and fatal termination, for which in fact he seemed to long. One
evening they had taken him to the lime-tree terrace at the foot of the
garden. He gazed with absent eye on the tints with which the setting sun
purpled the glades of the wood, while his father paced the terrace with
long strides-smiling as he passed him and hastily brushing away a tear as
he turned his back.
Suddenly Elise de Tecle appeared before them, like an angel dropped from
heaven. She knelt before the crippled youth, kissed his hand, and,
brightening him with the rays of her beautiful eyes, told him she never
had loved him half so well before. He felt she spoke truly; he accepted
her devotion, and they were married soon after.
Madame de Tecle was happy--but she alone was so. Her husband,
notwithstanding the tenderness with which she treated him--
notwithstanding the happiness which he could not fail to read in her
tranquil glance--notwithstanding the birth of a daughter--seemed never to
console himself. Even with her he was always possessed by a cold
constraint; some secret sorrow consumed him, of which they found the key
only on the day of his death.
"My darling," he then said to his young wife--"my darling, may God reward
you for your infinite goodness! Pardon me, if I never have told you how
entirely I love you. With a face like mine, how could I speak of love to
one like you! But my poor heart has been brimming over with it all the
while. Oh, Elise! how I have suffered when I thought of what I was
before--how much more worthy of you! But we shall be reunited, dearest--
shall we not?--where I shall be as perfect as you, and where I may tell
you how much I adore you! Do not weep for me, my own Elise! I am happy
now, for the first time, for I have dared to open my heart to you. Dying
men do not fear ridicule. Farewell, Elise--darling-wife! I love you!"
These tender words were his last.
After her husband's death, Madame de Tecle lived with her father-in-law,
but passed much of her time with her uncle. She busied herself with the
greatest solicitude in the education of her daughter, and kept house for
both the old men, by both of whom she was equally idolized.
From the lips of the priest at Reuilly, whom he called on next day,
Camors learned some of these details, while the old man practiced the
violoncello with his heavy spectacles on his nose. Despite his fixed
resolution of preserving universal scorn, Camors could not resist a vague
feeling of respect for Madame de Tecle; but it did not entirely eradicate
the impure sentiment he was disposed to dedicate to her. Fully
determined to make her, if not his victim, at least his ally, he felt
that this enterprise was one of unusual difficulty. But he was
energetic, and did not object to difficulties--especially when they took
such charming shape as in the present instance.
His meditations on this theme occupied him agreeably the rest of that
week, during which time he overlooked his workmen and conferred with his
architect. Besides, his horses, his books, his domestics, and his
journals arrived successively to dispel ennui. Therefore he looked
remarkably well when he jumped out of his dog-cart the ensuing Monday in
front of M. des Rameures's door under the eyes of Madame de Tecle. As
the latter gently stroked with her white hand the black and smoking
shoulder of the thoroughbred Fitz-Aymon, Camors was for the first time
presented to the Comte de Tecle, a quiet, sad, and taciturn old
gentleman. The cure, the subprefect of the district and his wife, the
tax-collector, the family physician, and the tutor completed, as the
journals say, the list of the guests.
During dinner Camors, secretly excited by the immediate vicinity of
Madame de Tecle, essayed to triumph over that hostility that the presence
of a stranger invariably excites in the midst of intimacies which it
disturbs. His calm superiority asserted itself so mildly it was pardoned
for its grace. Without a gayety unbecoming his mourning, he nevertheless
made such lively sallies and such amusing jokes about his first mishaps
at Reuilly as to break up the stiffness of the party. He conversed
pleasantly with each one in turn, and, seeming to take the deepest
interest in his affairs, put him at once at his ease.
He skilfully gave M. des Rameures the opportunity for several happy
quotations; spoke naturally to him of artificial pastures, and
artificially of natural pastures; of breeding and of non-breeding cows;
of Dishley sheep--and of a hundred other matters he had that morning
crammed from an old encyclopaedia and a county almanac.
To Madame de Tecle directly he spoke little, but he did not speak one
word during the dinner that was not meant for her; and his manner to
women was so caressing, yet so chivalric, as to persuade them, even while
pouring out their wine, that he was ready to die for them. The dear
charmers thought him a good, simple fellow, while he was the exact
On leaving the table they went out of doors to enjoy the starlight
evening, and M. des Rameures--whose natural hospitality was somewhat
heightened by a goblet of his own excellent wine--said to Camors:
"My dear Count, you eat honestly, you talk admirably, you drink like a
man. On my word, I am disposed to regard you as perfection--as a paragon
of neighbors--if in addition to all the rest you add the crowning one.
Do you love music?"
"Passionately!" answered Camors, with effusion.
"Passionately? Bravo! That is the way one should love everything that
is worth loving. I am delighted, for we make here a troupe of fanatical
melomaniacs, as you will presently perceive. As for myself, I scrape
wildly on the violin, as a simple country amateur--'Orpheus in silvis'.
Do not imagine, however, Monsieur le Comte, that we let the worship of
this sweet art absorb all our faculties--all our time-certainly not.
When you take part in our little reunions, which of course you will do,
you will find we disdain no pursuit worthy of thinking beings. We pass
from music to literature--to science--even to philosophy; but we do this
--I pray you to believe--without pedantry and without leaving the tone of
familiar converse. Sometimes we read verses, but we never make them; we
love the ancients and do not fear the moderns: we only fear those who
would lower the mind and debase the heart. We love the past while we
render justice to the present; and flatter ourselves at not seeing many
things that to you appear beautiful, useful, and true.
"Such are we, my young friend. We call ourselves the 'Colony of
Enthusiasts,' but our malicious neighbors call us the 'Hotel de
Rambouillet.' Envy, you know, is a plant that does not flourish in the
country; but here, by way of exception, we have a few jealous people--
rather bad for them, but of no consequence to us.
"We are an odd set, with the most opposite opinions. For me, I am a
Legitimist; then there is Durocher, my physician and friend, who is a
rabid Republican; Hedouin, the tutor, is a parliamentarian; while
Monsieur our sub-prefect is a devotee to the government, as it is his
duty to be. Our cure is a little Roman--I am Gallican--'et sic ceteris'.
Very well--we all agree wonderfully for two reasons: first, because we
are sincere, which is a very rare thing; and then because all opinions
contain at bottom some truth, and because, with some slight mutual
concessions, all really honest people come very near having the same
"Such, my dear Count, are the views that hold in my drawing-room, or
rather in the drawing-room of my niece; for if you would see the divinity
who makes all our happiness--look at her! It is in deference to her good
taste, her good sense, and her moderation, that each of us avoids that
violence and that passion which warps the best intentions. In one word,
to speak truly, it is love that makes our common tie and our mutual
protection. We are all in love with my niece--myself first, of course;
next Durocher, for thirty years; then the subprefect and all the rest of
"You, too, Cure! you know that you are in love with Elise, in all honor
and all good faith, as we all are, and as Monsieur de Camors shall soon
be, if he is not so already--eh, Monsieur le Comte?"
Camors protested, with a sinister smile, that he felt very much inclined
to fulfil the prophecy of his host; and they reentered the dining-room to
find the circle increased by the arrival of several visitors. Some of
these rode, others came on foot from the country-seats around.
M. des Rameures soon seized his violin; while he tuned it, little Marie
seated herself at the piano, and her mother, coming behind her, rested
her hand lightly on her shoulder, as if to beat the measure.
"The music will be nothing new to you," Camors's host said to him. "It
is simply Schubert's Serenade, which we have arranged, or deranged, after
our own fancy; of which you shall judge. My niece sings, and the curate
and I--'Arcades ambo'--respond successively--he on the bass-viol and I on
my Stradivarius. Come, my dear Cure, let us begin--'incipe, Mopse,
In spite of the masterly execution of the old gentleman and of the
delicate science of the cure, it was Madame de Tecle who appeared to
Camors the most remarkable of the three virtuosi. The calm repose of her
features, and the gentle dignity of her attitude, contrasting with the
passionate swell of her voice, he found most attractive.
In his turn he seated himself at the piano, and played a difficult
accompaniment with real taste; and having a good tenor voice, and a
thorough knowledge of its powers, he exerted them so effectually as to
produce a profound sensation. During the rest of the evening he kept
much in the background in order to observe the company, and was much
astonished thereby. The tone of this little society, as much removed
from vulgar gossip as from affected pedantry, was truly elevated. There
was nothing to remind him of a porter's lodge, as in most provincial
salons; or of the greenroom of a theatre, as in many salons of Paris; nor
yet, as he had feared, of a lecture-room.
There were five or six women--some pretty, all well bred--who, in
adopting the habit of thinking, had not lost the habit of laughing, nor
the desire to please. But they all seemed subject to the same charm; and
that charm was sovereign. Madame de Tecle, half hidden on her sofa, and
seemingly busied with her embroidery, animated all by a glance, softened
all by a word. The glance was inspiring; the word always appropriate.
Her decision on all points they regarded as final--as that of a judge who
sentences, or of a woman who is beloved.
No verses were read that evening, and Camors was not bored. In the
intervals of the music, the conversation touched on the new comedy by
Augier; the last work of Madame Sand; the latest poem of Tennyson; or the
news from America.
"My dear Mopsus," M. des Rameures said to the cure, "you were about to
read us your sermon on superstition last Thursday, when you were
interrupted by that joker who climbed the tree in order to hear you
better. Now is the time to recompense us. Take this seat and we will
all listen to you."
The worthy cure took the seat, unfolded his manuscript, and began his
discourse, which we shall not here report: profiting by the example of
our friend Sterne, not to mingle the sacred with the profane.
The sermon met with general approval, though some persons, M. des
Rameures among them, thought it above the comprehension of the humble
class for whom it was intended. M. de Tecle, however, backed by
republican Durocher, insisted that the intelligence of the people was
underrated; that they were frequently debased by those who pretended to
speak only up to their level--and the passages in dispute were retained.
How they passed from the sermon on superstition to the approaching
marriage of the General, I can not say; but it was only natural after
all, for the whole country, for twenty miles around, was ringing with it.
This theme excited Camors's attention at once, especially when the sub-
prefect intimated with much reserve that the General, busied with his new
surroundings, would probably resign his office as deputy.
"But that would be embarrassing," exclaimed Des Rameures. "Who the deuce
would replace him? I give you warning, Monsieur Prefect, if you intend
imposing on us some Parisian with a flower in his buttonhole, I shall
pack him back to his club--him, his flower, and his buttonhole! You may
set that down for a sure thing--"
"Dear uncle!" said Madame de Tecle, indicating Camors with a glance.
"I understand you, Elise," laughingly rejoined M. des Rameures, "but I
must beg Monsieur de Camors to believe that I do not in any case intend
to offend him. I shall also beg him to tolerate the monomania of an old
man, and some freedom of language with regard to the only subject which
makes him lose his sang froid."
"And what is that subject, Monsieur?" said Camors, with his habitual
captivating grace of manner.
"That subject, Monsieur, is the arrogant supremacy assumed by Paris over
all the rest of France. I have not put my foot in the place since 1825,
in order to testify the abhorrence with which it inspires me. You are an
educated, sensible young man, and, I trust, a good Frenchman. Very well!
Is it right, I ask, that Paris shall every morning send out to us our
ideas ready-made, and that all France shall become a mere humble, servile
faubourg to the capital? Do me the favor, I pray you, Monsieur, to
"There is doubtless, my dear sir," replied Camors, "some excess in this
extreme centralization of France; but all civilized countries must have
their capitals, and a head is just as necessary to a nation as to an
"Taking your own image, Monsieur, I shall turn it against you. Yes,
doubtless a head is as necessary to a nation as to an individual; if,
however, the head becomes monstrous and deformed, the seat of
intelligence will be turned into that of idiocy, and in place of a man of
intellect, you have a hydrocephalus. Pray give heed to what Monsieur the
Sub-prefect, may say in answer to what I shall ask him. Now, my dear
Sub-prefect, be frank. If tomorrow, the deputation of this district
should become vacant, can you find within its broad limits, or indeed
within the district, a man likely to fill all functions, good and bad?"
"Upon my word," answered the official, "if you continue to refuse the
office, I really know of no one else fit for it."
"I shall persist all my life, Monsieur, for at my age assuredly I shall
not expose myself to the buffoonery of your Parisian jesters."
"Very well! In that event you will be obliged to take some stranger--
perhaps, even one of those Parisian jesters."
"You have heard him, Monsieur de Camors," said M. des Rameures, with
exultation. "This district numbers six hundred thousand souls, and yet
does not contain within it the material for one deputy. There is no
other civilized country, I submit, in which we can find a similar
instance so scandalous. For the people of France this shame is reserved
exclusively, and it is your Paris that has brought it upon us. Paris,
absorbing all the blood, life, thought, and action of the country, has
left a mere geographical skeleton in place of a nation! These are the
benefits of your centralization, since you have pronounced that word,
which is quite as barbarous as the thing itself."
"But pardon me, uncle," said Madame de Tecle, quietly plying her needle,
"I know nothing of these matters, but it seems to me that I have heard
you say this centralization was the work of the Revolution and of the
First Consul. Why, therefore, do you call Monsieur de Camors to account
for it? That certainly does not seem to me just."
"Nor does it seem so to me," said Camors, bowing to Madame de Tecle.
"Nor to me either," rejoined M. des Rameures, smiling.
"However, Madame," resumed Camors, "I may to some extent be held
responsible in this matter, for though, as you justly suggest, I have not
brought about this centralization, yet I confess I strongly approve the
course of those who did."
"Bravo! So much the better, Monsieur. I like that. One should have his
own positive opinions, and defend them."
"Monsieur," said Camors, "I shall make an exception in your honor, for
when I dine out, and especially when I dine well, I always have the same
opinion with my host; but I respect you too highly not to dare to differ
with you. Well, then, I think the revolutionary Assembly, and
subsequently the First Consul, were happily inspired in imposing a
vigorous centralized political administration upon France. I believe,
indeed, that it was indispensable at the time, in order to mold and
harden our social body in its new form, to adjust it in its position, and
fix it firmly under the new laws--that is, to establish and maintain this
powerful French unity which has become our national peculiarity, our
genius and our strength."
"You speak rightly, sir," exclaimed Durocher.
"Parbleu I unquestionably you are right," warmly rejoined M. des
Rameures. "Yes, that is quite true. The excessive centralization of
which I complain has had its hour of utility, nay, even of necessity,
I will admit; but, Monsieur, in what human institution do you pretend to
implant the absolute, the eternal? Feudalism, also, my dear sir, was a
benefit and a progress in its day, but that which was a benefit yesterday
may it not become an evil to-morrow--a danger? That which is progress
to-day, may it not one hundred years hence have become mere routine, and
a downright trammel? Is not that the history of the world? And if you
wish to know, Monsieur, by what sign we may recognize the fact that a
social or political system has attained its end, I will tell you: it is
when it is manifest only in its inconveniences and abuses. Then the
machine has finished its work, and should be replaced. Indeed, I declare
that French centralization has reached its critical term, that fatal
point at which, after protecting, it oppresses; at which, after
vivifying, it paralyzes; at which, having saved France, it crushes her."
"Dear uncle, you are carried away by your subject," said Madame de Tecle.
"Yes, Elise, I am carried away, I admit, but I am right. Everything
justifies me--the past and the present, I am sure; and so will the
future, I fear. Did I say the past? Be assured, Monsieur de Camors,
I am not a narrow-minded admirer of the past. Though a Legitimist from
personal affections, I am a downright Liberal in principles. You know
that, Durocher? Well, then, in short, formerly between the Alps, the
Rhine, and the Pyrenees, was a great country which lived, thought, and
acted, not exclusively through its capital, but for itself. It had a
head, assuredly; but it had also a heart, muscles, nerves, and veins with
blood in them, and yet the head lost nothing by that. There was then a
France, Monsieur. The province had an existence, subordinate doubtless,
but real, active, and independent. Each government, each office, each
parliamentary centre was a living intellectual focus. The great
provincial institutions and local liberties exercised the intellect on
all sides, tempered the character, and developed men. And now note well,
Durocher! If France had been centralized formerly as to-day, your dear
Revolution never would have occurred--do you understand? Never! because
there would have been no men to make it. For may I not ask, whence came
that prodigious concourse of intelligences all fully armed, and with
heroic hearts, which the great social movement of '78 suddenly brought
upon the scene? Please recall to mind the most illustrious men of that
era--lawyers, orators, soldiers. How many were from Paris? All came
from the provinces, the fruitful womb of France! But to-day we have
simply need of a deputy, peaceful times; and yet, out of six hundred
thousand souls, as we have seen, we can not find one suitable man. Why
is this the case, gentlemen? Because upon the soil of uncentralized
France men grew, while only functionaries germinate in the soil of
"God bless you, Monsieur!" said the Sub-prefect, with a smile.
"Pardon me, my dear Sub-prefect, but you, too, should understand that I
really plead your cause as well as my own, when I claim for the
provinces, and for all the functions of provincial life, more
independence, dignity, and grandeur. In the state to which these
functions are reduced at present, the administration and the judiciary
are equally stripped of power, prestige, and patronage. You smile,
Monsieur, but no longer, as formerly, are they the centres of life, of
emulation, and of light, civic schools and manly gymnasiums; they have
become merely simple, passive clockwork; and that is the case with the
rest, Monsieur de Camors. Our municipal institutions are a mere farce,
our provincial assemblies only a name, our local liberties naught!
Consequently, we have not now a man for a deputy. But why should we
complain? Does not Paris undertake to live, to think for us? Does she
not deign to cast to us, as of yore the Roman Senate cast to the suburban
plebeians, our food for the day-bread and vaudevilles--'panem et
circenses'. Yes, Monsieur, let us turn from the past to the present--
to France of to-day! A nation of forty millions of people who await each
morning from Paris the signal to know whether it is day or night, or
whether, indeed, they shall laugh or weep! A great people, once the
noblest, the cleverest in the world, repeating the same day, at the same
hour, in all the salons, and at all the crossways in the empire, the same
imbecile gabble engendered the evening before in the mire of the
boulevards. I tell you? Monsieur, it is humiliating that all Europe,
once jealous of us, should now shrug her shoulders in our faces.--
Besides, it is fatal even for Paris, which, permit me to add, drunk with
prosperity in its haughty isolation and self-fetishism, not a little
resembles the Chinese Empire-a focus of warmed-over, corrupt, and
frivolous civilization! As for the future, my dear sir, may God preserve
me from despair, since it concerns my country! This age has already seen
great things, great marvels, in fact; for I beg you to remember I am by
no means an enemy to my time. I approve the Revolution, liberty,
equality, the press, railways, and the telegraph; and as I often say to
Monsieur le Cure, every cause that would live must accommodate itself
cheerfully to the progress of its epoch, and study how to serve itself
by it. Every cause that is in antagonism with its age commits suicide.
Indeed, Monsieur, I trust this century will see one more great event,
the end of this Parisian tyranny, and the resuscitation of provincial
life; for I must repeat, my dear sir, that your centralization, which was
once an excellent remedy, is a detestable regimen! It is a horrible
instrument of oppression and tyranny, ready-made for all hands, suitable
for every despotism, and under it France stifles and wastes away. You
must agree with me yourself, Durocher; in this sense the Revolution
overshot its mark, and placed in jeopardy even its purposes; for you, who
love liberty, and do not wish it merely for yourself alone, as some of
your friends do, but for all the world, surely you can not admire
centralization, which proscribes liberty as manifestly as night obscures
the day. As for my part, gentlemen, there are two things which I love
equally--liberty and France. Well, then, as I believe in God, do I
believe that both must perish in the throes of some convulsive
catastrophe if all the life of the nation shall continue to be
concentrated in the brain, and the great reform for which I call is not
made: if a vast system of local franchise, if provincial institutions,
largely independent and conformable to the modern spirit, are not soon
established to yield fresh blood for our exhausted veins, and to
fertilize our impoverished soil. Undoubtedly the work will be difficult
and complicated; it will demand a firm resolute hand, but the hand that
may accomplish it will have achieved the most patriotic work of the
century. Tell that to your sovereign, Monsieur Sub-prefect; say to him
that if he do that, there is one old French heart that will bless him.
Tell him, also, that he will encounter much passion, much derision, much
danger, peradventure; but that he will have a commensurate recompense
when he shall see France, like Lazarus, delivered from its swathings and
its shroud, rise again, sound and whole, to salute him!"
These last words the old gentleman had pronounced with fire, emotion, and
extraordinary dignity; and the silence and respect with which he had been
listened to were prolonged after he had ceased to speak. This appeared
to embarrass him, but taking the arm of Camors he said, with a smile,
"'Semel insanivimus omnes.' My dear sir, every one has his madness. I
trust that mine has not offended you. Well, then, prove it to me by
accompanying me on the piano in this song of the sixteenth century."
Camors complied with his usual good taste; and the song of the sixteenth
century terminated the evening's entertainment; but the young Count,
before leaving, found the means of causing Madame de Tecle the most
profound astonishment. He asked her, in a low voice, and with peculiar
emphasis, whether she would be kind enough, at her leisure, to grant him
the honor of a moment's private conversation.
Madame de Tecle opened still wider those large eyes of hers, blushed
slightly, and replied that she would be at home the next afternoon at
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Bad to fear the opinion of people one despises
Camors refused, hesitated, made objections, and consented
Confounding progress with discord, liberty with license
Contempt for men is the beginning of wisdom
Cried out, with the blunt candor of his age
Dangers of liberty outweighed its benefits
Demanded of him imperatively--the time of day
Do not get angry. Rarely laugh, and never weep
Every cause that is in antagonism with its age commits suicide
Every one is the best judge of his own affairs
Every road leads to Rome--and one as surely as another
God--or no principles!
He is charming, for one always feels in danger near him
Intemperance of her zeal and the acrimony of her bigotry
Man, if he will it, need not grow old: the lion must
Never can make revolutions with gloves on
Once an excellent remedy, is a detestable regimen
Pleasures of an independent code of morals
Police regulations known as religion
Principles alone, without faith in some higher sanction
Property of all who are strong enough to stand it
Semel insanivimus omnes.' (every one has his madness)
Slip forth from the common herd, my son, think for yourself
Suspicion that he is a feeble human creature after all!
There will be no more belief in Christ than in Jupiter
Ties that become duties where we only sought pleasures
Truth is easily found. I shall read all the newspapers
Whether in this world one must be a fanatic or nothing
Whole world of politics and religion rushed to extremes
With the habit of thinking, had not lost the habit of laughing
You can not make an omelette without first breaking the eggs