Part 8 out of 10
great favour. She thanked Emilie, in particular, for having vanquished
her mother's false delicacy. Emilie blushed at hearing this undeserved
praise; and assured Mrs. Somers that all the merit was her mother's.
"What!" cried Mrs. Somers hastily, "was it contrary to your
opinion?--Were you treacherous--were you my enemy--Mlle. de
Emilie replied that she had left the decision to her mother; that
she confessed she had felt some reluctance to receive a pecuniary
obligation, even from Mrs. Somers; but that she had rather be obliged
to her than to any body in the world, except to her mamma.
This explanation was not perfectly satisfactory to Mrs. Somers, and
there was a marked coldness in her manner towards Emilie during the
remainder of the day. Her affectionate and grateful disposition made
her extremely sensible to this change; and, when she retired to her
own room at night, she sat down beside her bed, and shed tears for the
first time since she had been in England. Mrs. Somers happened to go
into Emilie's room to leave some message for Mad. de Coulanges--she
found Emilie in tears--inquired the cause--was touched and flattered
by her sensibility--kissed her--blamed herself--confessed she had been
extremely unreasonable--acknowledged that her temper was naturally too
hasty and susceptible, especially with those she loved--but assured
Emilie that this, which had been their first, should be their last
quarrel;--a rash promise, considering the circumstances in which they
were both placed. Those who receive and those who confer great favours
are both in difficult situations; but the part of the benefactor is
the most difficult to support with propriety. What a combination of
rare qualities is essential for this purpose! Amongst others, sense,
delicacy and temper. Mrs. Somers possessed all but the last; and,
unluckily, she was not sensible of the importance of this deficiency.
Confident and proud, that, upon all the grand occasions where
the human heart is put to the trial, she could display superior
generosity, she disdained attention to the minutiæ of kindness.
This was inconvenient to her friends; because occasion for a great
sacrifice of the heart occurs, perhaps, but once in a life, whilst
small sacrifices of temper are requisite every day, and every hour.
[Footnote 1: Since this was written, the author has seen the same
thoughts so much better expressed in the following lines that she
cannot forbear to quote them:
"Since trifles make the sum of human things,
And half our mis'ry from our foibles springs;
Since life's best joys consist in peace and ease,
And few can save or serve, but all may please:
Oh! let th'ungentle spirit learn from hence,
A small unkindness is a great offence.
Large bounties to bestow we wish in vain;
But all may shun the guilt of giving pain."
SENSIBILITY. _By Mrs. H. More._]
Mrs. Somers had concealed from Mad. de Coulanges and from Emilie the
full extent of their obligation: she told them, that the sum of money
which she offered had become useless to her, because it had been
destined to the purchase of some superfluities, which were now in
the possession of another person. The fact was, that she had been in
treaty for two fine pictures, a Guido and a Correggio; these pictures
might have been hers, but that on the morning, when she heard of
the failure of the banker of Mad. de Coulanges, she had hastened to
prevent the money from being paid for them. She was extremely fond
of paintings, and had long and earnestly desired to possess these
celebrated pictures; so that she had really made a great sacrifice
of her taste and of her vanity. For some time she was satisfied with
her own self-complacent reflections: but presently she began to be
displeased that Mad. de Coulanges and Emilie did not see the full
extent of her sacrifice. She became provoked by their want of
penetration in not discovering all that she studiously concealed; and
her mind, going on rapidly from one step to another, decided that this
want of penetration arose from a deficiency of sensibility.
One day, some of her visitors, who were admiring the taste with
which she had newly furnished a room, inquired for what those two
compartments were intended, looking at the compartments which had been
prepared for the famous pictures. Mrs. Somers replied that she had not
yet determined what she should put there: she glanced her eye upon
Mad. de Coulanges and upon Emilie, to observe whether they _felt as
they ought to do_. Mad. de Coulanges, imagining that an appeal was
made to her taste, decidedly answered, that nothing would have so fine
an effect as handsome looking-glasses: "Such," added she, "as we
have at Paris. No house is furnished without them--they are absolute
necessaries of life. And, no doubt, these places were originally
intended for mirrors."
"No," said Mrs. Somers, dryly, and with a look of great displeasure:
"No, madame la comtesse, those places were not originally intended for
The countess secretly despised Mrs. Somers for her want of taste; but,
being too well bred to dispute the point, she confessed that she was
no judge--that she knew nothing of the matter; and then immediately
turned to her abbé, and asked him if he remembered the superb mirrors
in Mad. de V----'s charming house on the Boulevards. "It is," said
she, "in my opinion one of the very best houses in Paris. There you
enter the principal apartments by an antechamber, such as you ought to
see in a great house, with real ottomanes, covered with buff trimmed
with black velvet; and then you pass through the spacious salle à
manger and the delightful saloon, hung with blue silk, to the _bijou_
of a boudoir, that looks out upon the garden, with the windows shaded
by the most beautiful flowering shrubs in summer, and in winter
adorned with exotics. Then you see, through the plate-glass door of
the boudoir, into the gallery of paintings--I call it a gallery, but
it is, in fact, a delightful room, not a gallery--where you are not to
perish in cold, whilst you admire the magnificence of the place. Not
at all: it is warmed by a large stove, and you may examine the fine
pictures at your ease, or, as you English would say, in comfort. This
gallery must have cost M. de V---- an immense sum. The connoisseurs
say that it is really the best collection of Flemish pictures in the
possession of any individual in France. By-the-bye, Mrs. Somers, there
is, amongst others, an excellent Van Dyck, a portrait of your Charles
the First, when a boy, which I wonder that none of you rich English
The countenance of Mrs. Somers had clouded over more and more during
this speech; but the heedless countess went on, with her usual
"Yet, no doubt, M. de V---- would not sell this Van Dyck: but he
would, I am told, part with his superb collection of prints, which
cost him 30,000 of your pounds. He must look for a purchaser amongst
those Polish and Russian princes who have nothing to do with their
riches--for instance, my friend Lewenhof, who complained that he was
not able to spend half his income in Paris; that he could not contrive
to give an entertainment that cost him money enough. What can he do
better than commence amateur?--then he might throw away money as fast
as his heart could wish. M. l'abbé, why do not you, or some man of
letters, write directly, and advise him to this, for the good of his
country? What a figure those prints would make in Petersburgh!--and
how they would polish the Russians! But, as a good Frenchwoman, I
ought to wish them to remain at Paris: they certainly cannot be better
than where they are."
"True," cried Emilie, "they cannot be better than where they are, in
the possession of those generous friends. I used to love to see Mad.
de V---- in the midst of all her fine things, of which she thought so
little. Her very looks are enough to make one happy--all radiant with
good-humoured benevolence. I am sure one might always salute Mad.
de V---- with the Chinese compliment, 'Felicity is painted in your
This was a compliment which could not be paid to Mrs. Somers at the
present instant; for her countenance was as little expressive of
felicity as could well be imagined. Emilie, who suddenly turned and
saw it, was so much struck that she became immediately silent. There
was a dead pause in the conversation. Mad. de Coulanges was the only
unembarrassed person in company; she was very contentedly arranging
her hair upon her forehead opposite to a looking-glass. Mrs. Somers
broke the silence by observing, that, in her opinion, there was no
occasion for more mirrors in this room; and she added, in a voice
of suppressed anger, "I did originally intend to have filled those
unfortunate blanks with something more to my taste."
Mad. de Coulanges was too much occupied with her ringlets to hear or
heed this speech. Mrs. Somers fixed her indignant eyes upon Emilie,
who, perceiving that she was offended, yet not knowing by what, looked
embarrassed, and simply answered, "Did you?"
This reply, which seemed as neutral as words could make it, and which
was uttered not only with a pacific, but with an intimidated tone,
incensed Mrs. Somers beyond measure. It put the finishing stroke
to the whole conversation. All that had been said about elegant
money; and the generous Mad. de V----, _who was always good-humoured_,
Mrs. Somers fancied was meant _for her_. She decided that it was
absolutely impossible that Emilie could be so stupid as not to have
perfectly understood that the compartments had been prepared for the
Guido and Correggio, which she had so generously sacrificed; and the
total want of feeling--of common civility--evinced by Emilie's reply,
was astonishing, was incomprehensible.
The more she reflected upon the words, the more of artifice, of
duplicity, of ingratitude, of insult, of meanness she discovered in
them. In her cold fits of ill-humour, this lady was prone to degrade,
as monsters below the standard of humanity, those whom, in the warmth
of her enthusiasm, she had exalted to the state of angelic perfection.
Emilie, though aware that she had unwittingly offended, was not aware
how low she had sunk in her friend's opinion: she endeavoured, by
playful wit and caresses, to atone for her fault, and to reinstate
herself in her favour. But playful wit and caresses were aggravating
crimes; they were proofs of obstinacy in deceit, of a callous
conscience, and of a heart that was not to be touched by the marked
displeasure of a benefactress. Three days and three nights did the
displeasure of Mrs. Somers continue in full force, and manifest itself
by a variety of signs, which were lost upon Mad. de Coulanges, but
which were all intelligible to poor Emilie. She made several attempts
to bring on an explanation, by saying, "Are you not well?--Is any
thing the matter, dear Mrs. Somers?" But these questions were always
coldly answered by, "I am perfectly well, I thank you, Mlle. de
Coulanges--why should you imagine that any thing is the matter with
At the end of the third day of reprobation, Emilie, who could no
longer endure this state, resolved to take courage and to ask pardon
for her unknown offence. That night she went, trembling like a real
criminal, into Mrs. Somers' dressing-room, kissed her forehead, and
said, "I hope you have not such a headache as I have?"
"Have you the headache?--I am sorry for it," said Mrs. Somers; "but
you should take something for it--what will you take?"
"I will take nothing, except--your forgiveness."
"My forgiveness!--you astonish me, Mlle. de Coulanges! I am sure that
I ought to ask yours, if I have said a word that could possibly give
you reason to imagine I am angry--I really am not conscious of any
such thing; but if you will point it out to me--"
"You cannot imagine that I come to accuse you, dear Mrs. Somers; I do
not attempt even to justify myself: I am convinced that, if you are
displeased, it cannot be without reason."
"But still you do not tell me how I have shown this violent
displeasure: I have not, to the best of my recollection, said an angry
or a hasty word."
"No; but when we love people, we know when they are offended, without
their saying a hasty word--your manner has been so different towards
me these three days past."
"My manner is very unfortunate. It is impossible always to keep a
guard over our manners: it is sufficient, I think, to guard our
"Pray do not guard either with me," said Emilie; "for I would a
thousand times rather that a friend should say or look the most angry
things, than that she should conceal from me what she thought; for
then, you know, I might displease her continually without knowing it,
and perhaps lose her esteem and affection irretrievably, before I was
aware of my danger--and with _you_--with you, to whom we owe so much!"
Touched by the feeling manner in which Emilie spoke, and by the
artless expression of her countenance, Mrs. Somers' anger vanished,
and she exclaimed, "I have been to blame--I ask your pardon, Emilie--I
have been much to blame--I have been very unjust--very ill-humoured--I
see I was quite wrong--I see that I was quite mistaken in what I
"And what did you imagine?" said Emilie.
"_That_ you must excuse me from telling," said Mrs. Somers; "I am too
much ashamed of it--too much ashamed of myself. Besides, it was a sort
of thing that I could not well explain, if I were to set about it; in
short, it was the silliest trifle in the world: but I assure you that
if I had not loved you very much, I should not have been so foolishly
angry. You must forgive these little infirmities of temper--you know
my heart is as it should be."
Emilie embraced Mrs. Somers affectionately; and, in her joy at this
reconciliation, and in the delight she felt at being relieved from the
uneasiness which she had suffered for three days, loved her friend the
better for this quarrel: she quite forgot the pain in the pleasure of
the reconciliation; and thought that, even if Mrs. Somers had been in
the wrong, the candour with which she acknowledged it more than made
amends for the error.
"You must forgive these little infirmities of temper--you know my
heart is as it should be."
Emilie repeated these words, and said to herself, "Forgive them! yes,
surely; I should be the most ungrateful of human beings if I did
Without being the most ungrateful of human beings, Emilie, however,
found it very difficult to keep her resolution.
Almost every day she felt the apprehension or the certainty of having
offended her benefactress: and the causes by which she gave offence
were sometimes so trifling as to elude her notice; so mysterious,
that they could not be discovered; or so various and anomalous, that,
even when she was told in what manner she had displeased, she could
not form any rule, or draw any inference, for her future conduct.
Sometimes she offended by differing, sometimes by agreeing, in taste
or opinion with Mrs. Somers. Sometimes she perceived that she was
thought positive; at other times, too complying. A word, a look,
or even silence--passive silence--was sufficient to affront this
susceptible lady. Then she would go on with a string of deductions, or
rather of imaginations, to prove that there must be something wrong
in Emilie's disposition; and she would insist upon it, that she knew
better what was passing, or what would pass, in her mind, than Emilie
could know herself. Nothing provoked Mrs. Somers more than the want
of success in any of her active attempts to make others happy. She
was continually angry with Emilie for not being sufficiently pleased
or grateful for things which she had not the vanity to suspect were
intended for her gratification, or which were not calculated to
contribute to her amusement: this humility, or this difference of
taste, was always considered as affectation or perversity. One day,
Mrs. Somers was angry with Emilie because she did not thank her for
inviting a celebrated singer to her concert; but Emilie had no idea
that the singer was invited on her account: of this nothing could
convince Mrs. Somers. Another day, she was excessively displeased
because Emilie was not so much entertained as she had expected her to
be at the installation of a knight of the garter.
"Mad. de Coulanges expressed a wish to see the ceremony of the
installation; and, though I hate such things myself, I took prodigious
pains to procure tickets, and to have you well placed--"
"Indeed, I was very sensible of it, dear madam."
"May be so, my dear; but you did not look as if you were: you seemed
tired to death, and said you were sleepy; and ten times repeated,
'Ah! qu'il fait chaud!' But this is what I am used to--what I have
experienced all my life. The more pains a person takes to please and
oblige, the less they can succeed, and the less gratitude they are to
Emilie reproached herself, and resolved that, upon the next similar
trial, she would not complain of being sleepy or tired; and that she
would take particular care not to say--"Ah! qu'il fait chaud!" A short
time afterwards she was in a crowded assembly, at the house of a
friend of Mrs. Somers, a _rout_--a species of entertainment of which
she had not seen examples in her own country (it appeared to her
rather a barbarous mode of amusement, to meet in vast crowds, to
squeeze or to be squeezed, without a possibility of enjoying any
rational conversation). Emilie was fatigued, and almost fainting,
from the heat, but she bore it all with a smiling countenance, and
heroic gaiety; for this night she was determined not to displease
Mrs. Somers. On their return home, she was rather surprised and
disappointed to find this lady in a fit of extreme ill-humour.
"I wanted to get away two hours ago," cried she; "but you would not
understand any of my hints, Mlle. de Coulanges; and when I asked you
whether you did not find it very hot, you persisted in saying, 'Not in
the least--not in the least.'"
Mrs. Somers was the more angry upon this occasion, because she
recollected having formerly reproached Emilie, at the installation,
for complaining of the heat; and she persuaded herself, that this was
an instance of perversity in Emilie's temper, and a sly method of
revenging herself for the past. Nothing could be more improbable, from
a girl of such a frank, forgiving, sweet disposition; and no one would
have been so ready to say so as Mrs. Somers in another mood; but the
moment that she was irritated, she judged without common sense--never
from general observations, but always from particular instances. It
was in vain that Emilie disclaimed the motives attributed to her: she
was obliged to wait the return of her friend's reason, and in the
mean time to bear her reproaches--she did with infinite patience.
Unfortunately this patience soon became the source of fresh evils.
Because Emilie was so gentle, and so ready to acknowledge and to
believe herself to be in the wrong, Mrs. Somers became convinced that
she herself was in the right in all her complaints; and she fancied
that she had great merit in passing over so many defects in one whom
she had so much obliged, and who professed so much gratitude. Between
the fits of her ill-humour, she would, however, waken to the full
sense of Emilie's goodness, and would treat her with particular
kindness, as if to make amends for the past. Then, if Emilie could
not immediately resume that easy, gay familiarity of manner, which
she used to have before experience had taught her the fear of
offending, Mrs. Somers grew angry again and decided that Emilie had
not sufficient elevation of soul to understand her character, or to
forgive the _little infirmities_ of the best of friends. When she was
under the influence of this suspicion, every thing that Emilie said or
looked was confirmation strong. Mrs. Somers was apt in conversation to
throw out general reflections that were meant to apply to particular
persons; or to speak with one meaning obvious to all the company, and
another to be understood only by some individual whom she wished to
reproach. This art, which she had often successfully practised upon
Emilie, she, for that reason, suspected that Emilie tried upon her.
And then the utmost ingenuity was employed to torture words into
strange meanings: she would misinterpret the plainest expressions, or
attribute to them some double, mysterious signification.
One evening Emilie had been reading a new novel, the merits of which
were eagerly discussed by the company. Some said that the heroine
was a fool: others, that she was a mad woman; some, that she was not
either, but that she acted as if she were both; another party asserted
that she was every thing that was great and good, and that it was
impossible to paint in truer colours the passion of love. Mrs. Somers
declared herself of this opinion; but Emilie, who happened not to be
present when this declaration was made, on coming into the room and
joining in the conversation, gave a diametrically opposite judgment:
she said, that the author had painted the enthusiasm with which the
heroine yielded to her passion, instead of the violence of the passion
to which she yielded. The French abbé, to whom Emilie made this
observation, repeated it triumphantly to Mrs. Somers, who immediately
changed colour, and replied in a constrained voice, "Certainly that is
a very apposite remark, and vastly well expressed; and I give Mlle. de
Coulanges infinite credit for it."
Emilie, who knew every inflection of Mrs. Somers' voice, and every
turn of her countenance, perceived that these words of praise were
accompanied with strong feelings of displeasure. She was much
embarrassed, especially as her friend fixed her eyes upon her whilst
she blushed; and this made her blush ten times more: she was afraid
that the company, who were silent, should take notice of her distress;
and therefore she went on talking very fast about the novel, though
scarcely knowing what she said. She made sundry blunders in names and
characters, which were eagerly corrected by the astonished Mad. de
Coulanges, who could not conceive how any body could forget the
dramatis personæ of the novel of the day. Mrs. Somers, all the time,
preserved silence, as if she dared not trust herself to speak; but
her compressed lips showed sufficiently the constraint under which
she laboured. Whilst every body else went on talking, and helping
themselves to refreshments which the servants were handing about,
Mrs. Somers continued leaning on the mantel-piece in a deep reverie,
pulling her bracelet round and round upon her wrist, till she was
roused by Mad. de Coulanges, who appealed for judgment upon her new
method of preparing an orange.
"C'est à la corbeille--Tenez!" cried she, holding it by a slender
handle of orange-peel; "Tenez! c'est à la corbeille!"
Mrs. Somers, with a forced smile admired the orange-basket; but said,
that, for her part, her hands were not sufficiently dexterous to
imitate this fashion: "I," said she, "can only do like the king of
Prussia and _other people_--squeeze the orange, and throw the peel
away. By-the-bye, how absurd it was of Voltaire to be angry with the
king of Prussia for that witty and just apologue!"
"_Just!_" repeated Emilie.
"Just!" reiterated Mrs. Somers, in a harsh voice: "surely you think
it so. For my part, I like the king the better for avowing his
principles--all the world act as he did, though few avow it."
"What!" said Emilie, in a low voice, "do not you believe in the
reality of gratitude?"
"Apparently," cried Mad. de Coulanges, who was still busy with her
orange, "apparently, madame is a disciple of our Rochefoucault, and
allows of no principle but self-love. In that case, I shall have as
bitter quarrels with her as I have with you, mon cher abbé;--for
Rochefoucault is a man I detest, or rather, I detest his maxims--the
duke himself, they say, was the most amiable man of his day. Only
conceive, that such a man should ascribe all our virtues to self-love
"And, perhaps," said the abbé, "it was merely vanity that made him say
so--he wished to write a witty satirical book; but I will lay a wager
he did not think as ill of human nature as he speaks of it."
"He could hardly speak or think too ill of it," said Mrs. Somers, "if
he judged of human nature by such speeches as that of the king of
Prussia about his friend and the orange."
"But," said Emilie, in a timid voice, "would it not be doing poor
human nature injustice to judge of it by such words as those? I am
convinced, with M. l'abbé, that some men, for the sake of appearing
witty, speak more malevolently than they feel; and, perhaps, this was
the case with the king of Prussia."
"And Mlle. de Coulanges thinks, then," said Mrs. Somers, "that it
is quite allowable, for the sake of appearing witty, to speak
"Dear madam! dear Mrs. Somers!--no!" cried Emilie; "you quite
"Pardon me, I thought you were justifying the king of Prussia,"
continued Mrs. Somers; "and I do not well see how that can be done
without allowing--what many people do in practice, though not in
theory--that it is right, and becoming, and prudent, to sacrifice a
friend for a bon-mot."
The angry emphasis, and pointed manner, in which Mrs. Somers spoke
these words, terrified and completely abashed Emilie, who saw that
something more was meant than met the ear. In her confusion she ran
over a variety of thoughts; but she could not recollect any thing
that she had ever said, which merited the name of a bon-mot--and a
malevolent bon-mot! "Surely what I said about that foolish novel
cannot have offended Mrs. Somers?--How is it possible!--She cannot
be so childish as to be angry with me merely for differing with her
in opinion. What I said might be bad criticism, but it could not be
malevolent; it referred only to the heroine of a novel. Perhaps the
author may be a friend of hers, or some person who is in distress,
and whom she has generously taken under her protection. Why did not I
think of this before?--I was wrong to give my opinion so decidedly:
but then my opinion is of so little consequence; assuredly it can
neither do good nor harm to any author. When Mrs. Somers considers
this, she will be pacified; and when she is once cool again, she will
feel that I could not mean to say any thing ill-natured."
The moment Mrs. Somers saw that Emilie was sensible of her
displeasure, she exerted herself to assume, during the remainder of
the evening, an extraordinary appearance of gaiety and good-humour.
Every body shared her smiles and kindness, except the unfortunate
object of her indignation: she behaved towards Mlle. de Coulanges with
the most punctilious politeness; but "all the cruel language of the
eye" was sufficiently expressive of her real feelings. Emilie bore
with this infirmity of temper with resolute patience: she expected
that the fit would last only till she could ask for an explanation;
and she followed Mrs. Somers, as was her usual custom upon such
occasions, to her room at night, in order to assert her innocence.
Mrs. Somers walked into her room in a reverie, without perceiving that
she was followed by Emilie--threw herself into a chair--and gave a
"What is the matter, my dear friend?" Emilie began; but, on hearing
the sound of her voice, Mrs. Somers started up with sudden anger;
then, constraining herself, she said, "Pardon me, Mlle. de Coulanges,
if I tell you that I really am tired to-night--body and mind--I wish
to have rest for both if possible--would you be so very obliging as to
pull that bell for Masham?--I wish you a very good night.--I hope Mad.
de Coulanges will have her ass's milk at the proper hour to-morrow--I
have given particular orders for that purpose."
"Your kindness to mamma, dear Mrs. Somers," said Emilie, "has been
"Spare me, I beseech you, Mlle. de Coulanges, all these _grateful
speeches_--I really am not prepared to hear them with temper to-night.
Were you so good as to ring that bell--or will you give me leave to
ring it myself?"
"If you insist upon it," said Emilie, gently withholding the tassel
of the bell; "but if you would grant me five minutes--one minute--you
might perhaps save yourself and me a sleepless night."
Mrs. Somers, incapable of longer commanding her passion, made no
reply, but snatched the bell-rope, and rang violently--Emilie let go
the tassel and withdrew. She heard Mrs. Somers say to herself, as
she left the room--"This is too much--too much--really too
much!--hypocrisy I cannot endure.--Any thing but hypocrisy!"
These words hurt Emilie more than any thing Mrs. Somers had ever
said: her own indignation was roused, and she was upon the point
of returning to vindicate herself; but gratitude, if not prudence,
conquered her resentment: she recollected her promise to bear with the
temper of her benefactress; she recollected all Mrs. Somers' kindness
to her mother; and quietly retired to her room, determining to wait
till morning for a more favourable opportunity to speak.--After
passing a restless night, and dreaming the common dream of falling
down precipices, and the uncommon circumstance of dragging Mrs.
Somers after her by a bell-rope, she wakened to the confused, painful
remembrance of all that had passed the preceding evening. She was
anxious to obtain admittance to Mrs. Somers as soon as she was
dressed; but Masham informed her that her lady had given particular
orders that she should "_not be disturbed_." When Mrs. Somers made her
appearance late at breakfast, there was the same forced good-humour
in her countenance towards the company in general, and the same
punctilious politeness towards Emilie, which had before appeared. She
studiously avoided all opportunity of explaining herself; and every
attempt of Emilie's towards a reconciliation, either by submissive
gentleness or friendly familiarity, was disregarded, or noticed with
cold disdain. Yet all this was visible only to her; for every body
else observed that Mrs. Somers was in remarkably good spirits, and
in the most actively obliging humour imaginable. After breakfast she
proposed and arranged various parties of pleasure: she went with Mad.
de Coulanges to pay several visits; a large company dined with her;
and at night she went to a concert. In the midst of these apparent
amusements, Emilie was made as unhappy as the marked, yet mysterious,
displeasure of a benefactress could render a person of real
sensibility. As she did not wish to expose herself to a second
repulse, she forbore to follow Mrs. Somers to her room at night; but
she sent her this note by Mrs. Masham.
"I have done or said something to offend you, dear Mrs. Somers.
If you knew how much pain I have felt from your displeasure, I am
sure you would explain to me what it can be. Is it possible that
my differing in opinion from you about the heroine of the novel
can have offended you?--Perhaps the author of the book is a friend
of yours, or under your protection. Be assured, that if this be
the case, I did not in the least suspect it at the time I made the
criticism. Perhaps it was this to which you alluded when you said
that the King of Prussia was not the only person who would not
hesitate to sacrifice a friend for a bon-mot. What injustice you
do me by such an idea! I will not here say one word about my
gratitude or my affection, lest you should again reproach me with
hypocrisy--any thing else I am able to bear. Pray write, if you
will not speak to me.
When Emilie was just falling asleep, Masham came into her room with a
note in her hand.
"Mademoiselle, I am sorry to waken you; but my mistress thought you
would not sleep, unless you read this note to-night."
Emilie started up in her bed, and read the following _note_ of four
"Yes I will write, because I am ashamed to speak to you, my dear
Emilie. I beg your pardon for pulling the bell-cord so violently
from your hand last night--you must have thought me quite
ill-bred; and still more, I reproach myself for what I said about
_hypocracy_--You have certainly the sweetest and gentlest temper
imaginable--would to Heaven I had! But the strength of my feelings
absolutely runs away with me. It is the doom of persons of great
sensibility to be both unreasonable and unhappy; and often, alas!
to involve in their misery those for whom they have the most
enthusiastic affection. You see, my dear Emilie, the price you
must pay for being my friend; but you have strength of mind
joined to a feeling heart, and you will bear with my defects.
Dissimulation is not one of them. In spite of all my efforts, I
find it is impossible ever to conceal from you any of even my most
unreasonable fancies--your note, which is so characteristically
frank and artless, has opened my eyes to my own folly. I must show
you that, when I am in my senses, I do you justice. You deserve to
be treated with perfect openness; therefore, however humiliating
the explanation, I will confess to you the real cause of my
displeasure. When you spoke of the heroine of this foolish novel,
what you said was so applicable to some part of my own history
and character, that I could not help suspecting you had heard the
facts from a person with whom you spent some hours lately; and I
was much hurt by your alluding to them in such a severe and public
manner. You will ask me, how I could conceive you to be capable of
such unprovoked malevolence: and my answer is, 'I cannot tell;' I
can only say, such is the effect of the unfortunate susceptibility
of my heart, or, to speak more candidly, of my temper. I confess
I cannot, in these particulars, alter my nature. Blame me as much
as I blame myself; be as angry as you please, or as you can, my
gentle friend: but at last you must pity and forgive me.
"Now that all this affair is off my mind, I can sleep in peace:
and so, I hope, will you, my dear Emilie--Good night! If
friends never quarrelled, they would never taste the joys of
reconciliation. Believe me,
"Your ever sincere and affectionate
No one tasted the joys of reconciliation more than Emilie; but, after
reiterated experience, she was inclined to believe that they cannot
balance the evils of quarrelling. Mrs. Somers was one of those, who
"confess their faults, but never mend;" and who expect, for this
gratuitous candour, more applause than others would claim for the real
merit of reformation. So far did this lady carry her admiration of her
own candour, that she was actually upon the point of quarrelling with
Emilie again, the next morning, because she did not seem sufficiently
sensible of the magnanimity with which she had confessed herself to be
ill-tempered. These few specimens are sufficient to give an idea of
this lady's powers of tormenting; but, to form an adequate notion of
their effect upon Emilie's spirits, we must conceive the same sort
of provocations to be repeated every day, for several months. Petty
torments, incessantly repeated, exhaust the most determined patience.
All this time, Mad. de Coulanges went on very smoothly with Mrs.
Somers; for she had not Emilie's sensibility; and, notwithstanding her
great quickness, a hundred things might pass, and did pass, before
her eyes, without her seeing them. She examined no farther than the
surface; and, provided that there was not any deficiency of those
_little attentions_ to which she had been accustomed, it never
occurred to her that a friend could be more or less pleased: she did
not understand or study physiognomy; a smile of the lips was, to her,
always a sufficient token of approbation; and, whether it were merely
conventional, or whether it came from the heart, she never troubled
herself to inquire. Provided that she saw at dinner the usual
_couverts_, and that she had a sufficient number of people to converse
with, or rather to talk to, she was satisfied that every thing was
right. All the variations in Mrs. Somers' temper were unmarked by
her, or went under the general head, _vapeurs noirs_. This species
of ignorance, or confidence, produced the best effects; for as Mrs.
Somers could not, without passing the obvious bounds of politeness,
make Mad. de Coulanges sensible of her displeasure, and as she had the
utmost respect for the countess's opinion of her good breeding, she
was, to a certain degree, compelled to command her temper. Mad. de
Coulanges often, without knowing it, tried it terribly, by differing
from her in taste and judgment, and by supporting her own side of the
question with all the enthusiastic volubility of the French language.
Sometimes the English and French music were compared--sometimes the
English and French painters; and every time the theatre was mentioned,
Mad. de Coulanges pronounced an eulogium on her favourite French
actors, and triumphed over the comparison between the elegance of the
French, and the _grossièreté_ of the English taste for comedy.
"Good Heaven!" said she, "your fashionable comedies would be too
absurd to make the lowest of our audiences at the Boulevards laugh;
you have excluded sentiment and wit, and what have you in their place?
Characters out of drawing and out of nature; grotesque figures, such
as you see in a child's magic lantern. Then you talk of English
humour--I wish I could understand it; but I cannot be diverted with
seeing a tailor turned gentleman pricking his father with a needle, or
a man making grimaces over a jug of sour beer."
Mrs. Somers, piqued perhaps by the justice of some of these
observations, would dryly answer, that it was impossible for a
foreigner to comprehend English humour--that she believed the French,
in particular, were destitute of taste for humour.
Mad. de Coulanges insisted upon it, that the French have humour; and
Molière furnished her with many admirable illustrations.
Emilie, in support of her mother, read a passage from that elegant
writer, M. Suard, who has lately attacked, with much ability, the
pretensions of the English to the exclusive possession of humour.
[Footnote 1: "Il est très-difficile de se faire une idée nette de ce
que les Anglais entendent par ce mot; on a tenté plusieurs fois sans
succès d'en donner une définition précise. Congreve, qui assurement a
mis beaucoup d'_humour_ dans ses comédies, dit, que c'est _une manière
singulière et inévitable de faire ou de dire quelque chose, qui est
naturelle et propre à un homme seul, et qui distingue ses discours et
ses actions des discours et des actions de tout autre._
"Cette définition, que nous traduisons littéralement, n'est pas
lumineuse; elle conviendrait également à la manière dont Alexandre
parle et agit dans Plutarque, et à celle dont Sancho parle et agit
dans Cervantes. II y a apparence que l'_humour_ est comme l'esprit, et
que ceux qui en ont le plus ne savent pas trop bien ce que c'est.
"Nous croyons que ce genre de plaisanterie consiste surtout dans des
idées ou des tournures originales, qui tiennent plus au caractère qu'à
l'esprit, et qui semblent échapper à celui qui les produit.
"L'homme d'_humour_ est un plaisant sérieux, qui dit des choses
plaisantes sans avoir l'air de vouloir être plaisant. Au reste, une
scene de Vanbrugh ou une satire de Swift, feront mieux sentir ce que
c'est, que toutes les définitions du monde. Quant à la prétention
de quelques Anglais sur la possession exclusive de l'_humour_,
nous pensons que si ce qu'ils entendent par ce mot est un genre de
plaisanterie qu'on ne trouve ni dans Aristophane, dans Plaute, et
dans Lucien, chez lea anciens; ni dans l'Arioste, le Berni, le Pulci,
et tant d'autres, chez les Italiens; ni dans Cervantes, chez les
Espagnols; ni dans Rabener, chez les Allemands; ni dans le Pantagruel,
la satire Ménippée, le Roman comique, les comédies de Molière, de
Dufrèny, de Regnard etc., nous ne savons pas ce que c'est, et nous
ne prendrons pas la peine de la chercher."--_Suard, Mélanges de
Littérature_, vol. iv. p. 366.]
Mrs. Somers then changed her ground, and inveighed against French
tragedy, and the unnatural tones and attitudes of the French tragic
"Your heroes on the French stage," said she, "always look over their
right shoulders, to express magnanimous disdain; and a lover, whether
he be Grecian or Roman, Turk, Israelite, or American, must regularly
show his passion by the pompous emphasis with which he pronounces the
word MADAME!--a word which must certainly have, for a French audience,
some magical charm, incomprehensible to other nations."
What was yet more incomprehensible to Mad. de Coulanges, was the
enthusiasm of the English for that bloody-minded barbarian Shakspeare,
who is never satisfied till he has strewn the stage with dead bodies;
who treats his audience like children, that are to be frightened
out of their wits by ghosts of all sorts and sizes in their winding
sheets; or by a set of old beggarmen, dressed in women's clothes,
armed with broomsticks, and dancing and howling out their nonsensical
song round a black kettle.
Mrs. Somers, smiling as in scorn, would only reply, "Madame la
comtesse, yours is Voltaire's Shakspeare, not ours.--Have you read
Mrs. Montagu's essay upon Shakspeare?"
"Then positively you must read it before we say one word more upon the
Mad. de Coulanges, though unwilling to give up the pleasure of
talking, took the book, which Mrs. Somers pressed upon her, with a
promise to read it through some morning; but, unluckily, she chanced
to open it towards the end, and happened to see some animadversions
upon Racine, by which she was so astonished and disgusted that she
could read no more. She threw down the book, defying _any good critic
to point out a single bad line in Racine_. "This is a defiance I have
heard made by men of letters of the highest reputation in Paris,"
added la comtesse: "have not you, Mons. l'Abbé?"
The abbé, who was madame's common voucher, acceded, with this slight
emendation--that he had heard numbers defy any critic of good taste to
point out a flat line in _Phædre_.
Mrs. Somers would, perhaps, have acknowledged the beauties of Phædre,
if she had not been piqued by this defiance; but exaggeration on one
side produced injustice on the other: and these disputes about Racine
and Shakspeare were continually renewed, and never ended to the
satisfaction of either party. Those who will not make allowances for
national prejudice, and who do not consider how much all our tastes
are influenced by early education, example, and the accidental
association of ideas, may dispute for ever without coming to
any conclusion; especially, if they avoid stating any distinct
proposition; if each of the combatants sets up a standard of his own,
as the universal standard of taste; and if, instead of arguments,
both parties have recourse to wit and ridicule. In these skirmishes,
however, Mad. de Coulanges, though apparently the most eager for
victory, never seriously lost her temper--her eagerness was more of
manner than of mind; after pleading the cause of Racine, as if it were
a matter of life and death, as if the fate of Europe or the universe
depended upon it, she would turn to discuss the merits of a riband
with equal vehemence, or coolly observe that she was hoarse, and that
she would quit Racine for a better thing--_de l'eau sucré_. Mrs.
Somers, on the contrary, took the cause of Shakspeare, or any other
cause that she defended, seriously to heart. The wit or raillery of
her adversary, if she affected not to be hurt by it at the moment,
left a sting in her mind which rankled long and sorely. Though she
often failed to refute the arguments brought against her, yet she
always rose from the debate precisely of her first opinion; and even
her silence, which Mad. de Coulanges sometimes mistook for assent or
conviction, was only the symptom of contemptuous pity--the proof
that she deemed the understanding of her opponent beneath all fair
competition with her own. The understanding of Mad. de Coulanges had,
indeed, in the space of a few months, sunk far below the point of
mediocrity, in Mrs. Somers' estimation--she had begun by overvaluing,
and she ended by underrating it. She at first had taken it for granted
that Mad. de Coulanges possessed a "very superior understanding and
great strength of mind;" then she discovered that la comtesse was
"uncommonly superficial, even for a Frenchwoman;" and at last she
decided, that "really Mad. de Coulanges was a very silly woman."
Mrs. Somers now began to be seriously angry with Emilie for always
being of her mother's opinion: "It is really, Mlle. de Coulanges,
carrying your filial affection too far. We cold-hearted English can
scarcely conceive this sort of fervid passion, which French children
express about every thing, the merest trifle, that relates to
_mamma!_--Well! it is an amiable national prejudice; and one cannot
help wishing that it may never, like other amiable enthusiasms, fail
in the moment of serious trial."
Emilie, touched to the quick upon a subject nearest her heart, replied
with a degree of dignity and spirit which surprised Mrs. Somers, who
had never seen in her any thing but the most submissive gentleness.
"The affection, whether enthusiastic or not, which we French children
profess for our parents, has been of late years put to some strong
trials, and has not been found to fail. In many instances it
has proved superior to all earthly terrors--to imprisonment--to
torture--to death--to Robespierre. Daughters have sacrificed
themselves for their parents.--Oh! if _my_ life could have saved my
Emilie clasped her hands, and looked up to heaven with the unaffected
expression of filial piety in her countenance. Every body was silent.
Mrs. Somers was struck with regret--with remorse--for the taunting
manner in which she had spoken.
"My dearest Emilie, forgive me!" cried she; "I am shocked at what I
Emilie took Mrs. Somers' hand between hers, and endeavoured to smile.
Mrs. Somers resolved that she would keep, henceforward, the strictest
guard upon her own temper; and that she would never more be so
ungenerous, so barbarous, as to insult one who was so gentle, so
grateful, so much in her power, and so deserving of her affection.
These good resolutions, formed in the moment of contrition, were,
however, soon forgotten: strong emotions of the heart are transient in
their power; habits of the temper permanent in their influence.--Like
a child who promises to be always _good_, and forgets its promise
in an hour, Mrs. Somers soon grew tired of keeping her temper in
subjection. It did not, indeed, break out immediately towards
Emilie; but, in her conversations with Mad. de Coulanges, the same
feelings of irritation and contempt recurred; and Emilie, who was a
clear-sighted bystander, suffered continual uneasiness upon these
occasions--uneasiness, which appeared to Mad. de Coulanges perfectly
causeless, and at which she frequently expressed her astonishment.
Emilie's prescient kindness often, indeed, "felt the coming storm;"
while her mother's careless eye saw not, even when the dark cloud
was just ready to burst over her head. With all the innocent address
of which she was mistress, Emilie tried to turn the course of the
conversation whenever it tended towards _dangerous_ subjects of
discussion; but her mother, far from shunning, would often dare and
provoke the war; and she would combat long after both parties were
in the dark, even till her adversary quitted the field of battle,
exclaiming, "_Let us have peace on any terms, my dear countess!--I
give up the point to you, Mad. de Coulanges._"
This last phrase Emilie particularly dreaded, as the precursor of
ill-humour for some succeeding hours. Mrs. Somers at length became so
conscious of her own inability to conceal her contempt or to command
her temper, that she was almost as desirous as Emilie could be to
avoid these arguments; and, the moment the countess prepared for the
attack, she would recede, with, "Excuse me, Mad. de Coulanges: we had
better not talk upon these subjects--it is of no use--really of no
manner of use: let us converse upon other topics--there are subjects
enough, I hope, upon which we shall always agree."
Emilie was at first rejoiced at this arrangement, but the constraint
was insupportable to her mother: indeed, the circle of proper subjects
for conversation contracted daily; for not only the declared offensive
topics were to be avoided, but innumerable others, bordering on or
allied to them, were to be shunned with equal care--a degree of
caution of which the volatile countess was utterly incapable. One
day, at dinner, she asked the gentleman opposite to her, "How long
this intolerable rule--of talking only upon subjects where people are
of the same opinion--had been the fashion, and what time it would
probably last in England?--If it continue much longer, I must fly
the country," said she. "I would almost as soon, at this rate, be a
prisoner in Paris, as in your land of freedom. You value, above all
things, your liberty of the press--now, to me, liberty of the tongue,
which is evidently a part, if not the best part, of personal liberty,
is infinitely more dear. Bon Dieu!--even in l'Abbaye one might talk of
Mad. de Coulanges spoke this half in jest, half in earnest; but Mrs.
Somers took it wholly in earnest, and was most seriously offended.
Her feelings upon the occasion were strongly expressed in a letter
to a friend, to whom she had, from her infancy, been in the habit of
confiding all her joys and sorrows--all the histories of her loves
and hates--of her quarrels and reconciliations. This friend was an
elderly lady, who, besides possessing superior mental endowments which
inspired admiration, and a character which commanded high respect, was
blessed with an uncommonly placid, benevolent temper. This enabled her
to do what no other human being had ever accomplished--to continue
in peace and amity, for upwards of thirty years, with Mrs. Somers.
The following is one of many hundreds of epistolary complaints or
invectives, which, during the course of that time, this "much enduring
lady" was doomed to read and answer.
"TO LADY LITTLETON.
"For once, my dear friend, I am secure of your sympathizing in my
indignation--my long suppressed, just, virtuous indignation--yes,
virtuous; for I do hold indignation to be a part of virtue: it
is the natural, proper expression of a warm heart and a strong
character against the cold-blooded vices of meanness and
ingratitude. Would that those to whom I allude could feel it
as a punishment!--but no, this is not the sort of punishment
they are formed to feel. Nothing but what comes home to their
interests--their paltry interests!--their pleasures--their
selfish pleasures!--their amusements--their frivolous amusements!
can touch souls of such a sort. To this half-formed race of
_worldlings_, who are scarce endued with a moral sense, the
generous expression of indignation always appears something
incomprehensible--ridiculous; or, in their language, _outré!
inouï_! With such beings, therefore, I always am--as much as my
nature will allow me to be--upon my guard; I keep within what
they call the bounds of politeness--their dear politeness! What a
system of _simagrée_ it is, after all! and how can honest human
nature bear to be penned up all its days by the Chinese paling of
ceremony, or that French filigree work, _politesse_? English human
nature cannot endure this, as _yet_; and I am glad of it--heartily
glad of it--Now to the point.
"You guess that I am going to speak of the Coulanges. Yes, my
dear friend, you were quite right in advising me, when I first
became acquainted with them, not to give way blindly to my
enthusiasm--not to be too generous, or to expect too much
gratitude. Gratitude! why should I ever expect to meet with
any?--Where I have most deserved, most hoped for it, I have
been always most disappointed. My life has been a life of
sacrifices!--thankless and fruitless sacrifices! There is not any
possible species of sacrifice of interest, pleasure, happiness,
which I have not been willing to make--which I have not made--for
my friends--for my enemies. Early in life, I gave up a lover I
adored to a friend, who afterwards deserted me. I married a man I
detested to oblige a mother, who at last refused to see me on her
death-bed. What exertions I made for years to win the affection of
the husband to whom I was only bound in duty! My generosity was
thrown away upon him--he died--I became ambitious--I had means
of gratifying my ambition--a splendid alliance was in my power.
Ambition is a strong passion as well as love--but I sacrificed
it without hesitation to my children--I devoted myself to the
education of my two sons, one of whom has never, in any instance,
since he became his own master, shown his mother tenderness or
affection; and who, on some occasions, has scarcely behaved
towards her with the common forms of respect and duty. Despairing,
utterly despairing of gratitude from my own family and natural
friends, I looked abroad, and endeavoured to form friendships with
strangers, in hopes of finding more congenial tempers. I spared
nothing to earn attachment--my time, my health, my money. I
lavished money so, as even, notwithstanding my large income, to
reduce myself frequently to the most straitened and embarrassing
circumstances. And by all I have done, by all I have suffered,
what have I gained?--not a single friend--except yourself. You, on
whom I have never conferred the slightest favour, you are at this
instant the only friend upon earth by whom I am really beloved. To
you, who know my whole history, I may speak of myself as I have
done, Heaven knows! not with vanity, but with deep humiliation and
bitterness of heart. The experience of my whole life leaves me
only the deplorable conviction that it is impossible to do good,
that it is vain to hope even for friendship from those whom we
"My last disappointment has been cruel, in proportion to the fond
hopes I had formed. I cannot cure myself of this credulous folly.
I did form high expectations of happiness from the society and
gratitude of this Mad. and Mlle. de Coulanges; but the mother
turns out to be a mere frivolous French comtesse, ignorant,
vain, and positive--as all ignorant people are; full of national
prejudices, which she supports in the most absurd and petulant
manner. Possessed with the insanity, common to all Parisians, of
thinking that Paris is the whole world, and that nothing can be
good taste, or good sense, or good manners, but what is _à-la-mode
de Paris_; through all her boasted politeness, you see, even by
her mode of praising, that she has a most illiberal contempt for
all who are not Parisians--she considers the rest of the world
as barbarians. I could give you a thousand instances; but her
conversation is really so frivolous, that it is not worth
reciting. I bore with it day after day for several months with a
patience for which, I am sure, you would have given me credit;
and I let her go on eternally with absurd observations upon
Shakspeare, and extravagant nonsense about Racine. To avoid
disputing with her, I gave up every point--I acquiesced in all she
said--and only begged to have peace. Still she was not satisfied.
You know there are tempers which never can be contented, do what
you will to please them. Mad. de Coulanges actually quarrelled
with me for begging that we might have peace; and that we might
talk upon subjects where we should not be likely to disagree.
This will seem to you incredible; but it is the nature of French
caprice: and for this I ought to have been prepared. But, indeed,
I never could have prepared myself for the strange manner in which
this lady thought proper to manifest her anger this day at dinner,
before a large company. She spoke absolutely, notwithstanding all
her good-breeding, in the most brutally ungrateful manner; and,
after all I have done for her, she represented me as being as
great a tyrant as Robespierre, and spoke of my house as a more
intolerable prison than any in Paris!!! I only state the fact to
you, without making any comments--I never yet saw so thoroughly
selfish and unfeeling a human being.
"The daughter has as far too much as the mother has too little
sensibility. Emilie plagues me to death with her fine feelings
and her sentimentality, and all her French parade of affection,
and superfluity of endearing expressions, which mean nothing,
and disgust English ears. She is always fancying that I am angry
or displeased with her or with her mother; and then I am to have
tears, and explanations, and apologies: she has not a mind large
enough to understand my character: and if I were to explain to
eternity, she would be as much in the dark as ever. Yet, after
all, there is something so ingenuous and affectionate about this
girl that I cannot help loving her, and that is what provokes me;
for she does not, and never can, feel for me the affection that I
have for her. My little hastiness of temper she has not strength
of mind sufficient to bear--I see she is dreadfully afraid of
me, and more constrained in my company than in that of any other
person. Not a visitor comes, however insignificant, but Mlle. de
Coulanges seems more at her ease, and converses more with them
than with me--she talks to me only of gratitude, and such stuff.
She is one of those feeble persons who, wanting confidence in
themselves, are continually afraid that they shall not be grateful
enough; and so they reproach and torment themselves, and refine
and _sentimentalize_, till gratitude becomes burdensome (as it
always does to weak minds), and the very idea of a benefactor
odious. Mlle. de Coulanges was originally unwilling to accept of
any obligation from me: she knew her own character better than I
did. I do not deny that she has a heart; but she has no soul: I
hope you understand and feel the difference. I rejoice, my dear
Lady Littleton, that you are coming to town immediately. I am
harassed almost to death between want of feeling and fine feeling.
I really long to see you and to talk over all these things. Nobody
but you, my dear friend, ever understood me.--Farewell!
To this long letter, Lady Littleton replied by the following short
"I hope to see you the day after to-morrow, my dear friend; in the
mean time, do not decide, irrevocably, that Mlle. de Coulanges has
Mrs. Somers was rather disappointed by the calmness of this note; and
she was most impatient to see Lady Littleton, that she might work up
her mind to the proper pitch of indignation. She stationed a servant
at her ladyship's house to give her notice the moment of her arrival
in town. The instant that she was informed of it she ordered her
carriage; and the whole of her conversation during this visit was an
invective against Emilie and Mad. de Coulanges. The next day, Emilie,
who had heard the most enthusiastic eulogiums upon Lady Littleton,
expressed much satisfaction on finding that she was come to town; and
requested Mrs. Somers' permission to accompany her on her next visit.
The request was rather embarrassing; but Mrs. Somers granted it with
a sort of constrained civility. It was fortunate for Emilie that she
was so unsuspicious; for her manner was consequently frank, natural,
and affectionate; and she appeared to the greatest advantage to Lady
Littleton. Mrs. Somers threw herself back in the chair and sat silent,
whilst Emilie, in hopes of pleasing her, conversed with the utmost
freedom with her friend. The conversation, at last, was interrupted
by an exclamation from Mrs. Somers, "Good Heavens! my dear Lady
Littleton, how can you endure this smell of paint? It has made my head
ache terribly--where does it come from?"
"From my bedchamber," said Lady Littleton. "They have, unluckily,
misunderstood my orders; and they have freshly painted every one in my
"Then it is impossible that you should sleep here--I will not allow
you--it will poison you--it will give you the palsy immediately--it
is destruction--it is death. You must come home with me directly--I
insist upon it--But, no," said she, checking herself, with a look of
sudden disappointment, "no, my dearest friend! I cannot invite you;
for I have not a bed to offer you."
"Yes, mine--you forget mine--dear Mrs. Somers," cried Emilie; "you
know I can sleep with mamma."
"By no means, Mlle. de Coulanges; you cannot possibly imagine--"
"I only imagine the truth," said Emilie, "that this arrangement would
be infinitely more convenient to mamma; I know she likes to have me in
the room with her. Pray, dear Mrs. Somers, let it be so."
Mrs. Somers made many ceremonious speeches: but Lady Littleton seemed
so well inclined to accept Emilie's offered room, that she was obliged
to yield. She was vexed to perceive that Emilie's manners pleased
Lady Littleton; and, after they returned home, the activity with
which Emilie moved her books, her drawing-box, work, &c., furnished
Mrs. Somers with fresh matter for displeasure. At night, when Lady
Littleton went to take possession of her apartment, and when she
observed how active and obliging Mlle. de Coulanges had been, Mrs.
Somers shook her head, and replied, "All this is just a proof to
me of what I asserted, Lady Littleton--and what I must irrevocably
assert--that Mlle. de Coulanges has no soul. You are a new
acquaintance, and I am an old friend. She exerts herself to please
you; she does not care what I think or what I feel about the matter.
Now this is just what I call having no soul."
"My dear Mrs. Somers," said Lady Littleton, "be reasonable; and you
must perceive that Emilie's eagerness to please me arises from her
regard and gratitude to you: she has, I make no doubt, heard that I
am your intimate friend, and your praises have disposed her to like
me.--Is this a proof that she has no soul?"
"My dear Lady Littleton, we will not dispute about it--I see you are
fascinated, as I was at first. Manner is a prodigious advantage--but I
own I prefer solid English sincerity. Stay a little: as soon as Mlle.
de Coulanges thinks herself secure of you, she will completely abandon
me. I make no doubt that she will complain to you of my bad temper and
ill usage; and I dare say that she will succeed in prejudicing you
"She will succeed only in prejudicing me against herself, if she
attempt to injure you," said Lady Littleton; "but, till I have some
plain proof of it, I cannot believe that any person has such a base
and ungrateful disposition."
Mrs. Somers spent an hour and a quarter in explaining her causes of
complaint against both mother and daughter; and she at last retired
much dissatisfied, because her friend was not as angry as she was,
but persisted in the resolution to see more before she decided.
After passing a few days in the house with Mlle. de Coulanges, Lady
Littleton frankly declared to Mrs. Somers that she thought her
complaints of Emilie's temper quite unreasonable, and that she was
a most amiable and affectionate girl. Respect for Lady Littleton
restrained Mrs. Somers from showing the full extent of her vexation;
she contented herself with repeating, "Mlle. de Coulanges is certainly
a very amiable young woman--I would by no means prejudice you against
her--but when you know her as well as I do, you will find that she has
Mrs. Somers, in the course of four-and-twenty hours, found a multitude
of proofs in support of her opinion; but they were none of them
absolutely satisfactory to Lady Littleton's judgment. Whilst they were
debating about her character, Emilie came into the room to show Mrs.
Somers a _French_ translation, which she had been making, of a pretty
little English poem, called "The Emigrant's Grave." It was impossible
to be displeased with the translation, or with the motive from which
it was attempted; for it was done at the particular request of Mrs.
Somers. This lady's ingenuity, however, did not fail to discover some
cause for dissatisfaction. Mlle. de Coulanges had adapted the words to
a French, and not to an English air.
"This is a favourite air of mamma's," said Emilie, "and I thought that
she would be pleased by my choosing it."
"Yes," replied Mrs. Somers, in her constrained voice, "I remember
that the Countess de Coulanges and her friend--or your friend--M. de
Brisac, were charmed with this air, when you sang it the other night.
I found fault with it, I believe--but then you had a majority against
me; and with some people that is sufficient. Few ask themselves _what
constitutes a majority_--numbers or sense. Judgments and tastes may
differ in value; but one vote is always as good as another, in the
opinion of those who are decided merely by numbers."
"I hope that I shall never be one of those," said Emilie. "Upon
the present occasion I assure you, my dear Mrs. Somers, that I was
"Oh! my dear Mlle. de Coulanges," interrupted Mrs. Somers, "you need
not give yourself the trouble to explain about such a trifle--the
thing is perfectly clear. And nothing is more natural than that you
should despise the taste of a friend when put in competition with that
of a lover."
"Of a lover!"
"Yes, of a lover. Why should Mlle. de Coulanges think it necessary to
look astonished? But young ladies imagine this sort of dissimulation
is becoming; and can I hope to meet with an exception, or to find one
superior to the _finesse_ of her sex?--I beg your pardon, Mlle. de
Coulanges, I really forgot that Lady Littleton was present when this
terrible word lover escaped--but I can assure you that frankness is
not incompatible with _her_ ideas of delicacy."
"You are mistaken, dear Mrs. Somers; indeed you are mistaken," said
Emilie; "but you are displeased with me now, and I will take a more
favourable moment to set you right. In the mean time, I will go and
water the hydrangia, which I forgot, and which I reproached myself for
Emilie left the room.
"Are you convinced now, my dear Lady Littleton," cried Mrs. Somers,
"that this girl has no soul--and very little heart?"
"I am convinced only that she has an excellent temper," said Lady
Littleton. "I hope you do not think a good temper is incompatible with
a heart or a soul."
"I will tell you what I think, and what I am sure of," cried Mrs.
Somers, raising her voice; "that Mlle. de Coulanges will be a constant
cause of dispute and uneasiness between you and me, Lady Littleton--I
foresee the end of this. As a return for all I have done for her and
her mother, she will rob me of the affections of one whom I love and
esteem, respect and admire--as she well knows--above all other human
beings. She will rob me of the affections of one who has been my
friend, my best, my only constant friend, for twenty years!--Oh! why
am I doomed eternally to be the victim of ingratitude?"
In spite of Lady Littleton's efforts to stop and calm her, Mrs. Somers
burst out of the room in an agony of passion. She ran up a back
staircase which led to her dressing-room, but suddenly stopped when
she came to the landing-place, for she found Emilie watering her
"Look, dear Mrs. Somers, this hydrangia is just going to blow; though
I was so careless as to forget to water it yesterday."
"I beg, Mlle. de Coulanges, that you will not trouble yourself," said
Mrs. Somers, haughtily. "Surely there are servants enough in this
house whose business it is to remember these things."
"Yes," said Emilie, "it is their business, but it is my pleasure. You
must not, indeed you must not, take my watering-pot from me!"
"Pardon me, I must, mademoiselle--you are very condescending and
polite, and I am very blunt and rude, or whatever you please to think
me. But the fact is, that I am not to be flattered by what the French
call _des petites attentions_: they are suited to little minds, but
not to me. You will never know my character, Mlle. de Coulanges--I am
not to be pleased by such means."
"Teach me then better means, my dear friend, and do not bid me despair
of ever pleasing you," said Emilie, throwing her arms round Mrs.
Somers to detain her.
"Excuse me--I am an Englishwoman, and do not love _embrassades_, which
mean nothing," said Mrs. Somers, struggling to disengage herself; and
she rushed suddenly forward, without perceiving that Emilie's foot was
entangled in her train. Emilie was thrown from the top of the stairs
to the bottom. Mrs. Somers screamed--Lady Littleton came out of her
"She is dead!--I have killed her!"--cried Mrs. Somers. Lady Littleton
raised Emilie from the ground--she was quite stunned by the violence
of the fall.
"Oh! speak to me! dearest Emilie, speak once more!" said Mrs. Somers.
As soon as Emilie could speak, she assured Mrs. Somers that she should
be quite well in a few minutes. When she attempted, however, to
walk, she found she was unable to move, for her ankle was violently
sprained: she was carried into Lady Littleton's room, and placed upon
a sofa. She exerted herself to bear the pain she felt, that she might
not alarm or seem to reproach Mrs. Somers; and she repeatedly blamed
herself for the awkwardness with which she had occasioned her own
fall. Mrs. Somers, in the greatest bustle and confusion, called every
servant in the house about her, sent them different ways for all the
remedies she had ever heard of for a sprain; then was sure Emilie's
skull was fractured--asked fifty times in five minutes whether she did
not feel a certain sickness in her stomach, which was the infallible
sign of "_something wrong_"--insisted upon her smelling at salts,
vinegar, and various essences; and made her swallow, or at least
taste, every variety of drops and cordials. By this time Mad. de
Coulanges, who was at her toilet, had heard of the accident, and came
running in half dressed; the hurry of Mrs. Somers' manner, the crowd
of assistants, the quantity of remedies, the sight of Emilie stretched
upon a sofa, and the sound of the word _fracture_, which caught her
ear, had such an effect upon the countess, that she was instantly
seized with one of her nervous attacks; and Mrs. Somers was astonished
to see Emilie spring from the sofa to assist her mother. When Mad. de
Coulanges recovered, Emilie used all her powers of persuasion to calm
her spirits, laughed at the idea of her skull being fractured, and
said, that she had only twisted her ankle, which would merely prevent
her from dancing for a few days. The countess pitied herself for
having such terribly weak nerves--congratulated herself upon her
daughter's safety--declared that it was a miracle how she could
have escaped, in falling down such a narrow staircase--observed,
that, though the stairs in London were cleaner and better carpeted,
the staircases of Paris were at least four times as broad, and,
consequently, a hundred times as safe. She then reminded Emilie of an
anecdote mentioned by Mad. de Genlis about a princess of France, who,
when she retired to a convent, complained bitterly of the narrowness
of the staircase, which, she said, she found a real misfortune to
be obliged to descend. "Tell me, Emilie, what was the name of the
"The Princess Louisa of France, I believe, mamma," replied Emilie.
Mad. de Coulanges repeated, "Ay, the Princess Louisa of France;" and
then, well satisfied, returned to finish her toilette.
"You have an excellent memory, Mlle. de Coulanges," said Mrs. Somers,
looking with an air of pique at Emilie. "I really am rejoiced to see
you so much yourself again--I thought you were seriously hurt."
"I told you that I was not," said Emilie, forcing a smile.
"Yes, but I was such a fool as to be terrified out of my senses by
seeing you lie down on the sofa. I might have saved myself and you a
great deal of trouble. I must have appeared ridiculously officious. I
saw indeed that I was troublesome; and I seem to be too much for you
now. I will leave you with Lady Littleton, to explain to her how the
accident happened. Pray tell the thing just as it was--do not spare
me, I beg. I do not desire that Lady Littleton, or any friend I have
upon earth, should think better of me than I deserve. Remember,
you have my free leave, Mlle. de Coulanges, to speak of me as you
think--so don't spare me!" cried Mrs. Somers, shutting the door with
violence as she left the room.
"Lean upon me, my dear," said Lady Littleton, who saw that Emilie
turned exceedingly pale, and looked towards a chair, as if she wished
to reach it, but could not.
"I thought," said she, in a faint voice, "that this pain would go
off, but it is grown more violent." Emilie could say no more; she had
borne intense pain as long as she was able: and now, quite overcome,
she leaned back, and fainted. Lady Littleton threw open the window,
sprinkled water upon Emilie's face, and gave her assistance in the
kindest manner, without calling any of the servants; she knew that
the return of Mrs. Somers would do more harm than good. Emilie soon
recovered her recollection; and, whilst Lady Littleton was rubbing the
sprained ankle with ether, in hopes of lessening the pain, she asked
how the accident had happened.--Emilie replied simply, that she had
entangled her foot in Mrs. Somers' gown. "I understand, from what Mrs.
Somers hinted when she left the room," said Lady Littleton, "that she
was somehow in fault in this affair, and that you could blame her if
you would; but I see that you will not; and I love you the better for
justifying the good opinion that I had formed of you, Emilie.--But I
will not talk sentiment to you now--you are in too much pain to relish
"Not at all," said Emilie: "I feel more pleasure than pain at
this moment; indeed my ankle does not hurt me now that I am quite
still--the pleasant cold of the ether has relieved the pain. How kind
you are to me, Lady Littleton, and how much I am obliged to you for
judging so favourably of my character!"
"You are not obliged to me, my dear, for I do you only justice."
"Justice is sometimes felt as the greatest possible obligation,
especially by those who have experienced the reverse.--But," said
Emilie, checking herself, "let me not blame Mrs. Somers, or incline
you to blame her. I should do very wrong, indeed, if I were, in return
for all she has done for us, to cause any jealousies or quarrels
between her and her best friend. Oh! that is what I most dread! To
prevent it, I would--it is not polite to say so--but I would, my dear
Lady Littleton, even withdraw myself from your society. This very day
you return to your own house. You were so good as to ask me to go
often to see you: forgive me if I do not avail myself of this kind
permission. You will know my reasons; and I hope they are such as you
will approve of."
A servant came in, to say that her ladyship's carriage was at the
"One word more before you go, my dear Lady Littleton," said Emilie,
with a supplicating voice and countenance. "Tell me, I beseech
you--for you have been her friend from her childhood, and must know
better than any one living--tell me how I can please Mrs. Somers.
I begin to be afraid that I shall at last be weary of my fruitless
efforts, and I dread--above all things I dread--that my affection
for her should be worn out. How painful it would be to sustain the
continual weight of obligation without being able to feel the pleasure
Lady Littleton was going to reply, but she was prevented by the sudden
entrance of Mrs. Somers with her face of wrath.
"So, Lady Littleton, you are actually going, I find!--And I have not
had one moment of your conversation. May I be allowed--if Mlle. de
Coulanges has finished her mysteries--to say a few words to you?"
"You will give me leave, I am sure, Emilie," said Lady Littleton, "to
repeat to Mrs. Somers every word that you have said to me?"
"Yes, every word," said Emilie, blushing, yet speaking with firmness.
"I have no mysteries--I do not wish to conceal from Mrs. Somers any
thing that I say or think."
Mrs. Somers seized Lady Littleton's arm, and left the room; but when
she had entire possession of her friend's ear, she had nothing to say,
or nothing that she would say, except half sentences, reproaching her
for not staying longer, and insinuating that Emilie would be the cause
of their separating for ever.--"Now, as you have her permission, will
you favour me with a repetition of her last conversation?"
"Not in your present humour, my dear," said Lady Littleton: "this
is not the happy moment to speak reason to you. Adieu! I give you
four-and-twenty hours' grace before I declare you a bankrupt in
temper. You shall hear from me to-morrow; for, on some subjects, I
have always found it better to write than to speak to you."
Mrs. Somers continued during the remainder of the day in a desperate
state of ill-humour, which was increased by finding that Mlle. de
Coulanges could neither stand nor walk. Mrs. Somers was persuaded that
Emilie, if she would have exerted herself, could have done both, but
that she preferred exciting the pity of the whole house; and this, all
circumstances considered, was a proof of total want of generosity and
gratitude. The next morning, however, she was alarmed by hearing from
Mrs. Masham, whom she had sent to attend upon Mlle. de Coulanges, that
her ankle was violently swelled and inflamed.--Just when the full
tide of her affections was beginning to flow in Emilie's favour, Mrs.
Somers received the following letter from Lady Littleton:--
"Enclosed, I have sent you, as well as I can recollect it, every
word of the conversation that passed yesterday between Mlle. de
Coulanges and me. If I were less anxious for your happiness,
and if I had not so high an opinion of the excellence of your
disposition, I should wish, my dear friend, to spare both you and
myself the pain of speaking and hearing the truth. But I know that
I have preserved your affection many years beyond the usual limits
of female friendship, by daring to speak to you with perfect
sincerity, and by trusting to the justice of your better self.
Perhaps you would rather have a compliment to your generosity than
to your justice; but in this I shall not indulge you, because I
think you already set too high a value upon generosity. It has
been the misfortune of your life, my dear friend, to believe that,
by making great sacrifices, and conferring great benefits, you
could ensure to yourself, in return, affection and gratitude. You
mistake both the nature of obligation and the effect which it
produces on the human mind. Obligations may command gratitude, but
can never ensure love. If the benefit be of a pecuniary nature, it
is necessarily attended with a certain sense of humiliation, which
destroys the equality of friendship. Of whatever description the
favour may be, it becomes burdensome, if gratitude be expected as
a tribute, instead of being accepted as the free-will offering
of the heart: 'still paying still to owe' is irksome, even to
those who have nothing Satanic in their natures. A person who has
received a favour is in a defenceless state with respect to a
benefactor; and the benefactor who makes an improper use of the
power which gratitude gives becomes an oppressor. I know your
generous spirit, and I am fully sensible that no one has a more
just idea than you have of the delicacy that ought to be used
towards those whom you have obliged; but you must permit me to
observe, that your practice is not always conformable to your
theory. Temper is doubly necessary to those who love, as you do,
to confer favours: it is the duty of a benefactress to command her
feelings, and to refrain absolutely from every species of direct
or indirect reproach; else her kindness becomes only a source
of misery; and even from the benevolence of her disposition she
derives the means of giving pain.
"I have said enough; and I know that you will not be offended. The
moment your understanding is convinced and your heart touched,
all paltry jealousies and petty irritations subside, and you
are always capable of acting in a manner worthy of yourself.
Adieu!--May you, my dear friend, preserve the affections of one
who feels for you, I am convinced, the most sincere gratitude! You
will reap a rich harvest, if you do not, with childish impatience,
disturb the seeds that you have sown, to examine whether they are
"Your faithful friend,
This letter had an immediate and strong effect upon the mind of Mrs.
Somers: she went directly with it open in her hand to Emilie. "Here,"
said she, "is the letter of a noble-minded woman, who dares to speak
truth, painful truth, to her best friend. She does me justice in
being convinced that I shall not be offended; she does me justice
in believing that an appeal to my candour and generosity cannot be
in vain, especially when it is made by her voice. Emilie, you shall
see that I am worthy to have a sincere friend; you shall see that
I can even command my temper, when I have what, to my own feelings
and understanding, appears adequate motive. But, my dear, you are
in pain--let me look at this ankle--I am absolutely afraid to see
it!--Good Heavens! how it is swelled!--And I fancied, all yesterday,
that you could have walked upon it!--And I thought you wanted only
to excite pity!--My poor child!--I have used you barbarously--most
barbarously!" cried Mrs. Somers, kneeling down beside the sofa. "And
can you ever forgive me?--Yes! that sweet smile tells me that you
"All I ask of you," said Emilie, embracing Mrs. Somers, "is to believe
that I am grateful, and to continue to make me love you as long as I
live. This must depend upon you more than upon myself."
"I know it, my dear," said Mrs. Somers. "Be satisfied--I will not
wear out your affections. You have dealt fairly with me. I love you
for having the courage to speak as you think.--But now that it is all
over, I must tell you what it was that displeased me--for I hate half
reconciliations: I will tell you all that passed in my mind."
"Pray do," said Emilie; "for then I shall know how to avoid
displeasing you another time."
"No danger of that, my dear. You will never make me angry again; for
I am sure you will now be as frank towards me as I am towards you. It
was not your adapting that little poem to a French rather than to an
English air that displeased me--I am not quite so childish as to be
offended by such a trifle; but I own I did not like your saying that
you chose it merely to comply with your mother's taste.--And you will
acknowledge, Emilie, there was a want of sincerity, a want of candour,
in your affected look of astonishment, when I mentioned M. de Brisac.
I do not claim your confidence as a right--God forbid!--But if the
warmest desire for your happiness, the most affectionate sympathy, can
merit confidence--But I will not say a word that can imply reproach.
On the contrary, I will only assure you, that I have penetration
sufficient always to know your wishes, and activity enough to serve
you effectually, even without being your confidante. I shall this
night see a friend who is in power--I will speak to him about M. de
Brisac: I have hopes that his pension from our government may be
"I wish it may, for his sake," said Emilie; "but certainly not for my
"Oh! Mlle. de Coulanges!--But I have no right to extort confidence. I
will not, as I said before, utter a syllable that can imply reproach.
Let me go on with what I was telling you of my intentions. As soon as
the pension is doubled, I will speak to Mad. de Coulanges about M. de
"For Heaven's sake, do not!" interrupted Emilie; "for you would do me
the greatest possible injury. Mamma would then think it a suitable
match, and she would wish me to marry him; and nothing could make me
move unhappy than to be under the necessity of acting contrary to my
duty--of disobeying and displeasing her for ever--or else of uniting
myself to M. de Brisac, whom I can neither love nor esteem."
"Is it possible," exclaimed Mrs. Somers, with joyful astonishment, "is
it possible that I have been under a mistake all this time? My dearest
Emilie! now you are every thing I first thought you! Indeed, I could
not think with patience of your making such a match; for M. de Brisac
is a mere nothing--worse than a mere nothing; a coxcomb, and a peevish
"And how could you suspect me of loving such a man?" said Emilie.
"I never thought you loved him, but I thought you would marry him.
French marriages, you know, according to _l'ancien régime_, in which
you were brought up, were never supposed to be affairs of the heart,
but mere alliances of interest, pride, or convenience."
"Yes--_des mariages de convenance_," said Emilie. "We have suffered
terribly by the revolution; but I owe to it one blessing, which,
putting what mamma has felt out of the question, I should say has
overbalanced all our losses: I have escaped--what must have been my
fate in the ancient order of things--_un mariage de convenance_.
I must tell you how I escaped by a happy misfortune," continued
Emilie, suddenly recovering her vivacity of manner. "The family of
M. de Brisac had settled, with mine, that I was to be la Comtesse de
Brisac--But we lost our property, and M. le comte his memory. Mamma
was provoked and indignant--I rejoiced. When I saw how shabbily he
behaved, could I do otherwise than rejoice at having escaped being
his wife? M. le Comte de Brisac soon lost his hereditary honours and
possessions--Heaven forgive me for not pitying him! I was only glad
mamma now agreed with me that we had nothing to regret. I had hoped
that we should never have heard more of him: but, lo! here he is again
in my way with a commission in your English army and a pension from
your generous king, which make him, amongst poor emigrants, a man of
consequence. And he has taken it into his head to sigh for me, because
I laugh at him; and he talks of his sentiments!--sentiments!--he who
has no principles!--"
"My noble-minded Emilie!" cried Mrs. Somers; "I cannot express to you
the delight I feel at this explanation. How could I be such an idiot
as not sooner to see the truth! But I was misled by the solicitude
that Mad. de Coulanges showed about this M. de Brisac; and I foolishly
concluded that you and your mother were one. On the contrary, no
two people can be more different, thank Heaven!--I beg your pardon
for that thanksgiving--I see it distresses you, my dear Emilie--and
believe me, I never was less disposed to give you pain--I have made
you suffer too much already, both in mind and body. This terrible
"It does not give me any pain," said Emilie, "except when I attempt to
walk; and it is no great misfortune to be obliged to be quiet for a
Mrs. Somers' whole soul was now intent upon the means of making her
young friend amends for all she had suffered: this last conversation
had raised her to the highest point both of favour and esteem. Mrs.
Somers was now revolving in her mind a scheme, which she had formed in
the first moments of her partiality for Emilie--a scheme of marrying
her to her son. She had often quarrelled with this son; but she
persuaded herself that Emilie would make him every thing that was
amiable and respectable, and that she would form an indissoluble bond
of family union and felicity. "Then," said she to herself, "Emilie
will certainly be established according to her mother's satisfaction.
M. de Brisac cannot possibly stand in the way here; for my son has
name and fortune, and every thing that Mad. de Coulanges can desire."
Mrs. Somers wrote immediately to summon her son home. In the mean
time, delighted with this new and grand project, and thinking herself
sure of success, she neglected, according to her usual custom, the
"little courtesies of life;" and all Lady Littleton's excellent
observations upon the nature of gratitude, and the effect produced on
the mind by obligations, were entirely obliterated from her memory.
Emilie's sprained ankle confined her to the house for some weeks; both
Mad. de Coulanges and Mrs. Somers began by offering in the most eager
manner, in competition with each other, to stay at home every evening
to keep her company; but she found that she could not accept of the
offer of one without offending the other; she knew that her mother
would have _les vapeurs noirs_, if she were not in _society_; and
as she had reason to apprehend that Mrs. Somers could not, with the
best intentions possible, remain three hours alone, with even a
dear friend, without finding or making some subject of quarrel, she
wisely declined all these kind offers. In fact, these were _trifling
sacrifices_, which it would not have suited Mrs. Somers' temper to
make: for there was no glory to be gained by them. She regularly came
every evening, as soon as she was dressed, to pity Emilie--to repeat
her wish that she might be allowed to stay at home--then to step into
her carriage, and drive away to spend four hours in company which she
professed to hate.
Lady Littleton made no complimentary speeches, but every day she
contrived to spend some time with Emilie; and, by a thousand small but
kind instances of attention, which asked neither for admiration nor
gratitude, she contributed to Emilie's daily happiness.
This ready sympathy, and this promptitude to oblige in trifles, became
extremely agreeable to Mlle. de Coulanges: perhaps from the contrast
with Mrs. Somers' defects, Lady Littleton's manners pleased her
peculiarly. She was under no fear of giving offence, so that she could
speak her sentiments or express her feelings without constraint: and,
in short, she enjoyed in this lady's society, a degree of tranquillity
of mind and freedom to which she had long been a stranger. Lady
Littleton had employed her excellent understanding in studying
the minute circumstances which tend to make people, of different
characters and tempers, agree and live happily together; and she
understood and practised so successfully all the _honest_ arts of
pleasing, that she rendered herself the centre of union to a large
circle of relations, many of whom she had converted into friends. This
she had accomplished without any violent effort, without making any
splendid sacrifices, but with that calm, gentle, persevering kindness
of temper, which, when united to good sense, forms the real happiness
of domestic life, and the true perfection of the female character.
Those who have not traced the causes of family quarrels would not
readily guess from what slight circumstances they often originate:
they arise more frequently from small defects in temper than from
material faults of character. People who would perhaps sacrifice their
fortunes or lives for each other cannot, at certain moments, give up
their will, or command their humour in the slightest degree.
Whilst Emilie was confined by her sprained ankle, she employed herself
in embroidering and painting various trifles, which she intended
to offer as _souvenirs_ to her English friends. Amongst these, the
prettiest was one which she called _the watch of Flora_. It
was a dial plate for a pendule, on which the hours were marked
by flowers--by those flowers which open or close their petals at
particular times of the day. "Linnæus has enumerated forty-six flowers
which possess this kind of sensibility; and has marked," as he says,
"their respective hours of rising and setting." From these forty-six
Emilie wished to select the most beautiful: she had some difficulty in
finding such as would suit her purpose, especially as the observations
made in the botanic gardens of Upsal could not exactly agree with our
climate. She sometimes applied to Mrs. Somers for assistance; but Mrs.
Somers repeatedly forgot to borrow for her the botanical books which
she wanted: this was too small a service for her to remember. She
was provoked at last by Emilie's reiterated requests, and vexed by
her own forgetfulness; so that Mlle. de Coulanges at last determined
not to run the risk of offending, and she reluctantly laid aside her
[Footnote 1: See Botanic Garden, canto 2.]
Young people of vivacious and inventive tempers, who know what it is
to be eagerly intent upon some favourite little project, will give
Emilie due credit for her forbearance. Lady Littleton, though not a
young person, could so far sympathize in the pursuits of youth, as to
feel for Emilie's disappointment. "No," said she, "you must not lay
aside your watch of Flora; perhaps I can help you to what you want."
She was indefatigable in the search of books and flowers; and, by
assisting her in the pursuit of this slight object, she not only
enabled her to spend many happy hours, but was of the most essential
service to Emilie. It happened, that one morning, when Lady Littleton
went to Kew Gardens to search in the hot-houses for some of the
flowers, and to ascertain their hours of closing, she met with a
French botanist, who had just arrived from Paris, who came to examine
the arrangement of Kew Gardens, and to compare it with that of
the Jardin des Plantes. He paid some deserved compliments to the
superiority of Kew Gardens; and, with the ease of a Frenchman, he
entered into conversation with Lady Littleton. As he inquired for
several French emigrants, she mentioned the name of Mad. de Coulanges,
and asked whether he knew to whom the property of her family now
belonged. He said, "that it was still in the possession of that
_scelerat_ of a steward, who had, by his informations, brought his
excellent master, le Comte de Coulanges, to the guillotine. But,"
added the botanist, "if you, madam, are acquainted with any of the
family, will you give them notice that this wretch is near his end;
that he has, within a few weeks, had two strokes of apoplexy; and that
his eldest son by no means resembles him; but is a worthy young man,
who, to my certain knowledge, is shocked at his father's crimes, and
who might be prevailed upon, by a reasonable consideration, to restore
to the family, to whom it originally belonged, the property that
has been seized. I have more than once, even in the most dangerous
times, heard him (in confidence) express the strongest attachment to
the descendant of the good master, who loaded him in his childhood
with favours. These sentiments he has been, of course, obliged to
dissemble, and to profess directly the contrary principles: it can
only be by such means that he can gain possession of the estate, which
he wishes to restore to the rightful owners. He passes for as great
a scoundrel as his father: this is not the least of his merits. But,
madam, you may depend upon the correctness of my information, and of
my knowledge of his character. I was once, as a man of science, under
obligation to the late Comte de Coulanges, who gave me the use of his
library; and most happy should I think myself, if I could by any means
be instrumental in restoring his descendants to the possession of that
There was such an air of truth and frankness in the countenance and
manner of this gentleman, that, notwithstanding the extraordinary
nature of his information, and the still more extraordinary facility
with which it was communicated, Lady Littleton could not help
believing him. He gave her ladyship his address; told her that he
should return to Paris in a few days; and that he should be happy
if he could be made, in any manner, useful to Mad. de Coulanges.
Impatient to impart all this good news to her friends, Lady Littleton
hastened to Mrs. Somers'; but just as she put her hand on the lock of
Emilie's door, she recollected Mrs. Somers, and determined to tell
her the first, that she might have the pleasure of communicating the
joyful tidings. From her knowledge of the temper of her friend, Lady
Littleton thought that this would be peculiarly gratifying to her;
but, contrary to all rational expectation, Mrs. Somers heard the news
with an air of extreme mortification, which soon turned into anger.
She got up and walked about the room, whilst Lady Littleton was
speaking; and, as soon as she had finished her story, exclaimed, "Was
there ever any thing so provoking!"
She continued walking, deep in reverie, whilst Lady Littleton sat
looking at her in amazement. Mrs. Somers having once formed the
_generous_ scheme of enriching Emilie by a marriage with her son, was
actually disappointed to find that there was a probability that Mlle.
de Coulanges should recover a fortune which would make her more than a
suitable match for Mr. Somers. There was another circumstance that was
still more provoking--this property was likely to be recovered without
the assistance of Mrs. Somers. There are people who would rather that
their best friends should miss a piece of good fortune than that they
should obtain it without their intervention. Mrs. Somers at length
quieted her own mind by the idea that all Lady Littleton had heard
might have no foundation in truth.
"I am surprised, my dear friend, that a person of your excellent
judgment can, for an instant, believe such a strange story as this,"
said Mrs. Somers. "I assure you, I do not give the slightest credit to
it; and, in my opinion, it would be much better not to say one word
about the matter, either to Emilie or Mad. de Coulanges: it will only
fill their minds with false and absurd hopes. Mad. de Coulanges will
torment herself and me to death with conjectures and exclamations; and
we shall hear of nothing but the Hotel de Coulanges, and the Chateau
de Coulanges, from morning till night; and, after all, I am convinced
she will never see either of them again."
To this assertion, which Mrs. Somers could support only by
repeating that it was her conviction--that it was her unalterable
conviction--Lady Littleton simply replied, that it would be improper
not to mention what had happened to Mad. de Coulanges, because this
would deprive her of an opportunity of judging and acting for herself
in her own affairs. "This French gentleman has offered to carry
letters, or to do her any service in his power; and we should not be
justifiable in concealing this: the information may be false, but of
that Mad. de Coulanges should at least have an opportunity of judging;
she should see this botanist, and she will recollect whether what he
says of the count, and his allowing him the use of his library, be
true or false: from these circumstances we may obtain some farther
reason to believe or disbelieve him. I should be sorry to excite hopes
which must end in disappointment; but the chance of good, in this
case, appears to me far greater than the chance of evil."
"Very well, my dear Lady Littleton," interrupted Mrs. Somers, "you
will follow your judgment, and I must be allowed to follow mine,
though I make no doubt that yours is superior. Manage this business as
you please: I will have nothing to do with it. It is your opinion that
Mad. de Coulanges and her daughter should hear this wonderfully fine
story; therefore I beg you will be the relater--I must be excused--for
my part, I can't give any credit to it--no, not the slightest. But
your judgment is better than mine, Lady Littleton--you will act as you
think proper, and manage the whole business yourself--I am sure I wish
you success with all my heart."
Lady Littleton, by a mixture of firmness and gentleness in her manner,
so far worked upon the temper of Mrs. Somers, as to prevail upon her
to believe that the management of the business was not her object; and
she even persuaded Mrs. Somers to be present when the intelligence
was communicated to Mad. de Coulanges and Emilie. She could not,
however, forbear repeating, that she did not believe the story:--this
incredulity afforded her a plausible pretext for not sympathizing in
the general joy. Mad. de Coulanges was alternately in ecstasy and in
despair, as she listened to Lady Littleton or to Mrs. Somers: her
exclamations would have been much less frequent and violent, if Mrs.
Somers had not provoked them, by mixing with her hopes a large portion
of fear. The next day, when she saw the French gentleman, her hopes
were predominant: for she recollected perfectly having seen this
gentleman, in former times, at the Hotel de Coulanges; she knew that
he was _un savant_; and that he had, before the revolution, the
reputation of being a very worthy man. Mad. de Coulanges, by Lady
Littleton's advice, determined, however, to be cautious in what she
wrote to send to France by this gentleman. Emilie took the letters to
Mrs. Somers, and requested her opinion; but she declined giving any.
"I have nothing to do with the business, Mlle. de Coulanges," said
she; "you will be guided by the opinion of my Lady Littleton."
Emilie saw that it was in vain to expostulate; she retired in silence,
much embarrassed as to the answer which she was to give to her mother,
who was waiting to hear the opinion of Mrs. Somers. Mad. de Coulanges,
impatient with Emilie, for bringing her only a reference to Lady
Littleton's opinion, went herself, with what she thought the most
amiable politeness, to solicit the advice of Mrs. Somers; but she was
astonished, and absolutely shocked, by the coldness and want of good
breeding with which this lady persisted in a refusal to have any thing
to do with the business, or even to read the letters which waited
for her judgment. The countess opened her large eyes to their utmost
orbicular extent; and, after a moment's _silence_, the strongest
possible expression that she could give of amazement, she also
retired, and returned to Emilie, to demand from her an explanation of
what she could not understand. The ill-humour of Mrs. Somers, now that
Mad. de Coulanges was wakened to the perception of it, was not, as
it had been to poor Emilie, a subject of continual anxiety and pain,
but merely matter of astonishment and curiosity. She looked upon
Mrs. Somers as an English _oddity_, as a _lusus naturæ_; and she
alternately asked Emilie to account for these strange appearances, or
shrugged up her shoulders, and submitted to the impossibility of a
Frenchwoman's ever understanding such _extravagances_.
"Ah que c'est bizarre! Mais, mon enfant, expliquez moi done tout
ça--Mais ça ne s'explique point--Certes c'est une Anglaise qui sçait
donner, mais qui ne sçait pas vivre.--Voltaire s'y connaissait mieux
que moi apparemment--et heureusement."
Content with this easy method of settling things, Mad. de Coulanges
sealed and despatched her letters, appealed no more to Mrs. Somers
for advice, and, when she saw any extraordinary signs of displeasure,
repeated to herself--"Ah que c'est bizarre!" And this phrase was
for some time a quieting charm. But as the anxiety of the countess
increased, at the time when she expected to receive the decisive
answer from her steward's son, she talked with incessant and
uncontrollable volubility of her hopes and fears--her conjectures
and calculations--and of the Chateau and Hotel de Coulanges; and she
could not endure to see that Mrs. Somers heard all this with affected
coldness or real impatience.
"How is this possible, Emilie?" said she. "Here is a woman who would
give me half her fortune, and who yet seems to wish that I should not
recover the whole of mine! Here is a woman who would move heaven and
earth to serve me in her own way; but who, nevertheless, will not
give me either a word of advice or a look of sympathy, in the most
important affair and the most anxious moment of my life! But this is
more than _bizarre_--this is intolerably provoking. For my part, I
would rather a friend would deny me any thing than sympathy: without
sympathy, there is no society--there is no living--there is no
talking. I begin to feel my obligations a burden; and, positively,
with the first money I receive from my estates, I will relieve
myself from my pecuniary debt to this generous but incomprehensible
Every day Emilie dreaded the arrival of the post, when her mother
asked, "Are there any letters from Paris?"--Constantly the answer
was--"No."--Mrs. Somers' look was triumphant; and Mad. de Coulanges
applied regularly to her smelling-bottle or her snuff-box to conceal
her emotion, which Mrs. Somers increased by indirect reflections upon
the absurdity of those who listen to idle reports, and build castles
in the air. Having set her opinion in opposition to Lady Littleton's,
she supported it with a degree of obstinacy, and even acrimony, which
made her often transgress the bounds of that politeness which she had
formerly maintained in all her differences with the comtesse.
Mad. de Coulanges could no longer consider her humour as merely
_bizarre_, she found it _insupportable_; and Mrs. Somers appeared to
her totally changed, and absolutely odious, now that she was roused by
her own sufferings to the perception of those evils which Emilie had
long borne with all the firmness of principle, and all the philosophy
of gratitude. Not a day passed without her complaining to Emilie of
some _grossièreté_ from Mrs. Somers. Mad. de Coulanges suffered so
much from irritation and anxiety, that her _vapeurs noirs_ returned
with tenfold violence. Emilie had loved Mrs. Somers, even when most
unreasonable towards herself, as long as she behaved with kindness to
her mother; but now that, instead of a source of pleasure, she became
the hourly cause of pain to Mad. de Coulanges, Emilie's affection
could no farther go; and she really began to dislike this lady--to
dread to see her come into the room--and to tremble at hearing her
voice. Emilie could judge only by what she saw; and she could not
divine that Mrs. Somers was occupied, all this time, with the generous
scheme of marrying her to her son and heir, and of settling upon her
a large fortune; nor could she guess, that all the ill-humour in Mrs.
Somers originated in the fear that her friends should be made either
rich or happy without her assistance. Her son's delaying to return
home, according to her mandate, had disappointed and vexed her
extremely. Every day, when the post came in, she inquired for letters
with almost as much eagerness as Mad. de Coulanges. At length a letter
came from Mr. Somers, to inform his impatient mother that he should
certainly be in town the beginning of the ensuing week. Delighted by
this news, she could not refrain from the temptation of opening her
whole mind to Emilie; though she had previously resolved not to give
the slightest intimation of her scheme to any one, not even to Lady
Littleton, till a definitive answer had been received from Paris,
respecting the fortune of Mad. de Coulanges. Often, when Mrs.
Somers was full of some magnanimous design, the merest trifle that
interrupted the full display of her generosity threw her into a
passion, even with those whom she was going to serve. So it happened
in the present instance. She went, with her open letter in her hand,
to the countess's apartment, where unluckily she found M. de Brisac,
who was going to read the French newspapers to madame. Mrs. Somers sat
down beside Emilie, who was painting the last flower of her watch of
Flora. Mrs. Somers wrote on a slip of paper, "Don't ask M. de Brisac
to read the papers, for I want to speak to you." She threw down the
note before Emilie, who was so intent upon what she was about, that
she did not immediately see it--Mrs. Somers touched her elbow--Emilie
started, and let fall her brush, which made a blot upon her
"Oh! what a pity!--Just as I had finished my work," cried Emilie, "I
have spoiled it!"
M. de Brisac laid down the newspaper to pour forth compliments of
condolence.--Mrs. Somers tore the piece of paper as he approached
the table, and said, with some asperity, "One would think this was a
matter of life and death, by the terms in which it is deplored."
M. de Brisac, who stood so that Mrs. Somers could not see him,
shrugged his shoulders, and looked at Mad. de Coulanges, who answered
him by another look, that plainly said, "This is English politeness!"
Emilie, who saw that her mother was displeased, endeavoured to change
the course of her thoughts, by begging M. de Brisac to go on with what
he was reading from the French papers. This was a fresh provocation to
Mrs. Somers, who forgot that Emilie had not read the words on the slip
of paper which had been torn; and consequently could not know all Mrs.
Somers' impatience for his departure. M. de Brisac read, in what this
lady called his _unemphatic French tone_, paragraph after paragraph,
and column after column, whilst her anxiety to have him go every
moment increased. She moulded her son's letter into all manner of
shapes as she sat in penance. To complete her misfortunes, something
in the paper put Mad. de Coulanges in mind of former times; and she
began a long history of the destruction of some fine old tapestry
hangings in the Chateau de Coulanges, at the beginning of the
Revolution: this led to endless melancholy reflections; and at length
tears began to flow from the fine eyes of the countess.
Just at this instant a butterfly flew into the room, and passed by
Mad. de Coulanges, who was sitting near the open window. "Oh! the
beautiful butterfly!" cried she, starting up to catch it. "Did you
ever see such a charming creature? Catch it, M. de Brisac!--Catch it,
Emilie!--Catch it, Mrs. Somers!"
With the tears yet upon her cheeks, Mad. de Coulanges began the
chase, and M. de Brisac followed, beating the air with his perfumed
handkerchief, and the butterfly fluttered round the table at which
Emilie was standing.
"Eh! M. de Brisac, catch it!--Catch it, Emilie!" repeated her
mother.--"Catch it, Mrs. Somers, for the love of Heaven!"
"_For the love of Heaven_!" repeated Mrs. Somers, who, immovably
grave, and sullenly indignant, kept aloof during this chase.
"Ah! pour le coup, papillon, je te tiens!" cried la comtesse, and with
eager joy she covered it with a glass, as it lighted on the table.
"Mlle. de Coulanges," cried Mrs. Somers, "I acknowledge, now, that I
was wrong in my criticism of Caroline de Lichteld. I blamed the author
for representing Caroline, at fifteen, or just when she is going to be
married, as running after butterflies. I said that, at that age, it
was too frivolous--out of drawing--out of nature. But I should have
said only, that it was out of _English nature_.--I stand corrected."
Mad. de Coulanges and M. de Brisac again interchanged looks, which
expressed "_Est-il possible_!" And la comtesse then, with an unusual
degree of deliberation and dignity in her manner, walked out of the
room. Emilie, who saw that her mother was extremely offended, was much
embarrassed--she went on washing the blot out of her drawing. M. de
Brisac stood silently looking over her, and Mrs. Somers opposite to
him, wishing him fairly at the antipodes. M. de Brisac, to break the
silence, which seemed to him as if it never would be broken, asked
Mlle. de Coulanges if she had ever seen the stadtholder's fine
collection of butterflies, and if she did not admire them extremely?
No, she never had; but she said that she admired extremely the
generosity the stadtholder had shown in sacrificing, not only his fine
collection of butterflies, but his most valuable pictures, to save the
lives of the poor French emigrants, who were under his protection.
At the sound of the word generosity, Mrs. Somers became attentive; and
Emilie was in hopes that she would recover her temper, and apologize
to her mother: but at this moment a servant came to tell Mlle. de
Coulanges that la comtesse wished to speak to her immediately. She
found her mother in no humour to receive any apology, even if it had
been offered: nothing could have hurt Mad. de Coulanges more than the
imputation of being frivolous.
"Frivole!--frivole!--moi frivole!" she repeated, as soon as Emilie
entered the room. "My dear Emilie! I would not live with this
Mrs. Somers for the rest of my days, were she to offer me the Pitt
diamond, or the whole mines of Golconda!--Bon Dieu!--neither money
nor diamonds, after all, can pay for the want of kindness and
politeness!--There is Lady Littleton, who has never done us any
favour, but that of showing us attention and sympathy; I protest I
love her a million of times better than I can love Mrs. Somers, to
whom we owe so much. It is in vain, Emilie, to remind me that she is
our benefactress. I have said that over and over to myself, till I am
tired, and till I have absolutely lost all sense of the meaning of the
word. Bitterly do I repent having accepted of such obligations from
this strange woman; for, as to the idea of regaining our estate, and
paying my debt to her, I have given up all hopes of it. You see that
we have no letters from France. I am quite tired out. I am convinced
that we shall never have any good news from Paris. And I cannot, I
will not, remain longer in this house. Would you have me submit to be
treated with disrespect? Mrs. Somers has affronted me before M. de
Brisac, in a manner that I cannot, that I ought not, to endure--that
you, Emilie, ought not to wish me to endure. I positively will
not live upon the bounty of Mrs. Somers. There is but one way of
extricating ourselves. M. de Brisac--Why do you turn pale, child?--M.
de Brisac has this morning made me a proposal for you, and the best
thing we can possibly do is to accept of it."
"The best!--Pray don't say the best!" cried Emilie. "Ah! dear mamma,
for me the worst! Let me beseech you not to sacrifice my happiness for
ever by such a marriage!"