Part 2 out of 5
He thought it witty to behave so. His hateful, stupid mind flattered
itself on being original. Therefore as the half-hour began to strike
he was pompously ushered in, watch in hand.
"I am here, you see, to the tick," he said noisily, kissing the
forehead his goddaughter pressed forward to him. Then, turning to the
waiter, "You can serve without delay," he said. "I like my food hot."
Mlle. Frahender, although she was well acquainted with the abrupt ways
of the godfather, frowned at him with disapprobation. Nevertheless,
thanks to Maurice, who made a point of laughing at everything Adhemar
said, they had a gay luncheon, and Adhemar himself, appreciating the
consideration shown for his palate, cast aside his ill humour and
enjoyed with full indulgence the present hour, the savoury food and
the plentiful wine.
At the end of the meal he examined the room. "On my word, my girl,
they have given you the royal suite: that must come pretty expensive."
"M. Darbois," said Jean Perliez, "gave me a very liberal sum of money,
with instructions to spare nothing for our little queen."
"There you have it, if that is not the exaggeration of a lover! Little
Queen! You are pouring poison in continuous doses into this little
head, which is already full of nonsense. Esperance will end by taking
herself seriously; she is already far too dictatorial for a child of
seventeen." He added to himself, "She must be corrected, I will do it
Esperance raised her eyelids, and her clear blue eyes seemed to pierce
the eyeballs of the foolish blunderer, until he fluttered his lashes
and closed his eyes to escape the powerful silent denial of his
"Very well," he said, succeeding in half opening his eyes, "look at me
as much as you like, that does not keep me from distrusting you, my
child. You are nice-looking, you have a pretty voice, you may some day
develop some talent; but you know, your inexperience is obvious, and I
am very anxious to know how you will pull through to-night."
"Do not disturb yourself, M. Meydieux, Esperance had a triumph at the
last rehearsal at the Française." (Mlle. Frahender nodded agreement.)
"I believe," Jean continued, "that she is going to receive a perfect
ovation this evening."
"I believe it too," added the old lady, "and permit me to state, my
dear sir, that you judge my young pupil very unfairly. She is just as
modest, just as gentle, as she was a year ago, and those who love her
may be well reassured of that fact. Since you are among them," she
went on boldly, "you should realize it and rejoice in it."
Adhemar shrugged his shoulders. "They are all mad, even the old
They left the table. He stopped before a basket of flowers. "Who sent
you those, my child?"
"Count Albert Styvens," replied Jean.
"Ah! He does things well," commented Adhemar, but he did not breathe a
word concerning his conversation with the Count that morning.
Before there was time for a reply a waiter entered with a card. "M.
Mounet-Sully would like to come up."
"Oh! yes," cried out the young artist with delight.
A little startled at finding five people in the room, Mounet-Sully
regained his assurance as he recognized Jean and Maurice.
"My dear child, we rehearse at two-thirty," he said to Esperance, "so
be prompt, because we have heard that the Queen will be there, though
you may not see her. She is not well enough to come out in the
The young girl blushed with excitement. "It is fortunate that I shall
not see her, I think that I should be paralyzed!"
"Perhaps she will send for you after the rehearsal," returned the
tragedian. "She is a patroness of art, and very kind to artists."
"Will His Majesty, King Leopold, come this evening?" demanded
Meydieux, with great interest.
"Certainly," Mounet-Sully assured him.
Then, as he was about to go, he turned, "Have you received your
The door opened. Count Albert, being introduced by the _maître
d'hôtel_, had heard the last words.
"I am just delivering it myself," he said, handing Mlle. Frahender a
card which she read to Esperance--"His Excellence, the Count de
Bernecourt, Minister of Belgium to France, and the Princess, hope that
Mlle. Frahender and Mlle. Esperance Darbois will join them for supper
after the play, at midnight, at their house."
"But I cannot accept without the permission of my father," said
The raucous and heavy voice of the godfather pronounced, "I will
assume the responsibility. Your mother encouraged me to watch over
you. I consider that this is an honour which you should not decline."
"Especially as His Majesty the King will have you presented," replied
"Nevertheless," said Esperance, "I want my father's approval. I will
go down and telephone to Paris."
"I will accompany you," said the diplomat quickly.
She stopped short, and her expression implied distress. Jean went
forward at once. "I will go and secure the connection for you," he
said; "I will wait for you downstairs."
The Count made a scarcely perceptible gesture, as if to stop him; but
he restrained himself and followed the girl in silence out of the
room. He rang, the lift stopped before them, empty. Albert Styvens
went forward, but Esperance drew back, and then she said, quickly, "I
will go down by the stairs."
And light as a breath, she was gone.
Alone in the lift, the young Count felt for a moment abashed, but he
speedily recovered himself, and when Esperance reached the bottom of
the stairs she found him waiting for her.
As she leaped down the last step, she again felt herself lifted and
deposited upon her feet.
"What are you doing?" she cried angrily, startled and offended.
The rapid half-embrace had been almost brutal. Esperance could still
feel on her delicate skin the pressure of the man's strong fingers.
He apologized, and was sincerely repentant. He had acted without
reflection; he had forgotten his great strength which had this time
served him ill. He was violently attracted by this charming little
creature, with whom he admitted to himself that he was deeply in love;
he, who up to this time had always avoided women as if he feared them.
The telephonic communication was lengthy. François Darbois gave his
consent to his daughter to attend the supper. Madame Darbois was
distracted, and must find out what dress Esperance would wear.
"I will keep on my costume from the last act of _Hernani_," she
answered, and after a gentle farewell, Esperance hastened to the
theatre for the rehearsal.
The Director of the Monnaie announced that Her Majesty had come and
that they could begin. Hugo's masterpiece was magnificently presented.
The greatest artists filled even minor rôles. Mounet-Sully surpassed
himself, and Esperance drew cries of admiration from that select but
Count Albert was seated in the orchestra stalls with his mother. The
Countess Styvens, widowed after five years, had bestowed upon her son
all the affection she had cherished for her husband. She had never
left him, but had had him educated under her own supervision, giving
him at the age of nine, as tutor, a Jesuit who was one of the most
austere, if also one of the most learned, of the Order. The young man
was a perfect pupil, studious, ever disdaining the pleasures of his
age. His childhood passed in the grey and pious atmosphere in which
his mother steeped herself. His youth developed under the rule of his
preceptor, a pale youth, without laughter, without aspirations. The
physicians had never been able to persuade the Countess to let her son
have the joy of travel of sea and mountain, so he had to be satisfied
with the physical exercises she permitted. So he gave himself up to
gymnastics with enthusiasm, expending his youthful vigour against his
drill professor, and the Japanese who taught him jiu-jitsu. The boy's
strength became quite remarkable. But his pale face, disproportionately
long arms, and reputation for austerity, had made him the mark, from
the very first days of his diplomatic career, for the gossips, ballad
makers, and authors of questionable cabaret skits.
The day he heard that he was serving as Turk's head in a Brussels
music-hall, he went instantly behind the scenes of the theatre and
demanded to see the Director, who was in conversation with the author
of the piece. He went right up to them. "I," he said, raising his hat
politely, "am Count Albert Styvens. I shall be very glad to have you
suppress the scene, which, I understand, is intended to caricature
The Manager, a prosperous brewer, who had become proprietor of a
theatre for the pleasure of producing revues, which if not witty were
certainly vulgar, shrugged his heavy shoulders.
"You expect me to lose money! That act is one of the best we have
"And you, sir?" Albert turned on the author, a man of doubtful
reputation, always on the alert for any occasion of scandal in others.
"Oh! of course I am sorry to offend you, but I can't take off the
The last word was not out of his mouth when the Count grabbed both of
them by the napes of their necks and knocked their heads together till
the blood spurted from their surprised faces. Their cries were heard
even by the audience. Reporters came running to witness this unbilled
spectacle. The stage hands tried to free the Manager, but desisted
when one received a terrible smash from the Count's fist, and another
a kick that sent him through space. When the two men were reduced to
rags, Albert held them upright and addressed them:
"I am going into the hall to see the show. I advise you to withdraw
the scene we spoke of and to which I object."
Then he quietly re-arranged his clothes and went into the auditorium
where the audience were very noisy and laughing at the news the
journalists had reported. Count Albert was one of the best known
figures about Brussels, where his father had played a very important
part in the foreign affairs of the country, and enjoyed, for more than
twenty years, the confidence of King Leopold. When he died his wife
was still a young and very beautiful woman, and his great fortune had
made the only heir of the family already famous. The Count was
astonished at the clamorous ovation that received him. He would have
liked to impose silence on the people, but he was a poor orator, and
very timid; he kept silence and wont to his seat. He was popular from
that day, and greatly respected.
At the Monnaie, as soon as the rehearsal was over, the Queen sent for
Esperance and Mounet-Sully. The Queen assured the tragedian of the
admiration that she had long felt for him, for Mounet-Sully played
almost every year in Brussels; but all her kindly enthusiasm was
directed towards Esperance.
"What a perfectly delicious voice!" she said. "How old are you?"
The Queen undid a bracelet from her arm.
"Accept this modest souvenir of your first appearance in our city,
The young girl trembled with emotion. After she had kissed the royal
hand, she tried to clasp upon her wrist the jewel she had just
received. The Countess Styvens, who had just approached, helped her
"My mother admired you very much," said the Count, joining them.
Esperance raised her eyes and looked at the mother of the young man.
She was dressed in mauve; her temples, prematurely grey, accentuated
the delicacy of her complexion. Her whole person breathed constant
goodness, sacrifice without regret. The young artist loved at sight
this woman she was beholding for the first time, and at the same time
she had a presentiment that this charming and elegant lady would not
remain a stranger to her during her life.
The Queen desired Count Styvens to accompany the young girl, who was
forced to take his arm to her dressing-room. She walked quickly, in a
hurry to rid herself of her strange cavalier, who pretended to be
oblivious of her nervous haste. Esperance requested him to convey to
the Countess, his mother, her gratitude for her kindness. Albert
Styvens bowed without speaking, and left her in a glow of delight.
At the hotel there was no topic except the rehearsal and the reception
the Queen had given Esperance. The godfather examined the bracelet set
with sapphires and diamonds. He put on his glasses, counted the
stones, shook his head and grunted, "It is a superb bracelet, do you
realize that, child?"
"I realize that it is superb because it is a testimony of good will
offered by this kind Sovereign. That is what makes it so valuable to
"What a haughty child!"
And Adhemar began to laugh, the laugh with which realism strives to
destroy dreams. Mlle. Frahender gently removed the bracelet from the
hands of the objectionable old meddler.
"You must rest and avoid excitement, dear, dear child," she said,
leading Esperance to her room, after bowing to Adhemar. Maurice and
Jean, who had witnessed the godfather's want of tact, reasoned with
"In my opinion, M. Meydieux, you annoy my cousin too much, and for no
reason. You forget that she has created for herself a position beyond
her years, and you treat her like a child not out of the school-room."
"Well, isn't it all for her good?" screamed out Adhemar in a fury.
"The rest of you burn incense before her; she will be destroyed by
pride and that will be your fault!"
"No such thing," returned Maurice with equal energy. "She is adorable
in her simplicity and has remained as really childlike, as trusting
and light-hearted as anyone in the world. You cast a gloom on her
spirits, you try to curb her spontaneity, you want her bourgeoisie
like yourself, but you will never succeed, I give you my word for it,
and that is a blessing."
"Oh!" retorted Adhemar, stung to the quick, "What do you mean by that,
you fine painter fellow? You are glad enough to have these bourgeoisie
that you scorn pay for your pictures!"
"If I make pictures and anybody buys them, that is proof enough that
they are idiots. But my hatred of the bourgeoisie only extends to the
category to which you belong; those who, ever since they were born,
have found their food ready under their noses; those who, never using
their ten fingers, never using their brains, live only to increase
inherited incomes; hearts locked by greed, narrow minds unwilling to
hear the just claims of the humble, of those who work and suffer for
them; enemies of progress, enemies of their country."
"Oh! oh! oh!" screamed Meydieux.
"Yes, refusing to perform the sole function the State expects of
"And that is?"
"To become a husband, a father, a parent."
"You are insolent! It is not worth my while to reply to you. You may
tell my goddaughter...."
The door opened, and Esperance, who had been kept awake by the noise
of their voices, appeared to know what was the matter!
"Ah! there you are. I will say good-bye! Your cavaliers annoy me."
He threw a furious glance towards Jean, who had not spoken a word. It
is a fact that the majority of people cherish more rancour against the
witness of an insult than against the insulter himself.
"I will not be present at your triumph--as they call it. I am going to
your father and shall tell him everything."
"My father, godfather, knows that I always tell the truth; he will
await my return to judge my actions and those of my dear comrades."
Adhemar pulled on his hat and stormed out of the room, swelling with
Esperance blew a kiss to the two young men.
"Now I am going to sleep until dinner time. I have just three-quarters
of an hour. Do not forget, my loyal attendants, that we dine at
six-thirty," she added with a sweeping courtesy, and disappeared,
light of heart at the departure of her godfather.
The performance was an unparalleled triumph for the players and little
"_Dona Sol_" received the most flattering part of the success.
The King, knowing that the Queen had already favoured this delightful
child, would not be outdone in generosity, and sent to the dressing-room
of the new star a very beautiful ring, set with a magnificent pearl and
two diamonds. Esperance, who had never had any jewellery except a gold
chain that her mother's aunt had left her and the little ring her father
had given her for her first communion, found herself, in one day,
possessor of two ornaments which the most fastidious worldling would
not have disdained. She put the ring immediately on her first finger,
since it was a little loose for the ring finger, and looked at herself
in the glass, arranging a lock of hair with the ringed hand, raising an
eyebrow and laughing delightedly to see the effect produced by the ring.
Count Albert watched her from the neighbouring room where he was waiting.
His face was of a livid pallor. His heart beat so fast that he felt weak,
and was forced to sit down. He was out of his senses. All the frenzy of
youth, repressed so long, mounted in a wave to his brain.
Marguerite, coming to dress her mistress, announced that the gentlemen
were waiting. She quickly threw on a cloak, saying, "I am ready."
Mounet-Sully and Count Albert entered together. The Count offered his
arm to the old Mademoiselle, and Esperance, free of the contact that
disturbed her, joyfully accepted the tragedian's assistance.
The supper was charming, and proved to the young girl that the feasts
of artists and men of the world do not end in the orgies described by
the odious godfather. The young girl was at the right of the Prince
with Mounet-Sully opposite, at the right of the Princess. None of the
guests could help noticing the Count's agitation. The Military Aide,
representing King Leopold, Baron von Berger, was an old friend of the
Styvens's family. He was uneasy, and when he saw the young Count
preparing to take the ladies home, "No, no, my boy," he said to him in
a low tone, "You are not yourself--you are distraught. I am afraid
that you have been hard hit."
"You are not mistaken," replied the young man, "I burn like a devil,
and at the same time I am as happy as a god."
"Well, now I am going to escort these ladies, and to-morrow I will
have a talk with you."
Esperance slept badly and woke late. The old Mademoiselle was sitting
beside her, spectacles across her nose, reading the papers. Her kind
face was beaming. She was cutting out and putting aside certain
articles, then she pinned them in order, all ready to send to M. and
The young girl was touched, and raising herself in bed, flung her arms
about the old lady.
"What a dear you are, and how I love you!"
Mlle. Frahender at that moment had her reward for all the little
sacrifices she had made for her pupil.
The critics were dithyrambic in their discourses concerning the new
"Dona Sol," but the casual reporters were, as always, indiscreet, and
disguised the truth under little prevarications, fantastic and
suggestive. After having read two or three of the articles, Esperance
pushed them all aside. She took the name of all the critics, and wrote
them little notes of thanks, while Mlle. Frahender added the
addresses. In the neighbouring room a discussion was going on between
her knight-attendants. Esperance did not gather its cause, although
certain phrases were audible.
"No, I tell you," Maurice was saying, "if it is worth while at all, I
must be the one."
"I could always demand a correction," replied Jean.
"Correction of what? It is simply one of those ambiguous phrases which
are used every day. Why notice it?"
The sound of Esperance's voice cut short their discussion.
"What are you talking about?" she called out.
"Nothing at all," returned Maurice, "that is, only stupid things you
would not understand."
"That is not a very gallant morning greeting, cousin, but you have not
forgotten your promise to lake me to the Museum this morning, I hope."
"Yes, my dear, we will go to the Museum in a very little while."
She heard the door close.
"Are you still there, Jean?" she called.
"And at your service," he replied.
"There is nothing I need, thank you. I just want to know what
correction you were talking about."
"It is a private affair of Maurice's," stammered the young actor.
"I see, thank you."
After lunch the travellers set out for the Museum. Maurice was
surprised and delighted by the instinct that guided his cousin towards
the best that was in the pictures. He explained to her in the language
affected by painters the reason for certain unreal shadows in a
certain picture, and the necessity for them, the tact a painter must
use in managing his light, the difficulty of foreshortening. He told
her the well-known anecdote of Delacroix replying to the professor who
objected that he had put a full face eye in a profile, "But, my dear
master, I have tried everything and that is the only eye that gives the
profile its proper value." And the professor of the great painter-to-be,
after several sketches on the transparent paper over his pupil's canvas,
said to him, "You are entirely right. Keep that full face eye."
They left the Museum, animated by different feelings. The more that
Maurice discovered his cousin's noble qualities, the delicacy of her
feelings, the strength of her loyalty, the more he felt of protective
affection for this child who was so pure, so free, and who had made
her entry so bravely into the whirlpool where things are generally
turbulent, and most brutal in the brutal side of Parisian life. The
admiration of his twenty years, for Esperance's alluring beauty, was
purified into a friendship which he felt growing deeper and stronger.
As to Jean Perliez, he had become more and more resigned that his love
should remain forever in the shade, unlimited devotion for all time,
all his being offered in sacrifice to the frail idol, who went her way
star-gazing, unsuspecting all the time that she was trampling upon
hearts under her foot.
M. and Madame Darbois had received the telegram announcing the return
of their daughter, and were at the station to meet her. Esperance saw
them and would have jumped out before the train had fully slopped.
Maurice held her just in time.
"No foolishness there, little cousin. Your bodyguards must return you
intact to your family's four arms. One more moment of patience. What a
hurry you are in to be rid of us."
She held out her little hands to the two young men. "Oh, naughty
Maurice! You know very well that I shall never forget these three days
we have passed together, when you have been so good to me and taught
me so very much."
Maurice kissed her boldly; Jean put his lips very respectfully to the
warm, soft little hand.
The train stopped and the Darbois family were in an instant reunited.
Mlle. Frahender declined escort to her convent. François Darbois
installed her in a landau, and after he had thanked her heartily for
her kindness to his daughter, gave the address to the coachman, who
drove away with the old lady holding her inevitable little package on
her lap, and steadying her old-fashioned little attaché case on the
The Darbois family took their places in another carriage. Esperance
must sit between her father and mother, leaning close to them,
caressing them endlessly, and dropping her little blonde head on her
"Oh! how long it seems since I have seen you," she kept repeating.
She held her father's hand and pressed it against her heart. It seemed
to her suddenly as if she had suffered from that absence of three
days, and yet she could not specify at what moment she had wished
herself back with them. She recounted all the little events that had
taken place during the three eventful days.
"You know," she explained to her father, "I am bringing you all the
newspaper articles. Then I have the letter from the President of the
Committee, and the beautiful presents from the King and Queen."
The carriage stopped at the Boulevard Raspail. The _concierge_
"I am sure I hope that Mademoiselle has had a success."
Esperance looked at her with astonishment, but the woman's husband
came up with a newspaper in his hand, which he unfolded to display the
picture of Esperance just beneath the headlines.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "they will make me odious to the public.
Mounet-Sully was so wonderful. Worms so fine in his monologue...."
Sadness overcame her.
She was still sad when she entered her own room. She touched all the
familiar little objects, and kissed the feet of the ivory Virgin upon
her mantel-piece with great emotion. She thanked her mother with a
look when she saw the fresh marguerites in the two enamel vases. In
comparison with the luxury of her apartment at the Grand Hotel in
Brussels, the simple surroundings of her own room charmed her anew.
She swayed for a moment in her rocking-chair, sat down on her low
stool, knelt upon her bed to straighten the branch of box beneath the
silver crucifix her mother had given her when she was seventeen.
Marguerite came in with the trunk and luggage.
"What is that?" asked Esperance, spying a big box fastened with nails.
"I don't know anything about it, Mademoiselle. They gave it to me at
the hotel saying it was for you."
The box on being opened displayed a magnificent basket of orchids.
Attached by a white ribbon was a card--"Countess Styvens."
Esperance grew pale; she took the card from her mother's hands,
fearing that she might be mistaken. It was indeed the Countess and not
the Count. She breathed again! Marguerite and the maid carried the
basket into the salon; then the young girl went into the library with
her mother. The newspaper clippings were spread out on the table, and
the two famous trinkets had been taken from their cases. Madame
Darbois clasped and unclasped her hands.
"Oh! but they are too beautiful, simply too beautiful!" she said.
And the philosopher, half in indignation, half in indulgence,
exclaimed, "My poor child, you can not possibly wear such jewels at
"Ah!" said Esperance with disappointment, "I cannot wear them?"
"Why, no, it is out of the question."
"You will be able to wear them in a play, at the theatre," said Madame
Darbois, but her tone lacked assurance, for she did not know whether
that would be possible either.
M. Darbois had turned his attention to the notices, having pushed
aside the descriptive paragraphs. He read them and gave them to his
"Your godfather came to complain to us of Maurice, of Jean Perliez,
and of yourself. You all displeased him; tell us just what happened?"
Esperance recounted the happenings with perfect impartiality, adding
honestly that she had done nothing to try to persuade her godfather to
remain. The philosopher smiled.
"Very well, let us forget all that. We will take up our happy life
again, that has been interrupted by your triumphs," he added sadly.
And then, as the women were preparing to leave the library, "Tell me,
Esperance, who is the Countess Styvens?"
"A great lady at court, and oh! so charming."
"Is Count Albert Styvens of the Legation any relation of hers?"
"Yes, father, he is her son. But why do you ask that?"
"Your godfather spoke to me of this young man, who, it seems, wants to
complete his studies in philosophy."
The poor little star trembled. She was on the point of confessing all
her presentiments, her terrors, to her father.... But he had just sat
down to his desk and seemed already indifferent to what was going on
around him. She went softly out of the library, following her mother,
who was bearing away the newspaper excerpts and the royal jewel cases.
In the beautiful house which Countess Styvens occupied with her son,
an animated discussion was taking place at the same moment between
Baron von Berger and Count Albert.
"I advise you, my boy," the Baron was saying brusquely, "to ask for
another post. You, so sensible, too sensible, for a man of your age,
in fact it's a little ridiculous...."
"That has nothing to do with it," returned the younger man coolly.
"All very well, but my quasi-paternal duty is to stop you before
certain danger. You admit that you adore this young star of seventeen,
the daughter of a philosopher of high standing. You do not intend, I
suppose, to make her your mistress?"
Albert Styvens felt the blood run into his temples, but he did not
The Baron continued, more determinedly, "You do not intend to propose
her as a daughter-in-law to your mother?"
For an instant a vertigo froze the young man's being. His heart
stopped beating, his throat contracted with a terrific pressure of
blood. He did not answer a word.
"In God's name," cried the Baron violently, "am I in the presence of a
woman or a man?"
"A man," said Count Albert, getting to his feet. "A man whose anger is
held in check by his respect, but who can endure no more," he added,
throwing back his arms to allow his chest to dilate still farther. "I
am going to answer you; please listen without interruption."
Then, after a moment more of silence, he declared, "Yes, I am
desperately in love with this young girl, and I am going to try
everything, not to make her love me, for that she probably never
will--but that she will let herself be loved. What will come of it, I
have not the least idea. I want her and no one else. I will commit
no disloyal act, I give you my word for that. If she should become my
wife, it would be with my mother's full permission. I beg you now, my
dear Baron, to say nothing further about it; I am old enough to
regulate my life, as much as the divine guiding force which you call
He came up to the Baron, clasped his hand in a firm grasp, and
reaching for his hat, added, "I want to get out in the air. Shall we
The Baron recognized the opposition of an unchangeable will to his
own, which no discussion could influence.
Life had resumed its regular course in the apartment on the Boulevard
Raspail, but an important relationship was developing in Esperance's
life. Count Albert Styvens came three times a week to pursue his
philosophic studies with Professor Darbois. This arrangement had been
contrived by the hypocrite, Adhemar Meydieux. He did not mistake the
Count's infatuation for his goddaughter. A marriage of such wealth and
aristocratic connections flattered his foolish egoism, and he was
sworn to attempt everything that would bring about such a magnificent
A friend of the family, Doctor Bertaud, noticed alarming symptoms in
the girl, most prevalent between five and seven o'clock each evening.
He could not ascertain the cause, but persuaded the philosopher to
take her to Doctor Potain, a celebrated heart specialist. Madame
Darbois took Esperance for an examination.
François was perfectly amazed by the deep culture of the Count, who at
first sight seemed of only average intelligence. When the family
gathered together for dinner, he commented on his impressions to his
wife and daughter.
"This young man is a very remarkable personality," he said, "very
difficult to penetrate, yet nevertheless very sincere. I do not
believe that the slightest untruth has ever crossed his lips. I enjoy
working with him. Ah! that reminds me, I have invited him to dine with
us on Thursday. He is very anxious to be presented to you, and
Esperance already knows him, so I thought you would find it
The young girl trembled. Her blood seemed to stop in her veins. Her
hand pressed against her heart felt no movement there. Her father,
noticing the change in her, exclaimed, "Bertaud is quite right, you
are sometimes abnormally pale; do you feel ill?"
"No, father, it is nothing; I felt dizzy for a moment."
"All the same we must hurry Bertaud with his examination."
Back in her own room the young girl began to weep. "I shall never
escape that man, never, never."
Her eyes invoked the Virgin of ivory. Her two arms extended, implored
her, but it seemed to Esperance that they were opened also to whatever
discouragement Destiny might have in store. She fell asleep in her
chair, worn out by self-hypnosis on the holy image.
A horrible nightmare unfolded in her brain. She found herself on a
great map of the world, with a voice calling to her, "Why are you
frozen there, why don't you move? You are free as the air of this
great globe." Then she began to walk, but at once she saw the earth
open and long tentacles, like arms, emerge to clutch her. She recoiled
quickly and started in another direction but the same phenomenon
occurred again. After that she determined to climb on to a great plain
that she saw ahead. She thought she was safe when all at once she saw
arising on every side the frightful tentacles which crept along her
hiding-place, viscous and black, nearer, near enough to touch her. An
indescribable terror brought her to her feet with a cry for help!
Mile. Frahender and Marguerite came running in. They found her pale
and bathed in perspiration. Her lips were trembling, stammering. It
was five minutes before she recovered herself. She described her
dream, and the old Mademoiselle prescribed a little walk in the air.
The child followed her chaperon with nervous docility.
It was the day after the next when Albert Styvens was to come to
dinner. Esperance had thought of saying that she was ill, but her
heart misgave her at the thought of the anxiety she would occasion her
mother, and then ... and then ... the dinner would be postponed, and
"This man will have what he will have, and I am the prey of his
dream," she said with a sigh of resignation.
The dinner was arranged for seven-thirty. The young Count presented
himself at seven-fifteen, having been preceded by two great bunches of
flowers, for Madame Darbois and Esperance, who was at the piano when
he came into the room. The Count entered with Madame Darbois, whom her
husband had just presented to her, and they stopped silent to listen
to Mendelssohn's beautiful nocturne, "Song of a Summer Night." When
the last echoes of the last phrase had died away, discreet applause
was wafted to her. She swung quickly on her stool and found herself
before the young man who was bowing, and taking the hand she held out
to him. She had not yet overcome that terror he inspired in her, and
was surprised to find him so much at ease. After dinner they talked of
music, and Esperance, praising a magnificent duet of Liszt, from the
symphony of Orpheus, was overcome when the young man rose, took her
hand and led her towards the piano.
"Come, let us try to play it together." He looked towards François
Darbois and received his nod of acquiescence from the depths of the
arm-chair where the professor sat clasping his long, fine hands.
The Count was intoxicated by the light perfume of Esperance's body
there so near him that he seemed almost to touch her. His strong hands
rose and fell beside her delicate fingers, making the young girl think
of a great hawk fluttering over white pigeons, at the farm of Penhouet
in Brittany, where for years she had spent her holidays. The fragment
was executed brilliantly, for these two persons, united in their
enthusiasm for art, although so different in personal reactions, gave
the two auditors of this musical treat a magnificent interpretation of
Liszt's genius. François Darbois and his wife, both distinguished in
their appreciation of the beautiful, could not sufficiently thank the
Count, dividing his praises with congratulations to their daughter.
"You surpassed yourself, my dear," said the philosopher, "but then I
admit that you have never before had such a partner. It was really
When the young man had left, Esperance excused herself, saying that
she was tired. She kissed her parents tenderly, although for the first
time she felt an unjust and unfounded resentment against them. She was
aggrieved that they should see nothing of Count Styvens's manoeuvres.
The maid, helping her to undress, exclaimed, "How grand it was this
evening, Mademoiselle, and what a fine young gentleman!"
Esperance shrugged her shoulders disdainfully. Marguerite, coming in
to see that the young mistress whom she adored wanted nothing, could
not help saying, "Ah! Mademoiselle, what talent he has, that young
Count! How well you two did look, your backs, sitting side by side! I
just said to myself...."
Esperance shivered, guessing what was coming, and interrupted the good
woman quickly, "Don't talk to me Marguerite, to-night. I am tired and
I must go to sleep."
But she did not sleep.
The last presentation of Sardou's play was a veritable ovation for
Esperance. Flowers were presented to her on the stage. Two baskets
attracted special attention, one overflowing with white orchids; the
other, with gardenias, so powerful in their sweetness that even the
first rows of the orchestra felt their strength. It was rumoured in
the boxes that the white orchids were sent by the Countess Styvens and
her son Albert, who were sitting in a stall in the auditorium. As to
the gardenias, the card attached to the green ribbons of the basket
revealed the name of the most elegant clubman of Paris, the Duke
Charles de Morlay-La-Branche. He was a handsome man of thirty-two,
very wealthy, adored by women, popular with men. A ripple ran through
"You know the Duke, they say that he is very much taken...."
"They know each other?"
"No, he has never been presented."
"No, look out for the love of the immaculate Albert," said mockingly a
beautiful woman with bold eyes, glancing toward the stall occupied by
Albert and his mother; but her eyes widened at seeing the Duke enter
to present his compliments to the Countess Styvens. A few minutes
later he was seen to go out with Count Albert. He was going to be
presented to the young artist.
Count Styvens's love was known to all Paris, as was also the respect
with which he surrounded his idol. It was also known that the young
girl did not return this love; likewise that the son of the chemist
Perliez was devoting his life to Esperance. But what would be the end
of these two gallants, both so timid, so full of silent ardour? But
now had entered upon the scene a rival possessed of beauty, of
confidence, one who had toyed lightly with women's hearts, until he
had wearied of the facile love his physical charm and wit attracted.
"That should be good sport to watch," said an old beau. "I am betting
on the Duke."
A newly married bride turned towards him, "I am betting on the young
A journalist, thin, blonde, very young, just beginning his career, had
followed the Duke and the Count behind the scenes. He accompanied them
into Esperance's little room and described what happened us follows:--
"She was holding the two cards, there in the midst of the overpowering
odour of gardenias. She blushed when she heard the name of the Duke,
Albert Styvens was presenting to her. She thanked them both very
prettily, but without showing any preference for either. The Duke
began complimentary speeches without making any impression. When they
took leave, he wanted to kiss Esperance's hand, but she withdrew it
looking very much surprised. This rather confused the Duke. As soon as
these gentlemen departed I was presented, and her manner was just as
charming. Jean Perliez came in just then to tell her that the curtain
would go up in three minutes. He brought her a bunch of Parma violets,
and she took them from him and put them in her girdle; you will see
her wearing them on the stage. Perliez is desperately in love with
her, and he grew very pale. He went out without a word. I think he
must have gone to cry out his emotion in a corner. That is all,"
concluded the rising journalist.
He repeated his story twenty times, and by next morning all Paris knew
that the Duke de Morlay-La-Branche had been received by Esperance like
any other gentleman, that Count Albert Styvens had been noncommittal,
and that Jean Perliez had been overcome. The young journalist wrote a
very suggestive article concerning this little scene, highly
ornamented with phrases that would attract attention; but
unfortunately the editor refused to print it. The Duke did not care
for notoriety, and was, moreover, a renowned fencer, so the editor
exercised his discretion. Count Styvens belonged to the foreign
diplomacy and was very particular, and no one had infringed on his
privacy since the little affair in the Brussels music hall. That left
only Jean Perliez, who was merely sincere and pathetic; the public did
not want to read that kind of thing! So much for the little
Countess Styvens was spending a month in Paris, staying at the
Legation with the Princess de Bernecourt, who always had a suite ready
for her. There was to be a grand opening ceremony of the Opera season,
and for many years the Styvens had never missed the first nights of
the Opera or the Comedie-Française.
One evening at dinner the conversation turned upon music, and a guest
regretted the mechanical performance of the musical prodigies at the
"It gives them a certain amount of cleverness, or technique, or
whatever you like to call it, but there is no flair of the ideal, and
often no important personality."
"I know a young artist," said Albert Styvens, "who plays with her
whole soul, and I, who really love music, find her far ahead of all
Almost a sensation was produced among the guests.
The Countess said with her sweet smile, "I see that they tease you
here as well as at Brussels."
"That does not affect me, mother, you see; I remain faithful to my
"Never mind, tell us the name of this new discovery."
"Her name is Esperance Darbois," said Albert rising, resting his two
hands on the table. Then, having produced his effect, he sat down
"What! she is a good musician too?"
"Excellent," replied Albert, "and I will wager that whoever hears her
will agree with me.
"How is it possible to hear her? She does not play at the concerts.
But tell us how did you contrive to hear her?" demanded the Princess.
"I study with her father, François Darbois, so I have become a friend
of the family. They asked me to dinner once, and I was early enough to
hear Mlle. Esperance play. After dinner we played a very difficult
duet together. She had absolute command of her execution and her
A young attaché murmured to an amiable dowager, "I am afraid that they
have completely taken him in."
Count Albert sprang to his feet.
"I am not willing that you should try to belittle this family whom you
do not know. François Darbois, the philosopher, is a fine character,
of unparalleled honour and integrity: his wife has never frequented
the world where people are 'taken in,' as you say, and as for Mlle.
Esperance ... so much the better if you do not know her?"
The Duke de Morlay-La-Branche, sitting beside the Princess, said to
her, loud enough for all to hear, "Albert Styvens is entirely right:
they are people of a very different order. They are a very refreshing
trio for Parisian society."
Everyone kept quiet and listened to what the Duke had to say. It was
well known that he was attracted by Esperance's beauty and talent, and
it was also known that he was a sceptic, a railer, not easy for anyone
to "take in." The attaché, not knowing how to back out of his awkward
position, apologized for having spoken in jest. He had heard ... but
the world is so unjust ... etc., etc. No one listened.
"For my part," said the Princess, "I see only one way to put to the
proof the statements of the Duke de Morlay-La-Branche and Count
Albert, and that is to ask the Darbois family to dinner. Afterwards,
Albert must undertake to persuade this adorable little comedian to
reveal her ability as a musician."
The Minister was most agreeable and said, "All our guests this evening
must be present at the dinner."
Albert Styvens was consumed with joy. And the Duke did not attempt to
conceal his satisfaction.
The only difficulty was to find a suitable excuse for inviting the
Darbois. Chance proved itself the Count's accomplice. In conversation
with the professor the next day the Count was told that there would be
no lesson on the following Tuesday, because the professor was to
deliver an address on the question of the hour--"Can philosophy and
religion evolve without danger in the same mind?" The conference was
to be held at the home of Madame Lamarre, the wife of a fashionable
painter. Albert knew that his mother was a great friend of this lady.
He told the Countess and the Princess, and it was agreed that they
should both go to this conference. When the Professor was presented it
would be easy for the Princess to say that Countess Styvens was
anxious to meet again her little friend of Brussels, then the
invitation could easily follow. Everything happened according to the
François Darbois had a great success; the Catholic party owed him
recognition for his noble dissertation on the rôle of philosophy in
religion. He was a fervent follower of the author of "The Genius of
The Princess de Bernecourt presented sincere compliments to the
affable philosopher. The Countess Styvens presented herself to Madame
Darbois, who thanked her for her special kindness to Esperance, who
regretted that she had not herself been able to thank her
"Now won't you," said the charming Princess, "do us the honour to come
to dinner at the Legation next week? That will give the Countess and
myself a chance to renew our acquaintance with your adorable
François, being appealed to, accepted the invitation for the following
"My husband will be delighted, dear M. Darbois, to meet you; he is one
of your most faithful readers," said the Princess.
On their return the Darbois found Esperance very anxious to learn the
result of the conference. François said very simply as he kissed his
daughter, "You would have been satisfied...."
But Madame Darbois, made loquacious by her husband's success,
recounted everything at length and the triumph obtained by her husband
in every detail.
The invitation to dine at the Belgian Minister's rather dismayed, in
truth distressed, Esperance. Her joy in her father's success was
diminished by this prospect. Count Styvens was certainly not unaware
of this unexpected invitation.
"You are quite right, little daughter," went on Madame Darbois, "the
mother of the young Count is perfectly delightful. She is especially
anxious to see you again."
Esperance breathed deeply, as if to draw more strength from within.
She knew her parents were flattered at the idea that the attentions of
the young Count could only end in an offer of marriage. They were not
ignorant that she did not love him, but they hoped that she would in
time be touched by his respectful affection. The philosopher and his
wife had often talked of this prospect with each other. They did not
want to cause any pain to their cherished daughter. M. Darbois had
already had to give up all idea of Jean Perliez, for he had begged him
not to speak of him to Esperance. She was his goddess; he adored her
but felt unworthy of her. With resignation François charged his wife
to find out Esperance's state of mind, but these were futile efforts.
Madame Darbois could never approach the burning question; she hovered
round it with such uncertainty that Esperance never for an instant
suspected her mother's real motive in the long talks they had
A radiant sun woke Esperance on the following Tuesday. Her thoughts,
always on the future, refused to be subjugated by the confused anguish
she felt which almost stifled her. Yet this evening was sure to be one
of importance in her young life! Had the Count said anything to her
mother? She rejected the idea that he could think of her as capable of
becoming his mistress.... Then, his wife? She would not give up the
theatre.... "No, nothing in the world could make up for that, far
rather death." And she smiled at the idea that she might perhaps
become a victim of the great art. She saw herself struggling against
all hardships and dying as an adored victim of circumstances,
regretted and wept by the many who loved her.
Her imaginative speculations were rudely interrupted by Marguerite
bringing in her chocolate. On the tray was a card with a little
present for the evening. Esperance read the card, and taking the
bouquet looked at it for a long time until tears veiled her pretty
"Poor fellow," she said, "I did not think of his side of it."
For the first time Esperance absented herself from the Conservatoire
voluntarily. She had so much to do! She wanted to look beautiful,
"perfectly beautiful," she confided to Mlle. Frahender.
"I feel that something great is in store for me in the early coming
She took particular pains with her toilette, and looking at herself in
the tall glass of her wardrobe, reflected, "I do not want to love
Count Styvens. Then I ought not to want to be any more attractive
to-night than usual. Am I a wicked girl? My cousin Maurice says,
'Coquetry is the cowardly woman's weapon, and I love you, little
cousin, because you are not a coquette.'"
The mirror showed a lovely girl gowned in pale blue. The shoulders,
slender and rounded, seemed to emerge from clear water made heaven
blue by the reflection of the sky. The hair, so blonde it dazzled,
made a radiant frame for the lovely face. The red mouth, half open,
the white teeth, the wilful little chin, lightly cleft by an oblong
dimple, made this delightful little maiden one of the most dangerous
weapons that love ever fashioned.
When François and his family were announced in the salon of the
Princess, the Minister hastened forward to convey Madame Darbois to a
seat, after presenting her to the Dowager Duchess de Castel-Montjoie,
Mlle. Jeanne Tordeine, of the Theatre-Française, and several other
Esperance's entrance roused the curiosity of all. The Duke de
Morlay-La-Branche, after conversing for a few minutes to François
Darbois, whom he had met several weeks before, came up to the young
girl as she was standing before the Countess Styvens, replying to
the compliments the charming lady was paying her.
"I am told that you are quite a clever musician." Esperance looked up
to reproach the Count for his indiscretion in speaking about her
playing, but her eyes met the ardent gaze of the Duke. She was
agitated, thinking, "How handsome he is, and I had never noticed it."
"Yes indeed, Mademoiselle," he continued in his easy, agreeable
manner, "we hear that you have captivated Count Styvens with your
playing, and as perhaps you know he is recognized as being quite a
Esperance strived to speak, but nervousness prevented her. She sat
down quickly beside the Countess, and crept close to her. A completely
new sensation seemed to invade her whole being. She had a strange
feeling of uncertain joy tinged with pain and yet she loved this
sensation that troubled her, this half-fright which gave her a slight
shiver. The Duke brought up a chair and seemed to be exerting all his
charm and animation for the Countess, but it was easy to see that all
this charm, all this wit, were intended for the pretty creature who
appeared powerless to resist his fascinating personality.
When dinner was announced the Duke offered his arm to the Countess,
the Minister his to Madame Darbois, the Princess took the arm of the
philosopher. While Esperance, naturally accepted the arm of Count
Albert. She looked at him more attentively than she had ever done
before, and involuntarily made a comparison between him and the Duke
not altogether to his advantage.
"How easy and graceful the Duke is," she thought. "How heavy this man,
and dull and slow. The Duke's face is at once kindly and spirited, the
Count's brooding and awkward. The Duke is a man, the Count but a
At the same instant the Count's arm pressed her delicate wrist. She
had again to restrain the repugnance she had felt before, and her
terrible nightmare came back to her. She let herself fall rather than
sit in the chair to which Albert Styvens had conducted her. Here she
found herself between the Count and the young Baron de Montrieux, who
attempted, with the most charming courtesy to forestall her every want
and monopolize all her attention. The Baron was overflowing with wit
and Esperance listened with delight.
After dinner the Baron de Montrieux went to the piano. He was a very
fair musician, and all the company were glad to listen to him. Albert
followed him. He was really gifted and, if fortune had not otherwise
favoured him, he could have made his name as an artist.
There was enthusiastic applause. The Count bent before Esperance, who,
in a burst of artistic appreciation, expressed her admiration.
"Then," he replied, uplifted with joy to feel that he had really
touched her, "shall we play our duet from Orpheus, Liszt's symphonic
poem, to these good friends who are, I think, quite appreciative."
"Oh! no, I should be afraid. I dare not. You forget I know so little.
I am an actress and I will recite for you if you like, but--"
The Duke came forward, and hearing the conversation joined in with
a request that was almost like pleading. Styvens held out his
angular fist to the young girl; the Duke extended a long white
hand; and so both led her to the piano. The Duke's fingers pressed
her palm lightly but with a suggestion of encouragement, while the
Count's held her like a vice that would never open. In spite of her
protestations, Esperance was installed at the piano, and Esperance
resolved to put all her best into her playing with the hope of being
able to transport her audience into the highest realms of the art that
can express great aspiration blended with the pathos of suffering.
Charles de Morlay-La-Branche withdrew to the rear of the long room,
and stood alone, leaning against a beautiful Italian window, to listen
and to watch. A conflict of feelings were struggling within him. He was
fighting against the attraction of this slender creature, whose white
shoulders and delicate body were swaying with a phrase now violent, now
subdued, her whole person actuated, controlled by the rhythm of the
music. The heavy frame work of Count Styvens seemed an anchor for the
fragile idol. The Duke gnawed his lip in suppressed emotional anger.
As the young couple left their seats the room shook with applause.
Everybody was delighted. The Princess took Esperance by both hands,
gazing at her, stroking the tapering fingers that were still vibrating
with the fever of the music. Esperance was so pale that the Princess
led her into another room and made her sit down, praising her
marvellous execution and striving to quiet the little heart she could
feel beating with so much agitation.
"The Doctor who attends me," Esperance explained in a far-away voice,
"has told me, Madame, that I must avoid all excitement if I wish to
live a long time, but that I shall not live naturally if I am over
excited or depressed by emotion."
They brought her a refreshing and soothing drink. The Princess's
attendant bathed her temples with Eau de Cologne. Esperance breathed
more quietly and rose, thanking the Princess; then suddenly collapsed
on her knees, sobbing, without strength, without consciousness, and
Madame Darbois was summoned to her side at once.
"Oh! great Heaven!" she said. "I have never seen her like this before;
usually she controls herself when over-excited by music. See, dear, a
little strength, stand up, and we will go home at once...."
But Esperance's head slipped from the mother's support into her arms,
while her whole body was shaken by sobs. The Countess Styvens came in
to find the girl exhausted by a storm of moans and sobs. They
succeeded in placing her on a large soft couch and she fell asleep
holding the Countess's hand, under the impression that it was her
In about an hour she awoke, refreshed, unconscious of what had
happened to her or where she was. Her father and mother were beside
her. She got up, and one of the maids came to her. She then
remembered, and asked how long she had been asleep.
"You see, mama," she said, "you must not take me out any more, I am
not fit for it." Then kissing her mother who had never left her, she
expressed her sorrow for what had happened.
She thanked the maid and asked her to make her apologies to the
"Would you not like me to call her?"
"No, please do not disturb anyone; I could not bear it."
In the ante-chamber two men-servants were in attendance. One of them
was helping Madame Darbois, and Esperance, still confused, slipped her
arms in the sleeves of her cloak, and then stopped short. Her bare arm
had been touched, she was sure of it.
She turned quickly. Her eyes met the Duke's enquiring but not
altogether pleasant glance. With a quick gesture the girl clasped her
mantle about her, and haughtily moved away without acknowledging the
Neither M. nor Madame Darbois had seen anything of what had just
The Duke de Morlay's bad humour vented itself against Count Styvens.
"I have just passed the Darbois in the cloak-room. The little flirt
was in a pitiful state: I helped her on with her cloak and her skin
was like ice."
Count Styvens turned almost in anger and his hands furtively opened
and closed. A feeling of enmity was rising in his generous soul. He
felt that the Duke had spoken slightingly of Esperance to wound him.
Twice, during dinner, he had caught the covetous glance of the Duke
fixed on Esperance, and he had suffered acutely in consequence. He
looked at the Duke coldly; his shyness would have made him dumb had it
not been for the sustaining power of his anger.
"I cannot reply to you now," he said. "My mother is here."
The Duke de Morlay-La-Branche, who was, after all, a gentleman, came
up to him.
"Albert, I am a fool. I beg your pardon."
And he went to take his leave of the Princess, who had quietly
witnessed and understood the pantomime that had passed between these
"You did right, my friend," she said to the Duke. "Albert is a brave
and loyal fellow."
"He is an idiot," he replied, "whose idiocy we must respect."
"All the same he has a quality which you and most of the other men of
your age do not possess, and he is not afraid of being laughed at; and
that gives him enormous moral strength."
"You find that a virtue, Princess?"
"Indeed I do. He does what he wants without bothering about what
people will say."
"But does he really know what they do say of him?"
"You know that Albert and I have been friends since childhood," said
the Princess. "He is twenty-eight, I am thirty, which gives me a
little advantage perhaps, and I talk to him quite as a comrade. It is
true that he has never had any love affairs with women, and they joke
him about it. Albert does not disguise it. 'I shall always be as I
am,' he says, 'until I really love.'"
"But he is in love now."
The Princess saw that the Duke enjoyed seeing her hesitation before
answering. So she said nothing at all, but held out her hand; which he
kissed respectfully and went his way.
Esperance had returned home quite furious with the manner of the Duke
de Morlay-La-Branche, which she considered insolent. She had passed a
bad night, waking every few moments. She compared the dignified and
honourable affection of the Count with the offensive attitude of the
Duke. Her thoughts flew to Madame Styvens as to a refuge. She was
possessed of great tenderness towards this charming woman, whose life
of purity and goodness won the admiration of all who knew her. On her
side there was no doubt that the Countess loved the young girl, but
although she did not cherish the narrow and false ideas of many of her
friends against the theatre, she would have preferred to have
Esperance give up her career....
General Van Berger, who always spoke his mind to her, reprimanded her
severely on this point.
"It is impossible," he affirmed, "to let things go any further. Albert
cannot marry an actress. I realize that the Darbois family is very
respectable; the young girl seems to me above reproach or criticism,
but she must give up this career. The Countess Styvens is not for the
public eye, and if she loves him...."
"But she does not love him."
Van Berger was silenced for a moment. "What do you say? She does not
love him. And you approve of such a union?"
"My son loves her so deeply, and knowing him as you do, you can not
doubt the fidelity of his affection. Esperance is touched, flattered
even, but she does not want to give up her profession; she would
rather, I believe, remain single, or at any rate only marry a man who
would allow her to continue her artistic life. If I refuse my consent
to the question my son will no doubt soon ask me, he will not insist;
but will enter a Chartist monastery. He has a friend, a Chartist in
France, whom he visits often. I shall lose my child forever, and my
sad life will end in tears."
The gentle woman began to weep quietly. Much touched, the General
rose, twisting his moustache, "Courage, be brave, the assaults have
not yet been launched and you speak as if the battle were lost! We
have not got so far ahead yet, fortunately. Above all, don't cry, that
is worse than having one's arms and legs broken. I am yours to
command, you know that, heart and soul at your service; and I do not
retreat, not I, whatever comes.... Still, dear friend," he said,
sitting down beside her and taking her hand, "we must face the facts.
Many of your dearest friends would cease to visit you and your house
"What do I care about the superficial friendship of such people, if
the happiness of my son is at stake! Thank you, dear friend, for your
loyal insistence. I understand it, but I know that even if you do not
succeed in convincing me you will not desert me in my trouble. Thank
The Baron kissed the noble lady's hand.
The time of the trial performance at the Conservatoire was drawing
near. Esperance had resumed her usual life, alternately calm and
feverish. She was studying for the Competition. She often wrote to
Countess Styvens, who had returned to Brussels, on the subject. Before
she left, the Countess had come to see the little invalid, who had
touched her heart so much that special evening at the Princess's. She
had also got to know the professor and his wife more intimately. The
family attracted her, and she felt a large sympathy for them all. Of
course she was fully aware of the love her son had for Esperance and
resignedly left events in the hands of God. What did disturb Albert's
mother a little was the vehemence Esperance showed in regard to her
theatrical career, and the way she rejected the most guarded
remonstrances against her following that calling.
"No, no," said Esperance to Countess Styvens, "no, no, no; the theatre
is not a house of evil repute, nor are its followers evil doers: the
theatre is a temple where the beautiful is always worshipped; it makes
a continuous appeal to the higher senses and natural passions. In this
temple vice is punished, and virtue rewarded; the great social
problems are presented. In this temple instruction is less abstract,
and, therefore, more profitable for the crowd. The apostles of this
temple are full of faith and courage; they have the souls of
missionaries marching always toward the ideal."
The trials at the Conservatoire were to take place on the fifteenth of
July. Esperance was ambitious and strove for the first prize in both
comedy and tragedy. The year before the jury had only awarded her two
secondary prizes; not that she had not deserved the first, but that on
account of her youth they had thought it wiser to keep her back for
another year. The young artist was to compete for tragedy in the first
act of _Phedre_, for comedy in Alfred de Musset's _Barberine_.
The dawn of the fifteenth was clear and quiet. Genevieve and Jean
arrived at eight-thirty in the morning to rehearse their scenes for
the last time. Jean had in his hand a tiny package. As he was about to
give it to Esperance, the maid entered with a large box marked
"Lachaume," Florist, which she gave to Mlle. Frahender. On observing
this, Jean quickly hid his package in his pocket. Esperance had opened
the box and taken out a posy of gardenias, which she slipped into her
belt. Again the maid entered with a similar box containing orchids.
Esperance blushed, and then tore the bouquet from her belt so quickly
that she hurt her finger. She had not seen that a card attached to the
flowers by a pin read--"Duke de Morlay-La-Branche." Scornfully, she at
once threw the bouquet aside. Mlle. Frahender spoke to her in English
to rebuke her for such conduct, whatever its motive. Esperance excused
herself. "Be indulgent to me, little lady," she said, in her most
winning way; "I am a little nervous just now."
She put the white orchids that Count Styvens had just sent to her in
her belt. Jean Perliez picked up the discarded bouquet and the card.
He was more disturbed by her anger against the Duke than by her
passive acceptance of the young Count's gift. She had talked to him
continually of the Duke, criticizing him it is true, but Jean felt in
these reproaches that Esperance was more or less practising some
deceit. Esperance had wished to have Jean defend the Duke, heap on him
praise rather than the blame he did. The young artist felt
instinctively that this man--the Duke--would not marry his little
The three went back to work. When the rehearsal was finished, M. and
Mme. Darbois came in gaily to take their breakfast coffee with them.
Esperance kissed them tenderly and departed for the struggle on which,
perhaps, her career depended.
A day of competition at the Conservatoire offers the spectators a
series of amusing studies, instructive, puzzling and deceptive also at
times. Ambition, jealousy, vanity border on loyalty, sensibility, and
pride. Most of these young people are preparing themselves to begin a
sharp and bitter struggle for life itself. Others--and these are very
few--are in search of, if not fame, at least notoriety. They have
elected to enter upon this career, led by enthusiastic hope, their
love of the beautiful, and unconscious consecration to art; nor will
they cease throughout their lives to spread their propaganda in behalf
of all there is that is good.
When Esperance appeared for the scene of _Phedre_, a fluttering
murmur of approval greeted her, while several little outbursts of
applause were heard. She was so pretty in her gown of white crepe de
chine! Her youthfully cut bodice revealed the slender flexibility of
her neck; she might have been a bust in rose wax modelled by Leonardo
da Vinci. She carried all before her by her interesting interpretation
of the role. The tragic grief of the daughter of "_Minos_" and
"_Pasiphae_" was a revelation for many there from one so young.
Tears coursed down Esperance's pretty cheeks. The abandon of her
graceful arms, her renouncement of a struggle against the gods, her
longing for death, her shame after the tale of "_Oenone_," her
radiant vision of the son of "_Theseus_," all was fully appreciated
by the public, and by a distinguished company of connoisseurs,
often strongly critical, but never insensible to real talent as it
In the competition for comedy the young girl achieved the same
triumph. When the jury proclaimed her first in tragedy, all being
unanimously agreed on the verdict, a storm of applause and admiration
greeted the announcement. Mlle. Frahender wept with pleasure,
Genevieve Hardouin, enfolding her little friend in her lovely bare
arms, kissed her on the hair. Esperance felt more touched by the
affectionate admiration of her comrades, than she had been even by the
applause the day of the first presentation of Victorien Sardou's play
at the Vaudeville. In the afternoon she received the same kind of
ovation for her competition for the first prize in comedy. When she
came out of the Conservatoire they would have unharnessed her
carriage, but Mlle. Frahender and Jean Perliez absolutely opposed this
manifestation. Genevieve Hardouin had obtained a second prize in
tragedy and an honourable mention in comedy. Jean, who had only
entered the competition for tragedy, had a first, shared with two
other comrades. The three young people were radiant, each neglecting
his own fortune to magnify the triumph of the others.
When Esperance returned to the Boulevard Raspail, she found her
parents much elated at her success. Count Styvens, who had been
present at the competition, had hurried to tell them the good news and
give them all the details of their daughter's significant triumph.
"She surpassed herself in _Phedre_," he had said. "She is, I
think, the equal to some of the greatest tragedienes," and when they
told Esperance she said, "Is he still here?" looking towards the
"No, he did not wish to weary you. He only left this note:"
"_You were divine in Phedre, delightfully feminine in Barberine. No
one is happier at your phenomenal success than your always devoted,
Esperance felt a world of gratitude to the young Count for not having
waited to see her. She went into her room to undress, and in doing so
drew gently from her belt the white orchid. She was about to put it in
one of the two vases on the mantel-piece, when her hand paused of its
own accord and remained inert; her gaze had been caught by the Duke de
Morlay-La-Branche's gardenias in the other vase. Radiant with
freshness it caught the eye, it invited her to come and smell. The
girl bent towards its whiteness. The intoxicating perfume held her.
Her head drooped nearer and nearer the delicate blossoms. Her lip
touched the smooth flesh of the petal. She trembled violently and
threw her head back. It seemed as if a kiss had been given her! She
quivered, closing her eyes, longing for the unpleasant feeling to
After a few moments she looked at the poor orchid which had dropped on
the cold marble mantel-piece. She lifted it up carefully and placed it
in some fresh water.
Then she sat down before the vases where the two rival flowers
displayed their charms. She was bitterly conscious of being impelled
by a new inner force, an almost evil force. And she looked from the
mantel to the ivory Virgin, whose open hands seemed to be showering
Esperance looked back to the white orchid.
"If I do not marry that man I am lost," she thought.
Almost terrified, she got up and walked about to calm herself, to
conquer the instinct which her reason told her was wrong. Still under
the strain of the emotions of the triumphal day, and to escape the
disagreeable thought the sight of the radiant gardenias provoked in
her, she began to write a long letter to the Countess Styvens. That
soothed her nervousness a little. She poured out all her heart in the
letter, for she knew that this woman loved her independently of the
love of her son--loved her entirely for her own self.
Two days later Esperance received a letter from the Director of the
Comedie-Française, asking her to call at four o'clock that same day at
the theatre. At the right hour she went with her mother and Mlle.
Frahender. Without delay she was at once engaged, for Madame Darbois
had the spoken and written authority of her husband to make what
arrangements her daughter should desire. The Director was most
complimentary to the young actress and asked what rôle she would care
to choose for her debut. Esperance proclaimed her preference for
"_Dona Sol_" in _Hernani_ or "_Camille_" in "_On ne badine pas
Her heart was filled with emotion as she was leaving the great house
of which in future she would be a part. The Place du Carrousel, the
perspective of the Tuileries, and the Champs Elysées seemed more
beautiful than ever before. The passers-by were charming. Everything,
everywhere, spoke only of happiness and hope.
"Mama, dear mama, I am so happy."
PART III. THE COUNTRY
After the recent excitement at the Conservatoire, following the
competition, Esperance was delighted to act upon the Doctor's advice
to leave Paris. Doctor Potain had told the philosopher that it was
absolutely imperative that his daughter should have two or three
months of absolute quiet. He suggested the mountains; but Esperance
would have none of them. She loved far horizons and vast plains, but
her real choice was the sea. So it was decided that the family should
go to their little farm at Belle-Isle-en-Mer.
"You must go immediately," the Doctor commanded, "and to begin with
you must have two weeks' complete repose, in the sun, in a comfortable
Esperance was beside herself with joy. To see the pretty farm again
nestling in its circle of tall tamarisks, to dream for hours by the
seaside, to breathe the breath of furze and seaweed! The windows of
her room overlooked the land on one side, and on the other she had
wild ocean, studded with black rocks gleaming under the sea's
Maurice Renaud, Jean Perliez and Genevieve Hardouin were invited by
the Darbois to spend their vacation at the farm of Penhouet. Their
arrival at the Gare d'Orsay was a complete surprise to Esperance, who
threw herself on her father's neck, sobbing with pleasure.
He chided her gently, "Daughter, are you going to break your word to
So she at once began to laugh in the midst of her tears.
"No, papa dear, only I have not yet begun to keep it. The cure will
only commence with my first day in the long chair on the seashore. So
you see I can still cry a little in gratitude for all your
The trip was gay, thanks to Maurice's nonsense. Modern painter,
cosmopolitan, elegant, and cultivated gentleman, he could still become
frolicsome and frivolous with nonsense in happy company.
M. Darbois, ordinarily so quiet, laughed at his antics till the tears
came, while Mme. Darbois smiled that pleasant smile that had first
long ago appealed to François's heart. As to Mlle. Frahender, the
artist's wit fairly made her dizzy. As at Brussels, she soon gave up
trying to follow him, for at the moment when she thought she had
caught the trend of his humour he had already branched off into
another anecdote, this time serious, and her laugh would come too
late. So she tried to read the names of the little stations flying
past, but the speed of the train was so great that, like Maurice's
anecdotes, she only got as far as the first syllable. She closed her
eyes and slept.
They changed trains at Auray about six in the morning. The young
people took charge of the luggage while Maurice went to make sure that
the portmanteau with his canvas and paints was securely on the right
train. With his mind at rest, he joined them at the little buffet,
where they were having shrimps, pink as roses, fresh eggs, coffee and
the little cakes of the countryside.
"This way for Quiberon," called out the guard. And the train carried
the whole family away to its next stage.
When Esperance breathed the life-giving breath of the sea, when she
could distinguish the green line of ocean beyond the trees, she
clapped her hands with ecstasy. She became a guide for Genevieve,
explaining to her the conformation of Carnac, and recounting with
pretty fancy the legends of the country they were passing through.
At last the train stopped at Quiberon. They stopped at the Hotel de
France to speak to the Proprietress, Mme. Le Dantec, and get a picnic
dinner from her to take with them. The boat, the _Soulacroup,_
was filling the air with its second whistle, so they had to hurry
along. The tide was not yet full, so they had to climb down the slimy
quay, slippery with trodden seaweed, shiny with fish scales. The boat
was taking on board a dozen red hogs that snorted mightily. Several
women with well-laden baskets settled themselves in the fore part of
the vessel, using the baskets as a barricade between themselves and
the pigs. Our travellers settled themselves as well as possible, which
was not well at all, on the little bridge under an awning. However,
Esperance found it all delightful.
The trip was rather rough and uncomfortable, but most of the company
made the best of it. Mlle. Frahender grew pale and ill, and her hair
flew about in the most comic disarray. Cosily ensconced in a corner,
Maurice sketched the various attitudes his companions assumed with
every antic of the lightly-laden, wave-tossed Soulacroup. Hunched up
on the seat, Esperance clung to the rigging. Genevieve clutched at her
when a wave pitched the boat too far over. The others, well muffled
up, waited in silence. Jean Perliez sighted the shore continually with
his glasses, wishing it ever nearer so that his impatient idol might
soon be safe on shore again.
In due course the port of Palais came in view. The Soulacroup's
whistle shrieked through the air and in a quarter of an hour more they
landed. First the red pigs were taken off, tottering even on solid
land, no doubt brooding over the evils they had just passed through.
Maurice was enthusiastic when he caught a good view of the little port
of Palais, filled with a hundred little boats lined with blue nets.
The tuna boats carried from their ropes and around their sides long,
stiff silver tunas, so bright in the sun's rays that they hurt the
"Oh! Do look," cried Esperance.
A little boat had just approached, overladen with sardines, and soon a
silver shower was falling on the hard stones of the quay. It was a
beautiful sight, and the excitement of the Parisians amused the jolly
François Darbois led his party to the carriage that was waiting, a
brake with six seats, drawn by two farm horses. The farmer on the box
seat was beaming with pride at the return of his patrons.
It is more than an hour's journey from Palais to Penhouet, but the
road seemed short, on account of its variety of view. Leaving Palais,
there was first of all the ropemakers rolling long strands of hemp
with their fingers almost bleeding over the task. They had chosen a
charming spot; shaded by a little orchard they worked and sang the
ropemaker's song, with a lingering, dragging melody. And then, after
passing a little wood, the island itself came into view. It was
covered with gorse, like a series of Oriental carpets dotted with the
gold of the broom in bloom, woven with rose heather, and red heather,
and purple heather. The bright green foliage of the wild roses
"appeared" like arabesques. The sky, hanging low, bluish green,
without a cloud, seemed as a silken film stretched to filter the heat
of the sun. At a turn in the road the plain disappeared to give place
to little hills, which rise from every side to defend from wind and
rain the beautiful golden wheat, with its heads drooping under the
weight of the heavy grain.
"Ah!" cried Esperance joyfully, standing up in the carriage, "I can
see there is the farm just ahead."
The road dropped abruptly so they had to put on the brakes in spite of
And the two young girls, clinging to each other, saw the little
red-roofed farm house enlarge, as they grew nearer. At last the
carriage stopped, and the farmer's wife came forward to meet them
with her three children. At twenty-six she looked forty, like most
peasant women exhausted by work and child-bearing. Madame Darbois
caressed the children, who had just been having their ears washed
and their hair combed vigorously to prepare them for the advent of
their master's family.
The farm house was long, and close to the earth, being only one
story high. The front door gave directly on the same level into the
dining-room, a large room which also served as the salon or parlour,
with a bright kitchen to one side, where shining casseroles spoke of
the order of the proprietors; to the left, was a large bedroom, sacred
to the Darbois themselves. Close to the kitchen was a very comfortable
room for Marguerite and the other maid. A wooden staircase led to six
rooms above, which were very airy, and all hung with bright chintzes.
Mlle. Frahender was installed next to Esperance, with Genevieve on the
other side. The two young men were sent to what was known as the "Five
Divisions of the World," being composed of five cabins, Europe, Asia,
Africa, America and Oceania. These five rooms were always reserved for
guests, were built of pitchpine, and their windows gave directly on
Farther away, at the edge of the fields, were the farmer's quarters,
with a long pond full of reeds and iris, hard by and adjoining the
pond a pigeon house with sixteen white pigeons which were very dear to
Esperance. She loved to see them fly across the water, like pretty
messengers disporting between two skies.
After a frugal dinner the young people climbed the dills as far as
Penhouet. The bay was surrounded on all sides by high rocks, behind
which were hidden smaller rocks, covered with mosses, and mussels; and
on the right the cliff hollowed out into a dark cave facing the land.
This little beach, cheerful by day, grew mysterious with the fall of
night. Esperance could point out Quiberon, outlined across the way
between land and sky like a ribbon of light. The little lighthouse,
high on the plateau above the farm, sent out its long lunar arms
regularly to sweep the country and search the sea.
Esperance kept her word to Doctor Potain, and spent fifteen days
stretched out in a cosy lounge chair. The particular part of the beach
had been chosen by Maurice, for it was during this time of forced
repose that he intended to do his cousin's portrait for the next
Salon. In a little hollow of the hill, he settled the chair. A great
tamarisk with feathery foliage of bright green formed a background. To
the right was the sea, to the left a glowering mass of dark rocks.
Jean and Genevieve took turns in reading aloud, and the picture was
said to be progressing famously. During the first two weeks Esperance
spent about five hours every day in the chair, but from the sixteenth
day she only devoted one hour for posing, after lunch, and then she
began to organize excursions to explore the country round about.
One morning as the four young people were returning from a bicycle
ride, they saw ahead of them the little brake on its return journey
from Palais to the farm which Mme. Darbois had used on a shopping
expedition with Marguerite. In the brake were two other persons--two
men. The excursionists were still too far from the carriage to
recognize the strangers. But Esperance, who was watching, stopped
suddenly. Genevieve, who was behind her, almost rode into her, and had
to jump lightly from her wheel. Maurice and Jean were some distance
behind. She called to them. They were much concerned to find
Esperance, with a pale face, clenching her hands on the handle-bar.
"What is it, cousin, what ails you?"
At first she did not speak at all, then her eyes lost their far-away
look and she gazed at Jean.
"I don't know," she said in a changed voice, "I think I had some
hallucination come upon me."
Then she pointed towards the distant brake which was approaching
Penhouet at a great pace.
"What did you see?" Maurice insisted. "You have had a dizzy feeling
come over you? You must be careful."
"Yes, perhaps so," she went on, shaking her head as if to rid it of
some vague thoughts that were disturbing her brain, "perhaps so. But
let us be quick, for one of the gentlemen was Doctor Potain."
"Were there two men," asked Jean.
And she started off again at a great pace.
Jean was dolefully perplexed.
When they arrived at the farm they were quite breathless from their
long ride. The philosopher was waiting for them at the door.
"Esperance, my dear," he said, "Doctor Potain is here with the Duke de
Morlay-La-Branche. Your mother met them at the Palais, just as they
had landed from the boat and were looking for a carriage."
"Very well, father, I must change my things and I will be with you as
quickly as possible."
Jean Perliez understood the emotion of his dear little comrade. She
seemed to him at once terrified and fascinated. Maurice was presented
to the Duke, who immediately began to make himself agreeable. He was
quite anxious he said to see the portrait of which M. Darbois had
spoken, so Maurice led him up the hill side. The portrait was on an
easel, and from a distance the Duke almost thought that he was seeing
the real Esperance, the little girl who was troubling his life. He was
delighted with the freshness of the colouring, and the perfection of
the likeness, so necessary when the model is so beautiful.
Maurice was pleased by the appreciation of such a skilled dilettante,
the praise was evidently sincere. He was very much taken with the
Duke, who predicted a glorious future for him.
Jean waited at the foot of the staircase leading to the girl's rooms,
and watched them descend. Esperance was looking radiant. She had
dressed herself with particular care. He understood the tremors of her
heart and decided to keep watch in case she should need him.
When the girls came into the hall, the Duke was talking to Maurice,
and the Doctor to François Darbois. The gentlemen had not heard the
door open, but intuitively the Duke turned around.
Esperance met his burning eyes which were veiled by an expression that
suggested repentant submission. She inclined her head slowly and went
straight up to Doctor Potain, thanking him for coming, and apologizing
for having kept him waiting. Potain led her into her parents' room. He
was much disturbed by the uneven beating of her heart, stormier than
he had ever heard it.
"That is because I just rushed foolishly on my bicycle to see you,
Doctor. I recognized you a long way off. So...."
The Doctor looked closely at the young girl. Her eyes shone with
abnormal brightness. He sounded her, but found nothing wrong except
the irregularity of her heart. He sent Esperance back to the salon so
that he could talk with her father alone. The Duke hastened to
apologize for having come thus without notice. He was staying at the
Château of Castel-Montjoie with Doctor Potain, and when he heard that
the Doctor was leaving for Belle-Isle, he could not resist the
opportunity to come and ask pardon. He talked a long time, with
ardent, almost brotherly tenderness; asked when Esperance thought of
making her appearance at the Comedie-Française, urging her to play
_"Camille,"_ and spoke with considerable praise of Musset's
"The character of the young girl seems to have been caught alive. I
criticize her only for her hardness."
"But," Esperance replied quickly, "that hardness is simply a light
veneer, the result of her education. _'Camille_,' who knew
nothing of life except through the disillusioned account of her friend
in the Convent, would soon become human if _'Perdican'_ had a
less complicated psychology."
She stopped, and was silent a minute.
The Duke looked at her.
"All the world has not the candour of a Count Styvens," he said.
This unfortunate sentence exactly answered a fleeting thought that was
passing in Esperance's brain.
"So much the worse for 'all the world,'" she said quietly and left
Her father and Doctor Potain came in at this moment.
"What are you plotting against me?" she said, going up to them.
François caressed her velvet cheek. "You shall soon know."
The Duke had remained dumbfounded in his chair. The sudden mastery of
this child, who had for the second time rebuked him, touched his
pride. His instinct as an irresistible charmer told him she was not
indifferent to him. Still he could not define in what way he appealed
to her. Was it physical? Was it of a higher order? After a little
cogitation, he concluded that that was the secret. However, he was
wrong. Esperance was subjugated by the attraction of his masculinity
and strength, which was subtly energetic and audacious. His taste and
independence appealed to her artistic nature. His vibrant voice, the
grace of his slender hands, the lightness of his spirits always alert,
his superiority at every sport, made the Duke de Morlay-La-Branche
quite like a real hero of romance. He had expected to subjugate the
little Parisian idol, and found himself thwarted by her. This rather
annoyed him, and he vowed to conquer her.
Doctor Potain, who was looking at his watch, now chimed in with, "My
dear Duke, we must be thinking of leaving; the boat will not wait for
Charles de Morlay thanked his farm hosts, and after bowing elegantly
over Mme. Darbois's hand, looked for Esperance.
"Jean," said Professor Darbois, "look and see if you can find
Esperance, and tell her to come and say good-bye to our dear Doctor."
But Jean returned alone. Esperance was not to be found. She had flown.
"She had not forgotten about the boat," said the young actor.
"Perhaps she has gone on her bicycle to gather news of old mother
Kabastron, who is very ill. That is about ten minutes' distance from
here. I will ride ahead on my bicycle."
The Duke laughed gaily, and prepared a scathing witticism with which
to wither the young girl. But he did not have the pleasure of
delivering it to Esperance, who had hidden herself behind her portrait
at the foot of the rook.
She reappeared much later, and was rebuked by her father for having
shown such discourtesy to his guests.
"You know very well, papa dear, that I am very grateful to Doctor
Potain, and I should not have gone away if he had been alone."
M. and Mme. Darbois looked at each other and at Esperance.
"Yes, my dear little mother, the Duke makes himself too agreeable for
your big daughter."
"But," said the philosopher, "I have never noticed it."
"You were absorbed in a philosophic discussion with the Doctor, and
the Duke was not speaking very loud."
"Can you not be more definite?" asked François Darbois a little
Jean intervened, "May I say something?"
"Certainly, my boy."
"Well then. I heard the Duke de Morlay-La-Branche make fun of the
honesty of Count Styvens, and at that Esperance abruptly broke off the
François turned towards Esperance.
"That is so," she said, kissing her father, "so tell me that you are
not angry with your little daughter."
For answer he kissed her tenderly.
"Ah! if I could find a way to shelter you from so much admiration,
from being so much sought after. Yet I don't know very well how to
"Do not reproach yourself, dear father, you have been so good, so
trusting. I will never betray that confidence, and my godfather will
be obliged to consume all his own horrid prophecies."
When Esperance's portrait was finished, the family could not admire it
enough. Maurice who was for himself, as for others, a severe critic,
said, "It is the first time that I have been satisfied with my own
work. Little cousin, you have brought me luck, so if my uncle will
permit me I am going to teach you to ride a horse."
"My goodness!" said Madame Darbois, "still more anxiety for us!"
But Esperance clasped her hands with delight.
The first riding lessons were a source of new joy for Esperance.
Maurice was an excellent rider, and his passion for horses had made
him expert in handling them. He had chosen a horse for his cousin from
a stable in the Cotes-du-Nord, the private stable of the Count Marcus
de Treilles, the horse had been secured at a bargain on account of
some blemishes of his coat. He was very gentle, however, and the
Darbois soon felt confidence in him. Doctor Potain had recommended a
great deal of physical exercise for the patient, to counteract the
excess of mental work which had weakened her heart.
"Riding, fishing, walking, tennis," the great specialist had said to
François Darbois, "will be the best thing for your daughter, and,"
pressing his hand, "let her get married as soon as possible."
Long excursions about the little island became for Esperance the most
delightful part of their country life. Very often M. and Madame
Darbois, Mlle. Frahender and Genevieve Hardouin would follow in the
brake. They carried their lunch with them and ate it sometimes in the
little wood of Loret, sometimes on the cliffs amidst the broom, furze
and asters with their golden flowers and silver foliage.
The philosopher's fishing fleet was composed, as he laughingly said,
of a blue boat with blue sails, and a little Swedish whaler. François
went every evening about six o'clock to set the nets with the farmer's
eldest son, whose portrait Maurice intended doing for the following
Salon. All the little colony gathered at nine in the morning on the
beach, ready with baskets to bear away the catch.
Maurice, Jean and Esperance went out with the Professor to get the
nets. Sometimes they had been put far out and then Esperance would row
with the others, for which rough sport her delicate arms seemed out of
place. The young people would cry out with delight every time they saw
the fish under the transparent water held by the meshes. Sometimes
they had quite a big draught; two or three rays, several magnificent
soles, with mullets, and flounders. Sometimes a great lobster would
give the net such tweaks that they guessed his presence before they
saw him. And sometimes it happened that the catch was nothing but a
few sea crabs, who would half devour the other unfortunate fish
imprisoned with them. Another day a great octopus appeared, and
Esperance grew pale with fright at sight of his long clinging
Esperance often made a selection of the seaweeds in the net, and she
and Genevieve commenced an album in which they pasted, in fanciful
designs, these plants, fine as straws or solid and sharp of colour.
This album was intended for Mme. Styvens, and the girls worked at it
lovingly. Maurice would sometimes assist them with his advice or make
them a sketch which they could copy as carefully as their beautiful
materials would admit. Mlle. Frahender devoted infinite patience to
gluing the tiniest fibres of the sea plants. Some were bright pink,
suggesting in formation and colour the little red fishing boats.
Others were gold with their slender little flowers rising in clusters.
The long supple green algaes, swelling along their stems into little
round beads, like beads of jade, looked as though they wore some
Chinese costume. As the album grew it gave promise of wonderful