Part 3 out of 5
On the first of September François Darbois received a letter from
Count Styvens, asking permission to come and submit to him a
philosophical work that he had just finished. He begged to present his
compliments to Mme. and Mlle. Darbois. The professor read the letter
aloud after dinner.
"I hardly think," he queried, "that I can well refuse this pleasure to
my favourite pupil?"
Maurice, Jean, the old Mademoiselle and Mme. Darbois seemed very happy
at the prospect of a visit from the Count.
"He is a very good musician...." "He can row splendidly...." "He has a
heart of gold...." concluded the philosopher.
A dispatch was sent to Albert Styvens, telling him they would all be
delighted to see him. Only Esperance showed some reserve, and Maurice
cried out, "My cousin is in dread of musical evenings, I see!"
They all laughed at this quip, which had a very close resemblance to
"Yes, papa, but no music after dinner: our evenings would be lost! It
is so pleasant to go for long walks on these wonderful moonlight
nights! The piano is for the town, here we only want to enjoy the
harmonious music of nature, the sea that croons or roars, the wind
that whistles, whistles or scolds, the plaint of the sea-gulls in the
storm, the cry of the frightened gulls and cormorants, the clicking of
the pebbles rolled over by the waves; all these charm me strangely and
I often sleep on the little beach, soothed by these melodies which you
will find echoed in the themes of our great masters."
The philosopher drew his daughter on his knee.
"Very well. We will not mention music to your lover."
The word had slipped out but it stung the young girl, however, she
would not let her resentment appear.
"So," she thought, "they all accept the courting of Albert Styvens. My
father himself is part of the conspiracy against me."
She led Genevieve outside and confided to her her apprehensions. Her
young friend did not deny that the coming of Count Styvens had the
appearance to all of an approaching proposal of marriage.
"My God," said Esperance, pressing her friend's arm, "it seems to me
that I shall never be able to say 'Yes.' I am so happy as I am."
The two girls were sitting on a little mound. The moon was reflected
in a sea as quiet as the sky.
"See," said Esperance, "that is the image of my life. At this moment I
am calm, happy, and my art is like that bright star. It brightens
everything for me without troubling me.... I do not love Count
Styvens. Oh!" she went on in answer to a movement from Genevieve, "I
like him as a friend, but I do not love him. I know he is a gallant
gentleman, a fine musician, and a splendid athlete; I recognize that
he is very generous and that he is entirely unselfish--for these I
greatly respect him, but these qualities alone have nothing to do with
"He is a very good-looking man," said Genevieve.
"His arms are too long and he has not any decided colour. His face,
his hair, his eyes are all of a neutral tint which you cannot define."
"But handsome men are very rare!"
Esperance did not answer.
"There is the Duke de Morlay-La-Branche, too. Do you like him any
The moon shone full on Esperance's face.
"Great Heavens, dearie," exclaimed Genevieve quickly, "you are not in
love with that man, I hope."
"Don't speak so loud," said Esperance, frightened. "No, I am not in
love with the Duke, but he bothers me, I confess. He is continually in
my mind, and the thought of him makes the blood rush to my heart. When
he is present I can struggle against him, but I have no strength
against the picture of him I so often conjure up. That dominates me
more than he can do himself. That seems innocent enough, but I know
very well all the same, that I find every excuse for dwelling on the
thought of him. No, I do not love him ... but still...." she murmured
Genevieve took her friend in her arms.
"Esperance, darling, save yourself! Think of the downfall of your
mother's happiness, think of the fearful remorse of your father. Think
of your godfather's iniquitous triumph. Ah! I beg of you, accept the
Count's love, become his wife, you will be constrained by your loyalty
to save your father's honour. But the Duke...."
"My father's honour is precious to me, and you see, I am defending it
badly," said Esperance. She wept quietly. Genevieve drew her head down
on her shoulder. Esperance kissed her.
"Come, we must go back, it is getting late. I thank you, Genevieve,
and I love you."
A letter arrived the next morning which announced that the Count would
pay them his visit on Thursday.
There were just three days before his coming. Esperance had made up
her mind, after her talk with Genevieve, to accede to her parents'
wishes. She and Genevieve went to inspect the room that had been
prepared for the Count. It was a little square apartment very nicely
arranged. On the floor was a mat with red and white squares. The
windows looked out on the rocky coast. The young people decided to
hang some small variegated laurels from the ceiling to decorate it. On
the mantel they put some flower vases on either side of a plaque
representing the golden wedding of a Breton couple. Mme. Darbois
opened for them what Esperance called her "reliquary," and they found
there flowers and ribbons. They chose wisteria, and lavender and white
ribbons, then went to work on their wreath. A large crown of pretty
bunches was hung from satin ribbons. When it was ready the four young
people went with ladder and tools to hang the wreaths, Maurice
standing high up on the ladder drove in the peg intended to hold the
"As reward for this service, you know," he said, "I must be allowed to
put the wreath on your pretty head, the day that you are married."
Esperance blushed and sighed sadly.
The room was charming in its decoration, though when it was finished
it seemed more fit for a young girl than for a big, broad-shouldered
M. and Mme. Darbois went to meet Count Styvens at Palais. François had
taken his glasses and pointed out the boat to his wife.
"There is the Count," said Mme. Darbois. "I recognize his tall
In truth, Albert Styvens was stepping ashore, holding in his arms a
child of two or three years. He put it down carefully, and held out
his hand to a poor, bent old woman, who tried to straighten up to
thank the kind gentleman.
François and Germaine came up to the young man, who pressed the
philosopher's hand and presented his respects to Mme. Darbois: and
seeing them look with some curiosity at the old woman, he said, "Here,
Madame, are some good people deserving of your kindness. Mme. Borderie
is this little chap's grandmother. Her widowed son died five months
ago of tuberculosis, and as the child was coughing she gave everything
she had to take him to a specialist in Nantes. The rough sea to-day
made the poor little fellow ill, bringing on a horrible coughing
attack. The poor woman was too weak to hold him during his
convulsions, and he rolled away from her, and she was so frightened
when he did not move, that she was going to throw herself overboard. I
rushed with the other passengers to stop her, we calmed her finally,
and after some little time I was able to resuscitate the child, who
had gone off in a fit."
The poor woman wept as he talked, and showed a banknote he had slipped
into her hand when he said good-bye.
"You must put that away. You will need it," said the young Count,
"Where do you live?" enquired Germaine.
"That is some distance away?"
The old woman shook her head and feebly shrugged her thin shoulders.
"I must go there."
"Well, Mme. Borderie, we will take you there."
Without further parley, Albert picked the old woman up lightly and set
her down in the brake. The baby was deposited on her knees where he
promptly fell asleep. The Count's little trunk found place beside the
farmer on the front seat. A basket of osier, which the young man had
handled very carefully, was also placed in the brake, and then they
set off for Pont-Herlin.
They were growing anxious at the farm of Penhouet, at the non-appearance
of M. and Mme. Darbois, Pont-Herlin lies some way from the Point des
Poulains and the roads are not in very good condition, especially for
a two horse brake. But soon the wind brought the sound of horse's hoofs
and shortly after the brake drew up before the farm. Albert went white
at sight of Esperance. She had come forward first, fearful on account
of the delay. Mme. Darbois explained the cause, and spoke of the Count's
great kindness, to the old woman and her boy.
Esperance raised her pretty eyes, damp with emotion; she looked at
Albert, wishing she could admire his person as much as she did his
mind. And, somehow, as she looked she was agreeably surprised.
"After all, he is not ugly, if he is not handsome," she thought, "and
he is so genuinely good."
In this state of mind she left her hand an instant in his and he
The young people were anxious to lead Styvens to his room. François,
however, was not allowed to accompany them. They marched two ahead,
two behind, with the Count between, like a prisoner. Never before had
Albert seen Esperance so naturally gay, never had he found her more
fascinating. He was almost delirious with happiness. Life seemed to
him only possible with this lovely creature for his wife! His wife!
Such an accession of blood gushed into his heart at the thought that
he stopped giddily.
Jean and Genevieve, who closed the order of march, bumped against him,
for he stopped so suddenly that they thought something must be wrong.
"Good Heavens! are you ill?" asked Genevieve.
The Count smiled. "Excuse me, I am sorry. It was my mistake."
As they went on again Maurice whispered to his cousin, "You know,
Esperance, you have it in your power to make that man happy for ever.
I can see it. Why it seems to be almost a duty. It will be like
offending Providence to refuse the wonderful future that lies open
Esperance was very thoughtful, but her gay spirits returned when they
arrived at the "Five Divisions of the World." The little cortege
climbed the narrow staircase, crossed the little ante-chamber which
opened on the opposite side on a court cut out of the rock. Each room
had a door on this natural court. Stopping before the last door, on
which was written "Oceania," the young people bowed before the Count.
"Behold the prison of your Highness!"
When he was left alone the Count examined his surroundings. His simple
chamber seemed to him sumptuous. He smelt the flowers on the
mantelpiece, half suspecting that they were an attention of the young
girls. The wreath suspended from the ceiling made him smile. It had
been hung there in his honour, there could be no doubt about that.
There was a knock on the door. Marguerite entered, followed by the
farmer bringing the trunk and the osier basket.
He stopped the old servant as she was going out. "Wait a moment and
help me, please."
He cut the string which held the basket and took out four bouquets as
fresh as if they had just been gathered.
"See, Marguerite, the name is pinned on each bouquet; be so good as to
give them to the ladies."
At half-past one the Count appeared walking up and down before the
door of the dining-room. He did not want to be the first one to enter.
Maurice joined him.
"I would love to see the portrait of your cousin," said Albert.
"I will show it to you after lunch."
"Is it finished?"
"Yes; but I still have some retouching to do to the background, and I
shall be glad to have your advice upon it. It is not perhaps exactly
necessary, yet every time that I look at it, I feel the need of some
Genevieve and Esperance came in together. The contrast of this double
entry was striking. Genevieve, dark, with regular features, framed by
a mass of heavy black hair; Esperance, shell pink, aureoled by her
wavy blonde hair. Genevieve was so beautiful that Maurice was moved.
Esperance was so dazzling that the Count mentally praised God at the
sight of her. He was warmly thanked for his pretty flowers, several
blossoms of which each girl had pinned to her dress.
When the fish appeared, Maurice rose gravely.
"This magnificent fish, sir," he said to Albert Styvens, "was caught
by me for you; it is for you to decide whether to share it with us or
whether you prefer to eat it alone."
The young attaché arose and with more humour than they expected from
him, took the platter and bowed with it towards Mme. Darbois. The
conversation raced merrily along, and they were soon disputing about
sports. The Count learned that Esperance rode on horseback. He was
delighted, and inquired if he would be able to procure a mount. Jean
offered his, but the Count, who knew of his love for Esperance and
divined what a joy these excursions must be to him, refused this
sacrifice. The farmer's wife, who helped to wait at table and was
ignorant of social customs, forthwith entered the conversation.
"Ah! if Madame will permit me, I can bring you to the Commandant, who
has a fine horse to sell."
"You may have no fish this evening," said the professor genially. "As
I was away meeting you, I could not put out my net."
"But we did it, father," said Esperance, "and I hope that Count
Styvens will have some magnificent luck. We go fishing this evening."
"So, you are a fisherwoman too, Mademoiselle?"
"We fish every morning, and we shall be very glad to have you join
us," said the girl quietly.
After lunch the Count joined the four young people in a ramble along
the cliffs. Esperance and Genevieve went arm in arm, the three young
men followed; with Styvens in a dream of delight, happier than he had
ever been in his life. Maurice was watching Genevieve every day seeing
her more beautiful, and abandoning himself without much effort to this
new passion. Jean Perliez contemplated Esperance and smiled sadly, if
gladly too, at the thought that she was going to be delivered from the
dangerous Duke de Morlay-La-Branche. They sat down on a high rock
overlooking the little beach of Penhouet and remained silent for a
"How very beautiful it is," murmured Albert at last. "You love the
sea, do you not, Mlle. Esperance?"
"More than anything else in nature. I love great plains too, but I
like them best because they are like the sea when they billow under
"You don't like the mountains at all?" asked Genevieve.
"Oh! no, I stifle there. I dream at night that they are pressing in to
strangle me. I went to Cauterets with mama after she had bronchitis. I
spent all my time climbing to get a view of a horizon and breathe
better. As soon as mama was well the Doctor sent us away saying that
it was not good for me."
"And the forest?" asked Albert.
"The forest hides the sky too much. Nothing makes me as sad as the
"And the lakes, cousin, what do you say of them?"
"A lake makes me shiver. I feel constrained before a lake as before a
person whom I know to be false and perfidious. Of course, the sea is
dangerous, but no one is ignorant of its caprices, its violence, its
tragic love bouts with the wind. The sea is open, whether in laughter
or fury. See, look off there," she said, standing upon the rock. "This
evening it is calm as a lake, and still the waves are all rippling,
preparing for an assault on this rock! It is so immensely alive, even
in its great reserve!"
The silhouette of the young girl, cut against the horizon, was blurred
by the passing night mist. She seemed a flower blooming by moon-light.
Maurice said in a low tone to Genevieve, "See if you can realize this
picture. It is beyond the power of any painter."
"One of the aboriginals might have succeeded. He would not have been
guided by any of the conventions that are introduced in all the arts
and bar the way to the realism of the ideal, which is dear to all true
"The realism of the ideal is very true, but how are you going to make
amateurs or critics feel that?"
"Oh!" replied Genevieve, with much conviction, "There is always an
amateur of the beautiful, there is always a critic who describes his
emotion sincerely, it is for them that I give my tears when I am on
Esperance dropped on her knees, and taking her friend's head in her
hands, "You are always right, Genevieve," she said. "It is a great
gift to have you for a friend."
"My little cousin speaks truth," concluded Maurice.
Genevieve stretched out her hand with a smile to thank him. The young
man kept the contact of that charming strong hand and kissed it with
more warmth than convention required.
"Monsieur Maurice," murmured the girl with trembling lips. But she
could not voice a reproach. She got up to hide her blushes.
"Is not this the time for us to go back? The air is getting sharp, and
you have no wraps, Esperance."
Count Styvens stood up to his full height and stretched his hands to
his little idol to help her up, but she had withdrawn before the two
arms stretched towards her, and recoiled in a kind of fright.
"Did I startle you?"
"Oh! No," she said nervously, "But I was dreaming, I was far away...."
"Where were you, cousin?"
"I don't know. Thoughts are sometimes so scattered that it is hardly
possible to give a clear impression."
Putting her hands in the Count's she jumped lightly to her feet. The
young men led the girls back to the farm, and silence descended upon
the Five Divisions of the Globe.
But love made every one of these young creatures somewhat unsettled,
and it was long before either of them slept. Esperance and Genevieve
talked low, and long silences broke their confidences. Count Styvens
had brought cigarettes for Maurice and Jean. All three stayed and
talked a long time in the painter's room. Alone with men, Styvens lost
all the timidity that sometimes made him awkward. His broad and
cultivated mind, his humanitarian philosophy unaffected by his
religious beliefs, the sincere simplicity with which he expressed
himself, made a great impression on Jean and Maurice.
"That man," said the latter to his friend, "is of another epoch, an
epoch when he would have been a hero or a martyr!"
"Perhaps he may yet be both," murmured Jean.
Next morning Albert Styvens asked Maurice to show him the portrait of
Esperance. He gazed at it a long time in silent admiration. He could
gaze his fill at a portrait without outraging the conventions.
"What marvellous delicacy! Oh! the blue of the eyes! The mother of
pearl of the temples!"
He sat down, quivering with emotion, and looked frankly at Maurice.
"I love your cousin; you know that, don't you?"
"I have loved her for a year, and you see me here, still hesitating to
speak to her father."
"Because I know that she does not love me.... Oh! I believe," he went on
sadly, "I hope, at least that she does feel some friendship for me--but
if she declines my proposal... what else would ever matter to me?"
Maurice came and sat down beside him.
"Your mother?" he queried.
"My mother loves Esperance devotedly, and she has a very real
admiration for your uncle as well. She is very religious. M. Darbois's
philosophical books, which deny nothingness and proclaim the ideal,
have been a great comfort to her in her voluntary solitude. She would
be very happy to know if I could be happy."
"But," objected Maurice. "I am afraid that my cousin does not wish to
give up her art--the stage."
"Yes, I am aware of that, but my mother and I have not the stupid
prejudices of the multitude. Undoubtedly, this union, under such
conditions, would estrange us from many of our so called friends, and
I should have to give up the diplomatic service, but that would not
trouble me. No," he went on, resting his hand on Maurice's knee, "the
hard part would be to see her every evening surrounded by the
admiration of so many men. I suffered when she was playing at the
Vaudeville, and then she was scarcely more than a child, but I heard
them all commenting on her beauty and it was all I could do to control
myself. What shall I be if she becomes my wife? Ah! my wife! my wife!
I really believe, M. Renaud, that her refusal would drive me mad; so,
I hesitate. Hope is the refuge of the sick; and I am very sick--sick
Maurice felt strangely drawn to this man, so simple, and so frank, and
so innately refined in thought.
"From to-day I am your ally, and I hope soon to be able to call you
'dear cousin.' As to her artistic career, Esperance will have to
sacrifice that for you. We will all try to lead her to this decision,
but you must not make her unhappy about it."
"I am already disposed to all concessions except those which touch my
honour, and I assure you that my mother and I are both ready to scorn
all idle talk."
The girls came up with Jean Perliez. The Count said, "Your portrait is
a perfect likeness and is, moreover, a beautiful picture. But," he
exclaimed, "you are all ready for riding!"
"Yes, we are going to Port-Herlin. Won't you come with us? Mama,
little Mademoiselle and Genevieve, are going in the carriage to carry
some provisions to poor old Mother Borderie."
"Your invitation is very tempting, and I am going to surprise you
perhaps by declining. The farmer arranged to have the Commandant's
horse here for this morning, but he comes accompanied by many warnings
and I want to try him out when you are not here; if M. Perliez will be
my guide to Port-Herlin to-day I shall be glad. To-morrow I hope you
will offer me the same chance again...?"
Esperance smiled delightfully.
"Suppose we have lunch there," said Maurice.
"Papa would be left alone too long, and I want to see if M. Styvens
can fish as well as ride. We will come back to pull up the nets about
five o'clock, and then we will have tea in the boat."
The carriage was ready, the horses saddled. The Count had the pleasure
of assisting the young actress to mount, and then Esperance and
Maurice set out together, followed by the brake. The Count and Jean
Perliez took a more roundabout and a steeper way. Albert wanted to
study the character of his horse. The first to arrive at Port-Herlin
were to await the others, and together they were to go to visit old
The dwelling was one of the White Breton houses with thatched roof.
There were three rooms, the kitchen, where one entered, and two little
rooms. In the first, fitted in the wall one above the other were two
narrow beds edged with carved wood; in the second room, four similar
beds. Large bunches of box, which had been blessed, ornamented the
beds where the woman's four children had died. The father of the
little grandson was the last to go. The kitchen was unlighted except
when the door was open. The bedrooms had each one narrow opening like
The old woman was sitting beside the hearth, by the side of which was
an armful of furze. The evening meal was slowly cooking in a marmite
suspended from a hook. Between her knees she held the child, combing
his hair. She stopped when she saw the visitors enter, and the child
ran towards the Count who took him in his arms.
The presents they had brought were unwrapped by the girls. Blouses,
trousers, clothes for the baby, a woollen dress, a muslin dress, with
two beautiful fichus in true Breton style for the grandmother. One box
contained sugar, coffee, and six jars of preserves; another, smoked
bacon, salt pork, two bottles of candy and prunes, and six bottles of
red wine. The old woman looked, caressingly felt everything with her
old knotted fingers, while the tears ran down the furrows that sorrow
had hollowed in each cheek.
"Ah! if my son had had such good things, perhaps he would not have
And she stood before the food with her hands crossed, her eyes lost in
the distance among old far off memories. Esperance undressed the
little fellow, and Genevieve looked for water to wash him before
putting on his new clothes, but despairing of finding any, she tried
to draw the old woman back from her dream.
"Water?" she said. "I have been too weak these three days to go to the
well. There is none here but what is in that pitcher there, on the
board, but don't take it, Mam'selle, the baby is always thirsty."
Genevieve raised her beautiful arm in its loose sleeve and picked up
the pitcher. She looked at the water and asked with surprise, "This is
the water you drink?"
"Yes, the cistern is empty, on account of the drought we have had
these two months, and the spring is a mile away. It is too far for me,
and especially for the child who is not strong. I don't dare leave him
alone in the house here; and I don't dare leave him with the
neighbours. They are too rough and they knock the little fellow about
and he doesn't understand it is only done in joke, and he cries and
calls for me and gets such a fever that he almost died one day when I
left him to go do washing still further away."
"But couldn't you get the neighbours to bring you some water?" asked
"My young lady, there are thirteen in that family, and one of them is
ill to death!" she added sighing.
Albert joined in, "Where is the spring?"
"Over there, near the church in the next village."
"Very good, we three will go there," he said, calling Maurice and
Jean, "and we will bring you back lots of water?"
"Wait till I give you...." she opened the cupboard. "Here is the pail.
Take care, it is very heavy."
Albert began to laugh. "Come along, my friends. I have got an idea."
Esperance watched him as he went out and for an instant she loved him.
While waiting for the young men to return she settled her mother on a
chest. The only chair in the house was a straw arm-chair with a high
back, on which the old Borderie was sitting and which she had not
thought of offering.
"No doubt," said Mme. Darbois in a low tone, "little by little she has
had to sell everything she had."
The girls opened a bottle of wine, the jar of prunes and the jar of
candy, and arranged them on the board pointed out by the poor woman,
who thanked them simply and said, "Ah! my little lad, how good it will
be for him!"
"And for you too, you know. Now drink some wine and take some coffee,"
said Esperance, caressing the grandmother's hands.
"I haven't got enough wood to boil the water."
Madame Darbois looked at the girls contritely. "Wood," she said. "And
we never thought of it."
"If you aren't poor, you don't have to think," muttered the old woman.
A contraction of the heart, the sting of remorse, pierced Mme. Darbois
and the two girls.
"To-morrow you shall have plenty of wood, Mme. Borderie."
"That will be very good, kind lady, for then we can have a little
heat, and that is what the little one needs. The sun never comes into
my room, ah! it can't, the hole is not big enough. And then in the
evening when the fog begins, my little boy, he coughs so, and that
makes me shiver; then I take him in my bed, but my blood is not warm
enough so he can't get warm. Ah! but that will be good for him, to
have wood! Thank you."
For the first time her face broke into a smile, for she had almost
forgotten how to smile. Her life had been nearly all tears. Suddenly
she raised her head in fright--"What may that noise be?"
At the door a cart stopped. On the cart a big barrel.
"Here is some water, Mme. Borderie, that we are going to pour into
With the help of the carter and Maurice, Albert got to work and
behold! the cistern half full. Albert tried the pump.
"Don't waste any, in Heaven's name," cried the old woman.
"No, no, never mind. Anyway there is another barrel on its way."
In fact another cart was stopping before the door. This barrel being
smaller. Albert, impatient at the peasant's slowness, picked it up
himself and rolling it along, emptied it like the first in the
"Look there, will you, Mother," cried out the second carter, "that
isn't any cheap water. The fine gentleman has given a hundred francs
to the town so you could have that water there."
The Count coloured to the roots of his hair. He thought that Esperance
had not heard, but he met her contrite glance, full of gratitude. With
Genevieve's help she washed the little fellow, who was very docile,
sniffing with pleasure the "good smell" of these ladies. Bathed,
combed, in his new clothes, he was a darling.
"I don't know you any longer, little boy. Who are you?" chuckled the
old woman. And she kissed the child, saying, "On Sunday, we will go to
Mass, you will be as fine as the other little boys."
She saw all her visitors to the door, and when Esperance jumped on her
horse, "You aren't afraid up there? You know horses aren't exactly
treacherous, but they are uncertain, and then these dreadful flies
make them wild. _Au revoir_, Madame; my good gentlemen, thank
you. Good luck, Mam'zelle."
The four riders returned together. Passing the little village of
Debers, they had to stop; a big hay wagon barred the way. The peasant
who was driving was abominably drunk. He swore and struck his horses
and jerked them violently towards the ditch. Maurice ordered him to
make way. He laughed foolishly and swore at them insultingly. Maurice
and the Count started forward, and the peasant menaced them with the
scythe resting on the seat beside him. In a flash Albert leapt from
his horse, threw the reins to Maurice, and went straight to the
drunkard. The fellow tried to brandish his scythe, but already Albert
had wrenched it from him and threw it aside. Then seizing the man, he
pulled him down on his knees and held him there until he begged for
pardon. The rustic, suddenly sobered, and raging with impatience, paid
in full the apologies exacted by the Count, before he was allowed to
Jean, during this contest, had led the horses out of their way. The
driver, pale with fury, swung his whip at large and it struck
Esperance's horse. The poor beast, mad with fright, took the bit
between his teeth and started out on a dizzy run. Albert saw at a
glance the only possible way to stop his course.
"Go to the left and cut across the road," he cried, "I'll take the
And he put his horse across the fields.
Esperance's horse did not follow the bend of the road as Styvens had
expected. Blinded by fright, it made straight ahead towards the
Once on the rocks, there was the precipice and certain death.
The Count's horse leapt as if it understood what it had to do.
The Count came up just as Esperance lost her seat and fell with one
foot caught in the stirrup. Her lovely blonde hair swept the earth.
Twenty yards more and that exquisite little head would be crashed upon
With a desperate effort, Albert by spurring his horse furiously was
able to reach her horse's head, seize him by the bridle and swing
himself to the ground.
Braced against the rocks, he succeeded in halting the trembling beast,
and bent in anguish over the fainting girl. But just as he freed
Esperance's feet, the horse, still trampling and plunging, kicked him
full in the head. He went down like a stone.
Maurice and Jean had now come up. One calmed the horse, the other went
to the aid of the wounded man. Albert, his face streaming with blood,
was murmuring feebly, "No, she is not dead; no, she is not dead...."
He fell back unconscious.
Jean was kneeling beside Esperance. He raised his eyes to Maurice,
moist with tears, but bright with hope.
"She is alive," he said, "she has just moaned feebly. It is only a
little way to the farm. Hurry Maurice, go for help. God grant the
Count's wound may not be fatal...."
The peasants who were haymaking nearby had left their work and come
upon the scene. One man offered his cart and Albert was lifted,
unconscious and bloodstained, and laid on the hay.
Esperance had come to her senses. She could see, but could not
understand. A peasant woman, kneeling beside her, washed her face in
water from a pool in the rocks.
Suddenly she recollected her comrade.
"Jean," she cried with fright, "Jean, Count Styvens?"
Jean sorrowfully showed her the wagon where he lay. Esperance, leaning
on the young actor, stood up to be able to see, and a great sob shook
her from head to feet.
"My God! my God!" she moaned, "is he killed?"
"No, I don't think so, not yet at least...."
"And his mother, his poor mother.... But what happened? I don't
remember.... It is terrible...."
Jean described what had happened, and how the Count had snatched her
from certain death.
Esperance began to cry bitterly.
Meantime Maurice was returning with the victoria in which were M. and
Madame Darbois. The wagon was sent on its way very slowly. François
stepped down quickly and took his daughter in his arms, intending to
carry her to the carriage.
"My father, I am able to walk...." she stifled with sobs. "But he...."
The philosopher put her in the victoria beside her mother, and begged
Jean to stay with them. Then he rejoined the cart, and climbed up
beside Maurice who was supporting the limp head on the hay.
The professor had studied a little medicine. He could see that the wound
was grave, but the young man was robust and he allowed himself to hope.
Maurice recounted the accident with all its details.
"Brave fellow," said François, taking the cold hand. And tears, he
could scarcely restrain, began to fill his eyes.
Soon they all arrived at the farm. Marguerite, as she had been
instructed, had prepared the Darbois's room to receive the wounded
man. Esperance, exhausted, was put to bed, and was soon asleep,
watched over by Mlle. Frahender, who prayed silently, counting over
They had difficulty in moving Albert Styvens. His great body was heavy
and difficult to raise. Finally, after they had washed and bound up
his head, they succeeded in undressing him and making him as
comfortable as possible in the great bed.
A quarter of an hour later he opened his eyes, and, in response to the
anxious faces leaning over him, smiled sweetly.
"And she?" he asked in a feeble voice.
"Thanks to your courage, she is all right," said Mme. Darbois. "You have
the blessings of a grateful mother."
She put the young man's hand to her lips. Two warm tears fell down on
it. The young man trembled, then his face grew radiant. They followed
his glance. On the threshold stood Esperance, leaning upon Genevieve.
A half-hour of profound sleep had completely restored her. She had
waked suddenly, and seeing Genevieve and Mlle. Frahender beside her,
had asked, "How is Count Albert?"
And in spite of the protests of both women, she had got up. She wanted
to be sure, she wanted to see!
The wounded man looked at her fixedly.
"Tell me that I am not dreaming," he implored.
"Albert," she murmured, going up to him, "I owe you my life."
She knelt beside the bed and her delicate hand rested on his strong
"God is very good," he sighed, closing his eyes.
He went so pale that François came forward quickly to feel his pulse.
He was silent a moment, then covering the patient's arm with the sheet
again, looked at his watch.
"If only this doctor would come...." he said.
Almost immediately the head doctor from the barracks at Palais was
announced. He was a man of forty, handsome, a little over-important,
but he understood his business well enough. He diagnosed the wound as
a fracture of the head and dressed and bandaged it, promising to
return that evening with a soothing potion.
For Esperance he prescribed a healing lotion for the many little
scratches, which were of no gravity. The girl was so insistent that
she was allowed to watch beside her deliverer. Genevieve and Mlle.
Frahender also stayed in the room, ready in case she needed help. A
dispatch was sent to the Countess.
Quiet redescended on the farm. A heavy atmosphere of sadness seemed to
envelop it. Lunch was served disjointedly, nobody cared to eat.
Genevieve and Mlle. Frahender had been relieved by the maid, but they
were anxious to return to their posts, and when François began to fold
his napkin, they pushed back their chairs and quickly returned to the
sick-chamber. The patient was becoming delirious. The name of
Esperance was continually recurrent in his confused talk. Once the
young girl trembled; the Count's expression had become so ferocious
that she was terrified. Genevieve and the old Mademoiselle had just
come in. She clung to them, clenching her hands and hiding her face.
She pointed to the Count, who, with his brows contracted and his lips
sternly set, was talking volubly. All three trembled. He ground out
the name of the Duke of Morlay-La-Branche in a kind of roar. Mlle.
Frahender, more composed than the girls, took the potion left by the
doctor to calm the fever when it should become too raging. Esperance
hardened herself against the weakness which had made her leave the
bedside, and while Genevieve held the bandaged head she poured the
liquid between the sick man's lips. At the same time she spoke to him
The well-known, much-loved voice had more effect than the potion. The
wounded man grew gradually calmer, and still unconscious, slept
quietly once more. Then Esperance sank back in an easy chair, begging
Mlle. Frahender to see that no one should make any noise. When the
doctor returned at nine, he found the patient had been sleeping for an
hour. He was well satisfied, and waited a half-hour more before
disturbing him to dress the wound. He could say nothing definitely as
yet, except that the patient had lost no ground.
He took his leave until next day, and when François asked him to
insist upon his daughter's rest, he refused, saying, "I shall do
nothing of the kind. She risks nothing except a slight fatigue, and
she is performing a good work. It may be that she is the real doctor."
A telegram from Madame Styvens announced that she would arrive next
day with the doctor who had attended Albert from childhood, and a
friend. She asked that rooms be reserved at the hotel at Palais. But
François would reserve only the "Five Divisions of the World" for the
three travellers. They prepared one of the rooms as a dressing-room
for the Countess, and Maurice and Jean went to lodge at the farmer's.
It was with infinite discretion that Esperance broke the news of his
mother's coming to Albert.
"Poor mother," he said, "she must be living through hours of anguish
in her anxiety. But the doctor said that I am out of danger."
"What! you were not asleep!"
He smiled with the almost childish smile of the very ill returning to
"Then I shall be on my guard, henceforth," she threatened him gently
with a slender finger.
He stretched his hand out towards her. She pressed it tenderly.
"Be careful, Albert, don't move too much."
They had completely dropped the "Monsieur" and "Mademoiselle," and
this intimacy filled the young man's heart with joy.
François had made a special arrangement with the captain of the
_Soulacroup_, so that the charming Countess need not risk
travelling with geese and pigs. At Quiberon he had reserved a special
room that she might have at least an hour of rest. She went pale as
death when she saw the philosopher and his wife waiting for her at the
train, although they had sent her reassuring telegrams every few
hours. But feared that something serious might have happened while she
was on the way.
François said with emotion as he kissed her trembling hand,
"Everything is going well, Madame, be assured."
She breathed deeply and the colour returned to her face, which was
still so youthful in appearance. She presented Doctor Chartier, who
had been present at Albert's birth, and had cared for him ever since,
and General van Berger. Several peasant women, who had heard the news
of her coming, pressed around offering flowers.
"Your son is saved, Madame," they said.
Her mother's soul was overcome with sorrow and joy, for she felt that
they spoke the truth.
Esperance, who had been watching for her coming, threw herself into
her arms sobbing, but quickly realizing her impatience--"Come, come,
he is expecting you."
In spite of her efforts to keep calm the poor woman cast herself upon
the bed and embraced her son, interrupting her sobs with words of
endearment, crying, laughing, delirious with happiness, for he was
indeed alive, and she had feared.... But she cast away the terrible
The doctor from the barracks entered for a consultation with Doctor
Chartier, who issued the smiling command, "Leave him to the doctors
now, good ladies."
The Countess pressed a last kiss on her son's hand and went away with
Genevieve and Esperance.
After Doctor Chartier had examined the wound, he congratulated his
_confrere_. "You have cared for our patient admirably, and you
will find that his mother is eternally grateful to you."
And indeed the Countess did press his hands and expressed with noble
simplicity her gratitude to everyone for all that had been done for
The doctors were to return in the evening. Albert begged his mother to
take a little rest.
"If I have your word, dear mama, I declare to you I will go to sleep,
I am so relieved to know your anxiety is over."
"I will take care of your mother, Albert," said Esperance. "You take
your medicine and go to sleep. Genevieve has promised to come and
fetch me if you do not."
The Countess smiled as she went out with the young girl. She looked at
the pretty face, which was still scarred by the marks of her fall. She
listened, trembling with terror, but admiring the coolness and courage
of her adored son, while the little artist gave her an account of the
accident. Then she sent for Maurice and Jean Perliez that she might
thank them repeatedly. She loved them all for their goodness and
"The maid is at your disposal, Madame, I will send her to you." said
Esperance. She bent to kiss the Countess's hand, but found her face
caressed by it.
"My daughter, my dear daughter," said the Countess, kissing her
Esperance went away mystified, and in a daze.
In eight days, Doctor Chartier left them. The invalid was now
convalescent, but still confined--to his room for several days. The
head wound was closing little by little. Happily the cut had been a
clean one and there had been no complications; but fatigue was to be
avoided, and the young Count was not allowed to exert himself in any
way. He usually settled himself in a big arm-chair near the window,
and while his mother did some embroidering, Esperance read aloud.
Every two hours they were relieved by Madame Darbois and Genevieve. As
to Maurice, he had made a plot in concert with Esperance and Albert,
of offering a portrait of her son to the charming Countess. Baron van
Berger played endless games of cards with François. The days passed
quickly and everyone seemed happy. Esperance's face was as lovely as
ever, for every scar had disappeared.
The accident to Count Styvens had made a great stir in the fashionable
world, where the young Belgian diplomat was much esteemed and even
loved, and the artistic world was interested on account of Esperance.
Telegrams and letters came in every day. The Duke de Morlay-La-Branche
had shown such an interest that the object of it (the Count) grew
exasperated. The Duke had even expressed a desire to come and see the
sufferer, but the philosopher, warned by Jean Perliez, replied coldly,
pleading the doctor's orders.
At last the day came when the Count was permitted to leave the sick
room. He was allowed to take a walk, and felt so strong that when
Maurice offered his assistance he refused it quite gaily. Esperance
and the Countess walked on either side of him; but suddenly he grew
dizzy, and stretched out his arms. Maurice started forward to catch
him as he tottered, and the Count saved himself by catching hold of
the shoulder of Esperance. Under this heavy burden Esperance shuddered
and nearly fell, and grew so pale that Genevieve came to her.
"Give me your arm, darling, and walk a little behind with me, you seem
so shaken.... Oh! I guess why...."
Maurice and General van Berger supported Albert, who had lost his
self-reliance and was a little crestfallen.
"Yes; I have been tortured again by some sort of repugnance," said
Esperance. "I know that I should devote myself to loving that man.
"That will make for the happiness of all who love you."
"Yes, but it will be like condemning myself to death."
Genevieve shivered and grew silent, while pressing Esperance close to
her side to give her courage. Her friend's confidences troubled her
sadly. She also saw the shade of sorrow hovering over this pure face.
She was on the point of encouraging Esperance to refuse the union
which would no doubt be proposed for her, but the recollection of the
Duke haunted her. Was not this man more to be feared than death
"These are silly notions that crowd your brain with presentiments and
nightmares. You must rouse your energy, my darling, and chase
everything that threatens to hurt your life."
"I swear to you, Genevieve, that I make superhuman efforts; but no one
is master of his thoughts. They are so impulsive and rapid that they
seem to escape the control of the will."
"Nevertheless we can deprive them of power!"
"Alas!... But I do not want to sadden you. Look! Maurice is getting
anxious. Ah! you are going to be really happy, you are. I feel it.
True happiness is always found where love is equal."
Maurice could not resist crying out, at sight of the two girls, "How
grave you both look! What were you talking about that you should spoil
your beauty with furrows?"
The Count looked straight at Esperance and she could not prevent
herself from blushing.
"My God, have pity on me," she thought. "Help me to love this man."
After fifteen days of long walks, which grew longer every day, and
constant care, Albert became completely cured. They had a party at the
farm house to celebrate his recovery, with the garrison doctor for the
only outside guest.
The portrait of the Count that Maurice had done proved to be quite a
remarkable picture--life-like and natural. It was placed on the
mantel-piece in Mme. Styvens's room, where she found it when she
returned after lunch. It was accompanied by a very simple letter, but
a very sincere one, recalling the courage of the young Count and nobly
expressing the gratitude of all. It was written and signed by the
philosopher, Mme. Darbois and Maurice. The beautiful portrait, so
delicately presented, was a source of happy comfort to this lonely
The next day the Countess had a long talk with her son. He was sitting
at her feet.
"Reflect very carefully," she said to him, "reflect very carefully. I
believe that that child, whom I love, whom I find absolutely charming,
will not willingly renounce her art. However, I am ready to do all I
can to persuade her to accede to our desire and leave a career which
would be an endless source of worry and suffering for you, my dear
"Mama, do not trouble her too much. She is honest and loyal, and I
have nothing to fear for the honour of my name."
And before his mother could speak he went on: "I am jealous, it is
true, but what happiness is not willing to pay for itself with a
little pain? Then, perhaps, she will understand. I love her so much,
dear, dear mother."
She took the head of the dearly loved son in her hands, and looking
deep in his eyes, said fervently--"Dear God! May happiness reward so
great a love!"
The young Count returned with his mother to the farm where François
Darbois and his wife waited for them by agreement. After a quarter of
an hour's conversation, Esperance was asked to come to her parents.
She was in her room. Her heart beat as if it would break. She had been
warned by Maurice of her family's interview with the Countess.
Genevieve was with her, extolling the advantages of such a union, at
the same time exalting the real goodness of the Count.
"Think also of your father, who at last will be able to realize his
dream of becoming a member of the Academy. You know as well as I do
that he has every chance of being elected, but he will never present
himself as long as you are on the stage. You know the straightlaced,
old-fashioned ways of that assembly...."
"But most of them are poets and dramatic writers," replied Esperance.
"Why should my father care to belong to the Academy at all?"
As Genevieve rebuked her, her eyes filled with tears. "You see,
Genevieve, I am becoming ungrateful. My nature, that I believed so
frank and straightforward, seems to get tangled in unexpected twists
trying to go the right way. Yes, yes, you are right; I must save
myself from myself."
Just then the maid came into the room.
"Monsieur wants to see Mademoiselle. Madame and Countess Styvens are
"Very well; say I will come immediately."
Esperance threw her arms around her friend's neck.
"If you could only know how I thank you."
She went to obey the summons of her parents, resolved and comforted by
her friend's words. Her father gave her in a few words the Countess's
message. She went forward, very much agitated, her lips trembling, her
voice uncertain--"Madame, I thank God for giving me another mother who
is so good, so lovable."
The Countess drew her to her, and held her in a long embrace. The
saintly woman was praying that happiness should descend on this little
creature who was to be her daughter.
Maurice, the Baron, Jean, Mlle. Frahender and Genevieve were all,
during this interview, walking nervously in different directions about
the farm Albert was in his mother's room, sitting down, his head in
his hands, awaiting the decision which was to settle the joy or sorrow
of his life. Maurice entered suddenly.
"Come on, cousin," he said, "they are waiting for you."
The young man sprang to his full height with complete command of his
"Ah! Maurice, Maurice...."
He threw his arms about the young man and was off on a run for the
farm. He entered like one distraught, bent over his mother's hands,
and covering them with kisses, murmuring half-finished phrases.
Esperance was beside the Countess. He stood an instant in silence
before her, looking at her questioningly. Blushing and embarrassed the
young girl held out her hands to him and replied low to the question
in his eyes, "Yes."
Then he bent over her hand, and his lips murmured, "I thank you,
Esperance, oh! I thank you."
They all pressed the hands of the two fiancés. Mlle. Frahender and
Genevieve kissed Esperance tenderly. The Baron thundered in his
military voice, "There has been no battle, and yet here is the breath
of victory. That is very good, but a little stifling. Let us have some
The good man had expressed the general sentiment.
The Darbois, Mlle. Frahender and Jean were sitting in the shade of a
little thicket of low, dark-needled pines and other trees with foliage
green like water. Climbing flowers interlaced in the branches, making
flecks of pink and white and violet. It was an ideal refuge from the
heat and the wind. Maurice and Genevieve walked on ahead. Esperance
and Albert sat down on the high point of rock that dominated the
little landscape. For an instant they looked quietly without speaking.
Albert broke this restless silence, and said, as he took Esperance's
hand, "I love you, Esperance, and I will do all that is in my power or
beyond it to make you happy."
"I believe you, Albert, and I hope to be worthy of so devoted a love."
He looked at her very penetratingly. "I know that you are not yet in
love with me."
"I do not know just how I love you, my dear, but I should always have
turned to you if I had been in trouble."
"Have you never been in love?"
"No, I have been and am deeply touched by Jean Perliez's devotion, but
I have never thought of the possibility of being happy with him."
"And the other?" asked Albert, looking straight at her with his clear
She did not answer at once.
"Yes, the Duke."
"I do not love him," she answered frightened. "At moments I even hate
"And?" insisted the young man, pressing the hand he was still holding.
"... I am happy to be your fiancée!!!"
Her voice vibrated, her eyes were tender with gratitude.
During the dinner Countess Styvens announced that she must go next
"I will take my mother to Brussels," said Albert, "and if you will
permit me, I will return immediately."
The dinner was very gay, for they were all happy. Esperance herself,
so restless, so disturbed only that morning, talked animatedly,
keeping them all delighted with her grace and indefinable charm.
Genevieve was astonished, doubting for a little while whether she was
simply purposely creating a false excitement. But no, she was really
Baron van Berger rose for a little toast.
"Dear friend," he said, bowing to the Countess, "I am delighted to see
that you are reinforcing the ranks and enlisting the younger class.
This reinforcement will bring you light, the joy of its twenty years.
I drink to your sun of Austerlitz."
Then, turning towards Albert, "I drink to the line of little soldiers
that you will give to Belgium, my boy."
The Count became scarlet. Esperance dropped her eyes. Maurice could
hardly restrain his desire to laugh.
"Do not forget that life is a battle," continued the General. "Do not
shut yourself up in your happiness, but be always on your guard...!"
"I drink to you, Lady Esperance, who bear a name of hope for the
future, for you will certainly understand that the most beautiful role
to play is that of wife and mother, which has nothing to do with your
Esperance rose, but Albert restrained her, looking at his mother. The
charming woman said tactfully, "My good friend, I think that you have
spoken according to your own convictions. Esperance will conduct
herself always as seems best to her."
"How kind you are, Madame!" And the young girl went and kissed her
This little incident had interfered with the quiet of the evening. But
Esperance resumed her serenity, as she understood that her future
mother-in-law had quite recognized the possibility that she might
remain faithful to her art.
As to Maurice, the Baron had put him in such spirits that he was
sparkling with wit, and the dinner ended in the most delightful
camaraderie and good feeling. Esperance, before they had time to ask
her, went gaily to the piano; Albert sat down beside her and begged
that she would sing.
She agreed sweetly, on condition that her fiancée should accompany
her. Her voice was very pure and clear, and she sang a simple ballad
with exquisite taste.
"You have no middle voice," objected the Baron.
"Quite true," agreed Esperance with a silvery laugh; "you are terribly
When the girls were alone together finally, Genevieve complimented her
friend upon all that had happened.
"You were adorably gracious, dear little Countess, and I believe in
"No, Genevieve," said Esperance, "I shall not be happy, I know it,
except in so far as I can give happiness. I love Countess Styvens very
deeply. I am touched by Albert's love, I see that I shall be forced by
loyalty to renounce the theatre; I shall be torn by regret, for I fear
my life will be spoiled, and I am not yet twenty!"
She was sitting on her bed, looking so forlorn that Genevieve slipped
down beside her and drew the little blonde head to her shoulder.
"You, dear," asked Esperance, "will you renounce the theatre if
Maurice tells you that he wishes it?"
"I shall not even wait for him to tell me.... If Maurice wishes me to
be his companion through life, I will sacrifice everything for him,
with only one regret, that I have not enough to give up for him!"
"Oh!" said Esperance, miserably, "you are in love, but I am not."
And the unhappy child, stifling her sobs, hid her head in the pillow.
Two days later, the Countess, her son and the Baron left for Brussels.
Madame Styvens had questioned Esperance very adroitly, and she left
Penhouet with a pretty good idea of her tastes and preferences.
It was then the end of August, and the banns were to be published for
November. The Baron was to arrange for the marriage in Brussels, but
it was agreed that the young couple should live in Paris, and the
Countess proposed to pick out a pretty house to shelter the happiness
of her son. She herself would live in Paris; but she refused to share
"I shall look for a house or an apartment near by."
The adieux were tender on both sides. Esperance was so sensitive to
the charm of her mother-in-law that it made her seem devoted to her
The news of the engagement of Esperance and the Count Styvens was
known all over Paris. Letters came to the farm of Penhouet, done up in
packets. Many expressed to the philosopher and his wife their joy at
hearing that their daughter had decided to leave a career so ... so
very ... in which ... in fact that...! Every absurd prejudice, so
puritanly ingrained in the minds of most middle class divisions and
sections and even amongst the more cultivated, was endlessly repeated
upon with the usual banalities in the large correspondence of their
friends and others. Poor actors, so misunderstood! so misrepresented!
The philosopher showed all the letters to Esperance, who shrugged her
shoulders, astonished to find there was so much prejudice in the world
against her beloved calling. One letter, however, she took quite
seriously. It was written by the most eminent of all the Academicians.
One sentence in the epistle wounded the poor child very deeply. "Now I
shall be able to go about your election with more confidence and
security. Dare I admit to you, my dear Professor, that the only
obstacle I encountered, and which seemed to me insurmountable, was the
career chosen by that lovely child, your daughter, whose talent we all
admire so much! Now I can start my campaign, and I am very sure, my
dear Darbois, of achieving our ambition without much difficulty.
Therefore, perhaps, I shall not altogether deserve your thanks."
What Genevieve had said was patently true; her father had sacrificed
his dearest hope for her, and he had done it so all unostentatiously....
Ah! how she loved her father, who was unlike other men! He was standing
there before her, smiling, a little scornful of all these little souls.
And as he handed her another letter--"No, father dear, no, I beg you.
Pardon me the wrong that I have been doing you; I admire you and I love
you, dear papa, but leave me with the noble feeling of your supreme
kindness; I would rather not know any more of the little meannesses of
She climbed on her father's knees and covered his forehead with
"Look," said Mme. Darbois, holding up a letter "eight pages from your
Esperance jumped up laughing, "That I certainly shall not read."
"I am going to write to the Countess that I give up my art...." And
swift as a shadow she was gone.
The philosopher sat hesitating, his expression troubled. Had he the
right to compel this sacrifice, knowing, realizing, as he did, that
his child had based all the happiness of her life on the career she
was now voluntarily giving up for his sake? Germaine looked at him
"Do you believe, my dear, that I ought to let Esperance write to the
Countess, as she proposes? I fear that she is making this sacrifice to
gratify my vanity."
"François!" exclaimed Mme. Darbois indignantly.
"My pride, if you prefer it," he said. "But what is such a
satisfaction in comparison with the happiness of a life? To me it
seems very unjust!"
Germaine adored her husband and her daughter, but she believed more,
than in anything in the world, in the noble genius of the philosopher.
"Esperance's sacrifice," she said, "is very slight. She is making a
superb marriage into one of the noblest, richest families in Belgium.
Albert worships the ground she walks on. The Countess will be more
than indulgent to her. She is realizing the most perfect future a
young girl can hope for. I see nothing to regret, because she is
making a slight concession to her father."
François looked a little sadly at this mother who had never
comprehended her daughter's psychology. He knew that for this sweet
woman the happiness of life began with her husband and ended with him.
He did not want to argue and rose, saying, "I must do some work."
Ho kissed the unlined forehead of his beloved wife, and then as he was
leaving the room added, "Tell Esperance I should like to see her
letter before she sends it."
Esperance sat at her desk in her own room, but she sat with her head
in her hands, unable to begin her letter. Presently Genevieve came in.
"Is anything the matter, dear?"
Esperance told her what had just happened downstairs.
"I have learned once more that all your reasonings and counsels are
always wise, dear sister.... I am sitting trying how to write to the
Countess to tell her that I am not going back to the stage!"
Genevieve kissed her. Esperance let her head fall on her friend's
bosom, and raising her eyes to her face, said slowly, "But oh! I have
not the courage."
Genevieve knelt beside the desk, and dipping the pen in the ink, put a
fresh sheet of paper before Esperance, saying with a laugh, "Mlle.,
get on with your task. I am the school mistress to see that you write
The smile she brought to Esperance's lips chased away the nebulous
uncertainties, and so she wrote her letter to her dear little
"Countess-mama," as she had called her since her engagement. When her
mother came with the philosopher's message and saw the letter, she was
delighted with the phrasing and thanked her daughter warmly for the
joy it would give her father.
"Ah! mama, I believe that I am the happiest of the three Darbois, dear
ridiculous mama!" And she gave her a quick embrace.
Life was again travelling the simple, daily country round. It was
after lunch, three days after Esperance had written her letter.
"Why so pensive, little daughter? Where were your thoughts?"
Esperance jumped up at this question from her father.
"I was dreaming. I am so sorry. I was in Belgium, near the Countess
Styvens when my letter would be brought in to her, for, as nearly as I
can make out, it ought to arrive to-day."
"No," said M. Darbois, "that letter has not been delivered; it is
still in my desk."
Their faces expressed the great astonishment that they felt.
"You did not like it, papa?"
"Very much, very much. It is quite good--and--and pathetic."
"Then, darling papa?"
"I want to talk with you a little more before you send it."
Everyone drank their coffee a little quicker, and five minutes later
François found himself alone with his daughter. Even Mme. Darbois had
withdrawn, afraid that she might show her own anxiety too much.
"I am listening to you, papa."
"You are going to answer my questions with perfect frankness,
"Had you thought of writing to Countess Styvens before you read that
He drew the Academician's letter from his portfolio and placed it
"No, father, dear."
"Then it was on my account, and to facilitate my admittance to the
Academy, that you wrote?"
"Oh! no," replied Esperance quickly, "I would not do you that
injustice, knowing how much you love me, and knowing the purity of
your heart, the nobility of your ambition. I am sacrificing what I
believe, perhaps wrongly, to be my happiness, to the demands of a
misunderstanding world. I knew, when I read that letter, that I had no
right to drag a man of your merit, my dear mother, and all the family,
into the troubles of a life in which they have no real interest. I did
not want you to have the sympathy of the world. Sympathy is too often
akin to scorn!"
François would have spoken, but Esperance interrupted him.
"Oh! father darling. You are so good. Don't torment me further, send
the letter. I am still so new to this role. I need your sincere, your
Just then Marguerite came in and handed the philosopher a letter,
bearing an armorial seal, which had just come from Palais. He quickly
opened it, seemed surprised and passed it to his daughter.
"What! The Duchess de Castel-Montjoie is at Palais," she said. Then
she read: "My dear Philosopher, the Princess and I will come, if
agreeable to you, after five. I name this hour because the Princess's
yacht has to leave to take up friends who are waiting for us at Brehat."
"What time is it?" said Esperance, turning round.
The professor consulted his watch.
"Twenty minutes past three. Quick, Marguerite, tell the men to harness
the victoria with the two horses at once."
A quarter of an hour later the carriage was ready to leave. When it
had disappeared round the corner from the farm, Genevieve and her
friend prepared to go for a walk. Esperance told her mother and Mlle.
Frahender that they would be back again in half an hour. They climbed
down the cliff, and were soon out of earshot of everyone--they were
quite alone. "Genevieve, Genevieve," said Esperance, "I feel that a
new danger is threatening me, ready to destroy all my new illusions.
Do not leave me, darling."
"What is it that you fear?"
"I can only be sure of one thing, I am in such horrible distress, and
that is that the Duke de Morlay-La-Branche is at the bottom of this
visit. Ah! if I could be sure that I should never see him again,
And she cried in her great distress like a little child.
Genevieve stayed at her side, without saying a word, only stroking her
hands from time to time. Presently Esperance grew calmer.
"Come," she said, rising from the boulder on which they had seated
themselves. "We must dress to receive the enemy's emissaries." Her
voice was light, but her heart was heavy.
Maurice, who had been strolling not far off with Jean, came up and
noticing Esperance's tearful eyes, said: "What is the matter?"
"I dread this visit," exclaimed Esperance.
"What is the reason of this sudden call?" ejaculated Maurice.
"I think I can guess," said the actor.
"Well, tell me!"
"But if I should be wrong?" said Jean.
"What a frightful lot of circumlocution," cried Maurice impatiently,
pretending to tear out his hair.
But Esperance replied, "No, Jean, you are not mistaken. I can guess
your thoughts. I am afraid, as I just now said to Genevieve, that the
Duke de Morlay-La-Branche is connected in some way with this visit of
the Princess and her friend!"
"If the Duke comes here, but I do not believe he will, Jean and I will
not leave him alone a minute. I assure you that he will get more of
our company than he will appreciate. But, knowing that the Count is
not here, I do not think he will come. He is too correct for that!
Come, let us dance in honour of Albert!"
Taking his cousin's hands and Genevieve's, he nodded his head to Jean
to do the same thing, and led them into a whirlwind dance upon the
sands of the beach, until the girls laughed as though no heavy
thoughts were weighing in their hearts.
Two hours later the victoria arrived from Palais. The young people
could see that it contained only two ladies and the philosopher, and
Genevieve breathed again.
The Princess descended lightly before the front door. She kissed
Esperance, and after speaking to Mme. Darbois, had Maurice, Jean and
Genevieve presented to her.
"You did the portrait of which the Duke de Morlay has spoken so
"Would it be impertinence if I asked you to let me see it?" she said
with a smile.
"I thank you, Madame; you flatter me by your request."
The Dowager Duchess, with whom the Princess had been spending three
weeks at her Château of Castel-Montjoie, was now presented to Mme.
Darbois. She was a lovable and delightful old lady, with a great
appreciation of art and science. Both ladies had been present with the
Duke at the last Conservatoire competition, and they expressed to
Esperance, Genevieve and Jean the enjoyment their performances had
given them. The Duchess was much struck by Genevieve's proud beauty,
and said to Maurice, "Ah! Monsieur, what another beautiful portrait
you could make! This young lady is much more beautiful close to than
even on the stage!" And she added a kind and appreciative word for the
classic talent of Jean Perliez.
Tea was to be served in the little beautiful convolvulus garden. When
they entered this shelter, which a poet might have designed, the
Duchess exclaimed enviously, "What a heavenly spot. Who is the
inspired person who has arranged this mysterious flowery retreat for
The philosopher pointed to Maurice and the girls.
The Princess admired it, and the conversation rippled on. "We are come
to trouble your bower with a plea for charity! Every year, the Duchess
gives a garden party in her beautiful park at Montjoie for the benefit
of the 'Orphans of the Fishermen.' There is a little open-air theatre,
where some of the greatest actors have appeared. Little rustic booths,
shops where you pay a great deal for nothing at all, and a thousand
other distractions. We are come, the Duchess and I, drawn by a very
pretty star, Esperance. She will not deny us her light, our lovely
little star?" she concluded, bending towards Esperance.
"But, Madame," murmured Esperance, "my decision--my promises do not
depend on myself alone, now."
The Duchess extracted a letter from her gold mesh bag and held it
"You are perfectly right, my dear child," she said easily. "I also
foresaw that objection, so I wrote to your fiancé, even before
speaking to you, for which I must apologize, and here is his answer."
Esperance read the little missive bearing the Styvens's arms and
handed it back to the Duchess.
"I will not be," she said smiling sadly, "more royalist than the king.
Madame, I am at the service of your work."
This was a great delight to the two kindly disposed women, but the
young girl's heart was torn because her fiancé would not see! It is
true that his letter ended with the words, "I agree with both hands to
whatever Esperance shall decide," so that little choice was left.
The garden party was to be the twentieth of September. It was then the
end of August.
"And of what nature is to be the modest contribution I can make to
your fête?" asked Esperance, half humorously.
"Modest! Of course you will be the principal attraction. My guests,
knowing that they will see you for the last time before Count Styvens
carries his little idol away from the public...."
Esperance was saying to herself, "so this cultivated, broad-minded
lady thinks just as the others do."
The Princess continued, "We want you to play with your fiancé the
Liszt symphonic poem that you played one evening at the Legation; and
to take part in some tableaux vivants that we are all to appear in. The
Duke de Morlay-La-Branche is directing and staging this part of the
programme. The performance will be given only by people we know--no
The Princess had spoken quite quickly, without reflection. She blushed
slightly when she remembered Esperance and Jean Perliez, but she had
made the mistake and there was no way of calling it back. She thought
that Esperance belonged to that circle where a compliment effaces what
might seem like an impertinence.
At first the name of the Duke de Morlay had fallen like a pebble in
the stream and began to ripple the waters; a spreading circle of
thoughts, fears, resentments began to move in every heart. The
philosopher himself was troubled, for he had been prompted by Maurice
to observe the assiduous attractions of the Duke, and the agitation he
caused Esperance whenever they had been together. Esperance and
Genevieve both grew pale. The young painter raised his head, ready for
some sort of a return reply. Without hesitation he had decided on the
plan to follow. He must not only be invited to the fête, which would
be easy enough; he must take part in it, so as to be able to shadow
and watch the manoeuvres of the over agreeable Duke.
"If you will allow me, Madame," he said boldly, "I should like to
contribute my mite to your fête by painting the scenery?"
The Princess clapped her hands with delight at the suggestion and this
"How pleased my cousin de Morlay will be," she exclaimed. "He has just
been saying to me, 'For the scenery we shall require a painter, a real
"A professional," said Maurice, bowing ironically.
The Princess was somewhat provoked, but she appeared not to notice the
rather pointed remark.
"You might also design the costumes for the tableaux vivants," she
"My cousin," exclaimed Esperance, "has a great gift for arrangement
and composition. You will be able to judge for yourself soon; I will
show you how beautifully he has painted my portrait."
"True. May we see it now?"
This made a welcome change for the four young people. They all went
towards the "Five Divisions of the World." The Duchess stopped every
now and then on the way to admire the sea and the luminous quality of
the air. She was really amazed when she was shown the picture. It had
been installed in the little court, under a kind of alcove that
Maurice had made for it. He had found in his aunt's "reliquary" some
pretty hangings which hid the alcove, and the picture lost nothing by
the arrangement of drapery.
"You have indeed a beautiful portrait there," said the Princess
sincerely. "Every year for his birthday I give my husband some work of
art. If you do not find me too unworthy a subject it shall be signed
this year, 'Maurice Renaud.'"
The young man bowed. "I shall be very happy indeed, Madame, and very
"Then, as our friend and collaborator," said the Duchess, "you must, I
think, come with us at once so as to be able to get to work with the
Duke without delay."
"Give me time to pack by bag, Madame," returned the triumphant
Maurice, "and I will join you at the carriage."
"I will come and help with your packing, cousin. You will excuse me?"
she added turning to the Princess.
And Esperance, followed by Genevieve and Jean Perliez disappeared
As soon as she was sure she was out of ear-shot Esperance threw her
arms about her cousin's neck. "You were simply wonderful."
"Yes," joined in Maurice, "the enemy has fallen into the ambush, as
Baron van Berger would say. I will be back as soon as possible, but I
must take time to rout our amiable Duke. He is the real enemy, and the
most difficult opponent, but I am confident. With my most diabolical
scheming, little cousin, I am going to have great fun. All the same, I
foresee that I sha'n't be able to stay away long." And he kissed
Genevieve's hand tenderly.
They soon finished the packing, and Jean closed the suitcase, and the
young people arrived at the carriage just as it drew up.
"How very good it is of you to accept this sudden demand upon your
services with such good grace!"
"I must remind you, Madame, that I suggested the work myself and I am
glad to do it. I am also quite happy to be carried off by you, as it
is such an unlooked-for pleasure."
Two days later the professor had a letter from Maurice, which he read
aloud to the family as they drank their coffee.
"My dear Uncle,--This letter is to be shared by the whole community. I
have found a world gone mad in this magnificent château. We are
twenty-two at table. I have been cordially welcomed by all the
strangers, to whom this cursed Duke, delightful fellow, has graciously
presented me. I set to work at once to unravel and discover the plans
of Charles de Morlay. But more anon. This is the programme: an
orchestra composed of excellent artists are to play while the guests
arrive, inspect each other, and take their places. We begin with a
little ballet, entitled, _The Moon in Search of Pierrot_, acted
and danced by some very good amateurs. I am to paint the drop for this
ballet, and the authors (it has taken three of them to elaborate the
stupidest scenario you ever yawned through) have called for a
Scandinavian design and I have promised it, and shall paint it at
Penhouet. Then, the great attraction, the tableaux vivants. That is
where I lay in wait for our astute Duke. I will spare you details of
nine of the tableaux. There are to be twelve, but Esperance appears
only in three, which are the best. In one she represents Andromeda
fastened to the rock, and Perseus (the Duke) delivers her after
overcoming the dragon. In the second, the 'Judgment of Paris,' she
appears as Aphrodite, to whom Paris (the Duke) gives the apple. The
third is 'Europa and the Bull,' Europa being personified by Esperance.
The Duke does not wish to look ridiculous in a bull's hide, so takes
liberties with the legend and transforms the bull into a centaur. I
have said 'Amen' to everything. Finally to complete the fête, which
will no doubt be well attended and very profitable, there will be
little shops of all kinds. Esperance is to sell flowers from the
Duchess's gardens. I have my own idea on this point, which I shall
later confide to you. I can easily get her fiancé to agree. Your
nephew, dear uncle, should live in the land of honey for the future. I
have already had orders for three portraits, and of three pretty
women, which assures me that the portraits will be successful. Ahem! I
am taking all my notes to-day and will be with you the day after
to-morrow. It is up to you, dear uncle, to distribute in unequal or
suitable doses my respects and love and affection amongst all those
anxious to receive such privileges. Your affectionately devoted,
"It seems to me," said Genevieve, as she left the dining-room with
Esperance, "that your cousin has arranged everything very well, and
that you ought to be quite happy and content."
"Oh! I know very well that I shall be taken care of, but how can I
struggle against the tumultuous ideas that assail me? The vision of
the Duke has haunted me ever since Maurice left. I have never seen the
château, but I am sure that I shall recognize it. I would like to fall
ill with some complaint that would send me to sleep and sleep. Oh! if
I could get a little ugly for a little while, just long enough to make
the Duke lose interest in me, I should be so glad. Dear Genevieve,
can't you give me a little dose of the elixir of your happiness. I
need it sorely just now."
The girls had been walking as they talked down to the little beach at
Penhouet. The sea was at low tide, and the golden sand, dried by the
sun, offered them a restful couch. They stretched themselves out upon
it, and Esperance soon fell asleep. Jean Perliez appeared on the crest
of the little hill that hides the bay from the sightseeker. Genevieve
signed to him to come down quietly. He had a telegram, a dispatch from
Belgium. He pinned it to Esperance's hat lying on the sand at her
side, and dropping down close to Genevieve, began to talk in low
tones. For both he and Genevieve were uneasy concerning their little
A farm dog at the moment began to bark furiously. Esperance woke
quickly, looking pale and worried, with her hands pressed on her
frightened heart. She saw the telegram and opened it quickly.
"Albert will be here this evening by the second boat. What time is
it?" She showed a little emotion, but only a little, though she felt
She looked towards the sun.
"It can't be four yet."
Jean took out his watch.
"Twenty to four," he said.
"The boat can't get here before five-thirty. Quick, quick, run, Jean,
and ask to have some conveyance got ready. I must go and tell my
father and get his permission to go with you and Genevieve to meet my
fiancée. Ah! what good luck!" she said with a long breath, "What good
François Darbois was delighted for his daughter to go and meet Albert,
and departed so radiantly that he said to his wife, "I believe she is
getting to love this brave Albert?"
Genevieve, who had heard, as had also Jean, said to the young man in a
low voice, "But, my God! suppose she is beginning to love the Duke?"
The boat approached the little quay of Palais slowly with Count
Styvens standing well forward, his tall figure silhouetted against the
grey of the sea. He caught sight of Esperance immediately, as she
stood up in the brake, waving her handkerchief. Great happiness was in
his heart, and in his haste to be ashore, he went to assist them to
lay down the gangplank, and was at the carriage in a second, kissing
most tenderly the hand Esperance held out to him. A great basket was
placed on the seat. The girls blushed with pleasure, for a sweet odour
was wafted to them from it.
All the way home Esperance heard from Albert in detail all that had
happened to him since she had last seen him. She talked incessantly,
as if to drown her thoughts under a sea of nonsense. At the farm the
young man could see the pleasure they all showed at his return. Of
course he was somewhat astonished to learn that Maurice was absent
with the Duchess, for he had not yet heard of the events that had
happened during his absence.
They all gathered together in the dining-room. The Count took out of
his pocket a little case, and asking Esperance to give him her hand,
slipped on to her middle finger a magnificent engagement ring. Somehow
her hand went cold as death as Albert held it, and her face contracted
"Do you regret your word already, Esperance?" he asked in a nervous,
"No, no, Albert," she said quickly, nervously twisting the ring on her
finger, "but this is a very serious moment, and you know that I
incline to taking things seriously here," and she put her hand across
her heart. Then she smiled, pressed his hand, and showed the ring to
Genevieve. They all examined and admired the beautiful jewel. When the
philosopher turned to praise it Albert had disappeared.
The basket was opened revealing a bouquet of magnificent white
orchids, marvellously fresh, held in a white scarf with embroidered
When they assembled for dinner an hour later Esperance was not
present, and Albert began to look uneasy. But they had not long to
wait, and when she did appear she was dressed all in white, an
embroidered scarf fastened about her waist, and several orchids
arranged like a coronet in her hair. At that moment she seemed almost
"What a pity that Maurice is not here! You are so lovely this
evening," said Genevieve.
"Oh," said Esperance smiling, "that is not the only reason you regret
Next day they were surprised to get no word from the painter to tell
them which boat he would take. It was warm and they had coffee served
in the convolvulus bower. The breeze came through an opening from the
"Look! isn't that a pretty boat?" cried out Genevieve.
A white yacht was sailing slowly towards Penhouet. The philosopher got
"It is the Princess's flag," he exclaimed.
"Yes, yes," agreed Albert, "it is the Belgian flag. Listen, there is
Jean ran to the farm, calling back, "I will answer it. All right, M.
The flag sank and rose three times, then the yacht headed straight for
the little bay. Genevieve climbed on a high rock and clapped her
hands. "It is he, oh! it is he."
She turned radiantly back to the party in the grove. Her "It is he"
made Albert smile. It was so charming, so sincere that they all shared
the quality of her joy.
It was indeed Maurice returning on the Princess's yacht. The tide was
so high that the boat could get quite close.
Everyone went down to the beach where the waves were washing the
little rocks. Albert jumped on the largest rock which seemed to recede
to sea with him. Genevieve would have followed him but he cried out,
"Look out, it is very deep here."
She stayed where she was, but so woebegone did her face become that
Albert leapt ashore again, and before she knew what he was doing,
picked her up, and was back on the slippery rock with her.
"Oh! the bold lad!" said the Professor.
The little sloop had been launched and Maurice could easily land on
the big rock. He kissed Genevieve, and told the Count of his delight
in seeing him again. Then he looked around him. The water surrounded
them on all sides. He looked at Genevieve questioningly, but by way of
response Albert simply picked her up again and went ashore with her.
Maurice was quick and agile, he was even strong in a nervous way, but
Albert's strength and agility filled him with wonder.
Esperance congratulated the Count on his prowess and his kind thought
in enabling Genevieve to see Maurice a little sooner.
"It is because I know what that joy is myself," he answered simply.
Esperance's eyes grew moist as she turned to Albert.
"You are so good, you always do the right thing. I am prouder every
day to be loved by you."
During dinner Maurice gave them an account of all that had happened to
him, with many new incidents.
"I am not telling you anything new," he added to Albert when they were
alone. "You know as well as I do that the Duke is in love with
Esperance. We all know it here."
Albert agreed with a rather sad smile that he did know it.
"Now that my cousin is your fiancée, he is too much of a gentleman to
seek her, but he certainly wants to be near her, to talk to her, in
short to flirt with her."
"You believe that he would dare?"
"My dear cousin," said Maurice, half jestingly, half serious. "I
believe him capable of anything, but he knows that you are here ... and
perhaps is afraid to take liberties."
"To put an end to his manoeuvrings we must somehow make him look
ridiculous, and expose his folly. The fête, I think, will give us our
Albert said, "I will follow your advice, Maurice."
"Very good. I will give you particulars of my plans. By the way, I
have brought all your invitations. I will go and deliver them." So
they went to seek the others, and Maurice gave each one a card with a
personal invitation for the twentieth of September. Genevieve blushed.
"I am invited as well," she said.
"Of course; and I believe the amiable Duchess intends to ask you to
recite the poem she has written. It is very touching. I will find it
for you to-morrow. Ah! yes, you have made a great impression on that
delightful lady. She talked about you to me all the time. You would
have supposed she was doing it to please me."
Genevieve became purple. It was the first time Maurice had expressed
himself so frankly. When they left the table she led Esperance aside
and kissed her until she almost stifled her.
"Oh! how happy I am, and how I love him!"
Maurice and Jean passed by talking so busily that they did not see the
"You are sure?"
"Absolutely. Since I have been away for four whole days I am convinced
more than ever that I adore that girl and shall not be happy without