The table of contents is not part of the original book.
HENRY SETON MERRIMAN
Author of "With Edged Tools," "The Sowers," Etc.
Herbert S. Stone & Co. Chicago and New York MDCCCXCIX Copyright, MDCCCXCVI by Herbert S. Stone & Company
I. Mushrooms 1 II. Monsieur 13 III. Madame 25 IV. Disqualified 36 V. C'est la Vie 49 VI. A Glimpse of Home 60 VII. In Provence 72 VIII. In Paris 83 IX. Finance 95 X. The Golden Spoon 107 XI. Theft 118 XII. Ruin 130 XIII. The Shadow Again 141 XIV. A Little Cloud 153 XV. Flight 165 XVI. Exile 177 XVII. On the Track 189 XVIII. A Dark Horse 201 XIX. Sport 213 XX. Underhand 223 XXI. Checkmate 234 XXII. Home 245 XXIII. Wrecked 256 XXIV. An Explanation 267 XXV. Paris Again 277 XXVI. Above the Snow Line 289 XXVII. The Hand of God 300 XXVIII. The Links 312 XXIX. At La Pauline 324
"La celebrite est comme le feu, qui brule de pres et illumine de loin."
Under a glorious sky, in the year 1869, Paris gathered to rejoice in the centenary of the birth of the First Napoleon. A gathering this of mushroom nobility, soldiery and diplomacy, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the greatest mushroom that ever sprang to life in the hotbed of internecine strife.
"Adventurers all," said John Turner, the great Paris banker, with whom I was in the Church of the Invalides; "and yonder," he added, indicating the Third Napoleon, "is the cleverest."
We had pushed our way into the gorgeous church, and now rubbed elbows with some that wore epaulettes on peaceful shoulders. There were ladies present, too. Did not the fair beings contribute to the rise and fall of that marvellous Second Empire? Representatives of almost every European power paid homage that day to the memory of a little Corsican officer of artillery.
As for me, I went from motives of curiosity, as, no doubt, went many others, if indeed all had so good a call. In my neighbourhood, for instance, stood a stout gentleman in court uniform, who wept aloud whenever the organ permitted his grief to be audible.
"Who is that?" I inquired of my companion.
"A Legitimist, who would perhaps accept a Napoleonic post," replied John Turner, in his stout and simple way.
"And is he weeping because the man who was born a hundred years ago is dead?"
"No! He is weeping because that man's nephew may perchance note his emotion."
One could never tell how dense or how acute John Turner really was. His round, fat face was always immobile and fleshy—no wrinkle, no movement of lip or eyelid, ever gave the cue to his inmost thought. He was always good-natured and indifferent—a middle-aged bachelor who had found life not hollow, but full—of food.
Nature having given me long legs (wherewith to give the slip to my responsibilities, and also to the bailiffs, as many of my female relatives have enjoyed saying), I could look over the heads of the majority of people present, and so saw the Emperor Napoleon III for the first time in my life. The mind is, after all, a smaller thing than those who deny the existence of that which is beyond their comprehension would have us believe. At that moment I forgot to think of all that lay behind those dull, extinguished eyes. I forgot that this was a maker of history, and one who will be placed by chroniclers, writing in the calm of the twentieth century, only second to his greater uncle among remarkable Frenchmen, and merely wondered whether Napoleon III perceived the somewhat obtrusive emotion of my neighbour in the court uniform.
But a keener observer than myself could scarce have discerned the information on the still, pale features of the Emperor, who, indeed, in his implacability always reminded me more of my own countrymen than of the French. The service was proceeding with that cunning rise and fall of voice and music which, I take it, has won not a few emotional souls back to the Mother Church. Suddenly John Turner chuckled in a way that fat people have.
"Laughing at your d—d piano-case," he explained.
I had told him shortly before how I had boarded the Calais boat at Dover in the form and semblance of a piano, snugly housed in one of Messrs. Erard's cases, while my servant engaged in pleasant converse on the quay the bailiff who had been set to watch for me: this, while they were actually slinging me on board. The picture of the surprise of my fellow-passengers when Loomer gravely unscrewed me and I emerged from my travelling-carriage in mid-channel had pleased John Turner vastly. Indeed, he told the story to the end of his days, and even brought that end within hail at times by an over-indulgence in apoplectic mirth. He chuckled at it now in the midst of this solemn service. But I, more easily moved perhaps by outward show and pomp, could only think of our surroundings. The excitement of giving my creditors the slip was a thing of the past; for those were rapid days, and I no laggard, as many took care to tell me, on the heel of the flying moment.
The ceremony in which we were taking part was indeed strange enough to rivet the attention of any who witnessed it—strange, I take it, as any historical scene of a century that saw the rise and fall of Napoleon I. Strange beyond belief, that this dynasty should arise from ashes as cold as those that Europe heaped on St. Helena's dead, to celebrate the birth of its founder!
Who would have dared to prophesy fifty years earlier that a second Emperor should some day sit upon the throne of France? Who would have ventured to foretell that this capricious people, loathing as they did in 1815 the name of Buonaparte, should one day choose by universal suffrage another of that family to rule over them?
Few of those assembled in the great tomb were of devout enough mind to take much heed of the service now proceeding at the altar, where the priest droned and the incense rose in slow clouds towards the dome. We all stared at each other freely enough, and in truth the faces of many, not to mention bright uniforms and brilliant names, warranted the abstraction from holy thought and fervour. The old soldiers lining the aisle had fought, some at Inkerman, some at Solferino, some in Mexico, that land of ill-omen. The generals of all nations, mixing freely in the crowd, bowed grimly enough to each other. They had met before.
It was indeed a strange jumble of prince and pauper, friend and foe, patriot and adventurer. And the face that drew my gaze oftenest was one as still and illegible now as it was on the morning of January 11, four years later, when I bowed before it at Chiselhurst.
The Third Napoleon, with eyes that none could read—a quiet, self-possessed enigma—passed down the aisle between his ranked soldiers, and the religious part of the day's festivities was over. Paris promised to be en fete while daylight lasted, and at night a display of fireworks of unprecedented splendour was to close the festive celebration. There is no lighter heart than that which beats within the narrow waistcoat of the little Parisian bourgeois, unless indeed it be that in the trim bodice of madame his wife; and even within the church walls we could hear the sound of merriment in the streets.
When the Emperor had gone we all moved towards the doors of the church, congratulating each other, embracing each other, laughing and weeping all in one breath.
One near to me seized my hand.
"You are English!" he cried.
"Then embrace me."
"Waterloo"—he called it Vatterlo—"is forgotten. It is buried in the Crimea," cried this emotional son of Gaul. He was a stout man who had partaken of garlic at dejeuner.
"It is," I answered.
And we embraced again. Then I got away from him. It was gratifying but inexpedient to be an Englishman at that moment, and John Turner, whose clothes were made in Paris, silently denied me and edged away. Others seemed desirous of burying Waterloo also, but I managed the obsequies of that great victory with a shake of the hand.
"Vive l'Empereur!" they cried. "Long live Napoleon!"
And I shouted as loud as any. Whatever one may think, it is always wise to agree with the mob.
On the steps of the church I found John Turner awaiting me.
"Finished embracing your new-found friend?" he asked me, with a shortness which may have been a matter of breath. At all events, it was habitual with this well-fed philosopher.
"We were forgetting Waterloo," I answered.
At that moment a merry laugh behind us made me turn. It was not directed towards myself, and was doubtless raised by some incident which had escaped our notice. The mere fact that this voice was raised in merriment did not make me wheel round on my heel as if I had been shot. It was the voice itself—some note of sympathy which I seemed to have always known and yet never to have heard until this moment. A strange thing—the reader will think—to happen to a man in his thirties, who had knocked about the world, doing but little good therein, as some are ready and even anxious to relate.
Strange it may be, but it was true. I seemed to have known that voice all my life—and it was only the merry laugh of a heedless girl.
Has any listened to the prattle of the schoolroom without hearing at odd moments the tone of some note that is not girlish—the voice of the woman speaking gravely through the chatter of the child?
I seemed to hear that note now, and turning, found the owner of the voice within touch of me. She was tall and slim, with a certain fresh immaturity, which was like the scent of the first spring flowers in my own Norfolk woods at home. Flower-like, too, was her face—somewhat long and narrow, with a fair flush on it of youth, health and happiness. The merriest eyes in the world were looking laughingly into the face of an old gentleman at her side, smiling, happy eyes of innocent maidenhood. And yet here again I saw the woman in the girl. I saw a gracious lady, knowing life, and being yet pure, having learned of good and evil only to remember the good. For the knowledge of evil is like vaccine—it causes disturbance only when hidden impurity awaits it.
"Come," said John Turner, taking my arm, "no one else wants to forget Waterloo."
I went with him a little. Then I paused.
"Who is the young lady coming down the steps behind us?"
John Turner, looking over his shoulder, gave a grunt.
"Old De Clericy and his daughter," he answered. "One of the families that are too old to keep pace with the times."
We walked on a little.
"There is a chance for you—wants a secretary," muttered my companion.
"Does he?" I exclaimed, stopping. "Then introduce me."
"Can't introduce a man who came across in a piano-case," he answered, with a laugh, which made me remember that this was a man of station and some standing in Paris, while I was but a vagabond and ne'er-do-well.
"Then I'll introduce myself," I said, hastily.
John Turner shrugged his broad shoulders and walked on. As for me, I stopped and on the impulse of the moment turned.
Monsieur and Mademoiselle de Clericy were coming slowly towards me, and more than one looked at the fair young girl with a franker admiration than I cared about, while she was happily unconscious of it. It would seem that she must lately have left the convent, for the guileless pink and white of that pure life lingered on her face, while her eyes danced with an excitement out of all proportion to the moment. What should she know of Napoleon I, and how rejoice for France when she knew but little of the dark days through which the great general had brought that land?
I edged my way towards them through the crowd without pausing to reflect what I was about to do. I had run away from my creditors, it is true, but was not called upon to work for my living. The Howards had not done much of that, so far as I knew; though many of my ancestors, if one may credit the old portraits at home, had fought for rights, and even wrongs, with considerable spirit and success.
The throng was a well-dressed one, and consequently of a cold and evil temper if one worked against it. I succeeded, however, in reaching Monsieur de Clericy and touched his arm. He turned hastily, as one possessing foes as well as friends, and showed me a most benevolent countenance, kindly and sympathetic even when accosted by a total stranger.
"Monsieur de Clericy?" I asked.
He peered up at me with pleasant, short-sighted eyes while returning my salute.
"But yes. Am I happy enough to be able to do anything for Monsieur?"
He spoke in a high, thin voice that was almost childlike, and a feeling of misgiving ran through me that one so young and inexperienced as Mademoiselle de Clericy should be abroad on such a day with no better escort than this old man.
"Pardon my addressing you," I said, "but I hear that you are seeking a secretary. I only ask permission to call at your hotel and apply for the post."
"But, mon grand monsieur," he said with a delightful playfulness, spreading out his hands in recognition of my height and east-country bulk, "this is no time to talk of affairs. To-day we are at pleasure."
"Not all, Monsieur; some are busy enough," I replied, handing him my card, which he held close to his eyes, after the manner of one who has never possessed long or keen sight.
"What determination!" he exclaimed, with an old man's tolerance. "Mon Dieu! these English allies of ours!"
"Well!" he said, after a pause, "if Monsieur honours me with such a request, I shall be in and at your service from ten o'clock to-morrow morning."
He felt in his pocket and handed me a card with courtesy. It was quite refreshing to meet such a man in Paris in 1869—so naive, so unassuming, so free from that aggressive self-esteem which characterized Frenchmen before the war. Since I had arrived in the capital under the circumstances that amused John Turner so consumedly, I had been tempted to raise my fist in the face of every second flaneur I met on the boulevard.
Again I joined my English friend, who was standing where I had left him, looking around him with a stout, good-natured tolerance.
"Well," he asked, "have you got the situation?"
"No; but I am going to call to-morrow morning at ten o'clock and obtain it."
"Umph!" said John Turner; "I did not know you were such a scoundrel."
"La destinee a deux manieres de nous briser; en se refusant a nos desirs et en les accomplissant."
To some the night brings wiser or at all events a second counsel. For myself, however, it has never been so. In the prosecution of such small enterprises as have marked a life no more eventful than those around it, I have always awakened in the morning of the same mind as I was when sleep laid its quiet hand upon me. It seems, moreover, that I have made just as many as but no more mistakes than my neighbours. Taking it likewise as a broad generality, the balance seems, in my experience, to tell quite perceptibly in favour of those who make up their minds and hold to that decision firmly, rather than towards such men as seek counsel of the multitude and trim their sail to the tame breeze of precedent.
"Always go straight for a jump," my father had shouted to me once, years ago, while I sat up in a Norfolk ditch and watched my horse disappear through a gap in the next hedge.
I awoke on the morning after the centenary fetes without any doubt in my mind—being still determined to seek a situation for which I was unfitted.
Having quarrelled with my father, who obstinately refused to pay a few debts such as no young man living in London could, with self-respect, avoid, I was still in the enjoyment of a small annual income left to me by a mother whom I had never seen—upon whose grave in the old, disused churchyard at Hopton I had indeed been taught to lay a few flowers before I fully realised the meaning of such tribute. That my irate old sire had threatened to cut me off with as near an approach to one shilling as an entail would allow had not given me much anxiety. The dear old gentleman had done so a hundred times before—as early, indeed, as my second term at Cambridge, where he had considerably surprised the waiter at the Bull by a display of honest British wrath.
It was, in all truth, necessary that I should do something—should find one of those occupations (heavily salaried) for which, I make no doubt, as many incompetent youths seek to-day as twenty-five years ago.
"What you want," John Turner had said, when I explained my position to him, "is no doubt something that will enable a gentleman to live like a lord."
Now, Monsieur de Clericy was probably prepared to give two hundred pounds a year to his secretary. But it was with Mademoiselle—and I did not even know her Christian name—that I was anxious to treat. What would she give?
It was, I remember, a lovely morning. What weather these Napoleons had, from Austerlitz down to the matchless autumn of 1870!
The address printed in the corner of Monsieur de Clericy's card was unknown to me, although I was passably acquainted with the Paris streets. The Rue des Palmiers was, I learnt, across the river, and, my informant added, lay between the boulevard and the Seine. This was a part of the bright city which Haussmann and Napoleon III had as yet left untouched—a quarter of quiet, gloomy streets and narrow alleys. The sun was shining on the gay river as I crossed the bridge of the Holy Fathers, and the water seemed to dance and laugh in the morning air. The flags were still flying, for these jolly Parisians are always loth to take in their bunting. It was, indeed, a gay world in which I moved that morning.
The Hotel Clericy I found at the end of the Rue des Palmiers, which short street the great house closed. Indeed, the Rue des Palmiers was but an avenue of houses terminated by the gloomy abode of the Clericys. The house was built behind a high stone wall broken only by a railed doorway.
I rang the bell and heard its tinkle far away within the dwelling. A covered way led from the street to the house, and I followed on the heels of the servant, a smart young Parisian, looking curiously at the little garden which in London would have been forlorn and smutty. Here in Paris bright flowers bloomed healthily and a little fountain plashed with that restful monotony which ever suggests the patios of Spain.
The young man was one of those modern servants who know their business.
"Monsieur's name?" he said, sharply.
We were within the dimly lighted hall, with its scent of old carpets and rusting armour, and he led the way upstairs. He threw open the drawing-room door and mentioned my name in his short, well-trained way. There was but one person in the large room, and she did not hear the man's voice; for she was laughing herself, and was at that moment chasing a small dog around the room. The little animal, which entered gaily into the sport, was worrying a dainty handkerchief in his teeth, and so engaged was he in this destructive purpose that he ran straight into my hands. I rescued the bedraggled piece of cambric and stood upright to find mademoiselle standing before me with mirth and a certain dignified self-possession in her eyes.
"Thank you, Monsieur," she said, taking the handkerchief from my hand. It was evident that she did not recognise me as the stranger who had accosted her father on the previous day.
I explained my business in as few words as possible.
"The servant," I added, "made a mistake in bringing me to this room. I did not mean to trouble Mademoiselle; my business is with M. de Clericy. I am applying for the post of secretary."
She looked at me with a quick surprise, and her eyes lighted on my clothes with some significance, which made me think that perhaps Monsieur de Clericy gave less even than two hundred pounds a year to his amanuensis.
"Ah!" she said, with her thought apparent in her candid eyes. "My father is at present in his study—engaged, I believe, with Monsieur Miste."
"Miste?" I echoed, for the name was no less peculiar than her way of pronouncing it. She seemed to look for some sign that I knew this man.
"Ah! a secretary—a man-machine that writes."
She shook her head with a happy laugh, sinking, as it were, into an air of interest, which gave a sharp feeling that I had perhaps been forestalled in other matters by the man called Miste. She looked at me with such candid eyes, however, that the thought seemed almost a sacrilege, offered gratuitously to innocence and trustfulness. Her face was, indeed, a guarantee that if her maiden fancy had been touched, her heart was at all events free from that deeper feeling which assuredly leaves its mark upon all who suffer it.
The name of Monsieur de Clericy's former secretary in some way grated on my hearing, so that instead of retiring from the presence of mademoiselle as my manners bade me do, I lingered, seeking opportunity to continue the conversation.
"I do not wish to intrude on Monsieur de Clericy," I said. "It is perhaps inexpedient that the new machine should be seen of the old."
Mademoiselle laughed, and again I caught the deep silver note of sympathy in her voice that was so new and yet familiar. In laughter the soul surely speaks.
"The word scarcely describes Monsieur Miste," retorted she.
"Does any single word describe him?"
For a moment she reflected. She was without self-consciousness, and spoke with me, a stranger, as easily as she talked to her father.
"A single word?" she echoed. "Yes—a chimera."
At this moment the sound of voices in the corridor made further delay impossible.
"Perhaps Mademoiselle will allow me to ring for the servant to conduct me to Monsieur de Clericy's study," I said.
"I will show you the room," replied she; "its door is never closed to me. I hear voices, which probably betoken the departure of Monsieur Miste."
The sound, indeed, came distinctly enough to our ears, but it was of one voice only, the benevolent tones of the Vicomte de Clericy, followed by his pleasant laugh. If Miste made reply, the words must have been uttered softly, for I heard them not. I opened the door, and mademoiselle led the way.
A man was descending the broad staircase which I had lately mounted—a slim man, who stepped gently. He did not turn, but continued his way, disappearing in the gloom of the large entrance hall. I gathered a quick impression of litheness and a noiseless footfall, of a sleek, black head, and something stirring within me, which was stronger than curiosity. I wondered why he was quitting the Vicomte's service. Such was my first sight of Charles Miste, and my first knowledge of his existence.
The Vicomte had returned to his room, closing the door behind him, upon which mademoiselle now tapped lightly.
"Father," I heard her say as she entered, "a gentleman wishes to see you."
As I passed her, I caught the scent of some violets she wore in her dress, and the spring-like freshness of the odour seemed a part of herself.
The Vicomte received me so graciously that he and not I might have been the applicant for a situation. Bowing, he peered at me with short-sighted eyes.
"The English gentleman of yesterday," he said, indicating a chair.
"I took you at your word, Monsieur," I replied, "and now apply for the post of secretary."
Taking the chair he placed at my disposal, I awaited his further pleasure. He had seated himself at the writing-table, and was fingering a pen with thoughtfulness or perhaps hesitation. The table, I noticed, was bare of the litter which usually cumbers the desk of a busy man. The calendar lying at his elbow was an ornamental cardboard trifle, embellished with cupids and simpering shepherdesses—such as girls send to each other at the New Year. The surroundings, in fact, were indicative rather of a trifling leisure than of important affairs. The study and writing-table seemed to me to suggest a pleasant fiction of labours, to which the Vicomte retired when he desired solitude and a cigarette. I wondered what my duties might be.
After a pause, the old gentleman raised his eyes—the kindest eyes in the world—to my face, and I perceived beneath his white lashes a great benevolence, in company with a twinkling sense of humour.
"Does Monsieur know anything of the politics of this unfortunate country?" he asked, and he leant forward, his elbows on the bare writing-table, his attitude suggesting the kind encouragement which a great doctor will vouchsafe to a timid patient. The old Frenchman's manner, indeed, aroused in me that which I must be allowed to call my conscience—a cumbrous machine, I admit, hard to set going and soon running down. The sport of this adventure, entered into in a spirit of devilry, seemed suddenly to have shrunk to the dimensions of a somewhat sorry jest. It was, I now reflected, but a poor game to deceive an innocent girl and an old man as guileless. Innocence is a great safeguard.
"Monsieur," I answered, on the spur of the moment, "I have no such qualities as you naturally seek in a secretary. I received my education at Eton and at Cambridge University. If you want a secretary to bowl you a straight ball, or pull a fairly strong oar, I am your man, for I learnt little else. I possess, indeed, the ordinary education of an English gentleman, sufficient Latin to misread an epitaph or a motto, and too little Greek to do me any harm. I have, however, a knowledge of French, which I acquired at Geneva, whither my father sent me when I—er—was sent down from Cambridge. I have again quarrelled with my father. It is an annual affair. We usually quarrel when the hunting ends. This time it is serious. I have henceforth to make my way in the world. I am, Monsieur, what you would call a bad subject."
The tolerance with which my abrupt confession was received only made me the more self-reproachful. The worst of beginning to tell the truth is that it is so hard to stop. I could not inform him that I had fallen in love with a tone in his daughter's voice, with a light in her eyes—I, who had never made serious love to any woman yet. He would only think me mad.
There were in truth many matters with which I ought to have made the Vicomte acquainted. My quarrel with my father, for instance, had originated in my refusal to marry Isabella Gayerson—a young lady with landed estates and a fortune of eighty thousand pounds. I merely informed Monsieur, I confess, that my father and I had fallen out over money matters. Cannot most marriages arranged by loving parents be so described? To my recitation the old gentleman listened with much patience, and when I had partially eased my soul he merely nodded, saying:
"My question is not yet answered, mon ami. Do you know aught of French politics?"
"Absolutely nothing," was my answer, made in all honesty. And I thought I was speaking my own dismissal.
Monsieur de Clericy leant back in his chair with a shrug of the shoulders.
"Well," he muttered, half to himself, "perhaps it is of little consequence. You understand, Monsieur," he continued in a louder tone, looking at me kindly, "I like you. I may say it without impertinence, because I am an old man and you are young. I liked you as soon as I saw you yesterday. The duties for which I require a secretary are light. It is chiefly to be near me when I want you. I have my little estates in the South, in the Bourbonnais, and near to Orleans. I require some one to correspond with my agents, to travel perhaps to my lands when a question arises which the bailiffs cannot settle unaided."
Thus he spoke for some time, and my duties, as he detailed them, sounded astonishingly light. Indeed, he paused occasionally as if seeking to augment them by the addition of trivial household tasks.
"Madame, the Vicomtesse," he said, "will also be glad to avail herself of your services."
The existence of this lady was thus made known to me for the first time. I have wondered since why, in this conversation, we with one accord ignored the first question in such affairs—namely, the salary paid by Monsieur to his secretary.
"I should require you," he said finally, "to live in the Hotel Clericy while we are in Paris."
Some years earlier, during a hunting expedition in Africa, I had stalked a lion all night and far into the following day. On finally obtaining a sight of my prey, I found him old, disease-stricken and half-blind. The feelings of that moment I have never forgotten. A sensation near akin to it—a sort of shame attaching to a pursuit unworthy of a sportsman—came to me again now, when I was told that I might live under the roof that sheltered Mademoiselle de Clericy.
"You hesitate," said the Vicomte. "I am afraid it is an essential. I must have you always at hand."
"En paroles ou en actions, etre discret, c'est s'abstenir."
It is to be presumed that the reader knows the usual result of such a tussle with the conscience as that upon which I now entered. At various turning points in a chequered career I have met my conscience thus face to face, and am honest enough to confess that the victory has not always fallen to that ghostly monitor.
After favouring me with his ultimatum, the Vicomte looked at me expectantly. I thought of Mademoiselle de Clericy's presence in that old house. Who was I to turn my back on the good things that the gods gave me? I hate your timid man who looks behind him on an unknown road.
"As Monsieur wills," I said, and with a sigh, almost of relief I thought, my companion rose.
"We will seek the Vicomtesse," he said. "My wife will have pleasure in making your acquaintance. And to-morrow you shall have my answer."
"Ah!" thought I; "the Vicomtesse decides it."
And I followed Monsieur de Clericy towards the door.
"It is half-past eleven," he said, looking at his modest silver watch. "We shall find Madame in her boudoir."
This apartment, it appeared, was situated beyond the drawing-room, of which we now passed the door. Below us was the great square hall, dark and gloomy; for its windows had been heavily barred in the old stirring times, and but little light filtered through the ironwork. At the head of the stairs was a gallery completely surrounding the quadrangle, and from this gallery access was gained to all the dwelling rooms.
The Vicomte tapped at the door of Madame's room, and without waiting for an answer passed in. I, having purposely lingered, did not hear the few words spoken upon the threshold, and only advanced when bidden to do so by my companion.
An elderly lady stood by the window, having just risen from the broad seat thereof, which was littered with the trifles of a lady's work-basket. The Vicomtesse was obviously many years younger than her husband—a trim woman of fifty or thereabouts, with crinkled grey hair and the clear brown complexion of the Provencale. Beneath the grey hair there looked out at me the cleverest eyes I have ever seen in a human head. I bowed, made suddenly aware that I stood in the presence of an individuality, near an oasis—as it were—in the dreary desert of human commonplace. And strange to say, at the same moment my conscience laid itself down to sleep. Madame la Vicomtesse de Clericy was a woman capable of guarding those near and dear to her.
"Monsieur Howard," explained her husband, looking at me, with his white fingers nervously intertwined, "is desirous of filling the post left vacant by the departure of our friend Charles Miste. We have had a little talk on affairs. It is possible that we may come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement. Monsieur Howard naturally wished to be presented to you."
Madame bowed, her clear dark eyes resting almost musingly on my face. She waited for me to speak, whereas nine women out of ten would have broken silence.
"I have explained to Monsieur le Vicomte," I hastened to say, "that I have none of the requisite qualifications for the post, and that my female relatives—my aunts, in fact—looked upon me as a mauvais sujet."
She smiled, and her eyes sought the lace-work held in her busy fingers. Mademoiselle de Clericy had, I remembered, worn a piece of such dainty needlework at her throat on the previous morning. I learnt to look for that piece of ever-growing lace-work in later days. Madame was never without it, and worked quaint patterns, learnt in a convent on the pine-clad slopes of Var.
"Monsieur Howard," went on the Vicomte, "is a gentleman of position in his own country on the east coast of England. He has, however, had a difference—a difference with his father."
The eyes were raised to my face for a brief moment.
"In the matter of a marriage of convenience," I added, giving the plain truth on the impulse of the moment, or under the influence, perhaps, of Madame de Clericy's glance. Then I recollected that this was a different story from that tale of a monetary difficulty which I had related to Madame's husband ten minutes earlier. I glanced at him to see whether he had noticed the discrepancy, but was instantly relieved of my anxiety, so completely was the old man absorbed in an affectionate and somewhat humble contemplation of his wife. It was easy to see how matters stood in the Clericy household, and I conceived a sudden feeling of relief that so delicate a flower as Mademoiselle de Clericy should have so capable a guardian in the person of her mother. Evil takes that shape in which it is first held up to our vision. Incompetent and careless mothers are in fact criminals. Mademoiselle de Clericy had one near to her who could at all events clothe necessary knowledge in a reassuring garment.
"A marriage of convenience," repeated Madame, speaking for the first time. "It is so easy to be mistaken in such matters, is it not?"
"As easy for the one as for the other, Madame," replied I. "And it was I, and not my father, who was most intimately concerned."
She looked at me with a little upward nod of the head and a slow, wise smile. One never knows whence some women gather their knowledge of the world.
"Monsieur knows Paris?" she asked.
"As an Englishman, Madame."
"Then you only know the worst," was her comment.
She did not ask me to be seated. It was, I suspected, the hour for dejeuner. For this household was evidently one to adhere to old-fashioned customs. There was something homelike about this pleasant lady. Her presence in a room gave to the atmosphere something refined and womanly, which was new to one who, like myself, had lived mostly among men. Indeed, my companions of former days—no saints, I admit—would have been surprised could they have seen me bowing and making conges to this elderly lady like a dancing master. Moreover, the post I sought was lapsing into a domestic situation, for which my antecedents eminently unfitted me, nor did I pretend to think otherwise. Had I reached the age of discretion? Is there indeed such an age? I have seen old men and women who make one doubt it. At thirty-one does a man begin to range himself? "Ah, well!" thought I, "vogue la galere." I had made a beginning, and in Norfolk they do not breed men who leave a quest half accomplished.
For a moment I waited, and Madame seemed to have nothing more to say. I had not at that time, nor indeed have I since, acquired that polish of the world which takes the form of a brilliant, and I suspect insincere, manner in society. I had no compliments ready. I therefore took my leave.
The Vicomte accompanied me to the top of the stairs, and there made sure that the servants were awaiting my departure in the hall.
"To-morrow morning," he said, with a friendly touch on my arm, "you shall have my answer."
With this news then I returned to my comfortable quarters in John Turner's appartement in the Avenue d'Antan. I found that great banker about to partake of luncheon, which was served to him at midday, after the fashion of the country of his adoption. During my walk across the river and through the gardens of the Tuileries—at that time at the height of their splendour—I had not reflected very deeply on the matter in hand. I had thought more of Mademoiselle de Clericy's bright eyes than aught else.
"Good morning," said my host, whom I had not seen before going out. "Where have you been?"
"To the Vicomte de Clericy's."
"The devil you have! Then you are not so stolid as you look."
And he laughed as he shook out his table napkin. His thought was only half with me, for he was looking at the menu.
"Arcachon oysters!" he added; "the best in the world! I hate your bloated natives. Give me a small oyster."
"Give me a dozen," I answered, helping myself from the dish at my elbow.
"And did the Vicomte kick you downstairs?" asked my host, as he compounded in the dip of his plate a wonderful mixture of vinegar and spices.
"No. He is going to consider my application, and will give me his answer to-morrow morning."
John Turner set down the vinegar bottle and looked across the table at me with an expression of wonder on his broad face.
"Well, I never! Did you see Madame? Clever woman, Madame. Gives excellent dinners."
"Yes; I was presented to her."
"Ah! A match for you, Mr. Dick. Did you notice her feet?"
"I noticed that they were well shod."
"Just so!" muttered John Turner, who was now engaged in gastronomic delights. "In France a clever woman is always bien chaussee. Her brains run to her toes. In England it is different. If a woman has a brain it undermines her morals or ruins her waist."
"Only the plain women," suggested I, who had passed several seasons in London not altogether in vain.
"A pretty woman is never clever—she is too wise," said John Turner, stolidly, and he sipped his chablis.
The mysterious sauce with which this great gastronome flavoured his oysters was now prepared, while I, it must be confessed, had consumed my portion, and John Turner relapsed into silence. I watched him as he ate delicately, slowly, with a queer refinement. Many are ready to talk of some crafts under the name of art, which must now, forsooth, be spelt with a capital letter—why, I know no more than the artists. John Turner had his Art, and now exercised it. I always noticed that during the earlier and more piquant courses of a meal he was cynical and apt to give speech on matters of human meanness and vanity not unknown to many who are silent about them. Later on, when the dishes became more succulent, so would his views of life sweeten and acquire a mellower flavour. His round face now began to beam more pleasantly at me across the well-served table, like a rich autumn moon rising over a fat land.
"Pity it is," he said, as he placed a lamb cutlet on my plate, "that you and your father cannot agree."
"Pity that the guv'nor is so unreasonable," I answered.
"I do not suppose there is any question of reason on either side," rejoined my companion, with a laugh. "But I think you might make a little more allowance. You must remember that we old fellows are not so wise and experienced as our youngers and betters. I know he is a hot-blooded old reprobate—that father of yours. I thumped him at Eton for it half a century ago. And you're a worthy son to him, I make no doubt—you have his great chin. But you are all he has, Dick—don't forget that now and remember it too late. Have another cutlet?"
"Gad! I'd give five hundred a year for your appetite and digestion. Think of that old man, my boy, down in Norfolk at this time of year, with nobody to swear at but the servants. Norfolk is just endurable in October, when game and 'longshore herrings are in. But now—with lamb getting muttony—poor old chap!"
"Well," I answered, "he could not eat me if I was at home. But I'll go back in the autumn. I generally make it up before the First."
"What a beautiful thing is filial love," murmured my companion, with a stout sigh, as he turned his attention to the matter of importance on the plate before him; and indeed—with its handicap of fifty years—I think his appetite put my hearty craving for food to shame.
We talked of other things for a while—of matters connected with the gay town in which we found ourselves. We discussed the merits of the wine before us, and it was not until later in the course of the repast that John Turner again reverted to my affairs. If these portions of our talk alone are reported, the reader must kindly remember that they are at all events relevant to the subject, however unworthy, of this narrative.
"So," said my stout companion when the coffee was served, "you are tricking the father so that you may make love to the daughter?"
This view of the matter did not commend itself to my hearing. Indeed, the truth so often gives offence that it is no wonder so few deal in it. A quick answer was on my tongue, but fortunately remained there. I—who had never been too difficult in such matters—did not like something in my friend's voice that savoured of disrespect towards Mademoiselle de Clericy. In a younger man I might have been tempted to allow such a hint to develop into something stronger which would offer me the satisfaction of throwing the speaker down the stairs. But John Turner was not a man to quarrel with, even when one was in the wrong. So I kept silence and burnt my lips at my coffee cup.
"Well," he went on placidly, "Mademoiselle Lucille is a pretty girl."
"Lucille," I said. "Is that her name?"
He cocked his eye at me across the table.
"Yes—a pretty name, eh?"
"It is," I answered him, with steady eyes. "I never heard a prettier."
"Rever c'est le bonheur; attendre c'est la vie."
The Vicomte de Clericy's answer was favourable to my suit, and I duly received permission to install myself in the apartments lately vacated by Charles Miste—whoever he may have been.
"And what, sir, is to become of me?" inquired my servant, when I instructed him to pack my clothes and made known to him my movements in the immediate future. I had forgotten Loomer. A secretary could scarcely come into residence attended by a valet, rejoicing in the usual direct or indirect emoluments, and possessing that abnormal appetite which only belongs to the man servant living in the kitchen. I told him, therefore, that his future was entirely his own, and that while his final fate was unquestionable, the making of his earthly career remained, for the present, in his own hands. In fact, I gave him permission to commence at once his descent to that bourne whither, I feared, his footsteps would tend.
Mr. Loomer was good enough to evince signs of emotion, and from a somewhat confused speech, I gathered that he refused to go to Avernus until he could make the journey in my service and at my heels. Ultimately it was agreed, however, that he should seek a temporary situation—he was a man of many talents, and as handy in the stable as in a gentleman's dressing-room—and remain therein until I should require his services again. As it happened, I had sufficient ready cash to pay him his wages, with an additional sum to compensate for the brevity of his notice to quit a sorry service. He took the money without surprise. It is surely a sign of good breeding to receive one's due with no astonishment.
"Can't you keep me on, sir?" he pleaded a last time, when I had proved by a gift of a pair of hunting boots (which were too small for me) that we really were about to part.
"My good Loomer, I am going into service myself. I always said I could black a boot better than you."
As I left the room I heard the worthy domestic mutter something about "pretty work," and "a Howard of Hopton," and made no doubt that he regretted less the fall of my ancestral dignity than the loss to himself of a careless and easily robbed master. At all events I had been under the impression that I possessed a fuller store of linen than that which emerged from my travel-stained trunks when these were unpacked later in the day in the Rue des Palmiers.
As for that matter of ancestral dignity, it gave me no trouble. Such a possession comes, I think, to little harm while a man keeps it in his own hands, and only falls to pieces when it gets into the grasp of a bad woman. Have we not seen half a dozen, nay, a dozen, such debacles in our own time? And I contend that the degenerate scion of a great house who goes to the wrong side of the footlights for his wife is a criminal, and deserves all that may befall him. I bade my friend, John Turner, farewell, he standing stoutly in his smoking-room after luncheon, and prophesying a discouraging and darksome future for one so headstrong.
"You're going to the devil," he said, "though you think you are running after an angel."
"I am going to earn my own livelihood," answered I, with a laugh, lighting the last excellent cigar I was to have from his box for some time, "and make my idle ancestors turn in their graves. I am going to draw emoluments of not less than one hundred and fifty pounds per annum."
I drove across the river with my simple baggage, and was in due course installed in my apartments. With these there was no fault to find—indeed, they were worthy of a better inmate. A large and airy bedroom looking out over the garden where the foliage, as I have said, had none of the mournful sables worn by the trees in London. The room was beautifully furnished. Even one who knew more of saddles than of Buhl and Empire could see that at a glance. Moreover, I noted that every ornament or handle of brass shone like gold.
"Madame's eyes have been here," thought I; "the clever eyes."
Adjacent to the bedroom was the study, which the Vicomte had pointed out as being assigned to his secretary—adjoining as it did the room whither he himself retired at times—not, as I suspected, to engage in any great labours there.
While I was in my bedroom, the smart young Paris servant came in, looked carelessly at my trunks, and was for withdrawing, when I stopped him.
"Is it the buckles you are afraid of?" I said. "Beware rather of the strap."
Therewith I threw my keys on the table before him and went into my study. When I revisited my room later I found everything neatly placed within the drawers and the empty trunks removed.
There were upon my study table a number of books and papers, placed there with such evident intention that I took cognizance of them, judging them to be the accounts rendered by the Vicomte's various estates. So far as a cursory examination could prove it, I judged that we had to deal with but clumsy scoundrels, and in France in those days scoundrels were of fine fleur, I can tell you, while every sort of villainy flourished there.
I was engaged with these books when the Vicomte entered, after knocking at the door. He referred to this courteous precaution by a little gesture indicating the panel upon which his knuckle had sounded.
"You see," he said, "this room is yours. Let us begin as we intend to go on."
If I was a queer secretary, here at all events was an uncommon master.
We fell to work at once, and one or two questions requiring immediate investigation came under discussion. I told him my opinion of his stewards; for I hated to see an old man so cheated. I lived, it will be remembered, in a glass house, and naturally was forever reaching my hand towards a stone. The Vicomte laughed in his kindly way at what he was pleased to term my high-handedness.
"Mon Dieu!" he cried; "what a grasp of steel. But they will be surprised—the bourgeois. I have always been so tolerant. I have ruled by kindness."
"He who rules by kindness is the slave of thieves," I answered, penning the letter we had decided to indite.
The Vicomte laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
"Well," he said, "so long as we begin as we intend to go on."
Such in any case was the beginning, and this my introduction to the duties I had undertaken. They seemed simple enough, and especially so to one who was no novice at the administration of an estate. For my father, in his softer moments—when, in fact, he had been brought to recognize that my vices were at least hereditary—had initiated me into the working of a great landed holding.
At seven o'clock we dined. Mademoiselle wore a white dress with a broad yellow ribbon round her girlish waist. Her sleeves—I suppose it was the fashion of the period—were wide and flowing, and her arms and hands were those of a child.
Madame de Clericy, I remember, did not talk much, saying little more, indeed, than such polite words as her position of hostess rendered necessary. The burden of the conversation rested chiefly with her aged husband, who sustained it simply and cheerily. His chief aim at this, and indeed at all times, seemed to be to establish an agreeable and mutual ease. I have seldom seen in a man, and especially in an old man, such consideration for the feelings of others.
Lucille's clear laugh was ever ready to welcome some little pleasantry, and she joined occasionally in the talk. I listened more to the voice than to the words. Her gay humour found something laughable in remarks that sounded grave enough, and I suddenly felt a hundred years old. As she walked demurely into the dining-room on her father's arm, I thought in truth that she would rather have skipped and run thither.
During dinner mention was made of the Baron Giraud, and I learnt that that financier was among the Vicomte's friends. The name was not new to me, although the Baron's personality was unknown.
The Baron was one of the mushrooms of that day—a nobleman of finance, a true product of Paris, highly respected and honoured there. John Turner knew him well, and was ponderously silent respecting him.
"But why," asked Lucille, when her father had delivered a little oration in favour of the rich man, "does Monsieur Giraud dye his hair?"
There was a little laugh and a silence at this display of naive wisdom. Then it was Madame who spoke.
"No doubt he feels himself unworthy to wear it white," she said, rising from the table.
I was given to understand that the remainder of the evening was my own, and the Vicomte himself showed me the small staircase descending from the passage between my study and his own, and presented me with a key to the door at the foot of it. This door, he explained, opened to a small passage running between the Rue des Palmiers and the Rue Courte. It would serve me for egress and entry at any time without reference to the servants or disturbance to the house.
"I would not give the key to the first comer," he added.
I learnt later that he and I alone had access to the door of which the servants had no key, nor ever passed there. The same evening I availed myself of my privilege and went to my club, where over a foolish game of chance I won a year's salary.
Such was the beginning of my career in the service of the Vicomte de Clericy. During the weeks that followed I found that there was, in fact, plenty for me to do were the estates to be properly worked—to be administered as we Englishmen are called upon to treat our property to-day, that is to say, like a sponge, to be squeezed to its last drop. I soon discovered that the Vicomte was in the hands of old-fashioned stewards, who, besides feathering their own nests, were not making the best of the land. My conscience, it must be admitted, was at work again—and I had thought it finally vanquished.
Here was I, admitted to the Hotel Clericy—welcomed in the family circle, and trusted there in the immediate vicinity of and with daily access to as innocent and trusting a soul as ever stepped from a French convent. I—a wolf who had not hitherto even troubled to cover my shaggy sides with a fleece. What could I do? Lucille was so gay, so confiding, in a pretty girlish way which never altered as we came to know each other better. Madame was so placid and easy-going—in her stout black silk dress, with her lace-work. Monsieur de Clericy gave me his confidence so unreservedly—what could I do but lapse into virtue? And I venture to think that many a blacker sheep than myself would have blanched in the midst of so pure a flock.
One evening Madame asked me to join the family circle in the drawing-room. The room was very pretty and homelike—quite unlike our grim drawing-room at Hopton, where my father never willingly set foot since its rightful owner had passed elsewhere. There were flowers in abundance—their scent filled the air—from the Var estate in Provence, which had been Madame's home and formed part of the dot she brought into the diminishing Clericy coffers. Two lamps illuminated the room rather dimly, and a pair of candles stood on the piano.
Monsieur de Clericy played a game at bezique with Madame, who chuckled a good deal at her own mistakes with the cards, and then asked Lucille for some music. The girl sat down at the piano, and there, to her own accompaniment, without the printed score, sang such songs of Provence as tug at the heart strings, one knows not why. There seemed to be a wail in the music—and in slurring, as it were, from one note to the other—a trick such Southern songs demand—I heard the tone I loved.
Madame listened while she worked. The Vicomte dropped gently to sleep. I sat with my elbow on my knee and looked at the carpet. And when the voice rose and fell, I knew that none other had the same message for me.
"You are sad," said Lucille, with a little laugh, "with your face in your hand, comme ca."
And she imitated my position and expression with a merry toss of the head. "Are you thinking of your sins?"
"Yes, Mademoiselle," answered I, truthfully enough.
Many evenings I passed thus in the peaceful family circle—and always Lucille sang those gaily sad little songs of Provence.
The weeks slipped by, and the outer world was busy with great doings, while we in the Rue des Palmiers seemed to stand aside and watch the events go past.
The Emperor—than whom no greater man lived at the middle of the present century—was losing health, and, with that best of human gifts, his grasp over his fellowmen. The dogs were beginning to collect—the dogs that are ever in readiness to fall on the stricken lion.
I marvelled to discover how little the Vicomte interested himself in politics. One other discovery only did I make respecting my patron; I found that he loved money.
My conscience, as I have said, was busy at this time, and the burden of my deception began to weigh upon my mind as if I had been a mere schoolboy, and no man of the world. I might, however, have borne the burden easily enough if chance had not favoured the right.
I was one morning writing in Monsieur de Clericy's study, when the door was impetuously thrown open and Lucille came running in. "Ah!" she said, stopping, "only you."
"That is all, Mademoiselle."
She was turning to go when on an impulse of the moment I called to her.
"Mademoiselle!" She turned and slowly came back. With a little laugh she stood in front of me seated at the great table. She took up a quill pen, which I had laid aside a moment earlier, and played with it.
"What are you writing?" she asked, looking down at the papers before me—"your own history?"
As she spoke the pen escaped from her fingers and fell upon my papers, leaving ink stains there.
"There," she cried, with a laugh of mock despair, "I have spoilt your life."
"No; but you have altered its appearance," I answered. "Mademoiselle, I have something to say to you. When I came here I deceived your father. I told him that I was ruined—that my father had disowned me—that I was forced to earn my own livelihood. It was untrue—I shall one day be as rich as your father."
"Then why did you come here?" asked the girl, for a moment grave.
"To be near you."
And she broke into a laugh, shaking her head.
"I saw you in the crowd at the Fete Napoleon—I heard your voice. There is no one in the world like you. I fell in love, Mademoiselle."
Still she laughed, as if I were telling her an amusing story.
"And it is useless," I pursued, somewhat bitterly, perhaps. "I am too old?"
There was a little mirror on the mantelpiece. She ran and fetched it and held it in front of my face.
"Look," she cried merrily. "Yes, hundreds of years!"
With a laugh and flying skirts she ran from the room.
C'est la Vie
"Les querelles ne dureraient pas longtemps si le tort n'etait d'un cote."
Monsieur Alphonse Giraud, unlike many men, had an aim in life—a daily purpose with which he rose in the morning at, it must be admitted, a shockingly late hour—without which he rarely sought his couch even when it was not reached until the foolish birds were astir.
The son of the celebrated Baron Giraud sought, in a word, to be mistaken for an Englishman—and what higher ambition could we, who modestly set such store upon our nationality, desire him to cherish?
In view of this praiseworthy object, Alphonse Giraud wore a mustache only, and this—oh! inconsistency of great minds—he laboriously twirled heavenwards in the French fashion. It was, in fact, the guileless Alphonse's chief tribulation that, however industriously he cultivated that devil-may-care upward sweep, the sparse ornament to his upper lip invariably drooped downwards again before long. In the sunny land of France it is held that the mustache worn "en croc" not only confers upon its possessor an air of distinction, but renders that happy individual particularly irresistible in the eyes of the fair. Readers of modern French fiction are aware that the heroes of those edifying tales invariably wear the mustache "hardiment retroussee," which habit doubtless adds a subtle charm to their singularly puerile and fatuous conversation imperceptible to the mere reader.
Alphonse Giraud was a small man, and would have given a thousand pounds for another inch, as he frankly told his friends. His outward garments were fashioned in London, whence also came his hats, gloves and boots. But within all these he was hopelessly and absolutely French. The English boots trod the pavement—they knew no other path in life—in a manner essentially Gallic. The check trousers, of a pattern somewhat loud and startling, had the mincing gait in them of any "pantalon de fantasie," purchased a prix fixe in the Boulevard St. Germain, across the water. It is useless to lift a Lincoln and Bennett from a little flat-topped head, cut, as they say, to the rat and fringed all over with black, upright hair.
But young Giraud held manfully to his purpose, and even essayed to copy the attitudes of his own groom, a thin-legged man from Streatham, who knew a thing or two, let him tell you, about a 'oss. There was no harm in Alphonse. There is, indeed, less harm in Frenchmen than they—sad dogs!—would have you believe. They are, as a rule, domesticated individuals, with a pretty turn for mixing a salad. Within the narrow but gay waistcoat of this son of Paris there beat as kind a little eager French heart as one may wish to deal with.
"Bon Dieu!" Alphonse would exclaim, when convinced that he had been robbed or cheated. "What will you? I am like that. I daresay the poor devil wanted the money badly—and I do not miss it."
There is a charity that gives, and another that allows the needy to take.
It was the Baron Giraud's great desire that Alphonse should be a gentleman of the great world, moving in his narrow orbit in the first circles of Parisian society, which was nothing to boast of in those days, and has steadily declined ever since. To attain such an eminence, the astute financier knew as well as any that only one thing was really necessary—namely, money. This he gave to his son with an open hand, and only gasped when he heard whither it went and how freely Alphonse spent it.
"There is plenty more," he said, "behind." And his little porcine eyes twinkled amid their yellow wrinkles. "I am a man of substance. You must be a man of position. But do not lend to the wrong people. Rather give to the right and be done with it. They will take it—bon Dieu! You need not shake your head. There is no man who will refuse money if you offer him enough."
And who shall say that the Baron Giraud was wrong?
A young man possessing a light heart and a heavy purse will never want a friend in this kind world of ours. And Alphonse Giraud possessed, moreover, a few of the better sort of friends, who had well-filled purses of their own, and wanted nothing from him but his gay laugh and good-fellowship. These were true friends, who did not scruple to tell him, when they encountered him in the Bois de Boulogne, afoot or on horseback, that while the right-hand side of his mustache was most successfully en croc, the other extremity of the ornament pointed earthwards. And, let it be remembered, that to tell a man of a defect in his personal appearance is always a doubtful kindness.
"Ah, heavens!" Alphonse would exclaim to these true comrades, "I have evil luck, and two minutes ago I bowed to the beautiful Comtesse de Peudechose in her buggy."
Alphonse affected the society of Englishmen, was a member of the clubs frequented by the sons of Albion resident in Paris, and sought the society of the young gentlemen of the Embassy. It was in the apartments of one of these that he made the acquaintance of Phillip Gayerson, a young fellow intended for the diplomatic service. Phillip Gayerson, be it known at once, was the brother of that Isabella Gayerson to whose hand, heart and estate the present chronicler was accredited by a fond father, and about whom, indeed, he had quarrelled with the author of his being.
The name of Dick Howard being at that time unknown to the little Frenchman, Alphonse Giraud made no mention of it to Gayerson a self-absorbed man, who had probably forgotten my existence at this time.
My countryman, as I afterwards learned, had come to Paris with the object of learning the language, which by reason of its subtlety lends itself most readily to diplomatic purposes, the most expressive language, to my thinking, that the world has yet evolved, not excepting the much-vaunted tongue in which Homer wrote. Phillip and I had been boys together, and of all the comrades of my youth I should have selected him the last to distinguish himself in statecraft. He was a quiet, unobservant, and, as previously noted, self-absorbed man, with a sense of the picturesque, which took the form of mediocre water-colour sketching. His appearance was in his favour, for he was visibly a gentleman; a man, moreover, of refined thought and habit, whom burly Norfolk squires dubbed effeminate.
Alphonse Giraud liked him—the world is sunny to those who look at it through sunny eyes—and took him up, as the saying goes, without hesitation. He procured for him an invitation to a semi-state ball, held, as some no doubt remember, in the autumn of 1869. It was Lucille de Clericy's first ball, and Giraud renewed there a childish friendship with one whose hair he confessed to have pulled in the unchivalrous days of his infancy.
Alphonse, who was of a frank nature, as are many of his countrymen, told Madame de Clericy, whom he escorted to the refreshment room after dancing with her daughter, that he loved Lucille.
"But my dear Alphonse," retorted that lady, "you had forgotten her existence until this evening."
This objection to his passion the lightsome Alphonse waived aside with a perfectly gloved little hand.
"But," he answered earnestly, "unknown to myself her vision must always have been here."
And he touched his shirt-front with the tips of his fingers gently, remembering the delicacy of his linen.
"It is an angel!" he added, with an upward glance of his bright little eyes, and tossed off a glass of champagne cup.
Madame de Clericy sipped her coffee slowly, and said nothing; but her eyes travelled downward from the crown of her companion's head to his dapper feet. And during that scrutiny there is little doubt that she reckoned the value of Monsieur Alphonse Giraud. What she saw was a pleasant spoken young man, plus twenty thousand pounds a year. No wonder the Vicomtesse smiled softly.
"And I," went on the Frenchman in half humorous humility, "what am I? Not clever, not handsome, not even tall!"
The lady shrugged her shoulders.
"C'est la vie," she said; a favourite reflection with her.
"Yes, and life and I are equal," replied Alphonse, with his gay laugh. "We are both short! And now I wish to present to you and to Lucille my best friend, Phillip Gayerson. He stands over there by the table, he in English clothes. He only arrived in Paris ten days ago, and speaks French indifferently. But he is charming, quite charming, my dearest friend."
"Did you know him before he came to Paris?"
"Oh, no! Excuse me. I will bring him."
Madame made no remark, but watched Giraud with her quiet smile as he went to seek this dear friend of eight days' standing.
Phillip Gayerson was distinguished by a slight shyness. It was as little known or understood in Paris in the decadent days of the Second Empire as it is now in the time of our own social collapse in England.
Thus, when the introduction was complete, Phillip Gayerson found that he had nothing to say to this elderly French lady, and was glad when Lucille came up, radiant on the arm of her partner. Alphonse presented his friend at once, and here Phillip felt more at his ease, being a better dancer than talker, and asked for the honour of a waltz without delay.
"I have but two left," answered Mademoiselle de Clericy, with a gay glance of happiness towards her mother. "They are at the end of the programme, and I promised to reserve them for Monsieur Howard."
She handed him her engagement card, in frank confirmation of this statement.
"R. H.," said Gayerson, deciphering the initials Lucille herself had scribbled. "If this is Dick Howard I will take the first of his two dances, and risk the consequence. It will not be the first time that Dick and I have fallen out."
He wrote his name over mine, and returned the card to its owner.
"Then you know Mr. Howard?" said Lucille, with another glance at her mother.
"Yes," ... answered Gayerson, but had no time for more, for the next dance was Giraud's, who was already bowing before her, as before a deity.
Madame de Clericy made a little movement, as if to speak to Gayerson, but that young gentleman failed to see the gesture, and moved away to find his partner for the coming waltz.
With the great people gathered at this assembly we have nothing to do, though the writer and the reader, no doubt, love to rub elbows with such lofty persons, if it be only in a public room. Many of them, be it noted, were not nearly so important as they considered themselves, and the greatness of some was built upon a base too frail to withstand the storm and stress of the coming years.
Through the brilliant throng Lucille moved gaily and happily, taking, with the faith of youth, dross for gold, and a high head for the token of a noble heart. When Phillip Gayerson claimed his dance he found her a little tired, but still dazzled and excited by the brilliance of the occasion.
"Is it not splendid?" she exclaimed, taking his arm. "It is my first ball. I am sure I shall never be too old to dance, as mother says she is. Is it not absurd to say such a thing?"
Gayerson laughed, and as was his wont—a habit, indeed, with many shy men—came straight to the point.
"Do you know Dick Howard, then?" he asked.
"Yes, a little. Has he arrived? This is his dance, you know."
"I cannot tell you if he has arrived, Mademoiselle," answered the Englishman, in his halting French. "I know him at home—in Norfolk. I was not aware that he was in Paris. But he will not be here to-night."
"Because his father is dead."
Lucille said nothing. She obeyed the movements of his arm, and they danced, mingling with that gay throng, where the feet were lighter than the hearts, we may be sure. They went through the whole dance in silence, as Phillip afterwards told me—and he tried in vain to engage Lucille's full attention to matters of passing interest.
"We must find my mother," she said at length, when the music had ceased. "Mr. Howard does not know. He has been travelling in the South with my father. His letters have not been forwarded to him."
Phillip Gayerson guided his partner through the laughing throng.
"It will be bad news for Dick," he said, "for his father has left him penniless."
"I understood," observed Lucille, looking attentively at her bouquet, "that he was wealthy."
"No. He quarrelled with his father, who left him without a sou. But Howard knew it before he quitted England."
Lucille did not speak again until they had joined her mother, to whom she said something so hurriedly that Gayerson did not catch the import of her words.
At this moment I entered the room, and made my way towards them, feeling more fit for my bed than a ball-room, for I had travelled night and day to dance a waltz with Lucille. As I approached, Gayerson bowed to the ladies and took his departure.
"My dance, Mademoiselle," I said, "if you have been so kind as to remember it."
"Yes," answered Lucille, coldly as it seemed, "but I am tired, and we are going home."
I looked towards Madame, and saw something in her face, I knew not what.
"Your arm, mon ami," she said, lifting her hand; "we had better go home."
A Glimpse of Home
"Pour rendre la societe commode il faut que chacun conserve sa liberte."
Those who have rattled over the cobble stones of old Paris will understand that we had no opportunity of conversation during our drive from the Tuileries to the Rue des Palmiers. Lucille, with her white lace scarf half concealing her face, sat back in her corner with closed eyes and seemed to be asleep. As we passed the street lamps their light flashing across Madame's face showed her to be alert, attentive and sleepless. On crossing the Pont Napoleon I saw that the sky behind the towers of Notre Dame was already of a pearly grey. The dawn was indeed at hand, and the great city, wrapped in a brief and fitful slumber, would soon be rousing itself to another day of gaiety and tears, of work and play, of life and death.
The Rue des Palmiers was yet still. A sleepy servant opened the door, and we crept quietly upstairs, lest we should disturb the Vicomte, who, tired from his great journey, had retired to bed while I changed my clothes for the Imperial ball.
"Good-night," said Lucille, without looking round at the head of the stairs. Madame followed her daughter, but I noticed that she gave me no salutation.
I turned to my study, of which the door stood open, and where a shaded lamp discreetly burned. I threw aside my coat and attended to the light. My letters lay on the table, but before I had taken them up the rustle of a woman's dress in a gallery drew my attention elsewhere.
It was Madame, who came in bearing a small tray, whereon stood wine and biscuits.
"You are tired out," she said. "You had no refreshment at the Tuileries. You must drink this glass of wine."
"Thank you, Madame," I answered, and turned to my letters, among which were a couple of telegrams. But she laid her quiet hand upon them and pointed with the other to the glass that she had filled. She watched me drink the strong wine, which was, indeed, almost a cordial, then took up the letters in her hands.
"My poor friend," she said, "there is bad news for you here. You must be prepared."
Handing me the letters, she went to the door, but did not quit the room. She merely stood there with her back turned to me, exhibiting a strange, silent patience while I slowly opened the letters and read that my father and I had quarrelled for the last time.
It was I who moved first and broke the silence of that old house. The daylight was glimmering through the closed jalousies, making stripes of light upon the ceiling.
"Madame," I said, "I must go home—to England—by the early train, this morning! May I ask you to explain to Monsieur le Vicomte."
"Yes," she answered, turning and facing me. "Your coffee will be ready at seven o'clock. And none of us will come downstairs until after your departure. At such times a man is better alone—is it not so? For a woman it is different."
I extinguished the useless lamp, and we passed round the gallery together. At the door of my bedroom she stopped, and turning, laid her hand—as light as a child's—upon my arm.
"What will you, my poor friend?" she said, with a queer little smile. "C'est la vie."
It is not my intention to dwell at length upon my journey to England and all that awaited me there. There are times in his life when—as Madame de Clericy said, with her wise smile—a man is better alone. And are there not occasions when the most eloquent of us is best dumb?
I had for travelling companion on the bright autumn morning when I quitted Paris my father's friend, John Turner—called suddenly to England on matters of business. He gave a grunt when he saw me in the Northern station.
"Better have taken my advice," he said, "to go home and make it up with your father, rather than stay here to run after that girl with the pretty hair—at your time of life. Avoid quarrels and seek a reconciliation—that is my plan. Best way is to ask the other chap to dinner and do him well. What are you going home for now? It is too late."
As, indeed, I knew without the telling. For when I reached Hopton my father had already been laid in the old churchyard beneath the shadow of the crumbling walls of the ruined church, which is now no longer used. They have built a gaudy new edifice farther inland, but so long as a Howard owns Hopton Hall, we shall, I think, continue to lie in the graveyard nearer to the sea.
I suppose we are a quarrelsome race, for I fell foul of several persons almost as soon as I arrived. The lawyers vowed that there were difficulties—but none, I protest, but what such parchment minds as theirs would pause to heed. One thing, however, was certain. Did I not read it in black and white myself? My obstinate old father—and, by gad! I respect him for it—had held to his purpose. He had left me penniless unless I consented to marry Isabella Gayerson. The estate was bequeathed in trust, to be administered by said trustees during my lifetime, unless I acceded to a certain matrimonial arrangement entertained for me. Those were the exact words. So Isabella had no cause to blush when the will was published abroad. And we may be sure that the whole county knew it soon enough, and vowed that they had always thought so.
"If one may inquire the nature of the matrimonial arrangement so vaguely specified?"... said the respectable Norwich solicitor who, like all his kind, had a better coat than his client, for those who live on the vanity and greed of their neighbours live well.
"One may," I replied, "and one may go to the devil and ask him."
The lawyer gave a dry laugh as he turned over his papers, and I make no doubt charged some one for his wounded feelings.
So the secret was kept between me and the newly raised stone in Hopton churchyard. And I felt somehow that there was a link between us in the fact that my father had kept the matter of our quarrel from the mouths of gossips and tattlers, leaving it to my honour to obey or disobey him, and abide by the result.
I am not one of those who think it right to remember their dead as saints who lived a blameless life, and passed away from a world that was not good enough for them. Is it not wiser to remember them as they were, men and women like ourselves, with faults in number, and a half-developed virtue or two, possessing something beyond copybook good or evil, which won our love in life, and will keep their memory green after death? I did not fall into the error of thinking that death had hallowed wishes which I had opposed in life; and while standing by my father's grave, where he lay, after long years, by the side of the fair girl whom I had called mother, I respected him for having died without changing his opinion, while recognising no call to alter mine.
The hall, it appeared, was to be held at my disposal to live in whenever I so wished, but I was forbidden to let it. A young solicitor of Yarmouth, working up, as they say, a practice, wrote to me in confidence, saying that the will was an iniquitous one, and presuming that I intended to contest its legality. He further informed me that such work was, singularly enough, a branch of the profession of which he had made a special study. I replied that persons who presumed rendered themselves liable to kicks, and heard no more from Yarmouth.
The neighbours were kind enough to offer me advice or hospitality, according to their nature, neither of which I felt inclined, at that time, to accept, but made some small return for their good will by inviting them to extend their shooting over the Hopton preserves, knowing that my poor old sire would turn in his grave were the birds allowed to go free.
Among others I received a letter from Isabella Gayerson, conveying the sympathy of her aged father and mother in my bereavement.
"As for myself," she wrote, "you know, Dick, that no one feels more keenly for you at this time, and wishes more sincerely that she could put her sympathy to some practical use. The hall must necessarily be but a sad and lonely dwelling for you now, and we want you to recollect that Fairacre is now, as at all times, a second home, where an affectionate welcome awaits you."
So wrote the subject of our quarrel, and in a like friendly tone I made reply. Whether Isabella was aware of the part she had played in my affairs, wiser heads must decide for themselves. If such was the case, she made no sign, and wrote at intervals letters of a spirit similar to that displayed in the paragraph above transcribed. On such affairs, men are but poor prophets in the strange country of a woman's mind. A small experience of the sex leads me, however, to suggest that, as a rule, women—ay, and schoolgirls—have a greater knowledge of such matters of the heart than they are credited with—that, indeed, women usually err on the side of knowing too much—knowing, in a word, facts that do not exist.
So disgusted was I with the whole business that I turned my back on the land of my birth and left the lawyers to fight over their details. I appointed a London solicitor to watch my interests, who smiled at my account of the affair, saying that things would be better settled among members of the legal profession—that my ways were not theirs. For which compliment I fervently thanked him, and shook the dust of London from off my feet.
The Vicomte de Clericy had notified to me by letter that my post would be held vacant and at my disposal for an indefinite period, but that at the same time my presence would be an infinite relief to him. This was no doubt the old gentleman's courteous way of putting it, for I had done little enough to make my absence of any note.
Travelling all night, I arrived in the Rue des Palmiers at nine o'clock one morning, and took coffee as usual in my study. At ten o'clock Monsieur de Clericy came to me there, and was kind enough to express both sympathy at my bereavement and pleasure at my return. In reply I thanked him.
"But," I added, "I regret that I must resign my post."
"Resign," cried the old gentleman. "Mon Dieu! do not talk of it. Why do you think of such a thing?"
"I am no secretary. I have never had the taste for such work nor a chance of learning to do it."
The Vicomte looked at me thoughtfully.
"But you are what I want," he replied. "A man—a responsible man, and not a machine."
"Bah," said I, shrugging my shoulders, "what are we doing—work that any could do. What am I wanted for? I have done nothing but write a few letters and frighten a handful of farmers in Provence."
The Vicomte de Clericy coughed confidentially.
"My dear Howard," he answered, looking at the door to make sure that it was closed. "I am getting an old man. I am only fit to manage my affairs while all is tranquil and in order. Tell me—as man to man—will things remain tranquil and in order? You know as well as I do that the Emperor has a malady from which there is no recovery. And the Empress, ah! yes—she is a clever woman. She has spirit. It is not every woman who would take this journey to Egypt to open the Suez Canal and make that great enterprise a French undertaking. But has a woman ever governed France successfully—from the boudoir or the throne? Look back into history, my dear Howard, and tell me what the end of a woman's government has always been."
It was the first time that my old patron had named politics in my hearing, or acknowledged their bearing upon the condition of private persons in France. His father had been of the emigration. He himself had been born in exile. The family prestige was but a ghost of its former self—and I had hitherto treated the subject as a sore one and beyond my province.
The Vicomte had sat down at my table. As for me, I was already on the broad window seat, looking down into the garden. Lucille was there upbraiding a gardener. I could see the nature of their conversation from the girl's face. She was probably wanting something out of season. Women often do. The man was deprecatory, and pointed contemptuously towards the heavens with a rake. There was a long silence in the room which was called my study.
"I think, mon ami," said my companion at length, "that there is another reason."
"Yes," answered I, bluntly, "there is."
I did not look round, but continued to watch Lucille in the garden. The Vicomte sat in silence—waiting, no doubt, for a further explanation. Failing to get this, he said, rather testily as I thought:
"Is the reason in the garden, my friend, that your eyes are fixed there?"
"Yes, it is. It is scolding the gardener. And I think I am better away from the Hotel Clericy, Monsieur le Vicomte."
The old man slowly rose and came to the window, standing behind me.
"Oh—la, la!" he muttered in his quaint way—an exclamation uncomplimentary to myself; for our neighbours across channel reserve the syllables exclusively for their disasters.
We looked down at Lucille, standing amid the chrysanthemums, lending to their pink and white bloom a face as fresh as any of the flowers.
"But it is a child, mon ami," said the Vicomte, with his tolerant smile.
"Yes—I ought to know better, I admit," answered I, rising and attending to the papers on the writing table, and I laughed without feeling very merry. I sat down and began mechanically to work. At all events, my conscience had won this time—and if the Vicomte pressed me to stay, he did so with full knowledge of the danger.
The window was open. The Evil One prompted Lucille at that moment to break into one of those foolish little songs of Provence, and the ink dried on my pen.
The Vicomte broke the silence that followed.
"The ladies are going away for the winter months," he said. "They are going to Draguignan, in Var. At all events, stay with me until they return."
"I cannot think why you ever took me."
"An old man's fancy, mon cher. You will not forsake me."
"Autant d'amoureux, autant d'amours; chacun aime comme il est."
The chateau of La Pauline stands at the head of the valley of the Nartubie in the department of Var, and looks down upon Draguignan, the capital of that division of France. La Pauline, and its surrounding lands formed the dot of the Vicomtesse de Clericy, and the products of its rich terraces were of no small account in the family revenues.
It was to this spot that Lucille and her mother repaired in the month of December. Not far away the Baron Giraud had his estate—the modern castle of "Mon Plaisir," with its little white turret, its porcelain bas-reliefs in brilliant colours let into the walls, its artificial gardens ornamented with gold and silver balls, and summer-houses of which the windows were glazed with playful fancy that outdid nature in clothing the prospect in the respective hues of spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Very different from this was the ancient chateau of La Pauline, perched half-way up the mountain on a table-land—its grey stone face showing grimly against a sombre background of cypress trees. The house was built, as the antiquarians of Draguignan avow, of stone that was hewn by the Romans for less peaceful purposes. That an ancient building must have stood here would, indeed, be to some extent credible, from the fact that in front of the house lies a lawn of that weedless turf which is only found in this country in such places as the Arena at Frejus. In the center of the lawn stands a sun dial—grey, green and ancient—a relic of those days when men lived by hours, and not by minutes, as we do to-day. It is all of the old world—of that old, old world of France beside which our British antiquities are, with a few exceptions, youthful. This was the birthplace of Madame de Clericy and of Lucille herself. Hither the ladies always returned with a quiet joy. There is no more peaceful spot on earth than La Pauline, chiefly, perhaps, because there is nothing in nature so still and lifeless as an olive grove. Why, by the way, do the birds of the air never build their nests in these trees—why do they rarely rest and never ring there? Behind La Pauline—so close, indeed, that the little chapel stands in the grey hush of the trees, guarded, of course, by a sentinel circle of cypresses—rise the olive terraces and stretch up, tier above tier, till the pines are reached. Below the grey house the valley opens out like a fan, and far away to the south the rugged crags of Roquebrune stand out against a faint blue haze, which is the Mediterranean.
No better example of Peace on Earth is to be found than La Pauline after sunset, at which time the olive groves are a silver fairyland—when the chapel bell tinkles in vain for the faithful to come to vespers—when the stout old placid cure sits down philosophically in the porch to read the office to himself, knowing well that a hot day in the vineyards turns all footsteps homewards.
When the ladies are in residence at the chateau, it is a different matter. Then, indeed, the cure lays aside his old soutane and dons that fine new clerical habit presented to him by Mademoiselle Lucille at the time of her first communion, when the Bishop of Frejus came to Draguignan, and the whole valley assembled to do him honour there.
The ladies came, as we have said, in December, and at the gate the cure met them as usual—making there, as was his custom, a great hesitation as to kissing Lucille, now that she was a demoiselle of the great world, having—the rogue!—shaved with extraordinary care for that very purpose, a few hours earlier. Indeed, it is to be feared that the good cure did not always present so cleanly an appearance as he did on the arrival of the ladies. Here the family lived a quiet life among the peasants, who loved them, and Lucille visited them in their cottages, taking what simple hospitality they could offer her with a charm and appetite unrivalled, as the parishioners themselves have often told the writer. In these humble homes she found children with skins as white, with hair as fair and bright, as her own, and if the traveller wander so far from the beaten track, he can verify my statement. For in Var, by some racial freak—which, like all such matters, is in point of fact inexplicable—a large proportion of the people are of fair or ruddy complexions.
Had the Vicomtesse desired it, the neighbourhood offered society of a loftier, and, as some consider, more interesting, nature, but that lady did not hold much by social gatherings, and it was only from a sense of duty that she invited a few friends, about the time of Lucille's birthday—her twenty-first birthday, indeed—to pass some days at La Pauline.
These friends were bidden for the 26th December, and among them were the Baron Giraud and his son Alphonse.
Alphonse arrived on horseback in a costume which would have done credit to the head-groom of a racing stable. The right-hand twist of his mustache was eminently successful, but the left-hand extremity drooped with a lamentable effect, which he was not able to verify until after he had greeted the ladies, whom he met in the garden, as he rode toward the chateau.
"My father," he cried, as he descended from the saddle, "that dear old man, arrives on the instant. He is in a carriage—a close carriage, and he smokes. Picture it to yourselves—when there is this air to breathe—when there are horses to ride. Madame la Vicomtesse"—he took that lady's hand—"what a pleasure! Mademoiselle Lucille—as beautiful as ever."
"Even more so," replied Lucille with her gay laugh. "What exquisite riding-boots! But are they not a little tight, Alphonse?"
For Lucille could not perceive why playmates should suddenly begin to monsieur and mademoiselle each other after years of intimacy. This was the rock in that path which Alphonse, like the rest of us, found anything but smooth. Lucille was so gay. It is difficult to make serious love to a person who is not even impressed by English riding-boots.
At this moment the Baron's carriage appeared on the zig-zag road below the chateau, and Madame de Clericy's face assumed an expression of placid resignation. In due time the vehicle, with its gorgeous yellow wheels, reached the level space upon which the party stood. The Baron Giraud emerged from the satin-lined recesses of the dainty carriage like a stout caterpillar from a rose, a stumpy little man with no neck and a red face. A straggling dyed mustache failed to hide an unpleasant mouth, with lips too red and loose. Cunning little dark eyes relieved the countenance of the Baron Giraud from mere animalism. They were intelligent little eyes, that looked to no high things and made no mistake in low places. But the Baron Giraud did not make one proud of the human race. This was a man who handled millions with consummate skill and daring, and by a certain class of persons he was almost worshipped. Personally, a 'longshore loafer who can handle a boat with the same intrepidity is to me a pleasanter object, though skill of any description must command a certain respect.
There were other guests to whom the Baron was presently introduced, and towards these he carried himself with the pomposity and hauteur which are only permissible to the very highest rank of new wealth. Lucille, as I learnt from Monsieur Alphonse later—indeed, our friendship was based on the patience with which I listened to his talk of that young lady—was dressed on this particular afternoon in white, but such matters as these bungled between two men will interest no one. Her hair she wore half in curls, according to the hideous custom of that day. Is it not always safe to abuse the old fashion? And at no time safer than the present, when the whole world gapes with its great, foolish mouth after every novelty. I remember that Lucille looked pretty enough; but you, mesdames, who laugh at me, are no doubt quite right, and a thousand times more beautiful in your mannish attire.
The guests presently dispersed in the shady garden, and the Baron accepted Madame's offer of refreshment on the terrace, whither a servant brought a tray of liqueurs. The pleasant habit of afternoon tea had not yet been introduced across the channel, and French ladies had still something to learn.
"Ah, Madame!" said the Baron Giraud in a voice that may be described as metallic, inasmuch as it was tinny, "these young people!"
With a wave of his thick white hand he indicated Alphonse and Lucille, who had wandered down an alley entirely composed of orange trees, where, indeed, a yellow glow seemed to hover, so thickly hung the fruit on the branches. Madame followed the direction of his glance with a non-committing bow of the head.
"I shall have to ask Monsieur le Vicomte what he proposes doing in the way of a 'dot,'" pursued the financier with a cackling laugh, which was not silvery, though it savoured of bullion. The Vicomtesse smiled gravely, and offered the Baron one of those little square biscuits peculiar to Frejus.
"Madame knows nothing of such matters?"
"Nothing," answered she, meeting the twinkling eyes.
"Ah!" murmured the Baron, addressing, it would seem, the distant mountains. "Such details are not, of course, for the ladies. It is the other side of the question"—he laid his hand upon his waistcoat—"the side of the affections—the heart, my dear Vicomtesse, the heart."
"Yes," answered Madame, looking at him with that disquieting straight glance of hers—"the heart."
In the mean time—in the orange alley—Alphonse was attempting to get a serious hearing from Lucille, and curiously enough was making use of the same word as that passing between their elders on the terrace above them.
"Have you no heart?" he cried, stamping his foot on the mossy turf, "that you always laugh when I am serious—have you no heart, Lucille?"
"I do not know what you mean by heart," answered the girl with a little frown, as if the subject did not please her. And wiser men than Alphonse Giraud could not have enlightened her.
"Then you are incapable of feeling," he cried, spreading out his hands as if in invocation to the trees to hear him.
"That may be, but I do not see that it is proved by the fact that I am not always grave. You, yourself, are gay enough when others are by, and it is then that I like you best. It is only when we are alone that you are—tragic. Is that—heart, Alphonse? And are those who laugh heartless? I doubt it."
"You know I love you," he muttered gloomily, and the expression on his round face did not seem at home there.
"Well," she answered, with a severity gathered heaven knows whence—I cannot think they taught it to her in the convent—"you have told me so twice since you became aware of my continued existence at the ball last month. But you are hopelessly serious to-day. Let us go back to the terrace."