MARAH ELLIS RYAN,
"Told in the Hills," "A Pagan of the Alleghanies," etc.
CHICAGO AND NEW YORK:
RAND, McNALLY & COMPANY, PUBLISHERS.
Copyright, 1899, by Rand, McNally & Co.
All rights reserved.
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London.
Near Moret, in France, where the Seine is formed and flows northward, there lives an old lady named Madame Blanc, who can tell much of the history written here—though it be a history belonging more to American lives than French. She was of the Caron establishment when Judithe first came into the family, and has charge of a home for aged ladies of education and refinement whose means will not allow of them providing for themselves. It is a memorial founded by her adopted daughter and is known as the Levigne Pension. The property on which it is established is the little Levigne estate—the one forming the only dowery of Judithe Levigne when she married Philip Alain—Marquis de Caron.
There is also a bright-eyed, still handsome woman of mature years, who lives in our South and has charge of another memorial—or had until recently—a private industrial school for girls of her own selection. She calls herself a creole of San Domingo, and she also calls herself Madame Trouvelot—she has been married twice since she was first known by that name, for she was never the woman to live alone—not she; but while the men in themselves suited her, their names were uncompromisingly plain—did not attract her at all. She married them, proved a very good wife, but while one was named Johnson, and another Tuttle, the good wife persisted in being called Madame Trouvelot, either through sentiment or a bit of irony towards the owner of that name. But, despite her vanities, her coquetries, and certain erratic phases of her life, she was absolutely faithful to the trust reposed in her by the Marquise; and who so capable as herself of finding the poor girls who stood most in need of training and the shelter of charity? She, also, could add to this history of the woman belonging both to the old world and the new. There are also official records in evidence of much that is told here—deeds of land, bills of sale, with dates of marriages and deaths interwoven, changed as to names and places but—
There are social friends—gay, pleasure-loving people on both sides of the water—who could speak, and some men who will never forget her.
One of them, Kenneth McVeigh, he was only Lieutenant McVeigh then!—saw her first in Paris—heard of her first at a musicale in the salon of Madame Choudey. Madame Choudey was the dear friend of the Countess Helene Biron, who still lives and delights in recitals of gossip belonging to the days of the Second Empire. The Countess Helene and Mrs. McVeigh had been school friends in Paris. Mrs. McVeigh had been Claire Villanenne, of New Orleans, in those days. At seventeen she had married a Col. McVeigh, of Carolina. At forty she had been a widow ten years. Was the mother of a daughter aged twelve, and a six-foot son of twenty-two, who looked twenty-five, and had just graduated from West Point.
As he became of special interest to more than one person in this story, it will be in place to give an idea of him as he appeared in those early days;—an impetuous boy held in check, somewhat, by military discipline and his height—he measured six feet at twenty—and also by the fact that his mother had persisted in looking on him as the head of the family at an age when most boys are care-free of such responsibilities.
But the responsibilities had a very good effect in many ways—giving stability and seriousness to a nature prone, most of all, to pleasure-loving if left untrammelled. His blue eyes had a slumberous warmth in them; when he smiled they half closed and looked down on you caressingly, and their expression proved no bar to favor with the opposite sex. The fact that he had a little mother who leaned on him and whom he petted extravagantly, just as he did his sister, gave him a manner towards women in general that was both protecting and deferential—a combination productive of very decided results. He was intelligent without being intellectual, had a very clear appreciation of the advantages of being born a McVeigh, proud and jealous where family honor was concerned, a bit of an autocrat through being master over extensive tracts of land and slaves by the dozen, many of them the descendents of Africans bought into the family from New England traders four generations before.
Such was the personality of the young American as he appeared that day at Madame Choudey's; and he looked like one of the pictured Norse sea kings as he towered, sallow and bronzed, back of the vivacious Frenchmen and their neighbors of the Latin races.
The solo of the musicale had just ended. People were thronged about the artiste, and others were congratulating Madame Choudey on her absolute success in assembling talent.
"All celebrities, my lad," remarked Fitzgerald Delaven as he looked around. The Delavens and the McVeighs had in time long past some far-out relationship, and on the strength of it the two young men, meeting thus in a foreign country, became at once friends and brothers;—"all celebrities and no one so insignificant as ourselves in sight. Well, now!—when one has to do the gallant to an ugly woman it is a compensation to know she is wondrous wise."
"That depends on the man who is doing the gallant," returned the young officer, "I have not yet got beyond the point where I expect them all to be pretty."
"Faith, Lieutenant, that is because your American girls are all so pretty they spoil you!—and by the same token your mother is the handsomest woman in the room."
The tall young fellow glanced across the chattering groups to where the handsomest woman was amusing herself.
She certainly was handsome—a blonde with chestnut hair and grey eyes—a very youthful looking mother for the young officer to claim. She met his glance and smiled as he noticed her very courtier-like attendant of the moment, and raised his brows quizzically.
"Yes, I feel that I am only a hanger-on to mother since we reached France," he confessed. "My French is of the sort to be exploited only among my intimates, and luckily all my intimates know English."
"Anglo-Saxon," corrected Delaven, and Lieutenant McVeigh dropped his hand on his friend's shoulder and laughed.
"You wild Irishman!—why not emphasize your prejudices by unearthing the Celtic and expressing yourself in that?"
"Sure, if I did I should not call it the Irish language," retorted the man from Dublin.
They both used the contested tongue, and were evidently the only ones in the room who did. All about them were the softened syllables of France—so provocative, according to Lord Lytton, of the tender sentiments, if not of the tender passion.
"There is Dumaresque, now," remarked Delaven. "We are to see his new picture, you know, at the Marquise de Caron's;—excuse me a moment," and he crossed over to the artist, who had just entered.
Kenneth McVeigh stood alone surveying the strange faces about. He had not been in France long enough to be impervious to the atmosphere of novelty in everything seen and heard.
Back of him the soft voice of Madame Choudey, the hostess, could be heard. She was frankly gossiping and laughing a little. The name of the Marquise de Caron was mentioned. Delaven had told him of her—an aristocrat and an eccentric—a philanthropist who was now aged. For years herself and her son had been the patrons—the good angels of struggling genius, of art in every form. But the infamous 2d of December had ended all that. He was one of the "provisionally exiled;" he had died in Rome. Madame La Marquise, the dowager Marquise now, was receiving again, said the gossips back of him. The fact was commented on with wonder by Madame Choudey;—with wonder, frank queries, and wild surmises, by the little group around her; for the aged Marquise and her son Alain—dead a year since—had been picturesque figures in their own circle where politics and art, literature and religion, met and crossed swords, or played piquet! And now she was coming back, not only to Paris, but to society; had in fact, arrived, and the card Madame Choudey held in her white dimpled hand announced the first reception at the Caron establishment.
"After years of the country and Rome!" and Sidonie Merson raised her infantile brows and smiled.
"Oh, yes, it is quite true—though so strange; we fancied her settled for life in her old vine-covered villa; no one expected to see the Paris house opened after Alain's death."
"It is always the unexpected in which the old Marquise delights," said big Lavergne, the sculptor, who had joined Sidonie in the window.
"Then how she must have reveled in Alain's marriage—a death-bed marriage!"
"Yes; and to an Italian girl without a dot."
"Oh—it is quite possible. The marriage was in Rome. Both the English and Americans go to Rome."
"Italian! I heard it was an English or American!"
"Surely, not so bad as that!"
"But only those who have money;—or, if they have not the money, our sons and our brothers do not marry them."
"Good!" and Lavergne nodded with mock sagacity. "We reach conclusions; the newly made Marquise de Caron is either not Anglo-Saxon or was not without wealth."
"I heard from Dumaresque that she had attended English schools; that no doubt gives her the English suggestion."
"Oh, I know more than that;" said another, eager to add to the knowledge of the group. "Between Fontainbleau and Moret is the Levigne chateau. Two years ago the dowager was there with a young beauty, Judithe Levigne, and that is the girl Alain married; the dowager was also a Levigne, and the girl an adopted daughter."
"What is she like now? Has no one seen her?"
"No one more worldly than her confessor—if she possess one, or the nuns of the convent to which she returned to study after her marriage and widowhood."
"Heavens! We must compose our features when we enter the presence!"
"But we will go, for all that! The dowager is too delightful to miss."
"A religieuse and a blue stocking!" and the smile of Lavergne was accompanied by a doubtful shrug. "I might devote myself to either, if apart, but never to both in one. Is she then ugly that she dare be so superior?"
"Greek and Latin did not lessen the charm of Heloise for Abelard, Monsieur."
Sidonie glanced consciously out of the window. Even the dust of six centuries refuses to cover the passion of Heloise, and despite the ecclesiastical flavor of the romance—demoiselles were not supposed to be aware—still—!
Lavergne beckoned to a fair slight man near the piano.
"We will ask Loris—Loris Dumaresque. He is god-son of the dowager. He was in Rome also. He will know."
"Certainly;" and Madame Choudey glanced in the mirror opposite and leaned her cheek on her jeweled hand, the lace fell from her pretty wrist and the effect was rather pleasing. "Loris; ah, pardon me, since your last canvas is the talk of Paris we must perhaps say Monsieur Dumaresque, or else—Master."
"The queen calls no man master," replied the newcomer as he bent over the pretty coquette's hand. "The humblest of your subjects salutes you."
"My faith! You have not lost in Rome a single charm of the boulevardes. We feared you would come back a devotee, and addicted to rosaries."
"I only needed them when departing from Paris—and you." His eyes alone expressed the final words, but they spoke so eloquently that the woman of the world smiled; attempted to blush, and dropping her own eyes, failed to see the amusement in his.
"Your gallantry argues no lack of practice, Monsieur Loris," she returned; glancing at him over her fan. "Who was she, during those months of absence? Come; confess; was she some worldly soul like the Kora of your latest picture, or was it the religieuse—the new marquise about whom every one is curious?"
"The Marquise? What particular Marquise?"
"One more particular than you were wont to cultivate our first season in Rome," remarked Lavergne.
"Oh! oh! Monsieur Dumaresque!" and the fan became a shield from which Madame peered at him. Sidonie almost smiled, but recovered herself, and gave attention to the primroses.
"You see!—Madame Choudey is shocked that you have turned to saintliness."
"Madame knows me too well to suppose I have ever turned away from it," retorted Dumaresque. "Do not credit the gossip of Lavergne. He has worked so long among clays and marbles that he has grown a cold-blooded cynic. He distrusts all warmth and color in life."
"Then why not introduce him to the Marquise? He might find his ideal there—the atmosphere of the sanctuary! I mean the new Marquise de Caron."
"Oh!" Dumaresque looked from one to the other blankly and then laughed. "It is Madame Alain—the Marquise de Caron you call the devotee? My faith—that is droll!"
"What, then, is so droll?"
"Why should you laugh, Monsieur Loris? What else were we to think of a bride who chooses a convent in preference to society?"
"It was decided she must be very ugly or very devout to make that choice."
"A natural conclusion from your point of view," agreed Dumaresque. "Will you be shocked when I tell you she is no less a radical than Alain himself?—that her favorite prophet is Voltaire, and that her books of devotion are not known in the church?"
"Horror!—an infidel!—and only a girl of twenty!" gasped the demure Sidonie.
"Chut!—she may be a veteran of double that. Alain always had a fancy for the grenadiers—the originals. But of course," he added moodily, "we must go."
"Take cheer," laughed Dumaresque, "for I shall be there; and I promise you safe conduct through the gates when the grenadier feminine grows too oppressive."
"Do you observe," queried Madame, slyly, "that while Monsieur Loris does speak of her religion, he avoids enlightening us as to her personality?"
"What then do you expect?" returned Dumaresque. "She is the widow of my friend; the child, now, of my dear old god-mother. Should I find faults in her you would say I am jealous. Should I proclaim her virtues you would decide I am prejudiced by friendship, and so"—with a smile that was conciliating and a gesture comprehensive he dismissed the subject.
"Clever Dumaresque!" laughed Lavergne—"well, we shall see! Is it true that your picture of the Kora is to be seen at the dowager's tomorrow?"
"Quite true. It is sold, you know; but since the dowager is not equal to art galleries I have given it a rest in her rooms before boxing it for the new owner."
"I envy him," murmured Madame; "the picture is the pretty octoroon glorified. So, Madame, your god-mother has two novelties to present tomorrow. Usually it is so difficult to find even one."
When Delaven returned he found Lieutenant McVeigh still in the same nook by the mantel and still alone.
"Well, you are making a lonesome time of it in the middle of the crowd," he remarked. "How have you been amused?"
"By listening to comments on two pictures, one of a colored beauty, and one of an atheistical grand dame."
"And of the two?"
"Of the two I should fancy the last not the least offensive. And, look here, Delaven, just get me out of that engagement to look at Dumaresque's new picture, won't you? It really is not worth while for an American to come abroad for the study of pictured octoroons—we have too many of the originals at home."
Whatever the dowager's eccentricities or heresies, she was not afraid of the sunlight, figuratively or literally. From floor to ceiling three great windows let in softened rays on the paneled walls, on the fluted columns of white and gold, and on the famous frescoes of the First Empire. She had no feeling for petite apartments such as appeal to many women; there must, for her, be height and space and long vistas.
"I like perspective to every picture," she said. "I enjoy the groupings of my friends in my own rooms more than elsewhere. From my couch I have the best point of view, and the raised dais flatters me with its suggestion of a throne of state."
She looked so tiny for a chair of state; and with her usual quaint humor she recognized the fact.
"But my temperament brings me an affinity with things that are great for all that," she would affirm. "One does not need to be a physical Colossus in order to see the stars."
The morning after her first reception she was smiling rather sardonically at a picture at the far end of the great salon—that of a very handsome young woman who laughed frankly at the man who leaned towards her and spoke. The man was Dumaresque.
"No use in that, Loris," commented his god-mother, out of his hearing. "It will do an artist no harm, but it will end nowhere."
Their attitude and their youth did make them appear sentimental; but they were not really so. He was only telling her what a shock she had been to those Parisians the day before.
"I understand, now, the regard of Madame Choudey and her pretty, prim niece, Sidonie. They will never forgive me."
"Me, Monsieur. Their fondness will preclude resentment towards you, but against myself they will feel a grievance that I am not as they pictured me. Come; you must tell Maman."
The dowager nodded as one who understood it all.
"They will not forget you, that is sure," she said, smiling; but the girl—for she was only a girl, despite the Madame—shrugged her shoulders.
"Myself, I care little for their remembrance," she replied, indifferently; "they were only curious, not interested, I could see."
"You put my picture in the shadow at all events," protested Dumaresque, pointing to a large canvas hung opposite; "my picture over which art lovers raved until you appeared as a rival."
"How extravagant you are, Monsieur Dumaresque, a true Gascon! To think of rivaling that!"
As she faced the canvas the dowager watched her critically, and nodded her approval to Dumaresque, who smiled and acquiesced. Evidently they were both well satisfied with the living picture of the salon.
The new Marquise de Caron had lived, probably, twenty years. She was of medium height, with straight, dark brows, and dark, long-lashed eyes. The eyes had none of the shyness that was deemed a necessity to beauty in that era of balloon skirts and scuttle bonnets under which beauty of the conventional order hid.
But that she was not conventional was shown by the turban of grey resting on her waved, dark hair, while the veil falling from it and mingling with the folds of her dress, suggested the very artistic draperies of the nuns.
Not a particle of color was in her apparel, and but little in her face; only the lips had that thread of scarlet sung of by Solomon, and the corners of them curved upwards a trifle as she surveyed the canvas.
The turban was loosened and held in her hands as she stood there looking. The picture evidently attracted her, though it did not please. At last she turned to the artist.
"Why do you paint pictures like that?"
"Like that? Pouf! You mean beautiful?"
"No, it is not beautiful," she said, thoughtfully, as she seated herself on the dais by the dowager's couch. "To be truly beautiful a thing must impress one with a sense of fitness to our highest perceptive faculties. A soulless thing is never beautiful."
"What then, of dogs, horses, lions, the many art works in metal or on canvas?"
"You must not raise that wall against her words, Loris, unless you wish to quarrel," said the dowager in friendly warning. "Judithe is pantheist enough to fancy that animals have souls."
"But the true artist does not seek to portray the lowest expression of that soul," persisted Dumaresque's critic. "Across the Atlantic there are thousands who contend that a woman such as this Kora whom you paint, has no soul because of the black blood in her veins. They think of the dark people as we think of apes. It is all a question of longitude, Monsieur Dumaresque. The crudeness of America is the jest of France. The wisdom of France is the lightest folly of the Brahims; and so it goes ever around the world. The soul of that girl will weigh as heavily as ours in the judgment that is final; but, in the meantime, why teach it and others to admire all that allurement of evil showing in her eyes as she looks at you?"
"Judithe!" protested the dowager.
"Oh!—I do not doubt in the least, Maman, that the woman Kora looked just so when she sat for the picture," conceded the girl; "but why not endeavor to awaken a higher, stronger expression, and paint that, showing the better possibilities within her than mere seductiveness?"
"What fervor and what folly, Marquise!" cried Dumaresque. "It is a speech of folly only because it is I whom you ask to be the missionary, and because it is the pretty Kora you would ask me to convert—and to what? Am I so perfect in all ways that I dare preach, even with paint and brush? Heavens! I should have all Paris laughing at me."
"But Judithe would not have you that sort of extremist," said the dowager, laughing at the dismay in his face. "She knows you do well; only she fears you do not exert yourself enough to perceive how you might do better."
"She forgets; I did once; only a few weeks ago," he said briefly; and the girl dropped her hands wearily and leaned her head against the dowager's couch.
"Maman, our good friend is going to talk matrimony again," she said plaintively; "and if he does, I warn you, though it is only mid-day, I shall go asleep;" and her eyes closed tightly as though to make the threat more effective.
"You see," said the old lady, raising one chiding finger, "it is really lamentable, Loris, that your sentimental tendencies have grown into a steady habit."
"I agree," he assented; "but consider. She assails me—she, a saintly little judge in grey! She lectures, preaches at me! Tells me I lack virtue! But more is the pity for me; she will not remember that one virtue was most attractive to me, and she bade me abandon it."
"Tell him," said the girl with her eyes still closed, "to not miscall things; no one is all virtue."
"Pardon; that is what you seemed to me, and I never before fancied that the admirable virtues would find me so responsive, when, pouf! with one word you demolished all my castle of delight and now condemn me that I am an outlaw from those elevating fancies."
He spoke with such a comical air of self-pity that the old lady laughed and the young Marquise opened her eyes.
"A truce, Monsieur Loris; you are amusing, but you like to pose as one of the rejected and disconsolate when you have women to listen. It is all because you are just a little theatrical, is it not? How effective it must be with your Parisiennes!"
"My faith!" he exclaimed, turning to the dowager in dismay; "and only three months since she emerged from the convent! What then do they not teach in those sanctuaries!"
The girl arose, made him a mocking obeisance, and swinging the turban in her hand passed into the alcoved music room; a little later an Italian air, soft, dreamy, drifted to them from the keys of the piano.
"She will make a sensation," prophesied Dumaresque, sagely.
"You mean socially? No; if left to herself she would ignore society; it is not necessary to her; only her affection for me brings her from her studies now. Should I die tomorrow she would go back to them next week."
"But why, why, why? If she were unattractive one could understand; but being what she is—"
"Being what she is, she has a fever to know all the facts of earth and all the guesses at heaven."
"And bars out marriage!"
"Not for other people," retorted the dowager.
"But to what use then all these accomplishments, all this pursuit of knowledge? Does she mean to hide it all in some convent at last?"
"I would look for her rather among some savage tribes, doing missionary work."
"Yes, making them acquainted with Voltaire," he said, laughingly. "But you are to be envied, god-mother, in having her all to yourself; she adores you!"
The dark old face flushed slightly, and the keen eyes softened with pleasure.
"It was Alain's choice, and it was a good one," she said, briefly. "What of the English people you asked to bring today?"
"They are not English; one is American and one is Irish."
"True; but their Anglo-Saxon makes them all English to me. I hear there are so many of them in Paris now; Comtesse Biron brings one today; there is her message, what is the name?"
Dumaresque unfolded the pink sheet, glanced at it and smiled.
"My faith; it is the mother of the young lieutenant whom I asked to bring, Madame McVeigh. So, she was a school friend of the Comtesse Helene, eh? That seems strange; still, this Madame McVeigh may be a French woman transplanted."
"I do not know; but it will be a comfort if she speaks French. The foreigners of only one language are trying."
* * * * *
Mrs. McVeigh offered no linguistic difficulties to the dowager who was charmed with her friend's friend.
"But you are surely not the English-Americans of whom we see so much these days? I cannot think it."
"No, Madame. I am of the French-Americans—the creoles—hence the speech you are pleased to approve. My people were the Villanennes of Louisiana."
"Ah! a creole? The creoles come here from the West Indies also—beautiful women. My daughter has had some as school friends; only this morning she was explaining to an English caller the difference between a creole and that personality;" and the dowager waived her hand towards the much discussed picture of Kora.
The fine face of the American woman took on a trace of haughtiness, and she glanced at the speaker as though alert to some covert insult. The unconsciousness in the old face reassured her, though she could not quite banish coldness from her tones as she replied:
"I should not think such an explanation necessary in enlightened circles; the creole is so well known as the American born of the Latin races, while that," with a gesture towards the oriental face on the canvas, "is the offspring of the African race—our slaves."
"With occasionally a Caucasian father," suggested the dowager wickedly. "I have never seen this new idol of the ballet—Kora; but her prettiness is the talk of the studios, though she does not deny she came from your side of the sea, and has the shadows of Africa in her hair."
"A quadroon or octoroon, no doubt. It appears strange to find the outcasts of the States elected to that sort of notice over here—as though the old world, tired of civilization and culture, turned for distraction to the barbarians."
"Barbarians, indeed!" laughed the Countess Biron—the Countess Helene, as she was called by her friends. She laughed a great deal, knew a great deal, and never forgot a morsel of Parisian gossip. "This barbarian has only to show herself on the boulevards and all good citizens crane their necks for a glimpse of her. The empress herself attracts less attention."
The dowager clicked the lid of her snuff box and shrugged her shoulders.
"That Spanish woman—tah! As Mademoiselle d'Industrie I do not see why she should claim precedence. The blonde Spaniard is no more beautiful than the brown American."
"For all that, Louis Napoleon has placed her among the elect," remarked the Countess Helene, with a mischievous glance towards the Marquise, each understanding that the mention of the Second Empire was like a call to war, in that salon.
"Louis!" and the dowager shrugged her shoulder, and made a gesture of contempt. "That accident! What is he that any one should be exalted by his favor? Mademoiselle de Montijo was—for the matter of that—his superior! Her family had place and power; her paternity was undisputed; but this Louis—tah! There was but one Bonaparte; that subaltern from Corsica; that meteor. He was, with all his faults, a worker, a thinker, an original. He would have swept into the sea the envious islanders across the channel to whom this Bonaparte truckled—this man called Bonaparte, who was no Bonaparte at all—a vulture instead of an eagle!"
So exclaimed the dowager, who carried in her memory the picture of the streets of Paris when neither women nor children were spared by the bullets and sabres of his slaughterers—the hyena to whom the clergy so bowed down that not a mass for the dead patriots could be secured in Paris, from either priest or archbishop, and the Republicans piled in the streets by hundreds!
Mrs. McVeigh turned in some dismay to the Countess Helene. The people of the Western world, the women in particular, knew little of the bitter spirit permeating the politics of France. The United States had very knotty problems of her own to discuss in 1859.
"Tah!" continued the dowager, "I startle you! Well, well—it profits nothing to recite these ills. Many a man, and woman, too, has been put to death for saying less;—and the exile of my son to remember—yes; all that! He was Republican—I a Legitimist; I of the old, he of the new. Republics are good in theory; France might have given it a longer trial but for this trickster politician, who is called Emperor—by the grace of God!"
"Do they add 'Defender of the Faith' as our cautious English neighbors persist in doing?" asked the girlish Marquise with a smile. "Your country, Madame McVeigh, has no such cant in its constitution. You have reason to be proud of the great men, the wise, far-seeing men, who framed those laws."
Mrs. McVeigh smiled and sighed in self-pity.
"How frivolous American women will appear to you, Madame! Few of us ever read the constitution of our country. I confess I only know the first line:—'When in the course of human events it becomes necessary,' but what they thought necessary to do is very vague in my mind."
Then, catching the glance of the Marquise bright with laughter, she laughed also without knowing well at what.
"Well; what is it?"
"Only that you are quoting from the Declaration of Independence, and fancy it the constitution."
"That is characteristic of American women, too," laughed Mrs. McVeigh; "declarations of independence is one of our creeds. But I shall certainly be afraid of you, Marquise. At your age the learning and comparing of musty laws would have been dull work for me. It is the age for dancing and gay carelessness."
The Marquise smiled assent with her curious, dark eyes, in which amber lights shown. She had a certain appealing meekness at times—a sweet deference that was a marked contrast to the aggressiveness with which she had met Dumaresque in the morning. The Countess Helene, observing the deprecating manner with which she received the implied praise for erudition, found herself watching with a keener interest the girl who had seemed to her a mere pretty book-worm.
"She is more than that," thought the astute worldling. "Alain's widow has a face for tragedy, the address of an ingenue, and the tout en semble of a coquette."
The dowager smiled at Mrs. McVeigh's remarks.
"She cares too little for dancing, the natural expression of healthy young animalism; but what can I do?—nothing less frivolous than a salon a-la-Madame D'Agoult is among her ambitions."
"Let us persuade her to visit America," suggested Mrs. McVeigh. "I can, at least, prescribe a change promising more of joyous festivity—life on a Carolina plantation."
"What delight for her! she loves travel and new scenes. Indeed, Alain, my son, has purchased a property in your land, and some day she may go over. But for the brief remnant of my life I shall be selfish and want her always on my side of the ocean. What, child? you pale at the mention of death—tah! it is not so bad. The old die by installments, and the last one is not the worst."
"May it be many years in the future, Maman," murmured the young Marquise, whose voice betrayed a certain effort as she continued: "I thank you for the suggestion, Madame McVeigh; the property Maman refers to is in New Orleans, and I surely hope to see your country some day; my sympathies are there."
"We have many French people in the South; our own part of the land was settled originally by the cavaliers of France. You would not feel like a stranger there."
"Not in your gracious neighborhood, Madame;"—her face had regained its color, and her eyes their brilliant expression.
"And there you would see living pictures like this," suggested the Countess Helene; "what material for an artist!"
"Oh, no; in the rice fields of South Carolina they do not look like that. We have none of those Oriental effects in dress, you know. Our colored women look very sober in comparison; still they have their attractions, and might be an interesting study for you if you have never known colored folks."
"Oh, but I have," remarked the Marquise, smiling; "an entire year of my life was passed in a school with two from Brazil, and one from your country had run away the same season."
The dowager fairly gasped the words, and the Marquise moved quickly to her side and sank on the cushion at her feet, looking up with an assuring smile, as she caressed the aged hand.
"Yes, it is quite true," she continued; "but see, I am alive to tell the tale, and really they say the American was a most harmless little thing; the poor, imprisoned soul."
"How strange!" exclaimed Mrs. McVeigh; "do you mean as fellow pupils?—colored girls! It seems awful."
"Really, I never thought of it so; you see, so many planters' daughters come from the West Indies to Paris schools. Many in feature and color suggest the dark continent, but are accepted, nevertheless. However, the girl I mention was not dark. Her mother had seven white ancestors to one of black. Yet she confided her story to a friend of mine, and she was an American slave."
The dowager was plainly distressed at the direction of the conversation, for the shock to Mrs. McVeigh was so very apparent, and as her hostess remembered that slavery was threatening to become an institution of uncompromising discord across the water, all reference to it was likely to be unwelcome. She pressed the fingers of the Marquise warningly, and the Marquise smiled up at her, but evidently did not understand.
"Can such a thing be possible?" asked Mrs. McVeigh, incredulously; "in that case I shall think twice before I send my daughter here to school, as I had half intended—and you remained in such an establishment?"
"I had no choice; my guardians decided those questions."
"And the faculty—they allowed it?"
"They did not know it. She was represented as being the daughter of an American planter; which was true. I have reason to believe that my friend was her only confidant."
"And for what purpose was she educated in such an establishment?"
"That she might gain accomplishments enhancing her value as companion to the man who was to own her."
The two exclamations betrayed how intent her listeners were, and how full of horror the suggestion. There was even incredulity in the tones, an initiative protest against such possibilities. But the Marquise looked from one to the other with unruffled earnestness.
"So it was told to me," she continued; "these accomplishments meant extra thousands to the man who sold her, and the man was her father's brother."
"No, no, no!" and Mrs. McVeigh shook her head decidedly to emphasize her conviction. "I cannot believe that at the present day in our country such an arrangement could exist. No one, knowing our men, could credit such a story. In the past century such abuses might have existed, but surely not now—in all my life I have heard of nothing like that."
"Probably the girl was romancing," agreed the Marquise, with a shrug, "for you would no doubt be aware if such a state of affairs had existence."
"Then your men are not so clever as ours," laughed the Countess; "for they manage many little affairs their own women never suspect."
Mrs. McVeigh looked displeased. To her it was not a matter of cleverness, but of principle and morality; and in her mind there was absolutely no comparison possible without jarring decidedly on the prejudices of her Gallic friends, so she let the remark pass without comment.
"Yes," said the Marquise, rising, "when I heard the story of the girl Rhoda I fancied it one the white mistresses of America seldom heard."
"Yes, that was the name the girl was known by in the school—Rhoda Larue—the Larue was a fiction; slaves, I am told, having no legal right to names."
"Heavens! What horrors you fancy! Pray give us some music child, and drive away the gloomy pictures you have suggested."
"An easy penance;" and the Marquise moved smilingly towards the alcove.
"What!" cried the Countess Helene, in protest, "and the story unfinished! Why, it might develop into a romance. I dote on romances in real life or fiction, but I like them all spelled out for me to the very end."
"Instead of a romance, I should fancy the girl's life very prosaic wherever it is lived," returned the Marquise. "But before her year at the convent had quite expired she made her escape—took no one into her confidence; and when her guardian, or his agent, came to claim her, there were storms, apologies, but no ward."
"And you do not call that a romance?" said the Countess. "I do; it offers all sorts of possibilities."
"Yes, the possibility of this;" and Mrs. McVeigh pointed to the picture before them. The Marquise halted, looked curiously at the speaker, then regarded the oriental face on the canvas thoughtfully, and passed her hand over her brow with a certain abstraction.
"I never thought of that," she said slowly. "You poor creature!" and she took a step nearer the picture. "I—never—thought of that! Maman, Madame McVeigh has just taught me something—to be careful, careful how we judge the unfortunate. They say this Kora is a light woman in morals; but suppose—suppose somewhere the life that girl told of in the convent really does exist, and suppose this pretty Kora had been one of the victims chosen! Should we dare then to judge her by our standards, Maman? I think not."
Without awaiting an opinion she walked slowly into the alcove, and left the three ladies gazing at each other with a trifle of constraint mingled with their surprise.
"Another sacred cause to fight for," sighed the dowager, with a quaint grimace. "Last week it was the Jews, who seem to me quite able to take care of themselves! Next week it may be Hindoo widows; but just now it is Kora!"
"She should have been born a boy in the age when it was thought a virtue to don armor and do battle for the weak or incapable; that would have suited Judithe."
"Not if it was the fashion," laughed the Countess Helene; "she would insist on being original."
"The Marquise has a lovely name," remarked Mrs. McVeigh; "one could not imagine a weak or unattractive person called Judithe."
"No; they could not," agreed her friend, "it makes one think of the tragedy of Holofernes. It suggests the strange, the fascinating, the unusual, and—it suits Madame la Marquise."
"Your approval is an unconscious compliment to me," remarked the dowager, indulging herself in a tiny pinch of snuff and tapping the jeweled lid of the box; "I named her."
"Indeed!" and Mrs. McVeigh smiled at the complacent old lady, while the Countess Helene almost stared. Evidently she, also, had heard the opinions concerning the young widow's foreign extraction. Possibly the dowager guessed what was passing in her mind, for she nodded and smiled.
"Truly, the eyes did it. Though she was not so fully developed as now, those slumbrous, oriental eyes of hers suggested someway that beauty of Bethulia; the choice was left to me and so she was christened Judithe."
"She voices such startlingly paganish ideas at times that I can scarcely imagine her at the christening font," remarked the Countess.
"In truth her questions are hard to answer sometimes. But the heart is all right."
"And the lady herself magnetic enough without the added suggestion of the name," remarked Mrs. McVeigh; then she held up her finger as the Countess was about to speak, for from the music room came the appealing legato notes of "Suwanee River," played with great tenderness.
"What is it?" asked the dowager.
"One of our American folk songs," and the grey eyes of the speaker were bright with tears; "in all my life I have never heard it played so exquisitely."
"For a confirmed blue stocking, the Marquise understands remarkably well how to make her little compliments," said the Countess Helene.
Mrs. McVeigh arose, and with a slight bow to the dowager, passed into the alcove. At the last bar of the song a shadow fell across the keys, and the musician saw their American visitor beside her.
"I should love to have you see the country whose music you interpret so well," she said impulsively; "I should like to be with you when you do see it."
"You are kind, and I trust you may be," replied the Marquise, with a pretty nod that was a bow in miniature. She was rising from the piano, when Mrs. McVeigh stopped her.
"Pray don't! It is a treat to hear you. I only wanted to ask you to take my invitation seriously and come some time to our South Carolina home; I should like to be one of your friends."
"It would give me genuine pleasure," was the frank reply. "You know I confessed that my sympathies were there ahead of me." The smile accompanying the words was so adorable that Mrs. McVeigh bent to kiss her.
The Marquise offered her cheek with a graciousness that was a caress in itself, and thus their friendship commenced.
After the dowager and her daughter-in-law were again alone, and with an assurance that even the privileged Dumaresque would not break in on their evening, the elder lady asked, abruptly, a question over which she had been puzzling.
"Child, what possessed you to tell to a Southern woman of the States that story reflecting on the most vital of their economic institutions? Had you forgotten their prejudices? I was in dread that you might offend her, and I am sure Helene Biron was quite as nervous."
"I did not offend her, Maman," replied the Marquise, looking up from her embroidery with a smile, "and I had not forgotten their prejudices. I only wanted to judge if she herself had ever heard the story."
"Madame McVeigh!—and why?"
"Because Rhoda Larue was also a native of that particular part of Carolina to which she has invited me, and because of a fact which I have never forgotten, the young planter for whom she was educated—the slave owner who bought her from her father's brother was named McVeigh. My new friend is delightful in herself but—she has a son."
"My child!" gasped the dowager, staring at her. "Such a man the son of that charming, sincere woman! Yes, I had forgotten their name, and bid you forget the story; never speak of it again, child!"
"I should be sorry to learn it is the same family," admitted the Marquise; "still, I shall make a point of avoiding the son until we learn something about him. It is infamous that such men should be received into society."
The dowager relapsed into silence, digesting the troublesome question proposed.
Occasionally she glanced towards the Marquise as though in expectation of a continuation of the subject. But the Marquise was engrossed by her embroideries, and when she did speak again it was of some entirely different matter.
Two mornings later M. Dumaresque stood in the Caron reception room staring with some dissatisfaction across the breadth of green lawn where the dryad and faun statues held vases of vining and blooming things.
He had just been told the dowager was not yet to be seen. That was only what he had expected; but he had also been told that the Marquise, accompanied, as usual, by Madame Blanc, had been out for two hours—and that he had not expected.
"Did she divine I would be in evidence this morning?" Then he glanced in a pier glass and grimaced. "Gone out with that plain Madame Blanc, when she might have had a treat—an hour with me!"
While he stood there both the Marquise and her companion appeared, walking briskly. Madame Blanc, a stout woman of thirty-five, was rather breathless.
"My dear Marquise, you do not walk, you fly," she gasped, halting on the steps.
"You poor dear!" said the Marquise, patting her kindly on the shoulder. "I know you are faint for want of your coffee," and at the same time her strong young arms helped the panting attendant mount the steps more quickly.
Once within the hall Madame Blanc dropped into the chair nearest the door, while the Marquise swept into the reception room and hastily to a window fronting on the street.
"How foolish of me," she breathed aloud. "How my heart beats!"
"Allow me to prescribe," said Dumaresque, stepping from behind the screen of the curtain, and smiling at her.
She retreated, her hands clasped over her breast, her eyes startled; then meeting his eyes she began to laugh a little nervously.
"How you frightened me!"
"And it was evidently not the first, this morning."
She sank into a seat, indicated another to him, away from the window, removed her hat and leaned back looking at him.
"No, you are not," she said at last. "But account for yourself, Monsieur Loris! The sun is not yet half way on its course, yet you are actually awake, and visible to humanity—it looks serious."
"It is," he agreed, smiling at her, yet a trifle nervous in his regard. "I have taken advantage of the only hour out of the twenty when there would be a chance of seeing you alone. So I made an errand—and I am here."
"And I have determined that, after the fashion of the Americans or the English, I shall no longer ask the intervention of a third person. I decided on it last night before I left here. I have no title to offer you—you coldest and most charming of women, but I shall have fame; you will have no reason to be ashamed of the name of Dumaresque. Put me on probation, if you like, a year, two years!—only—"
"No; no!" she said pleadingly, putting out her hands with a slight repellant gesture. "It is not to be thought of, Monsieur Loris, Maman has told you! Twice has the same reply been given. I really cannot allow you to continue this suppliance. I like you too well to be angry with you, but—"
"I shall be content with the liking—"
"But I should not!" she declared, smilingly. "I have my ideals, if you please, Monsieur. Marriage should mean love. It is only matrimony for which liking is the foundation. I do not approve of matrimony."
"Pardon; that is the expression of the romance lover—the school girl. But that I know you have lived the life of a nun I should fear some one had been before me, some one who realized those ideals of yours, and that instead of studying the philosophies of life, you have been a student of the philosophy of love."
He spoke lightly—half laughingly, but the flush of pink suffusing her throat and brow checked his smile. He could only stare.
She arose hastily and walked the length of the room. When she turned the color was all gone, but her eyes were softly shining.
"All philosophy falls dead when the heart speaks," she said, as she resumed her chair; "and now, Monsieur Loris, I mean to make you my father confessor, for I know no better way of ending these periodical proposals of yours, and at the same time confession might—well—it might not be without a certain benefit to myself." He perceived that while she had assumed an air of raillery, there was some substance back of the mocking shadow.
"I shall feel honored by your confidence, Marquise," he was earnest enough in that.
"And when you realize that there is—some one else—will you then resume your former role of friend?"
"I shall try. Who is the man?"
She met his earnest gaze with a demure smile, "I do not know, Monsieur."
"What, then?—you are only jesting with me?"
"Truly, I do not know his name."
"Yet you are in love with him?"
"I am not quite certain even of that," and she smiled mockingly; "sometimes I have a fancy it may be witchcraft. I only know I am haunted—have been haunted four long weeks by a face, a voice, and two blue eyes."
"Blue?" Dumaresque glanced in the mirror—his own eyes were blue.
"Yes, Monsieur Loris—blue with a dash of grey—the grey of the sea when clouds are heavy, and the blue of the farthest waves before the storm breaks—don't you see the color?"
"Only the color of your fancy. He is the owner of blue eyes, a haunting voice, and—what else is my rival?"
"A foreigner, and—Monsieur Incognito."
"You have met?"
"Three times;" and she held up as many white fingers. The reply evidently astounded Dumaresque.
"You have met three times a man whose name you do not know?"
"We are even on that score," she said, "for he has spoken to me three times and does not know what I am called."
"But to address you—"
"He called me Mademoiselle Unknown."
"Bravo! This grows piquant; an adventure with all the flavor of the eighteenth instead of the nineteenth century. A real adventure, and you its heroine! Oh, Marquise, Marquise!"
"Ah! since you appreciate the humor of the affair you will no longer be oppressed by sentimental fancies concerning me;" and she nodded her head as though well pleased with the experiment of her confession. "You perceive how wildly improper I have been; still, I deny the eighteenth century flavor, Monsieur. Then, with three meetings the cavalier would have developed into a lover, and having gained entrance to a lady's heart, he would have claimed also the key to her castle."
"Astute pupil of the nuns!—and Monsieur Incognito?"
"He certainly does not fancy me possessed of either castle or keys. I was to him only an unpretentious English companion in attendance on Madame Blanc in the woods of Fontainbleau."
"English! Since when are you fond enough of them to claim kindred?"
"He was English; he supposed me so when I replied to him in that tongue. He had taken the wrong path and—"
"And you walked together on another, also the wrong path."
"No, Monsieur; that first day we only bowed and parted, but the ghost of his voice remained," and she sighed in comical self-pity.
"I see! You have first given me the overture and now the curtain is to rise. Who opens the next scene?"
"My faith! This grows tragical. Blanc, the circumspect, the dowager's most trusted companion. Has your stranger bewitched her also?"
"She was too near sighted to tell him from the others. I was making a sketch of beeches and to pass the time she fed the carp. A fan by which she set store, fell into the water. She lamented until Monsieur Incognito secured it. Of course I had to be the one to thank him, as she speaks no English."
"Then I found a seat in the shade for Madame Blanc and her crochet, and selected a sunny spot myself, where I could dry the fan."
"At first, I was alone."
"Delicious! You were never more charming, Marquise; go on."
"When he saw Madame Blanc placidly knitting under the trees, while I spread her fan to dry, he fancied I was in her service; the fancy was given color by the fact that my companion, as usual, was dressed with extreme elegance, whilst I was insignificant in an old school habit."
"Insignificant—um! There was conversation I presume?"
"Not much," she confessed, and again the delicious wave of color swept over her face, "but he had suggested spreading the fan on his handkerchief, and of course then he had to remain until it was dry."
"Clever Englishman; and as he supposed you to be a paid companion, was he, also, some gentleman's gentleman?"
She flashed one mutinous glance at him.
"The jest seemed to me amusing; his presence was an exhilaration; and I did not correct his little mistake as to mistress and maid. When he attempted to tell me who or what he was I stopped him; that would have spoiled the adventure. I know he had just come from England; that he was fascinating without being strictly handsome; that he could say through silence the most eloquent things to one! It was an hour in Arcady—just one hour without past or future. They are the only absolutely joyous ones, are they not?"
"Item: it was the happiest hour in the life of Madame La Marquise," commented Dumaresque, with an attempt at drollery, and an accompaniment of a sigh. "Well—the finale?"
"The hour ended! I said 'good day, Monsieur Incognito.' He said, 'good night, Mademoiselle Unknown.'"
"Good night! Heavens—it was not then an hour, but a day!"
"It was an hour, Monsieur! That was only one way of conveying his belief that all the day was in that hour."
"Blessed be the teachings of the convent! And you would have me believe that an Englishman could make such speeches? However, I am eager for the finale—the next day?"
"The next day I surprised Monsieur and Madame Blanc by declaring the sketch I was doing of the woods there, was hopelessly bad—I would never complete it."
"Ah!" and Dumaresque's exclamation had a note of hope; "he had been a bore after all?"
"The farthest thing possible from it! When I woke in the morning it was an hour earlier than usual. I found myself with my eyes scarcely open, standing before the clock to reckon every instant of time until I should see him again. Well, from that moment my adventure ceased to be merely amusing. I told myself how many kinds of an idiot I was, and I thrust my head among the pillows again. I realized then, Monsieur, what a girl's first romance means to her. I laughed at myself, of course, as I had laughed at others often. But I could not laugh down the certainty that the skies were bluer, the birds' songs sweeter, and all life more lovely than it had ever been before."
"And by what professions, or what mystic rhymes or runes, did he bring about this enchantment?"
"Not by a single sentence of protestation? An avowal would have sent me from him without a regret. If we had not met at all after that first look, that first day, I am convinced I should have been haunted by him just the same! There were long minutes when we did not speak or look at each other; but those minutes were swept with harmonies. Now, Monsieur Loris, would you call that love, or is it a sort of summer-time madness?"
"Probably both, Marquise; but there was a third meeting?"
"After three days, Monsieur; days when I forced myself to remain indoors; and the struggle it was, when I could close my eyes and see him waiting there under the trees!"
"Ah! There had been an appointment?"
"Pardon, Monsieur; you are perhaps confounding this with some remembered adventure of your own. There was no appointment. But I felt confident that blue-eyed ogre was walking every morning along the path where I met him first, and that he would compel me to open the door and walk straight to our own clump of bushes so long as I did not send him away."
"And you finally went?"
She nodded. "He was there. His smile was like sunshine. He approached me, but I—I did not wait. I went straight to him. He said, 'At last, Mademoiselle Unknown!'"
"Pardon; but it is your words I have most interest in," reminded her confessor.
"But I said so few. I remember I had some violets, and he asked me what they were called in French. I told him I was going away; I had fed the carp for the last time. He was also leaving. He had gathered some wild forget-me-nots. He was coming into Paris."
"And you parted unknown to each other?"
"How could I do else? When he said, 'I bid you good-bye, Mademoiselle Unknown, but we shall meet again.' Then—then I did correct him a little; I said Madame Unknown, Monsieur."
"Ah! And to that—?"
"He said not a word, only looked at me; how he looked at me! I felt guilty as a criminal. When I looked up he turned away—turned very politely, with lifted hat and a bow even you could not improve upon, Monsieur Loris, I watched him out of sight in the forest. He never halted; and he never turned his head."
"You might at least have let him go without the thought that you were a flirtatious matron with a husband somewhere in the back-ground."
"Yes; I almost regret that. Still, since I had to send him away, what matter how? It would have been so common-place had I said: 'We receive on Thursdays; find Loris Dumaresque when you reach Paris; he will present you.' No!"—and she shook her head laughingly, "the three days were quite enough. He is an unknown world; a romance only suggested, and the suggestion is delicious. I would not for the world have him nearer prosaic reality."
"You will forget him in another three weeks," prophesied Dumaresque; "he has been only a shadow of a man; a romantic dream. I shall refuse to accept any but realities as rivals."
"I assure you, no reality has been so appealing as that dream," she persisted. "I am telling you all this with the hope that once I have laughed with you over this witchcraft it will be robbed of its potency. I have destroyed the sacred wall of sentiment surrounding this ghost of mine because I rebel at being mastered by it."
"Oh, you laugh! You think me, then, too cold or too philosophic, in spite of what I have just told you?"
"Not cold, my dear Marquise. But if you will pardon the liberty of analysis I will venture the opinion that when you are mastered it will be by yourself. Your very well-shaped head will forever defend you from the mastery of others."
"Mastered by myself? I do not think I quite understand you," she said, slowly. "But I must tell you the extreme limit of my folly, the folly of the imagination. Each morning I go for a walk, as I did this morning. Each time I leave the door I have with me the fancy that somewhere I shall meet him. Of course my reason tells me how improbable it is, but I put the reason aside and enjoy my walk all the more because of that fancied tryst. Now, Monsieur Loris, you have been the victim of my romance long enough. Come; we will join Madame Blanc and have some coffee."
"And this is all you have to tell me, Marquise?"
"All but one little thing, Monsieur," and she laughed, though the laugh was a trifle nervous; "this morning for an instant I thought the impossible had happened. Only one street from here my ogre materialized again, or some one wondrously like him. How startled I was! How I hurried poor Madame Blanc! But we were evidently not discovered. I realized, however, at that moment, how imprudent I had been. How shocked Maman would be if she knew. Yet it was really the most innocent jest, to begin with."
"They often begin that way," remarked Dumaresque, consolingly.
"Well, I have arrived at one conclusion. It is only because I have met so few men, that one dare make such an overwhelming impression on me. I rebel; and shall amaze Maman by becoming a social butterfly for a season. So, in future bring all your most charming friends to see me; but no tall, athletic, blue-eyed Englishmen."
"So," said Dumaresque, as he followed her to the breakfast room, "I lay awake all night that I may make love to you early in the morning, and you check-mate me by thrusting forward a brawny Englishman."
"Pardon; he is not brawny;" she laughed; "I never said so; nevertheless, Monsieur Loris, I can teach you one thing: When love has to be made it is best not to waste time with it. The real love makes itself and will neither be helped or hindered; and the love that can be conquered is not worth having."
He shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling.
"In a year and a day I shall return to the discussion. I give you so long to change your mind and banish your phantasy; and in the meantime I remain your most devoted visitor."
Madame Blanc was already in evidence with the coffee, and Dumaresque watched the glowing face of the Marquise, surprised and puzzled at this new influence she confessed to and asked analysis for. This book-worm; this reader of law and philosophy; how charming had been her blushes even while she spoke in half mockery of the face haunting her. If only such color would sweep over her cheek at the thought of him—Dumaresque!
But he had his lesson for the present. He would not play the sighing Strephon, realizing that this particular Amaryllis was not to be won so. As he received the coffee from her hand he remarked, mischievously, "Marquise, you did not quite complete the story. What became of the forget-me-nots he gathered?"
But the Marquise only laughed.
"We are no longer in the confessional, Monsieur," she said.
Mrs. McVeigh found herself thinking of the young Marquise very often. She was not pleased at the story with which she had been entertained there; yet was she conscious of the fact that she would have been very much more displeased had the story been told by any other than the fascinating girl-widow.
"Do you observe," she remarked to the Countess Helene, "that young though she is she seems to have associated only with elderly people, or with books where various questions were discussed? It is a pity. She has been robbed of childhood and girlhood by the friends who are so proud of her, and who would make of her only a lovely thinking-machine."
"You do not then approve of the strong-minded woman, the female philosopher."
"Oh, yes;" replied Mrs. McVeigh, dubiously; "but this delightful creature does not belong to that order yet. She is bubbling over with enthusiasm for the masses because she has not yet been touched by enthusiasm for an individual. I wish she would fall in love with some fine fellow who would marry her and make her life so happy she would forget all the bad laws of nations and the bad morals of the world."
"Hum! I fancy suitors have not been lacking. Her income is no trifle."
"In our country a girl like that would need no income to insure her desirable suitors. She is the most fascinating creature, and so unconscious of her charms."
Her son, who had been at a writing desk in the corner, laid down his pen and turned around.
"My imperfect following of your rapid French makes me understand at least that this is a serious case," he said, teasingly. "Are you sure, mother, that she has not treated you to enchantment? I heard the same lady described a few days ago, and the picture drawn was that of an atheistical revolutionist, an unlovely and unlovable type."
"Ah!" said the Countess Helene. "You also are opposed to beautiful machines that think."
"I have never been accustomed to those whose thoughts follow such unpleasant lines, Madame," he replied. "I have been taught to revere the woman whose foundation of life is the religion scorned by the lady you are discussing. A woman without that religion would be like a scentless blossom to me."
The Countess smiled and raised her brows slightly. This severe young officer, her friend's son, took himself and his tastes very seriously.
Looking at him she fancied she could detect both the hawk and the dove meeting in those clear, level eyes of his. Though youthful, she could see in him the steadiness of the only son—the head of the house—the protector and the adored of his mother and sister, who were good little women, flattering their men folks by their dependence. And from that picture the lady who was studying him passed on to the picture of the possible bride to whom he would some day fling his favors. She, also, must be adoring and domestic and devout. Her articles of faith must be as orthodox as his affection. He would love her, of course, but must do the thinking for the family.
Because the Lieutenant lacked the buoyant, adaptable French temperament of his mother, the Countess was inclined to be rather severe in her judgment of him. He was so young; so serious. She did not fancy young men except in the pages of romances; even when they had brains they appeared to her always over-weighted with the responsibility of them.
It is only after a man has left his boyhood in the distance that he can amuse a woman with airy nothings and make her feel that his words are only the froth on the edge of a current that is deep—deep!
Mrs. McVeigh, unconscious of the silent criticism being passed on her son, again poised a lance in defence of the stranger under discussion.
"It is absurd to call her atheistical," she insisted; "would I be influenced by such a person? She is an enthusiast, student of many religions, possibly; but people should know her before they judge, and you, Kenneth, should see her before you credit their gossip. She is a beautiful, sympathetic child, oppressed too early with the seriousness of life."
"At any rate, I see I shall never take you home heart whole," he decided, and laughed as he gathered up letters he had been addressing and left the room.
"One could fancy your son making a tour of the world and coming back without a sentimental scratch," said the Countess, after he had gone. "I have noticed him with women; perfectly gallant, interested and willing to please, but not a flutter of an eyelid out of form; not a tone of the voice that would flatter one. I am not sure but that the women are all the more anxious to claim such a man, the victory seems greater, yet it is more natural to find them reciprocal. Perhaps there is a betrothed somewhere to whom he has sworn allegiance in its most rigid form; is that the reason?"
Mrs. McVeigh smiled. She rather liked to think her son not so susceptible as Frenchmen pretended to be.
"I do not think there are any vows of allegiance," she confessed; "but there is someone at home to whom we have assigned him since they were children."
"Truly? But I fancied the parents did not arrange the affairs matrimonial in your country."
"We do not; that is, not in a definite official way. Still, we are allowed our little preferences, and sometimes we can help or hinder in our own way. But this affair"—and she made a gesture towards the door of her son's room, "this affair is in embryo yet."
"Oh, yes; the girl is quite an heiress and is the niece of his guardian—his guardian that was. Their estates join, and they have always been fond of each other; so you see we have reason for our hopes."
"Excellent!" agreed her friend, "and to conclude, I am to suppose of course she is such a beauty that she blinds his eyes to all the charms arrayed before him here."
"Well, we never thought of Gertrude as a beauty exactly; but she is remarkably good looking; all the Lorings are. I would have had her with me for this visit but that her uncle, with whom she lives, has been very ill for months. They, also, are of colonial French descent with, of course, the usual infusions of Anglo-Saxon and European blood supposed to constitute the new American."
"Yes, you understand, we have yet the original American in our land—the Indian."
"Ah!" with a gesture of repulsion; "the savages; and then, the Africans! How brave you are, Claire. I should die of fear."
Mrs. McVeigh only smiled. She was searching through a portfolio, and finally extracted a photograph from other pictures and papers.
"That is Miss Loring," she said, and handed it to the Countess, who examined it with critical interest.
"Very pretty," she decided, "an English type. If she were a Parisian, a modiste and hairdresser would do wonders towards developing her into a beauty of the very rare, very fair order. She suggests a slender white lily."
"Yes, Gertrude is a little like that," assented Mrs. McVeigh, and placed the photograph on the mantel beside that of the very charming, piquant face of a girl resembling Mrs. McVeigh. It was a picture of her daughter.
"Only six weeks since I left her; yet, it seems like a year," she sighed; and Fitzgerald Delaven, who had entered from the Lieutenant's room, sighed ponderously at her elbow.
"Well, Dr. Delaven, why are you blowing like a bellows?" she asked, with a smile of good nature.
"Out of sympathy, my lady," replied the young Irishman.
"Now, how can you possibly sympathize understandingly with a mother's feelings, you Irish pretender?" she asked with a note of fondness in her tones. "I sigh because I have not seen my little Evilena for six weeks."
"And I because I am never likely to see that lovely duplicate of yourself at all, at all! Ah, you laugh! But have you not noticed that each time I am allowed to enter this room I pay my devotions to that particular corner of the mantel?"
"A very modern shrine," observed the Countess; "and why should you not see the original of the picture some day. It is not so far to America."
"True enough, but I'll be delving for two years here in the medical college," he replied with lamentation in his tone. "And after that I'll be delving for a practice in some modest corner of the world, and all the time that little lady will be counting her lovers on every one of her white fingers, and, finally, will name the wedding day for a better boy than myself, och hone! och hone!"
Both the ladies laughed over his comical despair, and when Lieutenant McVeigh entered and heard the cause of it he set things right by promising to speak a good word for Delaven to the little girl across the water.
"You are a trump, Lieutenant; sorry am I that I have no sister with which to return the compliment."
"She might be in the way," suggested the Countess, and made a gesture towards the other picture. "You perceive; our friend need not come abroad for charming faces; those at home are worth courting."
"True for you, Madame;" he gave a look askance at the Lieutenant, and again turned his eyes to the photograph; "there's an excuse for turning your back on the prettiest we have to offer you!" and then in an undertone, he added: "Even for putting aside the chance of knowing our so adorable Marquise."
The American did not appear to hear or to appreciate the spirit of the jest regarding the pictures, for he made no reply. The Countess, who was interested in everybody's affairs, wondered if it was because the heiress was a person of indifference to him, or a person who was sacred; it was without doubt one or the other for which the man made of himself a blank wall, and discouraged discussion.
Her carriage was just then announced; an engagement with Mrs. McVeigh was arranged for the following morning, and then the Countess descended the staircase accompanied by the Lieutenant and Delaven. She liked to make progress through all public places with at least two men in attendance; even a youthful lieutenant and an untitled medical student were not to be disdained, though she would, of course, have preferred the Lieutenant in a uniform, six feet of broad shouldered, good-looking manhood would not weigh in her estimation with the glitter of buttons and golden cord.
The two friends were yet standing on the lower step of the hotel entrance, gazing idly after her carriage as it turned the corner, when another carriage containing two ladies rolled softly towards their side of the street, as if to stop at a jeweler's two doors below.
Delaven uttered a slight exclamation of pleasure, and stepped forward as if to speak, or open the door of their carriage. But the occupants evidently did not see him, and, moreover, changed their minds about stopping, for the wheels were just ceasing to revolve when the younger of the ladies leaned forward, spoke a brief word, and the driver sent the horses onward at a rapid trot past the hotel, and Delaven stepped back with a woeful grimace.
"Faith! no chance to even play the lackey for her," he grumbled. "There's an old saying that 'God is good to the Irish;' but I don't think I'm getting my share of it this day; unless its by way of being kept out of temptation, and sure, its never a Delaven would pray for that when the temptation is a lovely woman. Now wasn't she worth a day's journey afoot just to look at?"
He turned to his companion, whose gaze was still on the receding carriage, and who seemed, at last, to be aroused to interest in something Parisian; for his eyes were alight, his expression, a mingling of delight and disappointment. At Delaven's question, however, he attempted nonchalance, not very successfully, and remarked, as they re-entered the house, "There were two of them to look at, which do you mean?"
"Faith, now, did you suppose for a minute it was the dowager I meant? Not a bit of it! Madame Alain, as I heard some of them call her, is the 'gem of purest ray serene.' What star of the heavens dare twinkle beside her?"
"Don't attempt the poetical," suggested the other, unfeelingly. "I am to suppose, then, that you know her—this Madame Alain?"
"Do I know her? Haven't I been raving about her for days? Haven't you vowed she belonged to the type abhorrent to you? Haven't I had to endure your reflections on my sanity because of the adjectives I've employed to describe her attractions? Haven't you been laughing at your own mother and myself for our infatuation?—and now—"
He stopped, because the Lieutenant's grip on his shoulder was uncomfortably tight, as he said:
"Shut up! Who the devil are you talking about?"
"By the same power, how can I shut up and tell you at the same time?" and Delaven moved his arm, and felt of his shoulder, with exaggerated self-pity. "Man! but you've got a grip in that fist of yours."
"Who is the lady you call Madame Alain?"
"Faith, if you had gone to her home when you were invited you'd have no need to ask me the question this day. Her nearest friends call her Madame Alain, because that was the given name of her husband, the saints be good to him! and it helps distinguish her from the dowager. But for all that she is the lady you disdained to know—Madame la Marquise de Caron."
McVeigh stared at him moodily, even doubtfully.
"You are not trying to play a practical joke, I reckon?" he said at last; and then without waiting for a reply, walked over to the office window, where he stood staring out, his hands in his pockets, his back to Delaven, who was eyeing him calmly. Directly, he came back smiling; his moody fit all gone.
"And I was idiot enough to disdain that invitation?" he asked; "well, Fitz, I have repented. I am willing to do penance in any agreeable way we can conjure up, and to commence by calling tomorrow, if you can find a way."
Delaven found a way. Finding the way out of, or into difficulties was one of his strong points and one he especially delighted in, if it had a flavor of intrigue, and was to serve a friend. Since his mother's death in Paris, several years before, he had made his home in or about the city. He was without near relatives, but had quite a number of connections whose social standing was such that there were few doors he could not find keys to, or a password that was the equivalent. His own frank, ingenuous nature made him quite as many friends as his social and diplomatic connections; so that despite the fact of a not enormous income, and that he meant to belong to the professions some day, and that he was by no means a youth on matrimony bent—with all these drawbacks he was welcomed in a social way to most delightful circles, and when he remarked to the dowager that he would like to bring his friend, the Lieutenant, at an early day, she assured him they would be welcome.
She endeavored to make them so in her own characteristic way, when they called, twenty-four hours later, and they spent a delightful twenty minutes with her. She could not converse very freely with the American, because of the difficulties of his French and her English, but their laughter over mistakes really tended to better their acquaintance. He was conscious that her eyes were on him, even while she talked with Delaven, whose mother she had known. He would have been uncomfortable under such surveillance but for the feeling that it was not entirely an unkindly regard, and he had hopes that the impression made was in his favor.
Loris Dumaresque arrived as they were about to take their departure, and Lieutenant McVeigh gathered from their greeting that he was a daily visitor—that as god-son he was acting as far as possible in the stead of a real son, and that the dowager depended on him in many ways since his return to Paris.
The American realized also that the artist would be called a very handsome man by some people, and that his gaiety and his self confidence would make him especially attractive to women. He felt an impatience with women who liked that sort of impudence. Delaven did not get a civil word from him all the way home.
Madame la Marquise—Madame Alain—had not appeared upon the scene at all.
"But he is not at all bad, this American officer," insisted the dowager; "such a great, manly fellow, with the deference instinctive, and eyes that regard you well and kindly. Your imagination has most certainly led you astray; it could not be that with such a face, and such a mother, he could be the—horrible! of that story."
"All the better for him," remarked her daughter-in-law. "But I should not feel at ease with him. He must be some relation, and I should shrink from all of the name."
"But, Madame McVeigh—so charming!"
"Oh, well; she only has the name by accident, that is, by marriage."
The dowager regarded her with a smile of amusement.
"Shall you always regard marriage as merely an accident?" she asked. "Some day it will be presented to you in such a practical, advantageous way that you will cease to think it all chance."
"Advantageous?" and the Marquise raised her brows; "could we be more happy than we are?" The old face softened at the words and tone.
"But I shall not be always with you," she replied; "and then—"
"Alain knew," said the girl, softly. "He said as a widow I could have liberty. I would need no guardian; I could look after all my affairs as young girls could not do. Each year I shall grow older—more competent."
"But there is one thing Alain did not foresee: that your many suitors would rob you of peace until you made choice of some particular one. These late days I have felt I should like the choice to be made while I am here to see."
"Maman! you are not ill?" and in a moment she was beside the couch.
"No; I think not; no, no, nothing to alarm you. I have only been thinking that together—both of us to plan and arrange—yet I need Loris daily. And if there should be only one of us, that remaining one would need some man's help all the more, and if it were you, who then would the man be? You perceive! It is wise to make plans for all possibilities."
"There are women who live alone."
"Not happy women," said the dowager in a tone, admitting of no contradiction; "the women who live alone from choice are cold and selfish; or have hurts to hide and are heart-sick of a world in which their illusions have been destroyed; or else they have never known companionship, and so never feel the lack of it. My child, I will not have you like any of these; you were made to enjoy life, and life to the young should mean—well, I am a sentimentalist. I married the one man who had all my affection. I approve of such marriages. If the man comes for whom you would care like that, I should welcome him."
"He will never come, Maman," and the smile of the Marquise someway drifted into a sigh. "I shall live and die the widow of Alain."
The dowager embraced her. "But for all that I do not approve," she protested. "Your reasons for not marrying do not convince me, and I promise my support to the most worthy who presents himself. Have you an ideal to which nothing human may reach?"
"For three years your son has seemed ideal to me," said the Marquise, after a moment's hesitation. The dowager regarded her attentively.
"He was?" she asked; "your regard for him does you credit; but, amber eyes, it is not for a man who has been dead a year that a woman blushes as you blush now."
"Oh!" began the Marquise, as if in protest; and then feeling that the color was becoming even more pronounced, she was silent.
The dowager smiled, well pleased at her cleverness.
"There was sure to be some one, some day," she said, nodding sagaciously; "when you want to talk of it I will listen, my Judithe. I could tell it in the tone of your voice as you sang or laughed; yes, there is nothing so wonderful in that," she explained, as the girl looked up, startled. "You have always been a creature of aims, serious, almost ponderous. Suddenly you emerge like sunshine from the shadows; you are all gaiety and sudden smiles; unconsciously you sing low songs of happiness; you suggest brightness and hope; you have suddenly come into your long-delayed girlhood. You give me affectionate glimpses of the woman God meant you to be some day. It can only be a man who works such a miracle in an ascetic of nineteen years. When the lucky fellow gathers courage to speak, I shall be glad to pass judgment on him."
The Marquise was silent. The light, humorous tone of the dowager had disarmed her; yet she had of her own accord, and influenced by some wild mood, told Dumaresque all that was only guesswork to the friend beside her. How could she have confessed it to him? She had wondered at herself that she had dared, and after all it had been so entirely useless; it had not driven away the memory of the man at Fontainbleau, even for one little instant.
Madame Blanc entered with some message for the dowager, and the question of marriage, also the more serious one of love, were put aside for the time.
But Judithe was conscious that she was under a kindly surveillance, and suspected that Dumaresque, also, was given extra attention. Her confession of that unusual fascination had made them better comrades, and the dowager was taking note that their tone was more frank, and their attitude suggested some understanding. It was like a comedy for her to watch them, feeling so sure that their sentiments were very clear and that she could see the way it would all end. Judithe would coquette with him awhile, and then it would be all very well; and it would not be like a stranger coming into the family.
The people who came close enough to see her often, realized that the journey back to Paris had not been beneficial to the dowager. It had only been an experiment through which she had been led to open her house, receive her friends, introduce her daughter; but the little excitement of that had vanished, and now that the routine of life was to be followed, it oppressed her. The ghosts of other days came so close—the days when Alain had been beside her. At times she regretted Rome, but the physician forbade her return there until autumn. She had fancied that a season in the old house at Fontainbleau would serve as a restorative to health—the house where Alain was born; but it was a failure. Her days there were days of tears, and sad, far-away memories. So to Paris she went with the assertion that there alone, life was to be found. She meant to live to the last minute of her life, and where so well as in the one city inexhaustible?
"Maman is trying to frighten me into marriage," thought the Marquise after their conversation; "she wants some spectacular ceremony to enliven the house for a season, and cure her ennui; Paris has been a disappointment, and Loris is making himself necessary to her."
She was thinking of the matter, and of the impossibility that she should ever marry Loris, when a box of flowers was brought—one left by a messenger, who said nothing of whence they came, and no name or card attached suggested the sender.
"For Maman," decided the Marquise promptly.
But Madame Blanc thought not.
"You, Madame, are the Marquise."
"Oh, true! but the people who would send me flowers would not be so certain their own names would not be forgotten. I have no old, tried, and silent friends to remember me so."
While she spoke she was lifting out the creamy and blush-tinted roses; Maman should see them arranged in the prettiest vase, they must go up with the chocolate—she would take it herself!
So she chattered while Madame Blanc arranged the tray. But suddenly the chatter ceased. The Marquise had lifted out the last of the roses, and under the fragrant screen lay the cause of the sudden silence.
It was a few sprays of dew-wet forget-me-nots! Her heart seemed to stop beating.
Forget-me-not! there was but one person who had any association in her mind with that flower. Did this have a meaning relating to him? or was it only chance?
She said nothing to Madame Blanc about the silent message in the bottom of the box.
All that day she moved as in a dream. At times she was oppressed by the terror of discovery, and again it was with a rebellious, delicious feeling of certainty that he had not forgotten! He had searched for her—found her! She meant to ignore him if they should meet; certainly she must do that! His assurance in daring to—yet—yes, she rather liked the daring—still——!
She remembered some one saying that impertinence gained more favors from women than respect, and he—yes, certainly he was impertinent; she must never recognize him, of course—never! Her cheek burned as she fancied what he must think of her—a girl who made friends with strangers in the park! Yet she was glad that since he had not let her forget, he also had been forced to remember.
She told herself all this, and much more; the task occupied so much of her time that she forgot to go asleep that night, and she saw the morning star shine out of the blue haze beyond the city, and it belonged to a dawn with a meaning entirely its own. Never before or after was a daybreak so beautiful. The sun wheeled royally into view through the atmosphere of her first veritable love romance.
Even the card of Lieutenant McVeigh could not annoy her that morning. He came with some message to the dowager from his mother. At any other time the sound of his name would have made a discord for her. The prejudices of Judithe were so decided, and so independent of all accepted social rules, that the dowager hoped when she did choose a husband he would prove a diplomat—they would need one in the family.
"Madame Blanc, will you receive the gentleman?" she asked. "Maman has not yet left her room, and I am engaged."
And for the second time the American made his exit from the Caron establishment without having seen the woman his friends raved about. Descending the steps he remembered the old saw that a third attempt carried a charm with it. He smiled, and the smile suggested that there would be a third attempt.
The Marquise looked at the card he left, and her smile had not so much that was pleasant in it.
"Maman, my conjecture was right," she remarked as she entered the room of the dowager; "your fine, manly American was really the youth of my Carolina story."
"Carolina story?" and the dowager looked bewildered for a moment; when one has reached the age of eighty years the memory fails for the things of today; only the affairs of long ago retain distinctness.
"Exactly; the man for whom Rhoda Larue was educated, and of whom you forbade me to speak—the man who bought her from Matthew Loring, of Loringwood, Carolina."
"You are certain?"
"Here is the name, Kenneth McVeigh. It is not likely there are two Kenneth McVeighs in the same region. How small the world is after all! I used to fancy the width of the ocean was as a barrier between two worlds, yet it has not prevented these people from crossing, and coming to our door!"
She sank into a seat, the card still in her hand.
"Judithe," said the dowager, after watching her moody face thoughtfully, "my child, I should be happier if you banished, so far as possible, that story from your memory. It will have a tendency to narrow your views. You will always have a prejudice against a class for the wrong done by an individual. Put it aside! It is a question outside of your life, outside of it always unless your sympathies persist in dragging you into such far-away abuses. We have the Paris poor, if you must think and do battle for the unfortunate. And as to the American, consider. He must have been very young, perhaps was influenced by older heads. He may not have realized—"
The Marquise smiled, but shook her head. "You are eloquent, Maman, but you do not convince me. He must be very handsome to have won you so completely in one interview. For me, I do not believe in his ignorance of the evil nor in his youthful innocence. I think of the women who for generations have been the victims of such innocence, and I should like to see your handsome young cadet suffer for his share of it!"
"Tah!" and the dowager put out her hand with a gesture of protest and a tone of doubt in her voice. "You say so Judithe, but you could not see any one suffer, not even the criminal. You would come to his defense with some philosophical reason for the sin—some theory of pre-natal influence to account for his depravity. Collectively you condemn them; individually you would pardon every one rather than see them suffer—I mean, than stand by and actually see the suffering."
"I could not pardon that man," insisted the Marquise; "Ugh! I feel as if for him I could have the hand of Judithe as well as the name."
"And treat him a-la-Holofernes? My child, sometimes I dislike that name of Judithe for you; I do not want you to have a shadow of the character it suggests. I shall regret the name if it carries such dark influences with it. As for the man—forget him!"
"With all my heart, if he keeps out of my way," agreed the Marquise; "but if the old Jewish god of battles ever delivers him into my hands—!" She paused and drew a deep breath.
"Well—I should show him mercy such as the vaunted law-giver, the chosen of the Lord, the man of meekness, showed to the conquered Midianites—no more!" and her laugh had less of music in it than usual. "I instinctively hate the man, Kenneth McVeigh—Kenneth McVeigh!—even the name is abhorrent since the day I heard of that awful barter and sale. It seems strange, Maman, does it not, when I never saw him in my life—never expected to hear his name again—that it is to our house he has found his way in Paris; to our house, where an unknown woman abhors him. Ah!" and she flung the card from her. "You are right, Maman; I am too often conquered by my own moods and feelings. The American need be nothing to us."