MY good old friend, in his white flannel dressing-gown, with his wig “removed,” as they say of the dinner-service, by a crimson nightcap, sat for some moments gazing into the fire. At last he looked up. I knew what was coming. “Apropos, that little debt of mine — ”
Not that the debt was really very little. But M. de Bergerac was a man of honor, and I knew I should receive my dues, He told me frankly that he saw no way, either in the present or the future, to reimburse me in cash. His only treasures were his paintings ; would I choose one of them ? Now I had not spent an hour in M. de Bergerac’s little parlor twice a week for three winters, without learning that the Baron’s paintings were, with a single exception, of very indifferent merit. On the other hand, I had taken a great fancy to the picture thus excepted. Yet, as I knew it was a family portrait, I hesitated to claim it. I refused to make a choice. M. de Bergerac, however, insisted, and I finally laid my finger on the charming image of my friend’s aunt. I of course insisted, on my side, that M. de Bergerac should retain it during the remainder of his life, and so it was only after his decease that I came into possession of it. It hangs above my table as I write, and I have only to glance up at the face of my heroine to feel how vain it is to attempt to describe it. The portrait represents, in dimensions several degrees below those of nature, the head and shoulders of a young girl of two-and-twenty. The execution of the work is not especially strong, but it is thoroughly respectable, and one may easily see that the painter deeply appreciated the character of the face. The countenance is interesting rather than beautiful, — the forehead broad and open, the eyes slightly prominent, all the features full and firm and yet replete with gentleness. The head is slightly thrown back, as if in movement, and the lips are parted in a halfsmile. And yet, in spite of this tender smile, I always fancy that the eyes are sad. The hair, dressed without powder, is rolled back over a high cushion (as I suppose), and adorned just above the left ear with a single white rose; while, on the other side, a heavy tress from behind hangs upon the neck with a sort of pastoral freedom. The neck is long and full, and the shoulders rather broad. The whole face has a look of mingled softness and decision, and seems to reveal a nature inclined to revery, affection, and repose, but capable of action and even of heroism. Mlle de Bergerac died under the axe of the Terrorists. Now that I had acquired a certain property in this sole memento of her life, I felt a natural curiosity as to her character and history. Had M. de Bergerac known his aunt? Did he remember her ? Would it be a tax on his good-nature to suggest that he should favor me with a few reminiscences ? The old man fixed his eyes on the fire, and laid his hand on mine, as if his memory were fain to draw from both sources — from the ruddy glow and from my fresh young blood — a certain vital, quickening warmth. A mild, rich smile ran to his lips, and he pressed my hand. Somehow, — I hardly know why,— I felt touched almost to tears. Mlle. de Bergerac had been a familiar figure in her nephew’s boyhood, and an important event in her life had formed a sort of episode in his younger days. It was a simple enough story; but such as it was, then and there, settling back into his chair, with the fingers of the clock wandering on to the small hours of the night, he told it with a tender, lingering garrulity. Such as it is, I repeat it. I shall give, as far as possible, my friend’s words, or the English of them ; but the reader will have to do without his inimitable accents. For them there is no English.
My father’s household at Bergerac (said the Baron) consisted, exclusive of the servants, of live persons, — himself, my mother, my aunt (Mlle. de Bergerac), M. Coquelin (my preceptor), and M. Coquelin’s pupil, the heir of the house. Perhaps, indeed, I should have numbered M. Coquelin among the servants. It is certain that my mother did. Poor little woman ! she was a great stickler for the rights of birth. Her own birth was all she had, for she was without health, beauty, or fortune. My father, on his side, had very little of the last ; his property of Bergerac yielded only enough to keep us without discredit. We gave no entertainments, and passed the whole year in the country; and as my mother was resolved that her weak health should do her a kindness as well as an injury, it was put forward as an apology for everything. We led at best a simple, somnolent sort of life. There was a terrible amount of leisure for rural gentlefolks in those good old days. We slept a great deal; we slept, you will say, on a volcano. It was a very different world from this patent new world of yours, and I may say that I was born on a different planet. Yes, in 1789, there came a great convulsion; the earth cracked and opened and broke, and this poor old pays de France went whirling through space. When I look back at my childhood, I look over a gulf. Three years ago, I spent a week at a country house in the neighborhood of Bergerac, and my hostess drove me over to the site of the chateau. The house has disappeared, and there’s a homœopathic— hydropathic— what do you call it ?—establishment erected in its place. But the little town is there, and the bridge on the river, and the church where I was christened, and the double row of lime-trees on the marketplace, and the fountain in the middle. There’s only one striking difference: the sky is changed. I was born under the old sky. It was black enough, of course, if we had only had eyes to see it ; but to me, I confess, it looked divinely blue. And in fact it was very bright, — the little patch under which I cast my juvenile shadow. An odd enough little shadow, you would have thought it I was promiscuously cuddled and fondled. I was M. le Chevalier, and prospective master of Bergerac ; and when I walked to church on Sunday, I had a dozen yards of lace on my coat and a little sword at my side. My poor mother did her best to make me good for nothing. She had her maid to curl my hair with the tongs, and she used with her own fingers to stick little black patches on my face. And yet I was a good deal neglected too, and I would go for days with black patches of another sort. I’m afraid I should have got very little education if a kind Providence had n’t given me poor M. Coquelin. A kind Providence, that is, and my father ; for with my mother my tutor was no favorite. She thought him—and, indeed, she called him — a bumpkin, a clown. There was a very pretty abbé among her friends, M. Tiblaud by name, whom she wished to install at the chateau as my intellectual, and her spiritual, adviser ; but my father, who, without being anything of an esprit fort, had an incurable aversion to a priest out of church, very soon routed this pious scheme. My poor father was an odd figure of a man. He belonged to a type as completely obsolete as the biggest of those bigboned, pre-bistoric monsters discovered by M. Cuvier He was not overburdened with opinions or principles. The only truth that was absolute to his perception was that the house of Bergerac was de bonne noblesse. His tastes were not delicate. He was fond of the open air, of long rides, of the smell of the game-stocked woods in autumn, of playing at bowls, of a drinking-cup, of a dirty pack of cards, and a free-spoken tavern Hebe. I have nothing of him but his name. I strike you as an old fossil, a relic, a mummy. Good heavens ! you should have seen him, —his good, his bad manners, his arrogance, his bonhomie, his stupidity and pluck.
My early years had promised ill for my health ; I was listless and languid, and my father had been content to leave me to the women, who, on the whole, as I have said, left me a good deal to myself. But one morning he seemed suddenly to remember that he had a little son and heir running wild. It was I remember, in my ninth year, a morning early in June, after breakfast, at eleven o’clock. He took me by the hand and led me out on the terrace, and sat down and made me stand between his knees. I was engaged upon a great piece of bread and butter, which I had brought away from the table. He put his hand into my hair, and, for the first time that I could remember, looked me straight in the face. I had seen him take the forelock of a young colt in the same way, when he wished to look at its teeth. What did he want ? Was he going to send me for sale ? His eyes seemed prodigiously black and his eyebrows terribly thick. They were very much the eyebrows of that portrait. My father passed his other hand over the muscles of my arms and the sinews of my poor little legs.
“ Chevalier,” said he, “ you 're dreadfully puny. What’s one to do with you ? ”
I dropped my eyes and said nothing. Heaven knows I felt puny.
“ It’s time you knew how to read and write. What are you blushing at? ”
“ I do know how to read,” said I.
My father stared. “ Pray, who taught you ? ”
“ I learned in a book.”
“ What book ? ”
I looked up at my father before I answered. His eyes were bright, and there was a little flush in his face,— I hardly knew whether of pleasure or anger. I disengaged myself and went into the drawing-room, where I took from a cupboard in the wall an odd volume of Scarron’s Roman comique. As I had to go through the house, I was absent some minutes. When I came back I found a stranger on the terrace. A young man in poor clothes, with a walking-stick, had come up from the avenue, and stood before my father, with his hat in his hand. At the farther end of the terrace was my aunt. She was sitting on the parapet, playing with a great black crow, which we kept in a cage in the dining-room window. I betook myself to my father’s side with my book, and stood staring at our visitor. He was a dark-eyed, sunburnt young man, of about twentyeight, of middle height, broad in the shoulders and short in the neck, with a slight lameness in one of his legs. He looked travel-stained and weary and pale. I remember there was something prepossessing in his being pale. I did n't know that the paleness came simply from his being horribly hungry.
“ In view of these facts,” he said, as I came up, “ I have ventured to presume upon the good-will of M. le Baron.”
My father sat back in his chair, with his legs apart and a hand on each knee and his waistcoat unbuttoned, as was usual after a meal. “ Upon my word,” he said, “ I don’t know what I can do for you. There’s no place for you in my own household.”
The young man was silent a moment. “ Has M. le Baron any children ? ” he asked, after a pause.
“ I have my son whom you see here.”
“ May I inquire if M. le Chevalier is supplied with a preceptor ? ”
My father glanced down at me. “ Indeed, he seems to be,” he cried. “ What have you got there ? ” And he took my book. “ The little rascal has M. Scarron for a teacher. This is his preceptor ! ”
I blushed very hard, and the young man smiled. "Is that your only teacher ? ” he asked.
My aunt taught me to read,” I said, looking round at her.
“And did your aunt recommend this book ? ” asked my father.
“ My aunt gave me M. Plutarque,” I said.
My father burst out laughing, and the young man put his hat up to his mouth. But I could see that above it his eyes had a very good-natured look. My aunt, seeing that her name had been mentioned, walked slowly over to where we stood, still holding her crow on her hand. You have her there before you; judge how she looked. I remember that she frequently dressed in blue, my poor aunt, and I know that she must have dressed simply. Fancy her in a light stuff gown, covered with big blue flowers, with a blue ribbon in her dark hair, and the points of her high-heeled blue slippers peeping out under her stiff white petticoat. Imagine her strolling along the terrace of the chateau with a villanous black crow perched on her wrist. You ’ll admit it ’s a picture.
“Is all this true, sister?” said my father. “ Is the Chevalier such a scholar ? ”
“ He’s a clever boy,” said my aunt, putting her hand on my head.
“It seems to me that at a pinch he could do without a preceptor,” said my father. “ He has such a learned aunt.”
“ I ’ve taught him all I know. He had begun to ask me questions that I was quite unable to answer.”
“ I should think he might,” cried my father, with a broad laugh, “when once he had got into M. Scarron !”
“Questions out of Plutarch,” said Mlle. de Bergerac, "which you must know Latin to answer.”
“Would you like to know Latin, M. le Chevalier ? ” said the young man, looking at me with a smile.
“Do you know Latin,—you?” I asked.
“ Perfectly,” said the young man, with the same smile.
“ Do you want to learn Latin, Chevalier ? ” said my aunt.
“ Every gentleman learns Latin,” said the young man.
I looked at the poor fellow, his dusty shoes and his rusty clothes. “ But you ’re not a gentleman,” said I.
He blushed up to his eyes. “Ah, I only teach it,” he said.
In this way it was that Pierre Coquelin came to be my governor. My father, who had a mortal dislike to all kinds of cogitation and inquiry, engaged him on the simple testimony of his face and of his own account of his talents. His history, as he told it, was in three words as follows : He was of our province, and neither more nor less than the son of a village tailor. He is my hero : tirez-vous de là. Showing a lively taste for books, instead of being promoted to the paternal bench, he had been put to study with the Jesuits. After a residence of some three years with these gentlemen, he had incurred their displeasure by a foolish breach of discipline, and had been turned out into the world. Here he had endeavored to make capital out of his excellent education, and had gone up to Paris with the hope of earning his bread as a scribbler. But in Paris he scribbled himself hungry and nothing more, and was in fact in a fair way to die of starvation. At last he encountered an agent of the Marquis de Eochambeau, who was collecting young men for the little army which the latter was prepared to conduct to the aid of the American, insurgents. He had engaged himself among Rochambeau’s troops, taken part in several battles, and finally received a wound in his leg of which the effect was still perceptible. At the end of three years he had returned to France, and repaired on foot, with what speed he might, to his native town ; but only to find that in his absence his father had died, after a tedious illness, in which he had vainly lavished his small earnings upon the physicians, and that his mother had married again, very little to his taste. Poor Coquelin was friendless, penniless, and homeless. But once back on his native soil, he found himself possessed again by his old passion for letters, and, like all starving members of his craft, he had turned his face to Paris. He longed to make up for his three years in the wilderness. He trudged along, lonely, hungry, and weary, till he came to the gates of Bergerac. Here, sitting down to rest on a stone, he saw us come out on the terrace to digest our breakfast in the sun. Poor Coquelin ! he had the stomach of a gentleman. He was filled with an irresistible longing to rest awhile from his struggle with destiny, and it seemed to him that for a mess of smoking pottage he would gladly exchange his vague and dubious future. In obedience to this simple impulse, — an impulse touching in its humility, when you knew the man,—he made his way up the avenue. We looked affable enough, — an honest country gentleman, a young girl playing with a crow, and a little boy eating bread and butter ; and it turned out, we were as kindly as we looked.
For me, I soon grew extremely fond of him, and I was glad to think in later days that he had found me a thoroughly docile child. In those days, you know, thanks to jean Jacques Rousseau, there was a vast stir in men’s notions of education, and a hundred theories afloat about the perfect teacher and the perfect pupil. Coquelin was a firm devotee of Jean Jacques, and very possibly applied some of his precepts to my own little person. But of his own nature Coquelin was incapable of anything that was not wise and gentle, and he had no need to learn humanity in books. He was, nevertheless, a great reader, and when he had not a volume in his hand he was sure to have two in his pockets. He had half a dozen little copies of the Greek and Latin poets, bound in yellow parchment, which, as he said, with a second shirt and a pair of white stockings, constituted his whole library. He had carried these books to America, and read them in the wilderness, and by the light of camp-fires, and in crowded, steaming barracks in winter-quarters. He had a passion for Virgil. M. Scarron was very soon dismissed to the cupboard, among the dice-boxes and the old packs of cards, and I was confined for the time to Virgil and Ovid and Plutarch, all of which, with the stimulus of Coquelin’s own delight, I found very good reading. But better than any of the stories I read were those stories of his wanderings, and his odd companions and encounters, and charming tales of pure fantasy, which, with the best grace in the world, he would recite by the hour. We took long walks, and he told me the names of the flowers and the various styles of the stars, and I remember that I often had no small trouble to keep them distinct. He wrote a very bad hand, but he made very pretty drawings of the subjects then in vogue, — nymphs and heroes and shepherds and pastoral scenes. I used to fancy that his knowledge and skill were inexhaustible, and I pestered him so for entertainment that I certainly proved that there were no limits to his patience.
When he first came to us he looked haggard and thin and weary; but before the month was out, he had acquired a comfortable rotundity of person, and something of the sleek and polished look which befits the governor of a gentleman’s son. And yet he never lost a certain gravity and reserve of demeanor which was nearly akin to a mild melancholy. With me, half the time, he was of course intolerably bored, and he must have had hard work to keep from yawning in my face, — which, as he knew I knew, would have been an unwarrantable liberty. At table, with my parents, he seemed to be constantly observing himself and inwardly regulating his words and gestures. The simple truth, I take it, was that he had never sat at a gentleman’s table, and although he must have known himself incapable of a real breach of civility, — essentially delicate as he was in his feelings,—he was too proud to run the risk of violating etiquette. My poor mother was a great stickler for ceremony, and she would have had her majordomo to lift the covers, even if she had had nothing to put into the dishes. I remember a cruel rebuke she bestowed upon Coquelin, shortly after his arrival. She could never be brought to forget that he had been picked up, as she said, on the roads.
At dinner one day, in the absence of Mlle. de Bergerac, who was indisposed, he inadvertently occupied her seat, taking me as a vis-à-vis instead of a neighbor. Shortly afterwards, coming to offer wine to my mother, he received for all response a stare so blank, cold, and insolent, as to leave no doubt of her estimate of his presumption. In my mother’s simple philosophy, Mlle. de Bergerac’s seat could be decently occupied only by herself, and in default of her presence should remain conspicuously and sacredly vacant. Dinner at Bergerac was at best, indeed, a cold and dismal cere-, mony. I see it now, — the great diningroom, with its high windows and their faded curtains, and the tiles upon the floor, and the immense wainscots, and the great white marble chimney-piece, reaching to the ceiling, —a triumph of delicate carving,— and the panels above the doors, with their galant mythological paintings. All this had been the work of my grandfather, during the Regency, who had undertaken to renovate and beautify the chateau ; but his funds had suddenly given out, and we could boast but a desultory elegance. Such talk as passed at table was between my mother and the Baron, and consisted for the most part of a series of insidious attempts on my mother’s part to extort information which the latter had no desire, or at least no faculty, to impart. My father was constitutionally taciturn and apathetic, and he invariably made an end of my mother’s interrogation by proclaiming that he hated gossip. He liked to take his pleasure and have done with it, or at best, to ruminate his substantial joys within the conservative recesses of his capacious breast. The Baronne’s inquisitive tongue was like a lambent flame, flickering over the sides of a rock. She had a passion for the world, and seclusion had only sharpened the edge of her curiosity. She lived on old. memories — shabby, tarnished bits of intellectual finery — and vagrant rumors, anecdotes, and scandals.
Once in a while, however, her curiosity held high revel; for once a week we had the Vicomte de Treuil to dine with us. This gentleman was, although several years my father’s junior, his most intimate friend and the only constant visitor at Bergerac. He brought with him a sort of intoxicating perfume of the great world, which I myself was not too young to feel. He had a marvellous fluency of talk ; he was polite and elegant; and he was constantly getting letters from Paris, books, newspapers, and prints, and copies of the new songs. When he dined at Bergerac, my mother used to rustle away from table, kissing her hand to him, and actually light-headed from her deep potations of gossip. His conversation was a constant popping of corks. My father and the Vicomte, as I have said, were firm friends,— the firmer for the great diversity of their characters. M. de Bergerac was dark, grave, and taciturn, with a deep, sonorous voice. He had in his nature a touch of melancholy, and, in default of piety, a broad vein of superstition. The foundations Of his soul, moreover, I am satisfied, in spite of the somewhat ponderous superstructure, were laid in a soil of rich tenderness and pity. Gaston de Treuil was of a wholly different temper. He was short and slight, without any color, and with eyes as blue and lustrous as sapphires. He was so careless and gracious and mirthful, that to an unenlightened fancy he seemed the model of a joyous, reckless, gallant, impenitent veneur. But it sometimes struck me that, as he revolved an idea in his mind, it produced a certain flinty ring, which suggested that his nature was built, as it were, on rock, and that the bottom of his heart was hard. Young as he was, besides, he had a tired, jaded, exhausted look, which told of his having played high at the game of life, and, very possibly, lost. In fact, it was notorious that M. de Treuil had run through his property, and that his actual business in our neighborhood was to repair the breach in his fortunes by constant attendance on a wealthy kinsman, who occupied an adjacent chateau, and who was dying of age and his infirmities.
But while I thus hint at the existence in his composition of these few base particles, I should be sorry to represent him as substantially less fair and clear and lustrous than he appeared to be. He possessed an irresistible charm, and that of itself is a virtue. I feel sure, moreover, that my father would never have reconciled himself to a real scantiness of masculine worth. The Vicomte enjoyed, I fancy, the generous energy of my father’s good-fellowship, and the Baron’s healthy senses were flattered by the exquisite perfume of the other’s infallible savoir-vivre. I offer a hundred apologies, at any rate, to the Vicomte’s luminous shade, that I should have ventured to cast a dingy slur upon his name. History has commemorated it. He perished on the scaffold, and showed that he knew how to die as well as to live. He was the last relic of the lily-handed youth of the bon temps; and as he looks at me out of the poignant sadness of the past, with a reproachful glitter in his cold blue eyes, and a scornful smile on his fine lips, I feel that, elegant and silent as he is, he has the last word in our dispute. I shall think of him henceforth as he appeared one night, or rather one morning, when he came home from a ball with my father, who had brought him to Bergerac to sleep. I had my bed in a closet out of my mother’s room, where I lay in a most unwholesome fashion among her old gowns and hoops and cosmetics. My mother slept little ; she passed the night in her dressing-gown, bolstered up in her bed, reading novels. The two gentlemen came in at four o’clock in the morning and made their way up to the Baronne’s little sitting-room, next to her chamber. I suppose they were highly exhilarated, for they made a great noise of talking and laughing, and my father began to knock at the chamber door. He called out that he had M. de Treuil, and that they were cold and hungry. The Baronne said that she had a fire and they might come in. She was glad enough, poor lady, to get news of the ball, and to catch their impressions before they had been dulled by sleep. So they came in and sat by the fire, and M. de Treuil looked for some wine and some little cakes where my mother told him. I was wide awake and heard it all. I heard my mother protesting and crying out, and the Vicomte laughing, when he looked into the wrong place ; and I am afraid that in my mother’s room there were a great many wrong places. Before long, in my little stuffy, dark closet, I began to feel hungry too ; whereupon I got out of bed and ventured forth into the room. I remember the whole picture, as one remembers isolated scenes of childhood : my mother’s bed, with its great curtains half drawn back at the side, and her little eager face and dark eyes peeping out of the recess ; then the two men at the fire, —my father with his hat on, sitting and looking drowsily into the flames, and the Vicomte standing before the hearth, talking, laughing, and gesticulating, with the candlestick in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, — dropping the wax on one side and the wine on the other. He was dressed from head to foot in white velvet and white silk, with embroideries of silver, and an immense jabot. He was very pale, and he looked lighter and slighter and wittier and more elegant than ever. He had a weak voice, and when he laughed, after one feeble little spasm, it went off into nothing, and you only knew he was laughing by his nodding his head and lifting his eyebrows and showing his handsome teeth. My father was in crimson velvet, with tarnished gold facings. My mother bade me get back into bed, but my father took me on his knees and held out my bare feet to the fire. In a little while, from the influence of the heat, he fell asleep in his chair, and I sat in my place and watched M. de Treuil as he stood in the firelight drinking his wine and telling stories to my mother, until at last I too relapsed into the innocence of slumber. They were very good friends, the Vicomte and my mother. He admired the turn of her mind. I remember his telling me several years later, at the time of her death, when I was old enough to understand him, that she was a very brave, keen little woman, and that in her musty solitude of Bergerac she said a great many more good things than the world ever heard of.
During the winter which preceded Coquelin’s arrival, M. de Treuil used to show himself at Bergerac in a friendly manner; but about a month before this event, his visits became more frequent and assumed a special import and motive. In a word, my father and his friend between them had conceived it to be a fine thing that the latter should marry Mlle. de Bergerac. Neither from his own nor from his friend’s point of view was Gaston de Treuil a marrying man or a desirable parti. He was too fond of pleasure to conciliate a rich wife, and too poor to support a penniless one. But I fancy that my father was of the opinion that if the Vicomte came into his kinsman’s property, the best way to insure the preservation of it, and to attach him to his duties and responsibilities, would be to unite him to an amiable girl, who might remind him of the beauty of a domestic life and lend him courage to mend his ways. As far as the Vicomte was concerned, this was assuredly a benevolent scheme, but it seems to me that it made small account of the young girl’s own happiness. M. de Treuil was supposed, in the matter of women, to have known everything that can be known, and to be as blasé with regard to their charms as he was proof against their influence. And, in fact, his manner of dealing with women, and of discussing them, indicated a profound disenchantment, — no bravado of contempt, no affectation of cynicism, but a cold, civil, absolute lassitude. A simply charming woman, therefore, would never have served the purpose of my father’s theory. A very sound and liberal instinct led him to direct his thoughts to his sister. There were, of course, various auxiliary reasons for such disposal of Mlle. de Bergerac’s hand. She was now a woman grown, and she had as yet received no decent proposals. She had no marriage portion of her own, and my father had no means to endow her. Her beauty, moreover, could hardly be called a dowry. It was without those vulgar allurements which, for many a poor girl, replace the glitter of cash. If within a very few years more she had not succeeded in establishing herself creditably in the world, nothing would be left for her but to withdraw from it, and to pledge her virgin faith to the chilly sanctity of a cloister. I was destined in the course of time to assume the lordship and the slender revenues of Bergerac, and it was not to be expected that I should be burdened on the very threshold of life with the maintenance of a dowerless maiden aunt A marriage with M. de Treuil would be in all senses a creditable match, and, in the event of his becoming his kinsman’s legatee, a thoroughly comfortable one.
It was some time before the color of my father’s intentions, and the milder hue of the Vicomte’s acquiescence, began to show in our common daylight. It is not the custom, as you know, in our excellent France, to admit a lover on probation. He is expected to make up his mind on a view of the young lady’s endowments, and to content himself before marriage with the bare cognition of her face. It is not thought decent (and there is certainly reason in it) that he should dally with his draught, and hold it to the light, and let the sun play through it, before carrying it to his lips. It was only on the ground of my father’s warm good-will to Gaston de Treuil, and the latter’s affectionate respect for the Baron, that the Vicomte was allowed to appear as a lover, before making his proposals in form. M. de Treuil, in fact, proceeded gradually, and made his approaches from a great distance. It was not for several weeks, therefore, that Mlle. de Bergerac became aware of them. And now, as this dear young girl steps into my story, where, I ask you. shall I find words to describe the broad loveliness of her person, to hint at the perfect beauty of her mind, to suggest the sweet mystery of her first suspicion of being sought, from afar, in marriage? Not in my fancy, surely; for there I should disinter the flimsy elements and tarnished properties of a superannuated comic opera. My taste, my son, was formed once for all fifty years ago. But if I wish to call up Mlle. de Bergerac, I must turn to my earliest memories, and delve in the sweet-smelling virgin soil of my heart. For Mlle. de Bergerac is no misty sylphid nor romantic moonlit nymph. She rises before me now, glowing with life, with the sound of her voice just dying in the air,— the more living for the mark of her crimson death-stain.
There was every good reason why her dawning consciousness of M. de Treuil’s attentions — although these were little more than projected as yet — should have produced a serious tremor in her heart. It was not that she was aught of a coquette ; I honestly believe that there was no latent coquetry in her nature. At all events, whatever she might have become after knowing M. de Treuil, she was no coquette to speak of in her ignorance. Her ignorance of men, in truth, was great. For the Vicomte himself, she had as yet known him only distantly, formally, as a gentleman of rank and fashion ; and for others of his quality, she had seen but a small number, and not seen them intimately. These few words suffice to indicate that my aunt led a life of unbroken monotony. Once a year she spent six weeks with certain ladies of the Visitation, in whose convent she had received her education, and of whom she continued to be very fond. Half a dozen times in the twelvemonth she went to a hall, under convoy of some haply ungrudging châtelaine. Two or three times a month, she received a visit at Bergerac. The rest of the time she paced, with the grace of an angel and the patience of a woman, the dreary corridors and unclipt garden walks of Bergerac. The discovery, then, that the brilliant Vicomte de Treuil was likely to make a proposal for her hand was an event of no small importance. With precisely what feelings she awaited its coming, I am unable to tell; but I have no hesitation in saying that even at this moment (that is, in less than a month after my tutor’s arrival) her feelings were strongly modified by her acquaintance with Pierre Coquelin.
The word acquaintance ” perhaps exaggerates Mlle. de Bergerac’s relation to this excellent young man. Twice a day she sat facing him at table, and half a dozen times a week she met him on the staircase, in the saloon, or in the park. Coquelin had been accommodated with an apartment in a small untenanted pavilion, within the enclosure of our domain, and except at meals, and when his presence was especially requested at the chateau, he confined himself to his own precinct. It was there, morning and evening, that I took my lesson. It was impossible, therefore, that an intimacy should have arisen between these two young persons, equally separated as they were by material and conventional barriers. Nevertheless, as the sequel proved, Coquelin must, by his mere presence, have begun very soon to exert a subtle action on Mlle. de Bergerac’s thoughts. As for the young girl’s influence on Coquelin, it is my belief that he fell in love with her the very first moment he beheld her, — that morning when he trudged wearily up our avenue. I need certainly make no apology for the poor fellow’s audacity. You tell me that you fell in love at first sight with my aunt’s portrait ; you will readily excuse the poor youth for having been smitten with the original. It is less logical perhaps, but it is certainly no less natural, that Mlle. de Bergerac should have ventured to think of my governor as a decidedly interesting fellow. She saw so few men that one the more or the less made a very great difference. Coquelin’s importance, moreover, was increased rather than diminished by the fact that, as I may say, he was a son of the soil. Marked as he was, in aspect and utterance, with the genuine plebeian stamp, he opened a way for the girl’s fancy into a vague, unknown world. He stirred her imagination, I conceive, in very much the same way as such a man as Gaston de Treuil would have stirred — actually had stirred, of course — the grosser sensibilities of many a little bourgeoise. Mlle. de Bergerac was so thoroughly at peace with the consequences of her social position, so little inclined to derogate in act or in thought from the perfect dignity of her birth, that with the best conscience in the world, she entertained, as they came the feelings provoked by Coquelin’s manly virtues and graces. She had been educated in the faith that noblesse oblige, and she had seen none but gentlefolks and peasants. I think that she felt a vague, unavowed curiosity to see what sort of a figure you might make when you were under no obligations to nobleness. I think, finally, that unconsciously and in the interest simply of her unsubstantial dreams, (for in those long summer days at Bergerac, without finery, without visits, music, or books, or anything that a well-to-do grocer’s daughter enjoys at the present day, she must, unless she was a far greater simpleton than I wish you to suppose, have spun a thousand airy, idle visions,) she contrasted Pierre Coquelin with the Vicomte de Treuil. I protest that I don’t see how Coquelin bore the contrast. I frankly admit that, in her place, I would have given all my admiration to the Vicomte. At all events, the chief result of any such comparison must have been to show how, in spite of real trials and troubles, Coquelin had retained a certain masculine freshness and elasticity, and how, without any sorrows but those of his own wanton making, the Vicomte had utterly rubbed off this primal bloom of manhood. There was that about Gaston de Treuil that reminded you of an actor by daylight. His little row of foot-lights had burned itself out. But this is assuredly a more pedantic view of the case than any that Mlle. de Bergerac was capable of taking. The Vicomte had but to learn his part and declaim it, and the illusion was complete.
Mlle. de Bergerac may really have been a great simpleton, and my theory of her feelings—vague and imperfect as it is —may be put together quite after the fact. But I see you protest; you glance at the picture ; you frown. C'est bon; give me your hand. She received the Vicomte’s gallantries, then, with a modest, conscious dignity, and courtesied to exactly the proper depth when he made her one of his inimitable bows.
One evening—it was, I think, about ten days after Coquelin’s arrival — she was sitting reading to my mother, who was ill in bed. The Vicomte had been dining with us, and after dinner we had gone into the drawing-room. At the drawing-room door Coquelin had made his bow to my father, and carried me off to his own apartment. Mlle. de Bergerac and the two gentlemen had gone into the drawing-room together. At dusk I had come back to the chateau, and, going up to my mother, had found her in company with her sister-in-law. In a few moments my father came in, looking stern and black.
“Sister,” he cried, “why did you leave us alone in the drawing-room? Did n’t you see I wanted you to stay ? ”
Mlle. de Bergerac laid down her book and looked at her brother before answering. “ I had to come to my sister,” she said: “ I could n’t leave her alone.”
My mother, I’m sorry to say, was not always just to my aunt. She used to lose patience with her sister’s want of coquetry, of ambition, of desire to make much of herself. She divined wherein my aunt had offended. “You ’re very devoted to your sister, suddenly,” she said, “ There are duties and duties, mademoiselle. I’m very much obliged to you for reading to me. You can put down the book.”
“The Vicomte swore very hard when you went out,” my father went on.
Mlle. de Bergerac laid aside her book.
“ Dear me ! ” she said, “ if he was going to swear, it’s very well I went.”
“Are you afraid of the Vicomte?” said my mother. “ You ’re twenty-two years old. You ’re not a little girl.”
“Is she twenty-two?” cried my father. “ I told him she was twentyone.”
“ Frankly, brother,” said Mlle. de Bergerac, “ what does he want ? Does he want to marry me?”
My father stared a moment. “ Pardieu ! ” he cried.
“She looks as if she didn’t believe it,” said my mother. “ Pray, did you ever ask him ? ”
“ No, madam ; did you ? You are very kind.” Mlle. de Bergerac was excited ; her cheek flushed.
“ In the course of time,” said my father, gravely, “ the Vicomte proposes to demand your hand.”
“ What is he waiting for ? ” asked Mlle. de Bergerac, simply.
“Fi donc, mademoiselle! ” cried my mother.
“ He is waiting for M. de Sorbieres to die,” said I, who had got this bit of news from my mother’s waiting-woman.
My father stared at me, half angrily; and then, — “ He expects to inherit,” he said, boldly. “It’s a very fine property.”
“ He would have done better, it seems to me,” rejoined Mlle. de Bergerac, after a pause, “to wait till he had actually come into possession of it.”
“ M. de Sorbières,” cried my father, “has given him his word a dozen times over. Besides, the Vicomte loves you.”
Mlle. de Bergerac blushed, with a little smile, and as she did so her eyes fell on mine. I was standing gazing at her as a child gazes at a familiar friend who is presented to him in a new light. She put out her hand and drew me towards her. “ The truth comes out of the mouths of children,” she said. “ Chevalier, does he love me ? ”
“Stuff!” cried the Baronne ; “one does n’t speak to children of such things A young girl should believe what she’s told. I believed my mother when she told me that your brother loved me. He didn’t, but I believed it, and as far as I know I ’m none the worse for it.”
For ten days after this I heard nothing more of Mlle. de Bergerac’s marriage, and I suppose that, childlike, I ceased to think of what I had already heard. One evening, about midsummer, M. de Treuil came over to supper, and announced that he was about to set out in company with poor M. de Sorbières for some mineral springs in the South, by the use of which the latter hoped to prolong his life.
I remember that, while we sat at table, Coquelin was appealed to as an authority upon some topic broached by the Vicomte, on which he found himself at variance with my father. It was the first time, I fancy, that he had been so honored and that his opinions had been deemed worth hearing. The point under discussion must have related to the history of the American War, for Coquelin spoke with the firmness and fulness warranted by personal knowledge. I fancy that he was a little frightened by the sound of his own voice, but he acquitted himself with perfect good grace and success. We all sat attentive ; my mother even staring a little, surprised to find in a beggarly pedagogue a perfect beau diseur. My father, as became so great a gentleman, knew by a certain rough instinct when a man had something amusing to say. He leaned back, with his hands in his pockets, listening and paying the poor fellow the tribute of a half-puzzled frown. The Vicomte, like a man of taste, was charmed. He told stories himself, he was a good judge.
After supper we went out on the terrace. It was a perfect summer night, neither too warm nor too cool. There was no moon, but the stars flung down their languid light, and the earth, with its great dark masses of vegetation and the gently swaying tree-tops, seemed to answer back in a thousand vague perfumes. Somewhere, close at hand, out of an enchanted tree, a nightingale raved and carolled in delirious music. We had the good taste to listen in silence. My mother sat down on a bench against the house, and put out her hand and made my father sit beside her. Mlle. de Bergerac strolled to the edge of the terrace, and leaned against the balustrade, whither M. de Trend soon followed her. She stood motionless, with her head raised, intent upon the music. The Vicomte seated himself upon the parapet, with his face towards her and his arms folded, He may perhaps have been talking, under cover of the nightingale. Coquelin seated himself near the other end of the terrace, and drew me between his knees. At last the nightingale ceased. Coquelin got up, and bade good night to the company, and made his way across the park to his lodge. I went over to my aunt and the Vicomte.
“ M. Coquelin is a clever man,” said the Vicomte, as he disappeared down the avenue. “He spoke very well this evening.”
“He never spoke so much before,” said I. “ He ’s very shy.”
“ I think,” said my aunt, “ he’s a little proud.”
“ I don’t understand,” said the Vicomte, “ how a man with any pride can put up with the place of a tutor. I had rather dig in the fields.”
“ The Chevalier is much obliged to you,” said my aunt, laughing. “ In fact, M. Coquelin has to dig a little, has n’t he, Chevalier ? ”
“ Not at all,” said I. “ But he keeps some plants in pots.”
At this my aunt and the Vicomte began to laugh. “ He keeps one precious plant,” cried my aunt, tapping my face with her fan.
At this moment my mother called me away. “ He makes them laugh,” I heard her say to my father, as I went to her.
“ She had better laugh about it than cry,” said my father.
Before long, Mlle. de Bergerac and her companion came back toward the house.
“ M. le Vicomte, brother,” said my aunt, “invites me to go down and walk in the park. May I accept ? ”
“ By all means,” said my father. “ You may go with the Vicomte as you would go with me.”
“ Ah ! ” said the Vicomte.
“ Come then, Chevalier,” said my aunt. “ In my turn, I invite you.”
“ My son,” said the Baronne, “ I forbid you.”
“ But my brother says,” rejoined Mlle. de Bergerac, “that I may go with M. de Treuil as I would go with himself. He would not object to my taking my nephew.” And she put out her hand.
“ One would think,” said my mother, “that you were setting out for Siberia.”
“ For Siberia ! ” cried the Vicomte, laughing ; “ O no!”
I paused, undecided. But my father gave me a push. “ After all,” he said, “ it’s better.”
When I overtook my aunt and her lover, the latter, losing no time, appeared to have come quite to the point.
“ Your brother tells me, mademoiselle,” he had begun, “ that he has spoken to you.”
The young girl was silent.
“ You may be indifferent,” pursued the Vicomte, “but I can’t believe you ’re ignorant.”
“ My brother has spoken to me,” said Mlle. de Bergerac at last, with an apparent effort, — “ my brother has spoken to me of his project.”
“ I 'm very glad he seemed to you to have espoused my cause so warmly that you call it his own. I did my best to convince him that I possess what a person of your merit is entitled to exact of the man who asks her hand. In doing so, I almost convinced myself. The point is now to convince you.”
“ I listen.”
“ You admit, then, that your mind is not made up in advance against me.”
“ Mon Dieu!” cried my aunt, with some emphasis, “ a poor girl like me does n’t make up her mind. You frighten me, Vicomte. This is a serious question. I have the misfortune to have no mother. I can only pray God. But prayer helps me not to choose, but only to be resigned.”
“ Pray often, then, mademoiselle. I’m not an arrogant lover, and since I have known you a little better, I have lost all my vanity. I 'm not a good man nor a wise one. I have no doubt you think me very light and foolish, but you can’t begin to know how light and foolish I am. Marry me and you ’ll never know. If you don’t marry me, I 'm afraid you ’ll never marry.”
“You’re very frank, Vicomte. If you think I ’m afraid of never marrying, you ’re mistaken. One can be very happy as an old maid. I spend six weeks every year with the ladies of the Visitation. Several of them are excellent women, charming women. They read, they educate young girls, they visit the poor — ”
The Vicomte broke into a laugh. “ They get up at five o’clock in the morning; they breakfast on boiled cabbage ; they make flannel waistcoats, and very good sweetmeats ! Why do you talk so, mademoiselle ? Why do you say that you would like to lead such a life ? One might almost believe it is coquetry. Tenez, I believe it’s ignorance,— ignorance of your own feelings, your own nature, and your own needs.” M. de Treuil paused a moment, and, although I had a very imperfect notion of the meaning of his words,
I remember being struck with the vehement look of his pale face, which seemed fairly to glow in the darkness. Plainly, he was in love. “You are not made for solitude,” he went on ; “ you are not made to be buried in a dingy old chateau, in the depths of a ridiculous province. You are made for the world, for the court, for pleasure, to be loved, admired, and envied. No, you don’t know yourself, nor does Bergerac know you, nor his wife ! I, at least, appreciate you. I know that you are supremely beautiful — ”
“ Vicomte,” said Mlle. de Bergerac, “ you forget — the child.”
“ Hang the child! Why did you bring him along ? You are no child.
You can understand me. You are a woman, full of intelligence and goodness and beauty. They don’t know you here, they think you a little demoiselle in pinafores. Before Heaven, mademoiselle, there is that about you,— I see it, I feel it here at your side, in this rustling darkness, — there is that about you that a man would gladly die for.”
Mlle. de Bergerac interrupted him with energy. “You talk extravagantly. I don’t understand you ; you frighten me.”
“I talk as I feel. I frighten you? So much the better. I wish to stir your heart and get some answer to the passion of my own.”
Mlle. de Bergerac was silent a moment, as if collecting her thoughts. “If I talk with you on this subject, I must do it with my wits about me,” she said at last. “ I must know exactly what we each mean.”
“ It’s plain then that I can’t hope to inspire you with any degree of affection.”
“ One does n’t promise to love, Yicomte ; I can only answer for the present. My heart is so full of good wishes toward you that it costs me comparatively little to say I don’t love you.”
“And anything I may say of my own feelings will make no difference to you ? ”
“You have said you love me. Let it rest there.”
“ But you look as if you doubted my word.”
“You can’t see how I look; Vicomte, I believe you.”
“Well then, there is one point gained. Let us pass to the others. I’m thirty years old. I have a very good name and a very bad reputation. I honestly believe that, though I ’ve fallen below my birth, I ’ve kept above my fame. I believe that I have no vices of temper;
I’m neither brutal, nor jealous, nor miserly. As for my fortune, I ’m obliged to admit that it consists chiefly in my expectations. My actual property is about equal to your brother’s, and you know how your sister-in-law is obliged to live. My expectations are thought particularly good. My great-uncle, M. de Sorbieres, possesses, chiefly in landed estates, a fortune of some three millions of livres. I have no important competitors, either in blood or devotion. He is eighty-seven years old and paralytic, and within the past year I have been laying siege to his favor with such constancy that his surrender, like his extinction, is only a question of time. I received yesterday a summons to go with him to the Pyrenees, to drink certain medicinal waters. The least he can do, on my return, is to make me a handsome allowance, which with my own revenues will make — en attendant better things — a sufficient income for a reasonable couple.”
There was a pause of some moments, during which we slowly walked along in the obstructed starlight, the silence broken only by the train of my aunt’s dress brushing against the twigs and pebbles.
“ What a pity,” she said, at last, “that you are not able to speak of all this good fortune as in the present rather than in the future.”
“There it is ! Until I came to know you, I had no thoughts of marriage. What did I want of wealth? If five years ago I had foreseen this moment, I should stand here with something better than promises.”
“ Well, Vicomte,” pursued the young girl, with singular composure, “you do me the honor to think very well of me :
I hope you will not be vexed to find that prudence is one of my virtues. If I marry, I wish to marry well. It’s not only the husband, but the marriage that counts. In accepting you as YOU stand, I should make neither a sentimental match nor a brilliant one.”
“ Excellent. I love you, prudence and all. Say, then, that I present myself here three months hence with the titles and tokens of property amounting to a million and a half of livres, will you consider that I am a parti sufficiently brilliant to make you forget that you don’t love me ? ”
“ I should never forget that.”
“Well, nor I either. It makes a sort of sorrowful harmony! If three months hence, I repeat, I offer you a fortune instead of this poor empty hand, will you accept the one for the sake of the other ? ”
My aunt stopped short in the path. “ I hope, Vicomte,” she said, with much apparent simplicity, “ that you are going to do nothing indelicate.”
“ God forbid, mademoiselle ! It shall be a clean hand and a clean fortune.”
“ If you ask then a promise, a pledge — ”
“ You ’ll not give it. I ask then only for a little hope. Give it in what form you will.”
We walked a few steps farther and came out from among the shadows, beneath the open sky. The voice of M. de Treuil, as he uttered these words, was low and deep and tender and full of entreaty. Mlle. de Bergerac cannot but have been deeply moved. I think she was somewhat awe-struck at having called up such a force of devotion in a nature deemed cold and inconstant. She put out her hand. “ I wish success to any honorable efforts. In any case you will he happier for your wealth. In one case it will get you a wife, and in the other it will console you.”
“ Console me ! I shall hate it, despise it, and throw it into the sea ! ”
Mlle. de Bergerac had no intention, of course, of leaving her companion under an illusion. “ Ah, but understand, Vicomte,” she said, “ I make no promise. My brother claims the right to bestow my hand. If he wishes our marriage now, of course he will wish it three months hence. I have never gainsaid him.”
“From now to three months a great deal may happen.”
“ To you perhaps, but not to me.”
“ Are you going to your friends of the Visitation ? ”
“ No, indeed. I have no wish to spend the summer in a cloister. I prefer the green fields.”
“ Well, then, va for the green fields ! They ’re the next best thing. I recommend you to the Chevalier’s protection.”
We had made half the circuit of the park, and turned into an alley which stretched away towards the house, and about midway in its course separated into two paths, one leading to the main avenue, and the other to the little pavilion inhabited by Coquelin. At the point where the alley was divided stood an enormous oak of great circumference, with a circular bench surrounding its trunk. It occupied, I believe, the central point of the whole domain. As we reached the oak, I looked down along the footpath towards the pavilion, and saw Coquelin’s light shining in one of the windows. I immediately proposed that we should pay him a visit. My aunt objected, on the ground that he was doubtless busy and would not thank us for interrupting him. And then, when I insisted, she said it was not proper.
“ How not proper ? ”
“It’s not proper for me. A lady does n’t visit young men in their own apartments.”
At this the Vicomte cried out. He was partly amused, I think, at my aunt’s attaching any compromising power to poor little Coquelin, and partly annoyed at her not considering his own company, in view of his pretensions, a sufficient guaranty.
“ I should think,” he said, “that with the Chevalier and me you might venture — ”
“As you please, then,” said my aunt. And I accordingly led the way to my governor’s abode.
It was a small edifice of a single floor, standing prettily enough among the trees, and still habitable, although very much in disrepair. It had been built by that same ancestor to whom Bergerac was indebted, in the absence of several of the necessities of life, for many of its elegant superfluities, and had been designed, I suppose, as a scene of pleasure, — such pleasure as he preferred to celebrate elsewhere than beneath the roof of his domicile. Whether it had ever been used I know not; but it certainly had very little of the look of a pleasure-house. Such furniture as it had once possessed had long since been transferred to the needy saloons of the chateau, and it now looked dark and bare and cold. In front, the shrubbery had been left to grow thick and wild and almost totally to exclude the light from the windows ; but behind, outside of the two rooms which he occupied, and which had been provided from the chateau with the articles necessary for comfort, Coquelin had obtained my father’s permission to effect a great clearance in the foliage, and he now enjoyed plenty of sunlight and a charming view of the neighboring country. It was in the larger of these two rooms, arranged as a sort of study, that we found him.
He seemed surprised and somewhat Confused by our visit, but he very soon recovered himself sufficiently to do the honors of his little establishment.
“ It was an idea of my nephew,” said Mlle. de Bergerac. “ We were walking in the park, and he saw your light. Now that we are here, Chevalier, what would you have us do ? ”
“ M. Coquelin has some very pretty things to show you,” said I.
Coquelin turned very red. “ Pretty things, Chevalier ? Pray, what do you mean ? I have some of your nephew’s copy-books,” he said, turning to my aunt.
“Nay, you have some of your own,” I cried. “ He has books full of drawings, made by himself.”
“ Ah, you draw ? ” said the Vicomte.
“ M. le Chevalier does me the honor to think so. My drawings are meant for no critics but children.”
“ In the way of criticism,” said my aunt, gently, “ we too are children. Her beautiful eyes, as she uttered these words, must have been quite as gentle as her voice. Coquelin looked at her, thinking very modestly of his little pictures, but loth to refuse the first request she had ever made him.
“ Show them, at any rate,” said the Vicomte, in a somewhat peremptory tone. In those days, you see, a man occupying Coquelin’s place was expected to hold all his faculties and talents at the disposal of his patron, and it was thought an unwarrantable piece of assumption that he should cultivate any of the arts for his own peculiar delectation. In withholding his drawings, therefore, it may have seemed to the Vicomte that Coquelin was unfaithful to the service to which he was held,— that, namely, of instructing, diverting, and edifying the household of Bergerac. Coquelin went to a little cupboard in the wall, and took out three small albums and a couple of portfolios. Mlle. de Bergerac sat down at the table, and Coquelin drew up the lamp and placed his drawings before her. He turned them over, and gave such explanations as seemed necessary. I have only my childish impressions of the character of these sketches, which, in my eyes, of course, seemed prodigiously clever. What the judgment of my companions was worth I know not, but they appeared very well pleased. The Vicomte probably knew a good sketch from a poor one, and he very good-naturedly pronounced my tutor an extremely knowing fellow. Coquelin had drawn anything and everything, — peasants and dumb brutes, landscapes and Parisian types and figures, taken indifferently from high and low life. But the best pieces in the collection were a series of illustrations and reminiscences of his adventures with the American army, and of the figures and episodes he had observed in the Colonies. They were for the most part rudely enough executed, owing to his want of time and materials, but they were full of finesse and character. M. de Treuil was very much amused at the rude equipments of your ancestors. There were sketches of the enemy too, whom Coquelin had apparently not been afraid to look in the face. While he was turning over these designs for Mlle. de Bergerac, the Vicomte took up one of his portfolios, and. after a shortinspection, drew from it, with a cry of surprise, a large portrait in pen and ink.
“ Tiens ! ” said I ; it s my aunt ! ’
Coquelin turned pale. Mlle. de Bergerac looked at him, and turned the least bit red. As for the Vicomte, he never changed color. There was no eluding the fact that it was a likeness, and Coquelin had to pay the penalty of his skill.
“ I did n’t know,” he said, at random, “ that it was in that portfolio. Do you recognize it, mademoiselle ? ”
“ Ah,” said the Vicomte, dryly, “ M. Coquelin meant to hide it.”
“ It’s too pretty to hide,” said my aunt; " and yet it’s too pretty to show. It ’s flattered.”
“ Why should I have flattered you. mademoiselle ?” asked Coquelin. “You were never to see it.”
“ That’s what it is, mademoiselle,” said the Vicomte, “ to have such dazzling beauty. It penetrates the world. Who knows where you ’ll find it reflected next ? ”
However pretty a compliment this may have been to Mlle. de Bergerac, it was decidedly a back-handed blow to Coquelin. The young girl perceived that he felt it.
She rose to her feet. “ My beauty,” she said, with a slight tremor in her voice, “ would be a small thing without M. Coquelin’s talent. We are much obliged to you. I hope that you'll bring your pictures to the chateau, so that we may look at the rest.”
“ Are you going to leave him this ? ” asked M. de Treuil, holding up the portrait.
“ If M. Coquelin will give it to me, I shall be very glad to have it.”
“ One does n’t keep one’s own portrait,” said the Vicomte. “ It ought to belong to me.” In those days, before the invention of our sublime machinery for the reproduction of the human face, a young fellow was very glad to have his mistress’s likeness in pen and ink.
But Coquelin had no idea of contributing to the Vicomte’s gallery. “ Excuse me,” he said, gently, but looking the nobleman in the face. “ The picture is n’t good enough for Mlle. de Bergerac, but it’s too good for any one else” ; and he drew it out of the other’s hands, tore it across, and applied it to the flame of the lamp.
We went back to the chateau in silence. The drawing-room was empty ; but as we went in, the Vicomte took a lighted candle from a table and raised it to the young girl’s face. “ Parbleu !“ he exclaimed, “ the vagabond had looked at you to good purpose ! ”
Mlle. de Bergerac gave a half-confused laugh. “ At any rate,” she said, “he did n’t hold a candle to me as if I were my old smoke-stained grandame, yonder!" and she blew out the light. “ I ’ll call my brother,” she said, preparing to retire.
“ A moment,” said her lover ; “ I shall not see you for some weeks. I shall start to-morrow with my uncle. I shall think of you by day, and dream of you by night. And meanwhile I shall very ranch doubt whether you think of me.”
Mlle. de Bergerac smiled. “ Doubt, doubt. It will help you to pass the time. With faith alone it would hang very heavy.”
“It seems hard,” pursued M. de Treuil, “ that I should give you so many pledges, and that you should give me none.”
“ I give all I ask.”
“Then, for Heaven’s sake, ask for something ! ”
“ Your kind words are all I want.’
“ Then give me some kind word yourself.”
“What shall I say, Vicomte ?”
“ Say, — say that you ’ll wait for me.”
They were standing in the centre of the great saloon, their figures reflected by the light of a couple of candles in the shining inlaid floor. Mlle. de Bergerac walked away a few steps with a look of agitation. Then turning about, “ Vicomte,” she asked, in a deep, full voice, “ do you truly love me ? ”
“ Ah, Gabrielle ! ” cried the young man.
I take it that no woman can hear her baptismal name uttered for the first time as that of Mlle. de Bergerac then came from her suitor’s lips without being thrilled with joy and pride.
“Well, M. de Treuil,” she said, “I will wait for you.”