The hôtel crécy.
The morrow turned out a more lively and busy day than we— or than I, at least-had anticipated. It seems it was the birthday of one of the young princes of Labassecour-the eldest, I think, the Duc de Dindonneau, and a general holiday was given in his honour at the schools, and especially at the principal “Athénée,” or college. The youth of that institution had also concocted, and were to present a loyal address; for which purpose they were to be assembled in the public building where the yearly examinations were conducted, and the prizes distributed. After the ceremony of presentation, an oration, or “discours,” was to follow from one of the professors.
Several of M. de Bassompierre’s friends-the savants-being more or less connected with the Athénée, they were expected to attend on this occasion; together with the worshipful municipality of Villette, M. lé Chevalier Staas, the burgomaster, and the parents and kinsfolk of the Athenians in general. M. de Bassompierre was engaged by his friends to accompany them; his fair daughter would, of course, be of the party, and she wrote a little note to Ginevra and myself, bidding us come early that we might join her.
As Miss Fanshawe and I were dressing in the dormitory of the Rue Fossette, she (Miss F.) suddenly burst into a laugh.
“What now?” I asked; for she had suspended the operation of arranging her attire, and was gazing at me.
“It seems so odd,” she replied, with her usual half-honest half-insolent unreserve, “that you and I should now be so much on a level, visiting in the same sphere; having the same connections.”
“Why, yes,” said I; “I had not much respect for the connections you chiefly frequented awhile ago: Mrs. Cholmondeley and Co. would never have suited me at all.”
“Who are you, Miss Snowe?” she inquired, in a tone of such undisguised and unsophisticated curiosity, as made me laugh in my turn.
“You used to call yourself a nursery governess; when you first came here you really had the care of the children in this house: I have seen you carry little Georgette in your arms, like a bonne— few governesses would have condescended so far— and now Madame Beck treats you with more courtesy than she treats the Parisienne, St. Pierre; and that proud chit, my cousin, makes you her bosom friend!”
“Wonderful!” I agreed, much amused at her mystification. “Who am I indeed? Perhaps a personage in disguise. Pity I don’t look the character.”
“I wonder you are not more flattered by all this,” she went on; “you take it with strange composure. If you really are the nobody I once thought you, you must be a cool hand.”
“The nobody you once thought me!” I repeated, and my face grew a little hot; but I would not be angry: of what importance was a school-girl’s crude use of the terms nobody and somebody? I confined myself, therefore, to the remark that I had merely met with civility; and asked “what she saw in civility to throw the recipient into a fever of confusion?”
“One can’t help wondering at some things,” she persisted.
“Wondering at marvels of your own manufacture. Are you ready at last?”
“Yes; let me take your arm.”
“I would rather not: we will walk side by side.”
When she took my arm, she always leaned upon me her whole weight; and, as I was not a gentleman, or her lover, I did not like it.
“There, again!” she cried. “I thought, by offering to take your arm, to intimate approbation of your dress and general appearance: I meant it as a compliment.”
“You did? You meant, in short, to express that you are not ashamed to be seen in the street with me? That if Mrs. Cholmondeley should be fondling her lapdog at some window, or Colonel de Hamal picking his teeth in a balcony, and should catch a glimpse of us, you would not quite blush for your companion?”
“Yes,” said she, with that directness which was her best point— which gave an honest plainness to her very fibs when she told them— which was, in short, the salt, the sole preservative ingredient of a character otherwise not formed to keep.
I delegated the trouble of commenting on this “yes” to my countenance; or rather, my under-lip voluntarily anticipated my tongue of course, reverence and solemnity were not the feelings expressed in the look I gave her.
“Scornful, sneering creature!” she went on, as we crossed a great square, and entered the quiet, pleasant park, our nearest way to the Rue Crécy. “Nobody in this world was ever such a Turk to me as you are!”
“You bring it on yourself: let me alone: have the sense to be quiet: I will let you alone.”
“As if one could let you alone, when you are so peculiar and so mysterious!”
“The mystery and peculiarity being entirely the conception of your own brain— maggots— neither more nor less, be so good as to keep them out of my sight.”
“But are you anybody?” persevered she, pushing her hand, in spite of me, under my arm; and that arm pressed itself with inhospitable closeness against my side, by way of keeping out the intruder.
“Yes,” I said, “I am a rising character: once an old lady’s companion, then a nursery-governess, now a school-teacher.”
“Do—do tell me who you are? I’ll not repeat it,” she urged, adhering with ludicrous tenacity to the wise notion of an incognito she had got hold of; and she squeezed the arm of which she had now obtained full possession, and coaxed and conjured till I was obliged to pause in the park to laugh. Throughout our walk she rang the most fanciful changes on this theme; proving, by her obstinate credulity, or incredulity, her incapacity to conceive how any person not bolstered up by birth or wealth, not supported by some consciousness of name or connection, could maintain an attitude of reasonable integrity. As for me, it quite sufficed to my mental tranquillity that I was known where it imported that known I should be; the rest sat on me easily: pedigree, social position, and recondite intellectual acquisition, occupied about the same space and place in my interests and thoughts; they were my third-class lodgers— to whom could be assigned only the small sitting-room and the little back bedroom: even if the dining and drawing-rooms stood empty, I never confessed it to them, as thinking minor accommodations better suited to their circumstances. The world, I soon learned, held a different estimate: and I make no doubt, the world is very right in its view, yet believe also that I am not quite wrong in mine.
There are people whom a lowered position degrades morally, to whom loss of connection costs loss of self-respect: are not these justified in placing the highest value on that station and association which is their safeguard from debasement? If a man feels that he would become contemptible in his own eyes were it generally known that his ancestry were simple and not gentle, poor and not rich, workers and not capitalists, would it be right severely to blame him for keeping these fatal facts out of sight— for starting, trembling, quailing at the chance which threatens exposure? The longer we live, the more out experience widens; the less prone are we to judge our neighbour’s conduct, to question the world’s wisdom: wherever an accumulation of small defences is found, whether surrounding the prude’s virtue or the man of the world’s respectability, there, be sure, it is needed.
We reached the Hôtel Crécy; Paulina was ready; Mrs. Bretton was with her; and, under her escort and that of M. de Bassompierre, we were soon conducted to the place of assembly, and seated in good seats, at a convenient distance from the Tribune. The youth of the Athénée were marshalled before us, the municipality and their bourgmestre were in places of honour, the young princes, with their tutors, occupied a conspicuous position, and the body of the building was crowded with the aristocracy and first burghers of the town.
Concerning the identity of the professor by whom the “discours” was to be delivered, I had as yet entertained neither care nor question. Some vague expectation I had that a savant would stand up and deliver a formal speech, half dogmatism to the Athenians, half flattery to the princes.
The Tribune was yet empty when we entered, but in ten minutes after it was filled; suddenly, in a second of time, a head, chest, and arms grew above the crimson desk. This head I knew: its colour, shape, port, expression, were familiar both to me and Miss Fanshawe; the blackness and closeness of cranium, the amplitude and paleness of brow, the blueness and fire of glance, were details so domesticated in the memory, and so knit with many a whimsical association, as almost by this their sudden apparition, to tickle fancy to a laugh. Indeed, I confess, for my part, I did laugh till I was warm; but then I bent my head, and made my handkerchief and a lowered veil the sole confidants of my mirth.
I think I was glad to see M. Paul; I think it was rather pleasant than otherwise, to behold him set up there, fierce and frank, dark and candid, testy and fearless, as when regnant on his estrade in class. His presence was such a surprise: I had not once thought of expecting him, though I knew he filled the chair of Belles Lettres in the college. With him in that Tribune, I felt sure that neither formalism nor flattery would be our doom; but for what was vouchsafed us, for what was poured suddenly, rapidly, continuously, on our heads — I own I was not prepared.
He spoke to the princes, the nobles, the magistrates, and the burghers, with just the same ease, with almost the same pointed, choleric earnestness, with which he was wont to harangue the three divisions of the Rue Fossette. The collegians he addressed, not as schoolboys, but as future citizens and embryo patriots. The times which have since come on Europe had not been foretold yet, and M. Emanuel’s spirit seemed new to me. Who would have thought the flat and fat soil of Labassecour could yield political convictions and national feelings, such as were now strongly expressed? Of the bearing of his opinions I need here give no special indication; yet it may be permitted me to say that I believed the little man not more earnest than right in what he said: with all his fire he was severe and sensible; he trampled Utopian theories under his heel; he rejected wild dreams with scorn;— but when he looked in the face of tyranny— oh, then there opened a light in his eye worth seeing; and when he spoke of injustice, his voice gave no uncertain sound, but reminded me rather of the band-trumpet, ringing at twilight from the park.
I do not think his audience were generally susceptible of sharing his flame in its purity; but some of the college youth caught fire as he eloquently told them what should be their path and endeavour in their country’s and in Europe’s future. They gave him a long, loud, ringing cheer, as he concluded: with all his fierceness, he was their favourite professor.
As our party left the Hall, he stood at the entrance; he saw and knew me, and lifted his hat; he offered his hand in passing, and uttered the words “Qu’en dites vous?”— question eminently characteristic, and reminding me, even in this his moment of triumph, of that inquisitive restlessness, that absence of what I considered desirable self-control, which were amongst his faults. He should not have cared just then to ask what I thought, or what anybody thought, but he did care, and he was too natural to conceal, too impulsive to repress his wish. Well! if I blamed his over-eagerness, I liked his naiveté. I would have praised him: I had plenty of praise in my heart; but, alas! no words on my lips. Who has words at the right moment? I stammered some lame expressions; but was truly glad when other people, coming up with profuse congratulations, covered my deficiency by their redundancy.
A gentleman introduced him to M. de Bassompierre; and the Count, who had likewise been highly gratified, asked him to join his friends (for the most part M. Emanuel’s likewise), and to dine with them at the Hôtel Crécy. He declined dinner, for he was a man always somewhat shy at meeting the advances of the wealthy: there was a strength of sturdy independence in the stringing of his sinews— not obtrusive, but pleasant enough to discover as one advanced in knowledge of his character; he promised, however, to step in with his friend, M. A—— , a French Academician, in the course of the evening.
At dinner that day, Ginevra and Paulina each looked, in her own way, very beautiful; the former, perhaps, boasted the advantage in material charms, but the latter shone pre-eminent for attractions more subtle and spiritual: for light and eloquence of eye, for grace of mien, for winning variety of expression. Ginevra’s dress of deep crimson relieved well her light curls, and harmonized with her rose-like bloom. Paulina’s attire— in fashion close, though faultlessly neat, but in texture clear and white— made the eye grateful for the delicate life of her complexion, for the soft animation of her countenance, for the tender depth of her eyes, for the brown shadow and bounteous flow of her hair— darker than that of her Saxon cousin, as were also her eyebrows, her eyelashes, her full irids, and large mobile pupils. Nature having traced all these details slightly, and with a careless hand, in Miss Fanshawe’s case; and in Miss de Bassompierre’s, wrought them to a high and delicate finish.
Paulina was awed by the savants, but not quite to mutism: she conversed modestly, diffidently; not without effort, but with so true a sweetness, so fine and penetrating a sense, that her father more than once suspended his own discourse to listen, and fixed on her an eye of proud delight. It was a polite Frenchman, M. Z—— , a very learned, but quite a courtly man, who had drawn her into discourse. I was charmed with her French; it was faultless— the structure correct, the idioms true, the accent pure; Ginevra, who had lived half her life on the Continent, could do nothing like it not that words ever failed Miss Fanshawe, but real accuracy and purity she neither possessed, nor in any number of years would acquire. Here, too, M. de Bassompierre was gratified; for, on the point of language, he was critical.
Another listener and observer there was; one who, detained by some exigency of his profession, had come in late to dinner. Both ladies were quietly scanned by Dr. Bretton, at the moment of taking his seat at the table; and that guarded survey was more than once renewed. His arrival roused Miss Fanshawe, who had hitherto appeared listless: she now became smiling and complacent, talked— though what she said was rarely to the purpose— or rather, was of a purpose somewhat mortifyingly below the standard of the occasion. Her light, disconnected prattle might have gratified Graham once; perhaps it pleased him still: perhaps it was only fancy which suggested the thought that, while his eye was filled and his ear fed, his taste, his keen zest, his lively intelligence, were not equally consulted and regaled. It is certain that, restless and exacting as seemed the demand on his attention, he yielded courteously all that was required: his manner showed neither pique nor coolness: Ginevra was his neighbour, and to her, during dinner, he almost exclusively confined his notice. She appeared satisfied, and passed to the drawing-room in very good spirits.
Yet, no sooner had we reached that place of refuge, than she again became flat and listless: throwing herself on a couch, she denounced both the “discours” and the dinner as stupid affairs, and inquired of her cousin how she could hear such a set of prosaic “gros-bonnets” as her father gathered about him. The moment the gentlemen were heard to move, her railings ceased: she started up, flew to the piano, and dashed at it with spirit. Dr. Bretton entering, one of the first, took up his station beside her. I thought he would not long maintain that post: there was a position near the hearth to which I expected to see him attracted: this position he only scanned with his eye; while he looked, others drew in. The grace and mind of Paulina charmed these thoughtful Frenchmen: the fineness of her beauty, the soft courtesy of her manner, her immature, but real and inbred tact, pleased their national taste; they clustered about her, not indeed to talk science; which would have rendered her dumb, but to touch on many subjects in letters, in arts, in actual life, on which it soon appeared that she had both read and reflected. I listened. I am sure that though Graham stood aloof, he listened too: his hearing as well as his vision was very fine, quick, discriminating. I knew he gathered the conversation; I felt that the mode in which it was sustained suited him exquisitely— pleased him almost to pain.
In Paulina there was more force, both of feeling and character; than most people thought— than Graham himself imagined— than she would ever show to those who did not wish to see it. To speak truth, reader, there is no excellent beauty, no accomplished grace, no reliable refinement, without strength as excellent, as complete, as trustworthy. As well might you look for good fruit and blossom on a rootless and sapless tree, as for charms that will endure in a feeble and relaxed nature. For a little while, the blooming semblance of beauty may flourish round weakness; but it cannot bear a blast: it soon fades, even in serenest sunshine. Graham would have started had any suggestive spirit whispered of the sinew and the stamina sustaining that delicate nature; but I who had known her as a child, knew or guessed by what a good and strong root her graces held to the firm soil of reality.
While Dr. Bretton listened, and waited an opening in the magic circle, his glance restlessly sweeping the room at intervals, lighted by chance on me, where I sat in a quiet nook not far from my godmother and M. de Bassompierre, who, as usual, were engaged in what Mr. Home called “a two-handed crack:” what the Count would have interpreted as a tête-à-tête. Graham smiled recognition, crossed the room, asked me how I was, told me I looked pale. I also had my own smile at my own thought: it was now about three months since Dr. John had spoken to me-a lapse of which he was not even conscious. He sat down, and became silent. His wish was rather to look than converse. Ginevra and Paulina were now opposite to him: he could gaze his fill: he surveyed both forms— studied both faces.
Several new guests, ladies as well as gentlemen, had entered the room since dinner, dropping in for the evening conversation; and amongst the gentlemen, I may incidentally observe, I had already noticed by glimpses, a severe, dark, professorial outline, hovering aloof in an inner saloon, seen only in vista. M. Emanuel knew many of the gentlemen present, but I think was a stranger to most of the ladies, excepting myself; in looking towards the hearth, he could not but see me, and naturally made a movement to approach; seeing, however, Dr. Bretton also, he changed his mind and held back. If that had been all, there would have been no cause for quarrel; but not satisfied with holding back, he puckered up his eyebrows, protruded his lip, and looked so ugly that I averted my eyes from the displeasing spectacle. M. Joseph Emanuel had arrived, as well as his austere brother, and at this very moment was relieving Ginevra at the piano. What a master-touch succeeded her school-girl jingle! In what grand, grateful tones the instrument acknowledged the hand of the true artist!
“Lucy,” began Dr. Bretton, breaking silence and smiling, as Ginevra glided before him, casting a glance as she passed by, “Miss Fanshawe is certainly a fine girl.”
Of course I assented.
“Is there,” he pursued, “another in the room as lovely?”
“I think there is not another as handsome.”
“I agree with you, Lucy: you and I do often agree in opinion, in taste, I think; or at least in judgment.”
“Do we?” I said, somewhat doubtfully.
“I believe if you had been a boy, Lucy, instead of a girl— my mother’s god-son instead of her god-daughter, we should have been good friends: our opinions would have melted into each other.”
He had assumed a bantering air: a light, half-caressing, half-ironic, shone aslant in his eye. Ah, Graham! I have given more than one solitary moment to thoughts and calculations of your estimate of Lucy Snowe: was it always kind or just? Had Lucy been intrinsically the same but possessing the additional advantages of wealth and station, would your manner to her, your value for her, have been quite what they actually were? And yet by these questions I would not seriously infer blame. No; you might sadden and trouble me sometimes; but then mine was a soon-depressed, an easily-deranged temperament— it fell if a cloud crossed the sun. Perhaps before the eye of severe equity I should stand more at fault than you.
Trying, then, to keep down the unreasonable pain which thrilled my heart, on thus being made to feel that while Graham could devote to others the most grave and earnest, the manliest interest, he had no more than light raillery for Lucy, the friend of lang syne, I inquired calmly,— “On what points are we so closely in accordance?”
“We each have an observant faculty. You, perhaps, don’t give me credit for the possession; yet I have it.”
“But you were speaking of tastes: we may see the same objects, yet estimate them differently?”
“Let us bring it to the test. Of course, you cannot but render homage to the merits of Miss Fanshawe: now, what do you think of others in the room?— my mother, for instance; or the lions yonder, Messieurs A—— and Z—— ; or, let us say, that pale little lady, Miss de Bassompierre?”
“You know what I think of your mother. I have not thought of Messieurs A—— and Z——.”
“And the other?”
“I think she is, as you say, a pale little lady— pale, certainly, just now, when she is fatigued with over-excitement.”
“You don’t remember her as a child?”
“I wonder, sometimes, whether you do.”
“I had forgotten her; but it is noticeable, that circumstances, persons, even words and looks, that had slipped your memory, may, under certain conditions, certain aspects of your own or another’s mind, revive.”
“That is possible enough.”
“Yet,” he continued, “the revival is imperfect— needs confirmation, partakes so much of the dim character of a dream, or of the airy one of a fancy, that the testimony of a witness becomes necessary for corroboration. Were you not a guest at Bretton ten years ago, when Mr. Home brought his little girl, whom we then called ‘little Polly,’ to stay with mamma?”
“I was there the night she came, and also the morning she went away.”
“Rather a peculiar child, was she not? I wonder how I treated her. Was I fond of children in those days? Was there anything gracious or kindly about me— great, reckless, schoolboy as I was? But you don’t recollect me, of course?”
“You have seen your own picture at La Terrasse. It is like you personally. In manner, you were almost the same yesterday as to-day.”
“But, Lucy, how is that? Such an oracle really whets my curiosity. What am I to-day? What was I the yesterday of ten years back?”
“Gracious to whatever pleased you— unkindly or cruel to nothing.”
“There you are wrong; I think I was almost a brute to you, for instance.”
“A brute! No, Graham: I should never have patiently endured brutality.”
“This, however, I do remember: quiet Lucy Snowe tasted nothing of my grace.”
“As little of your cruelty.”
“Why, had I been Nero himself, I could not have tormented a being inoffensive as a shadow.”
I smiled; but I also hushed a groan. Oh!— I just wished he would let me alone— cease allusion to me. These epithets— these attributes I put from me. His “quiet Lucy Snowe,” his “inoffensive shadow,” I gave him back; not with scorn, but with extreme weariness: theirs was the coldness and the pressure of lead; let him whelm me with no such weight. Happily, he was soon on another theme.
“On what terms were ‘little Polly’ and I? Unless my recollections deceive me, we were not foes— ”
“You speak very vaguely. Do you think little Polly’s memory, not more definite?”
“Oh! we don’t talk of ‘little Polly’ now. Pray say, Miss de Bassompierre; and, of course, such a stately personage remembers nothing of Bretton. Look at her large eyes, Lucy; can they read a word in the page of memory? Are they the same which I used to direct to a horn-book? She does not know that I partly taught her to read.”
“In the Bible on Sunday nights?”
“She has a calm, delicate, rather fine profile now: once what a little restless, anxious countenance was hers! What a thing is a child’s preference— what a bubble! Would you believe it? that lady was fond of me!”
“I think she was in some measure fond of you,” said I, moderately.
“You don’t remember then? I had forgotten; but I remember now. She liked me the best of whatever there was at Bretton.”
“You thought so.”
“I quite well recall it. I wish I could tell her all I recall; or rather, I wish some one, you for instance, would go behind and whisper it all in her ear, and I could have the delight— here, as I sit— of watching her look under the intelligence. Could you manage that, think you, Lucy, and make me ever grateful?”
“Could I manage to make you ever grateful?” said I. “No, I could not.” And I felt my fingers work and my hands interlock: I felt, too, an inward courage, warm and resistant. In this matter I was not disposed to gratify Dr. John: not at all. With now welcome force, I realized his entire misapprehension of my character and nature. He wanted always to give me a rôle not mine. Nature and I opposed him. He did not at all guess what I felt: he did not read my eyes, or face, or gestures; though, I doubt not, all spoke. Leaning towards me coaxingly, he said, softly, “Do content me, Lucy.”
And I would have contented, or, at least, I would clearly have enlightened him, and taught him well never again to expect of me the part of officious soubrette in a love drama; when, following his, soft, eager, murmur, meeting almost his pleading, mellow— “Do content me, Lucy!” a sharp hiss pierced my ear on the other side.
“Petite chatte, doucerette, coquette!” sibillated the sudden boa-constrictor; “vous avez l’air bien triste, soumis, rêveur, maïs vous ne l’êtes pas: c’est moi qui vous lé dis: Sauvage! la flamme à l’âme, l’éclair aux yeux!”
“Oui; j’ai la flamme à l’âme, et je dois l’avoir!” retorted I, turning in just wrath: but Professor Emanuel had hissed his insult and was gone.
The worst of the matter was, that Dr. Bretton, whose ears, as I have said, were quick and fine, caught every word of this apostrophe; he put his handkerchief to his face, and laughed till he shook.
“Well done, Lucy,” cried he; “capital! petite chatte, petite coquette! Oh, I must tell my mother! Is it true, Lucy, or half-true? I believe it is: you redden to the colour of Miss Fanshawe’s gown. And really, by my word, now I examine him, that is the same little man who was so savage with you at the concert: the very same, and in his soul he is frantic at this moment because he sees me laughing. Oh! I must tease him.”
And Graham, yielding to his bent for mischief, laughed, jested, and whispered on till I could bear no more, and my eyes filled.
Suddenly he was sobered: a vacant space appeared near Miss de Bassompierre; the circle surrounding her seemed about to dissolve. This movement was instantly caught by Graham’s eye— ever-vigilant, even while laughing; he rose, took his courage in both hands, crossed the room, and made the advantage his own. Dr. John, throughout his whole life, was a man of luck— a man of success. And why? Because he had the eye to see his opportunity, the heart to prompt to well-timed action, the nerve to consummate a perfect work. And no tyrant-passion dragged him back; no enthusiasms, no foibles encumbered his way. How well he looked at this very moment! When Paulina looked up as he reached her side, her glance mingled at once with an encountering glance, animated, yet modest; his colour, as he spoke to her, became half a blush, half a glow. He stood in her presence brave and bashful: subdued and unobtrusive, yet decided in his purpose and devoted in his ardour. I gathered all this by one view. I did not prolong my observation— time failed me, had inclination served: the night wore late; Ginevra and I ought already to have been in the Rue Fossette. I rose, and bade good-night to my godmother and M. de Bassompierre.
I know not whether Professor Emanuel had noticed my reluctant acceptance of Dr. Bretton’s badinage, or whether he perceived that I was pained, and that, on the whole, the evening had not been one flow of exultant enjoyment for the volatile, pleasure-loving Mademoiselle Lucie; but, as I was leaving the room, he stepped up and inquired whether I had any one to attend me to the Rue Fossette. The professor now spoke politely, and even deferentially, and he looked apologetic and repentant; but I could not recognise his civility at a word, nor meet his contrition with crude, premature oblivion. Never hitherto had I felt seriously disposed to resent his brusqueries, or freeze before his fierceness; what he had said to-night, however, I considered unwarranted: my extreme disapprobation of the proceeding must be marked, however slightly. I merely said:— “I am provided with attendance.”
Which was true, as Ginevra and I were to be sent home in the carriage; and I passed him with the sliding obeisance with which he was wont to be saluted in classe by pupils crossing his estrade.
Having sought my shawl, I returned to the vestibule. M. Emanuel stood there as if waiting. He observed that the night was fine.
“Is it?” I said, with a tone and manner whose consummate chariness and frostiness I could not but applaud. It was so seldom I could properly act out my own resolution to be reserved and cool where I had been grieved or hurt, that I felt almost proud of this one successful effort. That “Is it?” sounded just like the manner of other people. I had heard hundreds of such little minced, docked, dry phrases, from the pursed-up coral lips of a score of self-possessed, self-sufficing misses and mesdemoiselles. That M. Paul would not stand any prolonged experience of this sort of dialogue I knew; but he certainly merited a sample of the curt and arid. I believe he thought so himself, for he took the dose quietly. He looked at my shawl and objected to its lightness. I decidedly told him it was as heavy as I wished. Receding aloof, and standing apart, I leaned on the banister of the stairs, folded my shawl about me, and fixed my eyes on a dreary religious painting darkening the wall.
Ginevra was long in coming: tedious seemed her loitering. M. Paul was still there; my ear expected from his lips an angry tone. He came nearer. “Now for another hiss!” thought I: had not the action been too uncivil I could have, stopped my ears with my fingers in terror of the thrill. Nothing happens as we expect: listen for a coo or a murmur; it is then you will hear a cry of prey or pain. Await a piercing shriek, an angry threat, and welcome an amicable greeting, a low kind whisper. M. Paul spoke gently:— “Friends,” said he, “do not quarrel for a word. Tell me, was it I or ce grand fat d’Anglais” (so he profanely denominated Dr. Bretton), “who made your eyes so humid, and your cheeks so hot as they are even now?”
“I am not conscious of you, monsieur, or of any other having excited such emotion as you indicate,” was my answer; and in giving it, I again surpassed my usual self, and achieved a neat, frosty falsehood.
“But what did I say?” he pursued; “tell me: I was angry: I have forgotten my words; what were they?”
“Such as it is best to forget!” said I, still quite calm and chill.
“Then it was my words which wounded you? Consider them unsaid: permit my rétractation; accord my pardon.”
“I am not angry, Monsieur.”
“Then you are worse than angry— grieved. Forgive me, Miss Lucy.”
“M. Emanuel, I do forgive you.”
“Let me hear you say, in the voice natural to you, and not in that alien tone, ‘Mon ami, je vous pardonne.’”
He made me smile. Who could help smiling at his wistfulness, his simplicity, his earnestness?
“Bon!” he cried. “Voilà que lé jour va poindre! Dites donc, mon ami.”
“Monsieur Paul, je vous pardonne.”
“I will have no monsieur: speak the other word, or I shall not believe you sincere: another effort—mon ami, or else in English,— my friend!”
Now, “my friend” had rather another sound and significancy than “mon ami;” it did not breathe the same sense of domestic and intimate affection; “mon ami” I couldnot say to M. Paul; “my friend,” I could, and did say without difficulty. This distinction existed not for him, however, and he was quite satisfied with the English phrase. He smiled. You should have seen him smile, reader; and you should have marked the difference between his countenance now, and that he wore half an hour ago. I cannot affirm that I had ever witnessed the smile of pleasure, or content, or kindness round M. Paul’s lips, or in his eyes before. The ironic, the sarcastic, the disdainful, the passionately exultant, I had hundreds of times seen him express by what he called a smile, but any illuminated sign of milder or warmer feelings struck me as wholly new in his visage. It changed it as from a mask to a face: the deep lines left his features; the very complexion seemed clearer and fresher; that swart, sallow, southern darkness which spoke his Spanish blood, became displaced by a lighter hue. I know not that I have ever seen in any other human face an equal metamorphosis from a similar cause. He now took me to the carriage: at the same moment M. de Bassompierre came out with his niece.
In a pretty humour was Mistress Fanshawe; she had found the evening a grand failure: completely upset as to temper, she gave way to the most uncontrolled moroseness as soon as we were seated, and the carriage-door closed. Her invectives against Dr. Bretton had something venomous in them. Having found herself impotent either to charm or sting him, hatred was her only resource; and this hatred she expressed in terms so unmeasured and proportion so monstrous, that, after listening for a while with assumed stoicism, my outraged sense of justice at last and suddenly caught fire. An explosion ensued: for I could be passionate, too; especially with my present fair but faulty associate, who never failed to stir the worst dregs of me. It was well that the carriage-wheels made a tremendous rattle over the flinty Choseville pavement, for I can assure the reader there was neither dead silence nor calm discussion within the vehicle. Half in earnest, half in seeming, I made it my business to storm down Ginevra. She had set out rampant from the Rue Crécy; it was necessary to tame her before we reached the Rue Fossette: to this end it was indispensable to show up her sterling value and high deserts; and this must be done in language of which the fidelity and homeliness might challenge comparison with the compliments of a John Knox to a Mary Stuart. This was the right discipline for Ginevra; it suited her. I am quite sure she went to bed that night all the better and more settled in mind and mood, and slept all the more sweetly for having undergone a sound moral drubbing.