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Braddon, M. E. (Mary Elizabeth) / Charlotte's Inheritance
Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Mary Meehan and Distributed Proofreaders




CHARLOTTE'S INHERITANCE

By

M. E. Braddon




CONTENTS.


Book the First.

DE PROFUNDIS.

I. LENOBLE OF BEAUBOCAGE

II. IN THIS WIDE WORLD I STAND ALONE

III. PAST HOPE, AND IN DESPAIR

IV. A DECREE OF BANISHMENT


Book the Second.

DOWNHILL.

I. THE FATE OF SUSAN LENOBLE

II. FORGIVEN TOO LATE

III. GUSTAVE THE SECOND


Book the Third.

THE HORATIAD.

I. CHIEFLY RETROSPECTIVE

II. EPISTOLARY

III. TOO CLEVER FOR A CATSPAW

IV. CAPTAIN PAGET IS PATERNAL

V. THE CAPTAIN'S COADJUTOR


Book the Fourth.

GUSTAVE IN ENGLAND.

I. HALCYON DAYS

II. CAPTAIN PAGET AWAKENS TO A SENSE OF HIS DUTY

III. WHAT DO WE HERE, MY HEART AND I?

IV. SHARPER THAN A SERPENT'S TOOTH


Book the Fifth.

THE FIRST ACT OF MR. SHELDON'S DRAMA.

I. TAKEN BY STORM

II. FIRM AS A ROCK

III. AGAINST WIND AND TIDE

IV. DIANA ASKS FOR A HOLIDAY

V. ASSURANCE DOUBLY SURE


Book the Sixth.

DIANA IN NORMANDY.

I. AT CÔTENOIR


Book the Seventh.

A CLOUD OF FEAR.

I. THE BEGINNING OF SORROW

II. FADING

III. MRS. WOOLPER IS ANXIOUS

IV. VALENTINE'S SKELETON

V. AT HAROLD'S HILL

VI. DESPERATE MEASURES


Book the Eighth.

A FIGHT AGAINST TIME.

I. A DREAD REVELATION

II. PHOENICIANS ARE RISING

III. THE SORTES VIRGILIANAE


Book the Ninth.

THROUGH THE FURNACE.

I. SOMETHING TOO MUCH

II. DR. JEDD'S OPINION

III. NON DORMIT JUDAS

IV. COUNTING THE COST

V. THE BEGINNING OF THE END

VI. CONFUSION WORSE CONFOUNDED

VII. THERE IS A WORD WILL PRIAM TURN TO STONE


Book the Tenth.

HARBOUR, AFTER MANY SHIPWRECKS.

I. OUT OF THE DARK VALLEY

II. AFTER THE WEDDING

III. GREEK AGAINST GREEK

IV. ONLY A DREAM

V. BOHEMIAN INDEPENDENCE

VI. BEYOND THE VEIL

VII. BETTER THAN GOLD

VIII. LOST SIGHT OF

IX. ETEOCLES AND POLYNICES

X. "ACCORDING TO THEIR DEEDS."




CHARLOTTE'S INHERITANCE



Book the first.



DE PROFUNDIS.



CHAPTER I.


LENOBLE OF BEAUBOCAGE.

In the days when the Bourbon reigned over Gaul, before the "simple,
sensuous, passionate" verse of Alfred de Musset had succeeded the
_débonnaire_ Muse of Béranger in the affections of young France,--in days
when the site of the Trocadero was a remote and undiscovered country, and
the word "exposition" unknown in the Academic dictionary, and the Gallic
Augustus destined to rebuild the city yet an exile,--a young law-student
boarded, in common with other students, in a big dreary-looking house at
the corner of the Rue Grande-Mademoiselle, abutting on the Place Lauzun,
and within some ten minutes walk of the Luxembourg. It was a very dingy
quarter, though noble gentlemen and lovely ladies had once occupied the
great ghastly mansions, and disported themselves in the gruesome gardens.
But the young students were in nowise oppressed by the ghastliness of
their abode. They sang their Béranger, and they pledged each other in
cheap Bordeaux, and clinked their glasses noisily in their boisterous
good-fellowship, and ate the messes compounded for them in a darksome
cupboard, known as the kitchen, by old Nanon the cook, purblind,
stone-deaf, and all but imbecile, and popularly supposed to be the
venerable mother of Madame Magnotte. The youngsters grumbled to each
other about the messes when they were unusually mysterious; and it must
be owned that there were _vol-au-vents_ and _fricandeaux_ consumed in
that establishment which were awful and wonderful in their nature; but
they ventured on no complaint to the mistress of the mansion. She was a
grim and terrible personage. Her terms were low, and she treated her
boarders _de haute en bas_. If they were not content with her viands,
they might go and find more agreeable viands elsewhere.

Madame Magnotte was altogether mysterious and inscrutable. Some people
said that she was a countess, and that the wealth and lands of her family
had been confiscated by the committee of public unsafety in '93. Others
declared that she had been a popular actress in a small theatre in the
days of Napoleon. She was tall and thin--nay, of an exceptional
leanness--and her complexion was of a more agreeable yellow than the
butter that appeared on her hospitable board; but she had flashing black
eyes, and a certain stateliness of gait and grandeur of manner that
impressed those young Bohemians, her boarders, with a kind of awe. They
talked of her as the "countess," and by that name she was known to all
inmates of the mansion; but in all their dealings with her they treated
her with unfailing respect.

One of the quietest among the young men who enjoyed the privileges of
Madame Magnotte's abode was a certain Gustave Lenoble, a law-student, the
only son of a very excellent couple who lived on their own estate, near
an obscure village in Normandy. The estate was of the smallest; a
dilapidated old house, known in the immediate neighbourhood as "the
Château," and very dear to those who resided therein; a garden, in which
everything seemed to have run to seed; and about forty acres of the
poorest land in Normandy. These possessions constituted the patrimonial
estate of Francois Lenoble, _propriétaire_, of Beaubocage, near
Vevinordin, the department of Eure.

The people amongst whom the good man lived his simple life called him M.
Lenoble de Beaubocage, but he did not insist upon this distinction; and
on sending out his only son to begin the battle of life in the great
world of Paris, he recommended the young man to call himself Lenoble,
_tout court_.

The young man had never cherished any other design. He was of all
creatures the least presuming or pretentious. The father was Legitimist
to the very marrow; the son half Buonapartist, half republican. The
father and son had quarrelled about these differences of opinion
sometimes in a pleasantly disputatious manner; but no political
disagreement could lesser the love between these two. Gustave loved
his parents as only a Frenchman can venture to love his father and
mother--with a devotion for the gentleman that bordered on enthusiasm,
with a fond reverence for the lady that was the very essence of chivalry.
There was a sister, who regarded her brother Gustave as the embodiment of
all that is perfect in youthful mankind; and there were a couple of old
house-servants, a very stupid clumsy lad in the stables, and half a dozen
old mongrel dogs, born and bred on the premises, who seemed to share the
young lady's opinions. There was not a little discussion upon the subject
of Gustave Lenoble's future career; and it was not without difficulty
that the father could be persuaded to approve the choice of a profession
which the young man had made. The seigneur of Beaubocage cherished an
exaggerated pride of race little suspected by those who saw his simple
life, and were pleased by his kindly unaffected manners. The house of
Lenoble, at some remote and almost mythical period of history, had
distinguished itself in divers ways; and those bygone grandeurs, vague
and shadowy in the minds of all others, seemed very real to Monsieur
Lenoble. He assured his son that no Lenoble had ever been a lawyer. They
had been always lords of the soil, living on their own lands, which had
once stretched wide and far in that Norman province; a fact proved by
certain maps in M. Lenoble's possession, the paper whereof was worn and
yellow with age. They had stooped to no profession save that of arms. One
seigneur of Beaubocage had fought under Bayard himself; another had
fallen at Pavia, on that great day when all was lost _hormis l'honneur_;
another had followed the white plume of the Bernais; another--but was
there any need to tell of the glories of that house upon which Gustave
was so eager to inflict the disgrace of a learned profession?

Thus argued the father; but the mother had spent her girlhood amidst the
clamour of the Buonapartist campaigns, and the thought of war was very
terrible to her. The memory of the retreat from Russia was not yet twenty
years old. There were men alive to tell the story, to depict those days
and nights of horror, that mighty march of death. It was she and her
daughter Cydalise who had helped to persuade Gustave that he was born to
distinguish himself in the law. They wanted him to study in Paris--the
young man himself had a wild desire to enjoy the delights of that
wondrous capital--and to return in a few years to set up for himself as
_avocat_ at the town of Vevinord, some half-dozen leagues from the
patrimonial estate. He was created to plead for the innocent, to denounce
the guilty, to be grand and brave and fiery-hot with enthusiasm in
defence of virtuous peasants charged unjustly with the stealing of sheep,
or firing of corn-ricks. It never struck these simple souls that he might
sometimes be called upon to defend the guilty, or to denounce the
innocent.

It was all settled at last. Gustave was to go to Paris, and enter himself
as a student of law. There were plenty of boarding-houses in the
neighbourhood of the Ecole de Droit where a young man might find a home;
and to one of these Gustave was recommended by a friend of his family. It
was the Pension Magnotte to which they had sent him, the big dreary
house, _entre cour et jardin_, which had once been so grand and noble. A
printer now occupied the lower chambers, and a hand painted on the wall
pointed to the _Pension Magnotte, au premier. Tirez le cordon, s.v.p._

Gustave was twenty-one years of age when he came to Paris; tall,
stalwart, broad of shoulders and deep of chest, with a fair frank face,
an auburn moustache, candid, kind blue eyes--a physiognomy rather Saxon
than Celtic. He was a man who made friends quickly, and was soon at home
among the students, roaring their favourite songs, and dancing their
favourite dances at the dancing-places of that day, joining with a
pleasant heartiness in all their innocent dissipations. For guilty
dissipation the young provincial had no taste. Did he not carry the
images of two kind and pure women about with him wherever he went, like
two attendant angels ever protecting his steps; and could he leave them
sorrowing on thresholds _they_ could not pass? Ah, no! He was loud and
boisterous and wild of spirits in those early days, but incapable of
meanness or vice.

"It is a brave heart," Madame Magnotte said of him, "though for the
breaking of glasses a scourge--_un fléau_."

The ladies of the Pension Magnotte were for the most part of mature age
and unattractive appearance--two or three lonely spinsters, eking out
their pitiful little incomes as best they might, by the surreptitious
sale of delicate embroideries, confectioned in their dismal leisure; and
a fat elderly widow, popularly supposed to be enormously rich, but of
miserly propensities. "It is the widow of Harpagon himself," Madame
Magnotte told her gossips--an old woman with two furiously ugly
daughters, who for the last fifteen years had lived a nomadic life in
divers boarding-houses, fondly clinging to the hope that, amongst so many
strange bachelors, husbands for these two solitary ones must at last be
found.

These, with a pale young lady who gave music lessons in the quarter, were
all the feminine inmates of the mansion; and amongst these Gustave
Lenoble was chief favourite. His tender courtesy for these lonely women
seemed in some manner an evidence of that good old blood whereof the
young man's father boasted. Francis the First, who listened with bent
knee and bare head to his mother's discourse, was not more reverential to
that noble Savoyarde than was Gustave to the shabby-genteel maiden ladies
of the Pension Magnotte. In truth, this young man had a heart pitiful and
tender as the heart of woman. To be unfortunate was to possess a sure
claim upon his pity and regard; to be poor and friendless was the best
appeal to his kindness. He spent his evenings sometimes in the great
dreary desert of a salon, and listened respectfully while Mademoiselle
Servin, the young music-teacher, played dismal sonatas of Gluck or Grétry
on a cracked old piano that had been one of the earliest made of those
instruments, and was now attenuated and feeble as the very ghost of
music. He listened to Madame Magnotte's stories of departed splendour. To
him she opened her heart as she never had opened it to those other young
men.

"They mock themselves of everything--even the religion!" she exclaimed,
with horror. "They are Diderots and Holbachs in the bud, less the talent.
But you do not come of that gutter in which they were born. You are of
the old blood of France, M. Lenoble, and I can trust myself to you as I
cannot to them. I, who speak to you--I, too, come of a good old race, and
there is sympathy between we others."

And then, after babbling to him of her lost station, the lady would
entertain him with some dainty little supper with which she was wont to
indulge herself and her lady boarders, when the students--who were
treated something after the manner of school-boys--were out of doors.

For four years the law-student had enjoyed his Parisian life--not
altogether idle, but not altogether industrious--amusing himself a great
deal, and learning very little; moderate in his expenditure, when
compared with his fellow-students, but no small drain upon the funds of
the little family at home. In sooth, this good old Norman family had in a
pecuniary sense sunk very low. There was real poverty in the tumble-down
house at Beaubocage, though it was poverty that wore a cheerful face, and
took things pleasantly. A very humble English farmer would have despised
the income which supported M. Lenoble's household; and it was only the
economy and skill of the matron and her daughter which sustained the
dignity of the small establishment.

There was one great hope cherished alike by the proud simple-minded old
father, the fond mother, the devoted sister, and that was the hope in the
grand things to be done, in the dim future, by Gustave, the son, the
heir, the pole-star of the household.

Out of poverty, out of obscurity, into the broad light of honour and
riches, was the house of Lenoble to be lifted by this young law-student.
On the broad shoulders of this modern Atlas the Lenoble world was to be
sustained. To him they looked, of him they thought, in the long dreary
winter evenings during which the mother nodded over her knitting, the
father slept in his capacious easy-chair, the sister toiled at her
needle-work by her little table of _palissandre_.

He had paid them more than one visit during his two years of study,
bringing with him life and light and gladness, as it seemed to the two
women who adored him; and now, in the winter of 1828, they expected
another visit. He was to be with them on the first day of the new year.
He was to stay with them till his Mother's fete--the 17th of January.

The father looked to this special visit with an unusual anxiety. The
mother too was more than ever anxious. The sister, if she who loved her
brother with a somewhat morbid intensity could be more anxious than
usual, was more so now. A dreadful plot, a dire conspiracy, of which
Gustave was to be the subject and victim, had been concocted beneath that
innocent-seeming roof. Father, mother, and sister, seated round the
family hearth, fatal as some domestic Parcae, had hatched their horrid
scheme, while the helpless lad amused himself yonder in the great city,
happily unconscious of the web that was being woven to enmesh him.

The cord which monsieur unwound, the mesh which madame held, the
needle which dexterous mademoiselle wielded, were employed in the
fabrication of a matrimonial net. These unsophisticated conspirators
were bent upon bringing about the marriage of their victim, a marriage
which should at once elevate and enrich the Lenobles of Beaubocage, in
the person of Gustave.

Francois Lenoble's best friend and nearest neighbour was a certain Baron
Frehlter, of Germanic origin, but for some generations past naturalised
to the Gallic soil. The Baron was proprietor of an estate which could
show ten acres for one of the lands of Beaubocage. The Baron boasted a
family tree which derived its root from a ramification of the
Hohenzollern pedigree; but, less proud and more prudent than the
Lenobles, the Frehlters had not scorned to intermingle their Prussian
blue blood with less pure streams of commercial France. The _épicier_
element had prevailed in the fair brides of the house of Frehlter for the
last three or four generations, and the house of Frehlter had
considerably enriched itself by this sacrifice of its family pride.

The present Baron had married a lady ten years his senior, the widow of a
Rouen merchant, alike wealthy and pious, but famous rather for these
attributes than for any personal charm. One only child, a girl, had
blessed this union. She was now a young person of something under twenty
years of age, newly emerged from her convent, and pining for some share
in the gaieties and delights of a worldly paradise, which had already
been open to many of her schoolfellows.

Mademoiselle Frehlter's companions had, for the most part, left school to
be married. She had heard of the _corbeille_, the wedding dress, the
wedding festivities, and occasionally a word or two about that secondary
consideration the bridegroom. The young lady was therefore somewhat
inclined to take it ill of her father that he had not secured for her the
_éclat_ of an early marriage. Her departure from the convent of the Sacré
Coeur, at Vevinord, was flat and tame to an extreme degree. The future
lay before her, a dreary desert of home life, to be spent with a father
who gorged himself daily at a greasy and savoury banquet, and who slept
away the greater part of his existence; and with a mother who divided her
affections between a disagreeable poodle and a still more disagreeable
priest--a priest who took upon himself to lecture the demoiselle Frehlter
on the smallest provocation.

The château of the Frehlters was a very grand abode as compared to the
tumble-down house of Beaubocage; but it was cold and stony to a
depressing degree, and the furniture must have been shabby in the days of
the Fronde. Faithful old servants kept the mansion in a state of spotless
purity, and ruled the Baron and his wife with a rod of iron. Mademoiselle
execrated these devoted retainers, and would have welcomed the sauciest
of modern domestics who would have released her from the bondage of these
servants of the old school.

Mademoiselle had been at home a year--a year of discontent and
ill-humour. She had quarrelled with her father, because he would not take
her to Paris; with her mother, because she would not give her more new
gowns and bonnets and feathers and fur-belows; with the priest, the
poodle, with the autocracy below-stairs, with everybody and everything.
So at last the Baron decided that mademoiselle should marry, whereby he
might be rid of her, and of her complaints, vagaries, ill-tempers, and
general dissatisfaction.

Having once made up his mind as to the wisdom of a matrimonial
arrangement, Baron Frehlter was not slow to fix upon a bridegroom. He was
a very rich man, and Madelon was his only child, and he was furthermore a
very lazy man; so, instead of looking far afield for a wealthy or
distinguished suitor for his daughter, he was inclined to take the first
that came to hand. It is possible that the Baron, who was of a somewhat
cynical turn of mind, may have cherished no very exalted idea of his
daughter's attractions, either personal or mental. However this might be,
it is certain that when the demoiselle had ill-treated the poodle, and
insulted the priest, and quarrelled with the cook--that high-priestess of
the kitchen who alone, in all Normandy, could concoct those messes which
the Baron loved--the master of Côtenoir decided on marrying his heiress
out of hand.

He communicated this design to his old crony, François Lenoble, one day
when the Beaubocage family dined at Château Côtenoir.

"I think of marrying my daughter," he said to his friend, when the ladies
were safely out of hearing at the other end of the long dreary saloon.
"Now thy son Gustave is a fine fellow--brave, handsome, and of a good
race. It is true he is not as rich as Madelon will be by-and-by; but I am
no huckster, to sell my daughter to the best bidder" ("and I doubt if
there would be many bidders for her, if I were so inclined," thought the
Baron, in parenthesis); "and if thy son should take a fancy to her, and
she to him, it would please me well enough, friend François."

Friend François pricked up his ears, and in his old eyes flickered a
feeble light. Côtenoir and Beaubocage united in the person of his son
Gustave! Lenoble of Beaubocage and Côtenoir--Lenoble of Côtenoir and
Beaubocage! So splendid a vision had never shone before his eyes in all
the dreams that he had dreamed about the only son of whom he was so
proud. He could not have shaped to himself so bold a project as the union
of those two estates. And here was the Baron offering it to him, with his
snuff-box, _en passant_.

"It would be a great marriage," he said, "a very great marriage. For
Gustave I can answer without hesitation. He could not but be charmed by
such a union--so amiable a bride would enchant him."

He looked down the room to the spot where Madelon and Cydalise were
standing, side by side, admiring Madame Frehlter's poodle. Madelon could
afford to be civil to the poodle before company. The contrast between the
two girls was sufficiently striking. Cydalise was fair and
bright-looking--Mademoiselle Frehlter was square and ungainly of figure,
swarthy of complexion, dark of brow.

"He could not but be charmed," repeated the old man, with feeble
gallantry.

He was thinking of the joining together of Beaubocage and Côtenoir; and
it seemed a very small thing to him that such a union of estates would
involve the joining of a man and woman, who were to hold to each other
and love each other until death should part them.

"It shall be no marriage of convenience," said the Baron, in a generous
spirit; "my daughter is somewhat ill-tem--that is to say, my daughter
finds her life somewhat dull with her old father and mother, and I think
she might be happier in the society of a husband. I like your son; and
my wife, too, likes him better than any other young man of our
acquaintance. Madelon has seen a good deal of him when she has been home
from the convent in her holidays, and I have reason to think she does
not dislike him. If he likes her and she likes him, and the idea is
pleasing to you and madame, we will make a match of it. If not, let it
pass; we will say no more."

Again the seigneur of Beaubocage assured his friend that Gustave would be
enchanted with the proposal; and again it was of Côtenoir that he
thought, and not of the heart or the inclinations of his son.

This conversation took place late in autumn, and at the new year Gustave
was to come. Nothing was to be said to him about his intended wife until
he arrived; that was a point upon which the Baron insisted.

"The young man may have fallen in love with some fine young person in
Paris," he said; "and in that case we will say nothing to him of Madelon.
But if we find him with the heart free, and inclined to take to my
daughter, we may give him encouragement."

This was solemnly agreed between the two fathers. Nor was Mademoiselle
Frehlter to be told of the matrimonial scheme until it ripened. But after
this dinner at Côtenoir the household at Beaubocage talked of little else
than of the union of the two families. What grandeur, what wealth, what
happiness! Gustave the lord of Côtenoir! Poor Cydalise had never seen a
finer mansion than the old château, with its sugar-loaf towers and stone
terraces, and winding stairs, and tiny inconvenient turret chambers, and
long dreary salon and _salle-à-manger_. She could picture to herself
nothing more splendid. For Gustave to be offered the future possession of
Côtenoir was as if he were suddenly to be offered the succession to a
kingdom. She could not bring herself to consider that Madelon was neither
agreeable nor attractive, and that, after all, the wife must count for
something in every marriage contract. She could see nothing, she could
think of nothing, but Côtenoir. The glory and grandeur of that estate
absorbed every other consideration.

No one of those three conspirators feared any opposition on the part of
their victim. It was just possible that Gustave might have fallen in love
with some Parisian damsel, though his letters gave no hint of any such
calamity. But if such a misfortune had happened, he would, of course,
fall out of love again, return the damsel her troth and obtain the return
of his own, and straightway offer the second-hand commodity to
Mademoiselle Frehlter.

The object of all these cares and hopes and dreams arrived at last, full
of life and spirits, with plenty to tell about Paris in general, and very
little to tell about himself in particular. The women questioned him
unmercifully. They insisted on a graphic description of every female
inmate of the boarding-house, and would scarcely believe that all except
the little music-mistress were elderly and unattractive. Of the
music-mistress herself they were inclined to be very suspicious, and were
not altogether reassured by Gustave's assertion that she was neither
pretty nor fascinating.

"She is a dear, good, industrious little thing," he said, "and works
harder than I do. But she is no miracle of beauty; and her life is so
dreary that I often wonder she does not go into a convent. It would be
gayer and pleasanter for her than to live with those old women at the
Pension Magnotte."

"I suppose there are many beautiful women in Paris?" said Cydalise, bent
upon knowing the worst.

"Well, I dare say there are," Gustave answered frankly; "but we students
don't see much of them in our quarter. One sees a pretty little
milliner's girl now and then, or a washerwoman. In short, there are a
good many grisettes in our part of the world," added the young man,
blushing, but for no sin of his own. "We get a glimpse of a handsome
woman sometimes, rattling past in her carriage; but in Paris handsome
women do not go on foot. I have seen prettier girls at Vevinord than in
Paris."

Cydalise was enchanted with this confession.

"Yes," she exclaimed, "our Normandy is the place for pretty girls.
Madelon Frehlter. for example, is not she a very--amiable girl?"

"I dare say she's amiable enough," answered Gustave; "but if there were
no prettier girls than Mademoiselle Frehlter in this part of the world,
we should have no cause to boast. But there are prettier girls, Cydalise,
and thou art thyself one of them."

After this speech the young man bestowed upon his sister a resounding
kiss. Yes; it was clear that he was heart-whole. These noisy, boisterous
good spirits were not characteristic of a lover. Even innocent Cydalise
knew that to be in love was to be miserable.

From this time mother and sister tormented their victim with the merits
and charms of his predestined bride. Madelon on the piano was miraculous;
Madelon's little songs were enchanting; Madelon's worsted-work was a
thing to worship; Madelon's devotion to her mother and her mother's
poodle was unequalled; Madelon's respectful bearing to the good Abbé St.
Velours--her mother's director--was positively beyond all praise. It was
virtue seraphic, supernal. Such a girl was too good for earth--too good
for anything except Gustave.

The young man heard and wondered.

"How you rave about Madelon Frehlter!" he exclaimed. "She seems to me the
most commonplace young person I ever encountered. She has nothing to say
for herself; she never appears to know where to put her elbows. I never
saw such elbows; they are everywhere at once. And her shoulders!--O
heaven, then, her shoulders!--it ought to be forbidden to wear low
dresses when one has such shoulders."

This was discouraging, but the schemers bore up even against this. The
mother dwelt on the intellectual virtues of Madelon; and what were
shoulders compared to mind, piety, amiability--all the Christian graces?
Cydalise owned that dear Madelon was somewhat _gauche_; Gustave called
her _bête_. The father remonstrated with his son. Was it not frightful to
use a word of the barracks in connection with this charming young lady?

At last the plot revealed itself. After a dinner at Côtenoir and a dinner
at Beaubocage, on both which occasions Gustave had made himself very
agreeable to the ladies of the Baron's household--since, indeed, it was
not in his nature to be otherwise than kind and courteous to the weaker
sex--the mother told her son of the splendid destiny that had been shaped
for him. It was a matter of surprise and grief to her to find that the
revelation gave Gustave no pleasure.

"Marriage was the last thing in my thoughts, dear mother," he said,
gravely; "and Madelon Frehlter is the very last woman I should think of
for a wife. Nevertheless, I am gratified by the honour Monsieur le Baron
has done me. That goes without saying."

"But the two estates!--together they would make you a great proprietor.
You would not surely refuse such fortune?"

Cydalise gave a little scream of horror.

"Côtenoir! to refuse Côtenoir! Ah, surely that would be impossible! But
figure to yourself, then, Gustave--"

"Nay, Cydalise, you forget the young lady goes with the château; a
fixture that we cannot dispense with."

"But she, so amiable, so pious--"

"So plain, so stupid--"

"So modest, so charitable--"

"In short, so admirably adapted for a Sister of Charity," replied
Gustave. "But no, dear Cydalise. Côtenoir is a grand old place; but I
would as soon spend my life at Toulon, dragging a cannon-ball at my
heels, as in that dreary salon where Madame Frehlter nurses her maladies
and her poodle, and where the good-humoured, easy-going old Baron snores
away existence. 'Tis very well for those elderly folks, you see, my
sister, and for Madelon--for hers is an elderly mind in a youthful body;
but for a young man full of hope and gaiety and activity--bah! It would
be of all living deaths the worst. From the galleys there is always the
hope of escaping--an underground passage, burrowed out with one's
finger-nails in the dead of the night--a work lasting twenty years or so,
but with a feeble star of hope always glimmering at the end of the
passage. But from the salon, and mamma, and the poodle, and the good,
unctuous, lazy old director, and papa's apoplectic snoring, and the
plaintive little songs and monotonous embroideries of one's wife, there
would be no escape. Ah, bah!"

Gustave shuddered, and the two women shuddered as they heard him. The
prospect was by no means promising; but Madame Lenoble and her daughter
did not utterly despair. Gustave's heart was disengaged. That was a great
point; and for the rest, surely persuasion might do much.

Then came that phenomenon seen very often in this life--a
generous-minded, right-thinking young man talked into a position which of
all others is averse from his own inclinations. The mother persuaded, the
sister pleaded, the father dwelt dismally upon the poverty of Beaubocage,
the wealth of Côtenoir. It was the story of auld Robin Gray reversed.
Gustave perceived that his refusal to avail himself of this splendid
destiny would be a bitter and lasting grief to these people who loved him
so fondly--whom he loved as fondly in return. Must he not be a churl to
disappoint hopes so unselfish, to balk an ambition so innocent? And only
because Madelon was not the most attractive or the prettiest of women!

The young man stood firm against all their arguments, he was unmoved by
all their pleading. It was only when his anxious kindred had given up the
battle for lost that Gustave wavered. Their mute despair moved him more
than the most persuasive eloquence; and the end was submission. He left
Beaubocage the plighted lover of that woman who, of all others, he would
have been the last to choose for his wife. It had all been settled very
pleasantly--the dowry, the union of the two estates, the two names. For
six months Gustave was to enjoy his freedom to finish his studies; and
then he was to return to Normandy for his marriage.

"I have heard very good accounts of you from Paris," said the Baron. "You
are not like some young men, wild, mad-brained. One can confide in your
honour, your steadiness."

The good folks of Beaubocage were in ecstacies. They congratulated
Gustave--they congratulated each other. A match so brilliant would be the
redemption of the family. The young man at last began to fancy himself
the favoured of the gods. What if Madelon seemed a little dull--a little
wanting in that vivacity which is so pleasing to frivolous minds? she was
doubtless so much the more profound, so much the more virtuous. If she
was not bright and varied and beautiful as some limpid fountain dancing
in summer sunlight, she was perhaps changeless and steady as a rock; and
who would not rather have the security of a rock than the summer-day
beauty of a fountain?

Before Gustave departed from his paternal home he had persuaded himself
that he was a very lucky fellow; and he had paid Mademoiselle Frehlter
some pretty little stereotyped compliments, and had listened with sublime
patience to her pretty little stereotyped songs. He left the young lady
profoundly impressed by his merits; he left his own household supremely
happy; and he carried away with him a heart in which Madelon Frehlter's
image had no place.



CHAPTER II.


IN THIS WIDE WORLD I STAND ALONE.

Gustave went back to his old life, and was not much disturbed by the
grandeur of his destiny as future seigneur of Côtenoir and Beaubocage. It
sometimes occurred to him that he had a weight upon his mind; and, on
consideration, he found that the weight was Madelon Frehlter. But he
continued to carry that burden very lightly, and his easy-going student
life went on, unbroken by thoughts of the future. He sent polite messages
to the demoiselle Frehlter in his letters to Cydalise; and he received
from Cydalise much information, more graphic than interesting, upon the
subject of the family at Côtenoir; and so his days went on with pleasant
monotony. This was the brief summer of his youth; but, alas, how near at
hand was the dark and dismal winter that was to freeze this honest joyous
heart! That heart, so compassionate for all suffering, so especially
tender for all womankind, was to be attacked upon its weaker side.

It was Gustave Lenoble's habit to cross the gardens of the Luxembourg
every morning, on his way from the Rue Grande-Mademoiselle to the Ecole
de Droit. Sometimes, when he was earlier than usual, he carried a book
with him, and paced one of the more obscure alleys, reading for an odd
half-hour before he went to the daily mill-grinding in the big building
beyond those quiet gardens.

Walking with his book one morning--it was a volume of Boileau, which
the student knew by heart, and the pages whereof did not altogether
absorb his attention--he passed and repassed a bench on which a lady
sat, pensive and solitary, tracing shapeless figures on the ground with
the point of her parasol. He glanced at her somewhat carelessly the
first time of passing, more curiously on the second occasion, and
the third time with considerable attention. Something in her
attitude--helplessness, hopelessness, nay indeed, despair itself, all
expressed in the drooping head, the listless hand tracing those idle
characters on the gravel--enlisted the sympathies of Gustave Lenoble. He
had pitied her even before his gaze had penetrated the cavernous depths
of the capacious bonnet of those days; but one glimpse of the pale
plaintive face inspired him with compassion unspeakable. Never had he
seen despair more painfully depicted on the human countenance--a despair
that sought no sympathy, a sorrow that separated the sufferer from the
outer world. Never had he seen a face so beautiful, even in despair. He
could have fancied it the face of Andromache, when all that made her
world had been reft from her; or of Antigone, when the dread fiat had
gone forth--that funeral rites or sepulture for the last accursed scion
of an accursed race there were to be none.

He put Boileau into his pocket. That glimpse of a suffering human mind,
which had been unconsciously revealed to him, possessed an interest more
absorbing than the grandest flight of poet and satirist. As he passed for
the fifth time, he looked at the mournful lady still more searchingly,
and this time the sad eyes were lifted, and met his pitying looks. The
beautiful lips moved, and murmured something in tones so tremulous as to
be quite unintelligible.

The student took off his hat, and approached the lady, deferential as
knight-errant of old awaiting the behest of his liege mistress.

"In what can I have the happiness to be agreeable to you, madame?"

"You are very good, monsieur," murmured the lady in very decent French,
but with an accent unmistakably foreign--English, as Gustave opined.
"I--I--am quite a stranger in Paris, and--and--I have heard there are
numerous lodging-houses in this quarter--where one may obtain a
lodging--cheaply. I have asked several nursemaids, and other women, in
the gardens this morning; but they seem very stupid, and can tell me
nothing; and I do not care to ask at the hotel where I am staying."

Gustave pondered. Yes, there were many lodgings, he informed the lady.
And then he thought of Madame Magnotte. Was it not his duty to secure
this stray lodger for that worthy woman, if possible?

"If madame has no objection to a boarding-house--" he began.

Madame shook her head. "A boarding-house would suit me just as well," she
said; "but it must not be expensive. I cannot afford to pay much."

"I know of a boarding-house very near this place, where madame might find
a comfortable home on very reasonable terms. It is, in point of fact, the
house in which I myself reside," added Gustave, with some timidity.

"If you will kindly direct me to the house--" said the lady, looking
straight before her with sad unseeing eyes, and evidently supremely
indifferent as to the residence or non-residence of M. Lenoble in the
habitation referred to.

"Nay, madame, if you will permit me to conduct you there. It is but a
walk of five minutes."

The stranger accepted the courtesy with a gentle indifference that was
not ingratitude, but rather incapacity for any feeling except that one
great sorrow which seemed to absorb her mind.

Gustave wondered what calamity could thus overwhelm one so young and
beautiful.

The lady was quite silent during the little walk from the gardens to the
Rue Grande-Mademoiselle, and Gustave observed her attentively as he
walked by her side. She was evidently not more than four-and-twenty years
of age, and she was certainly the prettiest woman he had ever seen. It
was a fair delicate English beauty, a little worn and faded, as if by
care, but idealized and sublimated in the process. At her brightest this
stranger must have been strikingly beautiful; in her sorrow she was
touchingly lovely. It was what Gustave's countrymen call a _beauté
navrante_.

Gustave watched her, and wondered about her. The dress she wore was
sufficiently elegant, but had lost the gloss of newness. Her shawl, which
she carried as gracefully as a Frenchwoman, was darned. Gustave perceived
the neat careful stitches, and divined the poverty of the wearer. That
she should be poor was no subject for surprise; but that she, so
sorrowful, so lonely, should seek a home in a strange city, was an enigma
not easy to solve.

To Madame Magnotte Gustave introduced the stranger. She gave just one
look round the dreary saloon; but to Gustave's fancy that one look seemed
eloquent. "Ah me!" it said; "is this the fairest home I am to find upon
this inhospitable earth?"

"She does not seem to belong to this world," the young man thought, as
he went back to the garden where he had found his fair stranger, having
been very coolly dismissed by Madame Magnotte after his introduction had
been made.

And then M.



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