"What is it, my child?" said Claude Vignon, who had slipped silently into the bedroom after Calyste, and now took him by the hand. "You love; you think you are disdained; but it is not so. The field will be free to you in a few days and you will reign—beloved by more than one."
"Loved!" cried Calyste, springing up, and beckoning Claude into the library, "Who loves me here?"
"Camille," replied Claude.
"Camille loves me? And you!—what of you?"
"I?" answered Claude, "I—" He stopped; sat down on a sofa and rested his head with weary sadness on a cushion. "I am tired of life, but I have not the courage to quit it," he went on, after a short silence. "I wish I were mistaken in what I have just told you; but for the last few days more than one vivid light has come into my mind. I did not wander about the marshes for my pleasure; no, upon my soul I did not! The bitterness of my words when I returned and found you with Camille were the result of wounded feeling. I intend to have an explanation with her soon. Two minds as clear-sighted as hers and mine cannot deceive each other. Between two such professional duellists the combat cannot last long. Therefore I may as well tell you now that I shall leave Les Touches; yes, to-morrow perhaps, with Conti. After we are gone strange things will happen here. I shall regret not witnessing conflicts of passion of a kind so rare in France, and so dramatic. You are very young to enter such dangerous lists; you interest me; were it not for the profound disgust I feel for women, I would stay and help you play this game. It is difficult; you may lose it; you have to do with two extraordinary women, and you feel too much for one to use the other judiciously. Beatrix is dogged by nature; Camille has grandeur. Probably you will be wrecked between those reefs, drawn upon them by the waves of passion. Beware!"
Calyste's stupefaction on hearing these words enabled Claude to say them without interruption and leave the young Breton, who remained like a traveller among the Alps to whom a guide has shown the depth of some abyss by flinging a stone into it. To hear from the lips of Claude himself that Camille loved him, at the very moment when he felt that he loved Beatrix for life, was a weight too heavy for his untried soul to bear. Goaded by an immense regret which now filled all the past, overwhelmed with a sight of his position between Beatrix whom he loved and Camille whom he had ceased to love, the poor boy sat despairing and undecided, lost in thought. He sought in vain for the reasons which had made Felicite reject his love and bring Claude Vignon from Paris to oppose it. Every now and then the voice of Beatrix came fresh and pure to his ears from the little salon; a savage desire to rush in and carry her off seized him at such moments. What would become of him? What must he do? Could he come to Les Touches? If Camille loved him how could he come there to adore Beatrix? He saw no solution to these difficulties.
Insensibly to him silence now reigned in the house; he heard, but without noticing, the opening and shutting of doors. Then suddenly midnight sounded on the clock of the adjoining bedroom, and the voices of Claude and Camille roused him fully from his torpid contemplation of the future. Before he could rise and show himself, he heard the following terrible words in the voice of Claude Vignon.
"You came to Paris last year desperately in love with Calyste," Claude was saying to Felicite, "but you were horrified at the thought of the consequences of such a passion at your age; it would lead you to a gulf, to hell, to suicide perhaps. Love cannot exist unless it thinks itself eternal, and you saw not far before you a horrible parting; old age you knew would end the glorious poem soon. You thought of 'Adolphe,' that dreadful finale of the loves of Madame de Stael and Benjamin Constant, who, however, were nearer of an age than you and Calyste. Then you took me, as soldiers use fascines to build entrenchments between the enemy and themselves. You brought me to Les Touches to mask your real feelings and leave you safe to follow your own secret adoration. The scheme was grand and ignoble both; but to carry it out you should have chosen either a common man or one so preoccupied by noble thoughts that you could easily deceive him. You thought me simple and easy to mislead as a man of genius. I am not a man of genius, I am a man of talent, and as such I have divined you. When I made that eulogy yesterday on women of your age, explaining to you why Calyste had loved you, do you suppose I took to myself your ravished, fascinated, fazzling glance? Had I not read into your soul? The eyes were turned on me, but the heart was throbbing for Calyste. You have never been loved, my poor Maupin, and you never will be after rejecting the beautiful fruit which chance has offered to you at the portals of that hell of woman, the lock of which is the numeral 50!"
"Why has love fled me?" she said in a low voice. "Tell me, you who know all."
"Because you are not lovable," he answered. "You do not bend to love; love must bend to you. You may perhaps have yielded to some follies of youth, but there was no youth in your heart; your mind has too much depth; you have never been naive and artless, and you cannot begin to be so now. Your charm comes from mystery; it is abstract, not active. Your strength repulses men of strength who fear a struggle. Your power may please young souls, like that of Calyste, which like to be protected; though, even them it wearies in the long run. You are grand, and you are sublime; bear with the consequence of those two qualities—they fatigue."
"What a sentence!" cried Camille. "Am I not a woman? Do you think me an anomaly?"
"Possibly," said Claude.
"We will see!" said the woman, stung to the quick.
"Farewell, my dear Camille; I leave to-morrow. I am not angry with you, my dear; I think you the greatest of women, but if I continued to serve you as a screen, or a shield," said Claude, with two significant inflections of his voice, "you would despise me. We can part now without pain or remorse; we have neither happiness to regret nor hopes betrayed. To you, as with some few but rare men of genius, love is not what Nature made it,—an imperious need, to the satisfaction of which she attaches great and passing joys, which die. You see love such as Christianity has created it,—an ideal kingdom, full of noble sentiments, of grand weaknesses, poesies, spiritual sensations, devotions of moral fragrance, entrancing harmonies, placed high above all vulgar coarseness, to which two creatures as one angel fly on the wings of pleasure. This is what I hoped to share; I thought I held in you a key to that door, closed to so many, by which we may advance toward the infinite. You were there already. In this you have misled me. I return to my misery,—to my vast prison of Paris. Such a deception as this, had it come to me earlier in life, would have made me flee from existence; to-day it puts into my soul a disenchantment which will plunge me forever into an awful solitude. I am without the faith which helped the Fathers to people theirs with sacred images. It is to this, my dear Camille, to this that the superiority of our mind has brought us; we may, both of us, sing that dreadful hymn which a poet has put into the mouth of Moses speaking to the Almighty: 'Lord God, Thou hast made me powerful and solitary.'"
At this moment Calyste appeared.
"I ought not to leave you ignorant that I am here," he said.
Mademoiselle des Touches showed the utmost fear; a sudden flush colored her impassible face with tints of fire. During this strange scene she was more beautiful than at any other moment of her life.
"We thought you gone, Calyste," said Claude. "But this involuntary discretion on both sides will do no harm; perhaps, indeed, you may be more at your ease at Les Touches by knowing Felicite as she is. Her silence shows me I am not mistaken as to the part she meant me to play. As I told you before, she loves you, but it is for yourself, not for herself,—a sentiment that few women are able to conceive and practise; few among them know the voluptuous pleasure of sufferings born of longing,—that is one of the magnificent passions reserved for man. But she is in some sense a man," he added, sardonically. "Your love for Beatrix will make her suffer and make her happy too."
Tears were in the eyes of Mademoiselle des Touches, who was unable to look either at the terrible Vignon or the ingenuous Calyste. She was frightened at being understood; she had supposed to impossible for a man, however keen his perception, to perceive a delicacy so self-immolating, a heroism so lofty as her own. Her evident humiliation at this unveiling of her grandeur made Calyste share the emotion of the woman he had held so high, and now beheld so stricken down. He threw himself, from an irresistible impulse, at her feet, and kissed her hands, laying his face, covered with tears, upon them.
"Claude," she said, "do not abandon me, or what will become of me?"
"What have you to fear?" replied the critic. "Calyste has fallen in love at first sight with the marquise; you cannot find a better barrier between you than that. This passion of his is worth more to you than I. Yesterday there might have been some danger for you and for him; to-day you can take a maternal interest in him," he said, with a mocking smile, "and be proud of his triumphs."
Mademoiselle des Touches looked at Calyste, who had raised his head abruptly at these words. Claude Vignon enjoyed, for his sole vengeance, the sight of their confusion.
"You yourself have driven him to Madame de Rochefide," continued Claude, "and he is now under the spell. You have dug your own grave. Had you confided in me, you would have escaped the sufferings that await you."
"Sufferings!" cried Camille Maupin, taking Calyste's head in her hands, and kissing his hair, on which her tears fell plentifully. "No, Calyste; forget what you have heard; I count for nothing in all this."
She rose and stood erect before the two men, subduing both with the lightning of her eyes, from which her soul shone out.
"While Claude was speaking," she said, "I conceived the beauty and the grandeur of love without hope; it is the sentiment that brings us nearest God. Do not love me, Calyste; but I will love you as no woman will!"
It was the cry of a wounded eagle seeking its eyrie. Claude himself knelt down, took Camille's hand, and kissed it.
"Leave us now, Calyste," she said, "it is late, and your mother will be uneasy."
Calyste returned to Guerande with lagging steps, turning again and again, to see the light from the windows of the room in which was Beatrix. He was surprised himself to find how little pity he felt for Camille. But presently he felt once more the agitations of that scene, the tears she had left upon his hair; he suffered with her suffering; he fancied he heard the moans of that noble woman, so beloved, so desired but a few short days before.
When he opened the door of his paternal home, where total silence reigned, he saw his mother through the window, as she sat sewing by the light of the curiously constructed lamp while she awaited him. Tears moistened the lad's eyes as he looked at her.
"What has happened?" cried Fanny, seeing his emotion, which filled her with horrible anxiety.
For all answer, Calyste took his mother in his arms, and kissed her on her cheeks, her forehead and hair, with one of those passionate effusions of feeling that comfort mothers, and fill them with the subtle flames of the life they have given.
"It is you I love, you!" cried Calyste,—"you, who live for me; you, whom I long to render happy!"
"But you are not yourself, my child," said the baroness, looking at him attentively. "What has happened to you?"
"Camille loves me, but I love her no longer," he answered.
The next day, Calyste told Gasselin to watch the road to Saint-Nazaire, and let him know if the carriage of Mademoiselle des Touches passed over it. Gasselin brought word that the carriage had passed.
"How many persons were in it?" asked Calyste.
"Four,—two ladies and two gentlemen."
"Then saddle my horse and my father's."
"My, nephew, what mischief is in you now?" said his Aunt Zephirine.
"Let the boy amuse himself, sister," cried the baron. "Yesterday he was dull as an owl; to-day he is gay as a lark."
"Did you tell him that our dear Charlotte was to arrive to-day?" said Zephirine, turning to her sister-in-law.
"No," replied the baroness.
"I thought perhaps he was going to meet her," said Mademoiselle du Guenic, slyly.
"If Charlotte is to stay three months with her aunt, he will have plenty of opportunities to see her," said his mother.
"Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel wants me to marry Charlotte, to save me from perdition," said Calyste, laughing. "I was on the mall when she and the Chevalier du Halga were talking about it. She can't see that it would be greater perdition for me to marry at my age—"
"It is written above," said the old maid, interrupting Calyste, "that I shall not die tranquil or happy. I wanted to see our family continued, and some, at least, of the estates brought back; but it is not to be. What can you, my fine nephew, put in the scale against such duties? Is it that actress at Les Touches?"
"What?" said the baron; "how can Mademoiselle des Touches hinder Calyste's marriage, when it becomes necessary for us to make it? I shall go and see her."
"I assure you, father," said Calyste, "that Felicite will never be an obstacle to my marriage."
Gasselin appeared with the horses.
"Where are you going, chevalier?" said his father.
"Ha, ha! and when is the marriage to be?" said the baron, believing that Calyste was really in a hurry to see Charlotte de Kergarouet. "It is high time I was a grandfather. Spare the horses," he continued, as he went on the portico with Fanny to see Calyste mount; "remember that they have more than thirty miles to go."
Calyste started with a tender farewell to his mother.
"Dear treasure!" she said, as she saw him lower his head to ride through the gateway.
"God keep him!" replied the baron; "for we cannot replace him."
The words made the baroness shudder.
"My nephew does not love Charlotte enough to ride to Saint-Nazaire after her," said the old blind woman to Mariotte, who was clearing the breakfast-table.
"No; but a fine lady, a marquise, has come to Les Touches, and I'll warrant he's after her; that's the way at his age," said Mariotte.
"They'll kill him," said Mademoiselle du Guenic.
"That won't kill him, mademoiselle; quite the contrary," replied Mariotte, who seemed to be pleased with Calyste's behavior.
The young fellow started at a great pace, until Gasselin asked him if he was trying to catch the boat, which, of course, was not at all his desire. He had no wish to see either Conti or Claude again; but he did expect to be invited to drive back with the ladies, leaving Gasselin to lead his horse. He was gay as a bird, thinking to himself,—
"She has just passed here; her eyes saw those trees!—What a lovely road!" he said to Gasselin.
"Ah! monsieur, Brittany is the most beautiful country in all the world," replied the Breton. "Where could you find such flowers in the hedges, and nice cool roads that wind about like these?"
"Tiens! here comes the coach from Nazaire," cried Gasselin presently.
"Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel and her niece will be in it. Let us hide," said Calyste.
"Hide! are you crazy, monsieur? Why, we are on the moor!"
The coach, which was coming up the sandy hill above Saint-Nazaire, was full, and, much to the astonishment of Calyste, there were no signs of Charlotte.
"We had to leave Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, her sister and niece; they are dreadfully worried; but all my seats were engaged by the custom-house," said the conductor to Gasselin.
"I am lost!" thought Calyste; "they will meet me down there."
When Calyste reached the little esplanade which surrounds the church of Saint-Nazaire, and from which is seen Paimboeuf and the magnificent Mouths of the Loire as they struggle with the sea, he found Camille and the marquise waving their handkerchiefs as a last adieu to two passengers on the deck of the departing steamer. Beatrix was charming as she stood there, her features softened by the shadow of a rice-straw hat, on which were tufts and knots of scarlet ribbon. She wore a muslin gown with a pattern of flowers, and was leaning with one well-gloved hand on a slender parasol. Nothing is finer to the eyes than a woman poised on a rock like a statue on its pedestal. Conti could see Calyste from the vessel as he approached Camille.
"I thought," said the young man, "that you would probably come back alone."
"You have done right, Calyste," she replied, pressing his hand.
Beatrix turned round, saw her young lover, and gave him the most imperious look in her repertory. A smile, which the marquise detected on the eloquent lips of Mademoiselle des Touches, made her aware of the vulgarity of such conduct, worthy only of a bourgeoise. She then said to Calyste, smiling,—
"Are you not guilty of a slight impertinence in supposing that I should bore Camille, if left alone with her?"
"My dear, one man to two widows is none too much," said Mademoiselle des Touches, taking Calyste's arm, and leaving Beatrix to watch the vessel till it disappeared.
At this moment Calyste heard the approaching voices of Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, the Vicomtesse de Kergarouet, Charlotte, and Gasselin, who were all talking at once, like so many magpies. The old maid was questioning Gasselin as to what had brought him and his master to Saint-Nazaire; the carriage of Mademoiselle des Touches had already caught her eye. Before the young Breton could get out of sight, Charlotte had seen him.
"Why, there's Calyste!" she exclaimed eagerly.
"Go and offer them seats in my carriage," said Camille to Calyste; "the maid can sit with the coachman. I saw those ladies lose their places in the mail-coach."
Calyste, who could not help himself, carried the message. As soon as Madame de Kergarouet learned that the offer came from the celebrated Camille Maupin, and that the Marquise de Rochefide was of the party, she was much surprised at the objections raised by her elder sister, who refused positively to profit by what she called the devil's carryall. At Nantes, which boasted of more civilization than Guerande, Camille was read and admired; she was thought to be the muse of Brittany and an honor to the region. The absolution granted to her in Paris by society, by fashion, was there justified by her great fortune and her early successes in Nantes, which claimed the honor of having been, if not her birthplace, at least her cradle. The viscountess, therefore, eager to see her, dragged her old sister forward, paying no attention to her jeremiads.
"Good-morning, Calyste," said Charlotte.
"Oh! good-morning, Charlotte," replied Calyste, not offering his arm.
Both were confused; she by his coldness, he by his cruelty, as they walked up the sort of ravine, which is called in Saint-Nazaire a street, following the two sisters in silence. In a moment the little girl of sixteen saw her castle in Spain, built and furnished with romantic hopes, a heap of ruins. She and Calyste had played together so much in childhood, she was so bound up with him, as it were, that she had quietly supposed her future unassailable; she arrived now, swept along by thoughtless happiness, like a circling bird darting down upon a wheat-field, and lo! she was stopped in her flight, unable to imagine the obstacle.
"What is the matter, Calyste?" she said, taking his hand.
"Nothing," replied the young man, releasing himself with cruel haste as he remembered the projects of his aunt and her friend.
Tears came into Charlotte's eyes. She looked at the handsome Calyste without ill-humor; but a first spasm of jealousy seized her, and she felt the dreadful madness of rivalry when she came in sight of the two Parisian women, and suspected the cause of his coldness.
Charlotte de Kergarouet was a girl of ordinary height, and commonplace coloring; she had a little round face, made lively by a pair of black eyes which sparkled with cleverness, abundant brown hair, a round waist, a flat back, thin arms, and the curt, decided manner of a provincial girl, who did not want to be taken for a little goose. She was the petted child of the family on account of the preference her aunt showed for her. At this moment she was wrapped in a mantle of Scotch merino in large plaids, lined with green silk, which she had worn on the boat. Her travelling-dress, of some common stuff, chastely made with a chemisette body and a pleated collar, was fated to appear, even to her own eyes, horrible in comparison with the fresh toilets of Beatrix and Camille. She was painfully aware of the stockings soiled among the rocks as she had jumped from the boat, of shabby leather shoes, chosen for the purpose of not spoiling better ones on the journey,—a fixed principle in the manners and customs of provincials.
As for the Vicomtesse de Kergarouet, she might stand as the type of a provincial woman. Tall, hard, withered, full of pretensions, which did not show themselves until they were mortified, talking much, and catching, by dint of talking (as one cannons at billiards), a few ideas, which gave her the reputation of wit, endeavoring to humiliate Parisians, whenever she met them, with an assumption of country wisdom and patronage, humbling herself to be exalted and furious at being left upon her knees; fishing, as the English say, for compliments, which she never caught; dressed in clothes that were exaggerated in style, and yet ill cared for; mistaking want of good manners for dignity, and trying to embarrass others by paying no attention to them; refusing what she desired in order to have it offered again, and to seem to yield only to entreaty; concerned about matters that others have done with, and surprised at not being in the fashion; and finally, unable to get through an hour without reference to Nantes, matters of social life in Nantes, complaints of Nantes, criticism of Nantes, and taking as personalities the remarks she forced out of absent-minded or wearied listeners.
Her manners, language, and ideas had, more or less, descended to her four daughters. To know Camille Maupin and Madame de Rochefide would be for her a future, and the topic of a hundred conversations. Consequently, she advanced toward the church as if she meant to take it by assault, waving her handkerchief, unfolded for the purpose of displaying the heavy corners of domestic embroidery, and trimmed with flimsy lace. Her gait was tolerably bold and cavalier, which, however, was of no consequence in a woman forty-seven years of age.
"Monsieur le chevalier," she said to Camille and Beatrix, pointing to Calyste, who was mournfully following with Charlotte, "has conveyed to me your friendly proposal, but we fear—my sister, my daughter, and myself—to inconvenience you."
"Sister, I shall not put these ladies to inconvenience," said Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, sharply; "I can very well find a horse in Saint-Nazaire to take me home."
Camille and Beatrix exchanged an oblique glance, which Calyste intercepted, and that glance sufficed to annihilate all the memories of his childhood, all his beliefs in the Kergarouets and Pen-Hoels, and to put an end forever to the projects of the three families.
"We can very well put five in the carriage," replied Mademoiselle des Touches, on whom Jacqueline turned her back, "even if we were inconvenienced, which cannot be the case, with your slender figures. Besides, I should enjoy the pleasure of doing a little service to Calyste's friends. Your maid, madame, will find a seat by the coachman, and your luggage, if you have any, can go behind the carriage; I have no footman with me."
The viscountess was overwhelming in thanks, and complained that her sister Jacqueline had been in such a hurry to see her niece that she would not give her time to come properly in her own carriage with post-horses, though, to be sure, the post-road was not only longer, but more expensive; she herself was obliged to return almost immediately to Nantes, where she had left three other little kittens, who were anxiously awaiting her. Here she put her arm round Charlotte's neck. Charlotte, in reply, raised her eyes to her mother with the air of a little victim, which gave an impression to onlookers that the viscountess bored her four daughters prodigiously by dragging them on the scene very much as Corporal Trim produces his cap in "Tristram Shandy."
"You are a fortunate mother and—" began Camille, stopping short as she remembered that Beatrix must have parted from her son when she left her husband's house.
"Oh, yes!" said the viscountess; "if I have the misfortune of spending my life in the country, and, above all, at Nantes, I have at least the consolation of being adored by my children. Have you children?" she said to Camille.
"I am Mademoiselle des Touches," replied Camille. "Madame is the Marquise de Rochefide."
"Then I must pity you for not knowing the greatest happiness that there is for us poor, simple women—is not that so, madame?" said the viscountess, turning to Beatrix. "But you, mademoiselle, have so many compensations."
The tears came into Madame de Rochefide's eyes, and she turned away toward the parapet to hide them. Calyste followed her.
"Madame," said Camille, in a low voice to the viscountess, "are you not aware that the marquise is separated from her husband? She has not seen her son for two years, and does not know when she will see him."
"You don't say so!" said Madame de Kergarouet. "Poor lady! is she legally separated?"
"No, by mutual consent," replied Camille.
"Ah, well! I understand that," said the viscountess boldly.
Old Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, furious at being thus dragged into the enemy's camp, had retreated to a short distance with her dear Charlotte. Calyste, after looking about him to make sure that no one could see him, seized the hand of the marquise, kissed it, and left a tear upon it. Beatrix turned round, her tears dried by anger; she was about to utter some terrible word, but it died upon her lips as she saw the grief on the angelic face of the youth, as deeply touched by her present sorrow as she was herself.
"Good heavens, Calyste!" said Camille in his ear, as he returned with Madame de Rochefide, "are you to have that for a mother-in-law, and the little one for a wife?"
"Because her aunt is rich," replied Calyste, sarcastically.
The whole party now moved toward the inn, and the viscountess felt herself obliged to make Camille a speech on the savages of Saint-Nazaire.
"I love Brittany, madame," replied Camille, gravely. "I was born at Guerande."
Calyste could not help admiring Mademoiselle des Touches, who, by the tone of her voice, the tranquillity of her look, and her quiet manner, put him at his ease, in spite of the terrible declarations of the preceding night. She seemed, however, a little fatigued; her eyes were enlarged by dark circles round them, showing that she had not slept; but the brow dominated the inward storm with cold placidity.
"What queens!" he said to Charlotte, calling her attention to the marquise and Camille as he gave the girl his arm, to Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's great satisfaction.
"What an idea your mother has had," said the old maid, taking her niece's other arm, "to put herself in the company of that reprobate woman!"
"Oh, aunt, a woman who is the glory of Brittany!"
"The shame, my dear. Mind that you don't fawn upon her in that way."
"Mademoiselle Charlotte is right," said Calyste; "you are not just."
"Oh, you!" replied Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, "she has bewitched you."
"I regard her," said Calyste, "with the same friendship that I feel for you."
"Since when have the du Guenics taken to telling lies?" asked the old maid.
"Since the Pen-Hoels have grown deaf," replied Calyste.
"Are you not in love with her?" demanded the old maid.
"I have been, but I am so no longer," he said.
"Bad boy! then why have you given us such anxiety? I know very well that love is only foolishness; there is nothing solid but marriage," she remarked, looking at Charlotte.
Charlotte, somewhat reassured, hoped to recover her advantages by recalling the memories of childhood. She leaned affectionately on Calyste's arm, who resolved in his own mind to have a clear explanation with the little heiress.
"Ah! what fun we shall have at mouche, Calyste!" she said; "what good laughs we used to have over it!"
The horses were now put in; Camille placed Madame de Kergarouet and Charlotte on the back seat. Jacqueline having disappeared, she herself, with the marquise, sat forward. Calyste was, of course, obliged to relinquish the pleasure on which he had counted, of driving back with Camille and Beatrix, but he rode beside the carriage all the way; the horses, being tired with the journey, went slowly enough to allow him to keep his eyes on Beatrix.
History must lose the curious conversations that went on between these four persons whom accident had so strangely united in this carriage, for it is impossible to report the hundred and more versions which went the round of Nantes on the remarks, replies, and witticisms which the viscountess heard from the lips of the celebrated Camille Maupin herself. She was, however, very careful not to repeat, not even to comprehend, the actual replies made by Mademoiselle des Touches to her absurd questions about Camille's authorship,—a penance to which all authors are subjected, and which often make them expiate the few and rare pleasures that they win.
"How do you write your books?" she began.
"Much as you do your worsted-work or knitting," replied Camille.
"But where do you find those deep reflections, those seductive pictures?"
"Where you find the witty things you say, madame; there is nothing so easy as to write books, provided you will—"
"Ah! does it depend wholly on the will? I shouldn't have thought it. Which of your compositions do you prefer?"
"I find it difficult to prefer any of my little kittens."
"I see you are blasee on compliments; there is really nothing new that one can say."
"I assure you, madame, that I am very sensible to the form which you give to yours."
The viscountess, anxious not to seem to neglect the marquise, remarked, looking at Beatrix with a meaning air,—
"I shall never forget this journey made between Wit and Beauty."
"You flatter me, madame," said the marquise, laughing. "I assure you that my wit is but a small matter, not to be mentioned by the side of genius; besides, I think I have not said much as yet."
Charlotte, who keenly felt her mother's absurdity, looked at her, endeavoring to stop its course; but Madame de Kergarouet went bravely on in her tilt with the satirical Parisians.
Calyste, who was trotting slowly beside the carriage, could only see the faces of the two ladies on the front seat, and his eyes expressed, from time to time, rather painful thoughts. Forced, by her position, to let herself be looked at, Beatrix constantly avoided meeting the young man's eyes, and practised a manoeuvre most exasperating to lovers; she held her shawl crossed and her hands crossed over it, apparently plunged in the deepest meditation.
At a part of the road which is shaded, dewy, and verdant as a forest glade, where the wheels of the carriage scarcely sounded, and the breeze brought down balsamic odors and waved the branches above their heads, Camille called Madame de Rochefide's attention to the harmonies of the place, and pressed her knee to make her look at Calyste.
"How well he rides!" she said.
"Oh! Calyste does everything well," said Charlotte.
"He rides like an Englishman," said the marquise, indifferently.
"His mother is Irish,—an O'Brien," continued Charlotte, who thought herself insulted by such indifference.
Camille and the marquise drove through Guerande with the viscountess and her daughter, to the great astonishment of the inhabitants of the town. They left the mother and daughter at the end of the lane leading to the Guenic mansion, where a crowd came near gathering, attracted by so unusual a sight. Calyste had ridden on to announce the arrival of the company to his mother and aunt, who expected them to dinner, that meal having been postponed till four o'clock. Then he returned to the gate to give his arm to the two ladies, and bid Camille and Beatrix adieu.
He kissed the hand of Felicite, hoping thereby to be able to do the same to that of the marquise; but she still kept her arms crossed resolutely, and he cast moist glances of entreaty at her uselessly.
"You little ninny!" whispered Camille, lightly touching his ear with a kiss that was full of friendship.
"Quite true," thought Calyste to himself as the carriage drove away. "I am forgetting her advice—but I shall always forget it, I'm afraid."
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel (who had intrepidly returned to Guerande on the back of a hired horse), the Vicomtesse de Kergarouet, and Charlotte found dinner ready, and were treated with the utmost cordiality, if luxury were lacking, by the du Guenics. Mademoiselle Zephirine had ordered the best wine to be brought from the cellar, and Mariotte had surpassed herself in her Breton dishes.
The viscountess, proud of her trip with the illustrious Camille Maupin, endeavored to explain to the assembled company the present condition of modern literature, and Camille's place in it. But the literary topic met the fate of whist; neither the du Guenics, nor the abbe, nor the Chevalier du Halga understood one word of it. The rector and the chevalier had arrived in time for the liqueurs at dessert.
As soon as Mariotte, assisted by Gasselin and Madame de Kergarouet's maid, had cleared the table, there was a general and enthusiastic cry for mouche. Joy appeared to reign in the household. All supposed Calyste to be free of his late entanglement, and almost as good as married to the little Charlotte. The young man alone kept silence. For the first time in his life he had instituted comparisons between his life-long friends and the two elegant women, witty, accomplished, and tasteful, who, at the present moment, must be laughing heartily at the provincial mother and daughter, judging by the look he intercepted between them.
He was seeking in vain for some excuse to leave his family on this occasion, and go up as usual to Les Touches, when Madame de Kergarouet mentioned that she regretted not having accepted Mademoiselle des Touches' offer of her carriage for the return journey to Saint-Nazaire, which for the sake of her three other "dear kittens," she felt compelled to make on the following day.
Fanny, who alone saw her son's uneasiness, and the little hold which Charlotte's coquetries and her mother's attentions were gaining on him, came to his aid.
"Madame," she said to the viscountess, "you will, I think, be very uncomfortable in the carrier's vehicle, and especially at having to start so early in the morning. You would certainly have done better to take the offer made to you by Mademoiselle des Touches. But it is not too late to do so now. Calyste, go up to Les Touches and arrange the matter; but don't be long; return to us soon."
"It won't take me ten minutes," cried Calyste, kissing his mother violently as she followed him to the door.