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she asked, with a sneer.

"To see Nicolette," Micheline broke in
boldly. "Bertrand's oldest friend."

"Quite a nice child," the old Comtesse owned



70 NICOLETTE

with ironical graciousness. "She is at liberty
to come and see Bertrand when she likes."

"She is too proud " Micheline hazarded,

then broke down suddenly in her speech, be-
cause grandmama had raised her lorgnette,
and was staring at her so disconcertingly that
Micheline felt tears of mortification rising to
her eyes.

"So," grandmama said with that biting sar-
casm which hurt so terribly, and which she
knew so well how to throw into her voice. "So
Mademoiselle Deydier is proud, is she? Too
proud to pay her respects to the Comtesse de
Ventadour. Ah, well! let her stay at home
then. It is not for a Ventadour to hold out
a hand of reconciliation to one of the Dey-
diers."

"Reconciliation, grandmama?" Bertrand
broke in quickly. "Has there been a quarrel
then?"

For a moment it seemed to Bertrand's
keenly searching eyes as if the old Comtesse's
usually magftificent composure was slightly
ruffled. Certain it is that a delicate flush rose
to her withered cheeks, and her retort did not
come with that trenchant rapidity to which
she had accustomed her family and her house-
hold. However, the hesitation if hesitation



there was was only momentary: an instant
later she had shrugged her shoulders, elevated
her eyebrows with her own inimitably grandi-
ose air, and riposted coolly:

"Quarrel? My dear Bertrand? Surely you
are joking. How could there be a quarrel be-
tween us and the er Deydiers? The old
man chooses to hold himself aloof from the
chateau: but that is right and proper, and no
doubt he knows his place. We cannot have
those sort of people frequenting our house in
terms of friendship especially if your cousin
Rixende should pay us a visit one of these days.
Once an intimacy is set up, it is very difficult
to break off again and surely you would not
wish that oil-dealer's child to meet your fu-
ture wife on terms of equality?"

"Rixende is not that yet," Bertrand rejoined
almost involuntarily, "and if she comes
here "

"She will have to come here," grandmama
said in her most decided tone. "Sybille de
Mont-Pahon wishes it, and it is right and
proper that Rixende should be brought here
to pay her respects to me and to your
mother," she added as with an after-thought.

"But "



72 NICOLETTE

"But what," she asked, for he seemed to
hesitate.

"Rixende is so fastidious," Bert rand said
moodily. "She has been brought up in the
greatest possible luxury. This old house with
its faded furniture "

"This old house with its faded furniture,"
grandmama broke in icily, "has for centuries
been the home of the Comtes de Ventadour, a
family whose ancestors claimed kinship with
kings. Surely it is good enough to shelter the
daughter of a of a what is their name?
a Peyron-Bompar! My good Bertrand, your
objections are both futile and humiliating to
us all. Thank God ! we have not sunk so low,
that we cannot entertain a Mademoiselle er
Peyron-Bompar and her renegade father in
a manner befitting our rank."

Grandmama had put on her grandest man-
ner, and further argument was, of course, use-
less. Bertrand said nothing more, only stood
by, frowning moodily. Micheline had suc-
ceeded in reaching the shelter of the window
recess. From here she could still see Bertrand,
could watch every play of emotion on his tell-
tale face. She felt intensely sorry for him,
and ashamed for him as well as for herself.
But above all for him. He was a man, he



THE HONOUR OF THE NAME 73

should act as a man; whilst she was only a
weak, misshapen, ugly creature with a bound-
less capacity for suffering, and no more cour-
age than a cat. Even now she was conscious
right through her pity for Bertrand which
dominated every other feeling of an intense
sense of relief that the tattered curtain hung
between her and grandmama, and concealed
her from the irascible old lady's view.

She tried to meet Bertrand's eyes: but he
purposely evaded hers. As for him, he felt
vaguely ashamed he knew not exactly of what.
He dared not look at Micheline, fearing to
read either reproach or pity in her gaze ; either
of which would have galled him. For the first
time, too, in his life, he felt out of tune with
the ideals of the old Comtesse, whom he re-
vered as the embodiment of all the splendours
of the Ventadours. Now his pride was up in
arms against her for her assumption of con-
trol. Where was his vaunted manhood? Was
he the head of the house to be dictated to by
women? Already he was lashing himself up
into a state of rebellion and of fury. Planning
a sudden assertion of his own authority, when
his grandmother's voice, hard and trenchant,
acted like a cold douche upon his heated tem-
per, and sobered him instantly.



74 NICOLETTE

"To revert to the subject of those Deydiers,"
she said coldly, "my sister Mme. de Mont-
Pahon has made it a point that all intimacy
shall cease between you and them, before she
would allow of Rixende's engagement to you."

"But why?" Bertrand exclaimed almost in-
voluntarily. "In Heaven's name, why?"

"You could ask her," grandmama retorted
quietly.

"Mme de Mont-Pahon must understand
that I seek my own friends, how and where I
choose "

"Your great-aunt would probably retort
that she will then seek her heir also where
and how she chooses as well as Rixende's
future husband "

Then as Bertrand in the excess of his shame
and mortification buried his head in his hands,
she went up to him, and placed her wrinkled
aristocratic hand upon his shoulder.

"There, there," she said almost gently,
"don't be childish, my dear Bertrand. Alas!
when one is poor, one is always kissing the rod.
All you want now is patience. Once Rixende
is your wife, and my obstinate sister has left
her millions to you both, and she and I have
gone to join the great majority, you can please
yourself in the matter of your friends."



"It is so shameful to be poor," Bertrand
murmured bitterly.

"Yes, it is," the old woman assented dryly.
"That is the reason why I wish to drag you
out of all this poverty and humiliation. But
do not make the task too hard for me, Ber-
trand. I am old, and your mother is feeble.
If I were to go you would soon drift down
the road of destiny in the footsteps of your
father."

"My father?"

"Your father like you was weak and vacil-
lating. Sunk in the slough of debt, enmeshed
in a network of obligations which he had not
the moral strength to meet, he blew out his
brains, when broke the dawn of the inevitable
day of reckoning."

"It is false!" Bertrand cried impulsively.

He had jumped to his feet.

Clinging with one hand to the edge of the
table, he faced the old Comtesse, his eyes gaz-
ing horror-struck upon that stern impassive
face, on which scarce a tremor had passed while
she delivered this merciless judgment on her
own son.

"It is false!" the young man reiterated.

"It is true, Bertrand," the old woman re-
joined quietly. "The ring which you now



76 NICOLETTE

wear, I myself took off his finger, after the
pistol dropped from his lifeless hand."

She was on the point of saying something
more, when a long-drawn sigh, a moan, and an
ominous thud, stayed the words upon her lips.
Bertrand looked up at once, and the next mo-
ment darted across the room. There lay his
mother, half crouching against the door frame
to which she had clung when she felt herself
swooning. Bertrand was down on his knees
in an instant, and Micheline came as fast as
she could to his side.

"Quick, Micheline, help me!" Bertrand
whispered hurriedly. "She is as light as a
feather. I'll carry her to her room."

The only one who had remained quite un-
moved was the old Comtesse. When she heard
the moan, and then the thud, she glanced
coolly over her shoulder, and seeing her daugh-
ter-in-law, crouching helpless in the doorway,
she only said dryly :

"My good Marcelle, why make a fuss? The
boy was bound to know "

But already Bertrand had lifted the poor
feeble body in his arms, and was carrying his
mother along the corridor to her own room.
Here he deposited her on the sofa, on which
in truth she spent most of her days, and here



THE HONOUR OF THE NAME 77

she lay now with her head against the pillows,
her face so pale and drawn that Bertrand felt
a great wave of love and sympathy for her
surging in his heart.

"Poor little mother," he said tenderly, and
knelt by her side, chafing her cold hands, and
gazing anxiously into her face. She opened
her eyes, and looked at him. She seemed not
to know at first what had happened.

"Bertrand!" she murmured, as if astonished
to see him there.

Her astonishment in itself was an involun-
tary reproach, so very little of his time did
Bertrand spend with his sad-eyed, ailing
mother. A sharp pang of remorse went right
through him as he noted, for the first time,
how very aged and worn she had become since
last he had been at home. Tears now were
pouring down her cheeks, and he put out his
arms, with a vague longing to draw her ach-
ing head to his breast, and let her rest there,
while he would comfort her. She saw the ges-
ture, and the ghost of a smile lit up her pale,
wan face, and in her eyes there came a pathetic
look as of a dog asking to be forgiven. With
a sudden strange impulse she seized his hand,
and drew it up to her lips. He snatched it
away ashamed and remorseful, but she recap-



78 NICOLETTE

tured it, and began stroking it gently, ten-
derly: and all the while her spare, narrow
shoulders shook with spasms of uncontrolled
sobbing, just like a child after it has had a big,
big cry. Then suddenly the smile vanished
from her face, the tender look from her eyes,
and an expression of horror crept into them
as they fastened themselves upon his hand.

"That ring, Bertrand," she cried hoarsely,
"take it off."

"My father's ring?" he asked. "I want to
wear it."

"No, no, don't wear it, my dear lamb," his
mother entreated, and moaned piteously just
as if she were in pain. "Your grandmother
took it off his dear, dead hand oh, she is cruel
cruel and without mercy . . . she took it

off after she Oh, my boy ! my boy ! will you

ever forgive?"

His one thought was just to comfort her.
Awhile ago, when first his grandmother had
told him, he had felt bitterly sore. His father
dying a shameful death by his own hand ! The
shame of it was almost intolerable! And in
the brief seconds that elapsed between the ter-
rible revelation and the moment when he had
to expend all his energies in looking after his
mother, had held a veritable inferno of humili-



THE HONOUR OF THE NAME 79

ation for him. As in a swift and sudden vision
he saw flitting before him all sorts of little
signs and indications that had puzzled him in
the past, but of which he had ceased to think
almost as soon as they had occurred, a look of
embarrassment here, one of pity there, his
grandmother's sneers, his mother's entreaties.
He saw it all, all of a sudden. People who
knew pitied him or else they sneered. The
bitterness of it had been awful. But now he
forgot all that. With his mother lying there
so crushed, so weak, so helpless, all that was
noble and chivalrous in his nature gained the
upper hand over his resentment.

"It is not for me to forgive, mother dear,"
he said, "I am not my father's judge."

"He was so kind and good," the poor soul
went on with pathetic eagerness, "so gener-
ous. He only borrowed in order to give to
others. People were always sponging on him.
He never could say no to any one and of
course we had no money to spare, to give
away. ..."

Bertrand frowned.

"So," he said quite quietly, "he my father
borrowed some? He he had debts?"

"Yes."

"Many?"



80 NICOLETTE

"Alas."

"He he did not pay them before he ?"

Marcelle de Ventadour slowly shook her
head.

"And," Bertrand asked, "since then? since
my father died, have his debts been paid?"

"We could not pay them," his mother re-
plied in a tone of dull, aching hopelessness,
"we had no money. Your grandmother "

"Grandmama," he broke in, "said though
we were poor, we could yet afford to enter-
tain our relatives as befitted our rank. How
can that be if if we are still in debt?"

"Your grandmother is quite right, my dear
boy, quite right." Marcelle de Ventadour
argued with pathetic eagerness; "she knows
best. We must do our utmost we must all
do our very utmost to bring about your mar-
riage with Rixende de Peyron-Bompar. Your
great-aunt has set her heart on it, she has
she has, I know, made it a condition your
grandmother knows about it she and Mme.
de Mont-Pahon have talked it over together
Mme. de Mont-Pahon will make you her lega-
tee on condition that you marry Rixende."

For a moment or two Bertrand said nothing.
He had jumped to his feet and stood at the



THE HONOUR OF THE NAME 81

foot of the couch, with head bent and a deep
frown on his brow.

"I wish you had not told me that, mother,"
he said.

"Why not?"

"I love Rixende, and now it will seem as



"As if what?"

"As if I wooed her for the sake of Mme. de
Mont-Pahon's money."

"That is foolishness, Bertrand," Mme. de
Ventadour said, with more energy than was
habitual to her. "Let us suppose that I said
nothing. And your grandmother may be
wrong. Mme. de Mont-Pahon may only wish
for the marriage because of her affection for
you and Rixende."

"You wish it, too, mother, of course?" Ber-
trand said.

The mother drew a deep sigh of longing.

"Wish it, my dear?" she rejoined. "Wish
it? Why, it would turn the hell of my life into
a real heaven!"

"Even though," he insisted, "even though
until that marriage is accomplished, we cannot
hope to pay off any of my father's debts, even
though for the next year, at least, we must
go on spending more money and more money,



82 NICOLETTE

borrow more and more, to keep me idling in
Paris and to throw dust in the eyes of Mme. de
Mont-Pahon."

"We must do it, Bertrand," she said ear-
nestly. "Your grandmother says that we have
to think of our name, not of ourselves; that it
is the future that counts, and not the present."

"But you, mother, what is your idea about
it all?"

"Oh, I, my dear? I? I count for so little
what does it matter what I think?"

"It matters a lot to me."

Marcelle de Ventadour sighed again. For
a moment it seemed as if she would make of
her son a confidant of all her hopes, her secret
longings, her spiritless repinings; as if she
would tell him of what she thought and what
she planned during those hours and days that
she spent on her couch, listless and idle. But
the habits of a lifetime cannot be shaken off
in a moment, even under the stress of great
emotion, and Marcelle had been too long under
the domination of her mother-in-law to ven-
ture on an independent train of thought.

"My dear lamb," she said tenderly; "I only
pray for your happiness and I feel that your
grandmother knows best."

Bertrand gave a quick, impatient little sigh.



THE HONOUR OF THE NAME 83

"What we have to do," his mother resumed
more calmly after a while, "is to try and wipe
away the shame that clings around your fa-
ther's memory."

"We cannot do that unless we pay what we
owe," he retorted.

"We cannot do that, Bertrand," she re-
joined earnestly. "We have not the money.
At the time of of your father's death the
creditors took everything from us that they
could : we were left with nothing nothing but
this old owl's nest. It, too, had been heavily
mortgaged, but but a but a kind friend paid
off the mortgage, then allowed us to stay on
here."

"A kind friend," Bertrand asked. "Who?"

"I don't know," his mother replied after
an imperceptible moment's hesitation. "Your
grandmother knows about it, she has always
kept control of our money. We must leave it
to her. She knows best."

Then, as Bertrand relapsed into silence, she
insisted more earnestly:

"You do think that your grandmother knows
best, do you not, Bertrand?"

"Perhaps," he said with an impatient sigh,
and turned away.

It was then that he caught sight of Micheline



84 NICOLETTE

Micheline who, as was her wont, had with-
drawn silently into the nearest window recess,
and had sat there, patient and watchful, until
such time as it pleased some one to take notice
of her.

"Micheline," Bertrand said, "have you been
here all the time?"

"All the time," she replied simply.

"It is getting late," he remarked, and gazed
out of the window to distant Luberon, behind
whose highest peak the sunset had already
lighted his crimson fire.

"Too late to go over to the mas this after-
noon," he added decisively.

A look of great joy lit up Micheline's peaky
little face.

"Then you are coming, Bertrand," she cried
impulsively.

"Not to-night," he said, "because it is late.
But to-morrow we'll go together. I would
like to to thank Jaume Deydier for "

"Oh, my dear," his mother broke in anxious-
ly, "there is nothing for which you need thank
Jaume Daydier. Your grandmother would
noi wish it."

"No one," Bertrand said emphatically,
"may dictate to me on a point of honour. I



THE HONOUR OF THE NAME 85

know where my duty lies. To-morrow I am
going to the mas."

Marcelle de Ventadour's pale face took on
an expression of painful anxiety.

"If she thought I had said anything," she
murmured.

Bertrand bent down and kissed her ten-
derly.

"Grandmama shall know nothing," he said
reassuringly; "but for once I must act as I
wish, not as she commands. As you said just
now, mother dear, we must not think of our-
selves, but of our name, and we must try to
wipe away the shame that clings round my
father's memory."

He tried to say this quietly, with as little
bitterness as possible, but in the end his voice
broke, and he ran quickly out of the room.



CHAPTER IV

THE DESPATCH

MECHELINE was happy once more.
For a little while oh! a very little
while this afternoon her idol had tottered on
the pedestal upon which she had placed him.
The brother whom she worshipped, admired,
looked up to, with all the ardour and enthusi-
asm of her reserved nature, was perhaps not
quite so perfect as her affection had painted
him. He seemed almost as if he were proud
and ungrateful, too proud to renew those de-
licious ties of childish friendship which she,
Micheline, looked on as almost sacred.

But Bert rand did not know that it was in
truth Jaume Deydier who, during those try-
ing years at St. Cyr, had generously paid the
debts which the young cadet had thoughtlessly
contracted dragged as he had been into a
vortex of fashionable life where every one of
his comrades was richer than he. Bertrand,
driven to distraction by the pressure of mone-
tary difficulties, had confessed to Micheline,



THE DESPATCH 87

and Micheline had quite naturally gone with
the sad story to her bosom friend, Nicolette.
She had wept, and Nicolette had wept, and
the two girls fell into one another's arms and
then thought and planned how best Bertrand
could be got out of his difficulties without ref-
erence to grandmama. And lo! and behold,
Bertrand presently received five thousand
francs from his dear sister Micheline. They
were, she darkly hinted, the proceeds of cer-
tain rigid economies which she had effected in
the management of her pin-money. Bertrand
accepted both money and explanation without
much compunction, but unfortunately through
his own indiscretion, grandmama got to hear
of his debts and of the five thousand francs.
It was, of course, impossible to deceive grand-
mama for long. Within half an hour the true
secret of Bertrand's benefactor was wrung out
of the unwilling Micheline.

That a young Comte de Ventadour should
make debts whilst he was at St. Cyr was a
perfectly proper and natural state of things;
avarice or thrift would have been a far greater
crime in the eyes of the old Comtesse, than
the borrowing of a few thousands from bour-
geois tradesmen who could well afford it, with-
out much knowledge as to how those thou-



88 NICOLETTE

sands would be repaid. Therefore she never
thought of blaming Bertrand. On the other
hand, she was very severe with Micheline, not
so much for having aroused Nicolette's sym-
pathy on behalf of Bertrand, as for continuing
this friendship with the people at the mas,
which she grandmama thought degrading.
And there the matter ended.

Jaume Deydier was passing rich was the
old Comtesse's argument he and his forbears
had enriched themselves at the expense of
their feudal lords, grabbing their lands when-
ever opportunity arose. No doubt the pres-
ent owner of those splendid estates which once
had belonged to the Comtes de Ventadour,
felt some compunction in knowing that the
present scion of that ancient race was in
financial difficulties, and no doubt, too, that his
compunction led to a tardy liberality. It all
was perfectly right and just. Margarita de
Ventadour's own arguments completely eased
her conscience. But she did not enlighten
Bertrand. The boy was hot-headed, he might
do something foolish and humiliating. The
money must be accepted as a matter of course:
grandmama outwardly must know nothing
about it. Nor Bertrand.

And so Bertrand was kept in the dark as



THE DESPATCH 89

to this and other matters which were far more
important.

Even to-day he had been told nothing: he
had only guessed. A word from Micheline
about St. Cyr, one from his mother about the
kind friend who had saved the old chateau
from the hands of the creditors had set his
young mind speculating, but that was all.

There was much of his grandmother's tem-
perament in Bertrand; much of that racial
pride of family and arrogance of caste, which
not even the horrors of the Revolution had
wholly eradicated. But underlying that pride
and arrogance there were in Bertrand de
Ventadour some fine aspirations and impulses
of manhood and chivalry, such as the one
which caused him to declare his intention of
visiting Jaume Deydier immediately.
. Micheline was now quite happy: for a little
while she had almost thought the beloved
brother vain and ungrateful. Now her heart
was already full of excuses for him. He was
coming on the morrow with her to see Nico-
lette. It was perhaps a little late to-day.
They had their dinner early at the mas, and
it w r ould not do to interrupt them all at their
meal. But to-morrow she and Bertrand
would go over in the morning, and spend a



90 NICOLETTE

long, happy day in the dear old house, or in
the garden under the shade of the wild vine
just as they used to do in the past.

The evening was a glorious one. It seemed
as if summer, in these her declining days, was
donning her most gorgeous garb to dazzle the
eyes of mortals, ere she sank, dying into the
arms of autumn. One or two early frosts had
touched the leaves of the mountain-ash with
gold and the hips and haws on the wild rose-
bushes were of a dazzling crimson. And so
good to eat!

Micheline who was quite happy now, was
picking them in big baskets full to take over
to Margai, who made such delicious preserves
from them. Overhead the starlings were mak-
ing a deafening noise ; the olives were plentiful
this year and very nearly ripe, and a flock of
these chattering birds had descended upon the
woods around the chateau and were eating
their fill. The evening was drawing in rap-
idly, in this land where twilight is always
short. Luberon frowning and majestic had
long since hidden the glory of the setting sun,
and way out to the east the moon, looking no
more substantial than a small round fluffy
cloud, gave promise of a wonderful night.
Looking straight across the valley Micheline



THE DESPATCH 91

could glimpse the whitewashed walls of the
old mas gleaming, rose-tinted by the after-
glow, above the terraced gradients, and
through the curtains of dwarf olive trees.
She knew that at a certain window into which
a climbing crimson rose peeped in, blossom-
laden, Xicolette would be sitting at this hour,
gazing across the valley to the towers of the
old chateau where she had spent so many
happy days in the past. It almost seemed to
Micheline that despite the distance she could
see, in a framework of tangled roses, Nico-
lette's brown curls turned to gold by the last
kiss of the setting sun, and down in the garden
the arbour draped in a mantle of disorderly
vine, which flaunted its riotous colours, its
purples and chromes and crimsons, in the
midst of the cool grey-greens of stately pine
and feathery mimosa. Anon, scared by the
sudden sharp report of a distant gun, the host


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