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over in his mind what he could say to her. The thing that
worried him most was the breakfasting with her.

" When you breakfast with a lady you're in love with,"
he said to himself, " I wonder if you should eat, if you
should satisfy your appetite ? Mon Dieu ! I forgot to ask
Monfreville for instructions on that point. I'm afraid I
shall make more stupid blunders. But after all, what is
it that I am always blamed for? For being too timid.
If I don't eat, I shall look like a fool ; on the other hand,
if I eat and drink freely, it will give me assurance and
presumption. Yes, I certainly must eat."

The breakfast hour arrived at last. Cherubin betook
himself to Madame Celival's; his heart throbbed vio-
lently as he followed the maid to the boudoir, but he
said to himself:



278 THE BASHFUL LOVER

" Well, I won't be timid to-day, at all events, and I'll
eat a lot."

The fair widow's boudoir was a charming retreat, hung
on all sides with violet velvet. A soft, thick carpet cov-
ered the floor, and the threefold curtains allowed very
little light to enter.

" Evidently these ladies are very fond of the darkness,"
thought Cherubin, as he entered the room ; " but I am
not to read poetry to-day, and I can see well enough to
eat breakfast. And then, I understand the darkness
should make one bolder that is the reason, no doubt,
why these ladies expel the daylight from their rooms."

Madame Celival was awaiting Cherubin; her dress
was simple, but well adapted to display her good points
to advantage: her lovely black hair fell in long curls on
each side of her face, and the amaranthine bows that
adorned the dainty little cap she wore gave even more
animation to her eyes, which were full of fire.

The fascinating widow gave Cherubin such a pleasant
welcome that any other than he would at once have felt
at his ease. He did what he could to overcome his em-
barrassment, and the most judicious thing that he did
was to stand in rapt contemplation of the charms of his
hostess.

"Well, Monsieur Cherubin," said Madame Celival,
after a moment, "what do you think of my boudoir?
not so pretty as the countess's, I suppose ? "

"Why, yes, madame, yes, I assure you, I like yours
quite as well in fact, I think it even prettier."

" Oh ! you say that to flatter me ! "

" But they are equally dark."

" A bright light makes my eyes ache ; I detest it."

" But, madame, you should not dread being seen ; when
one is so lovely "



THE PLUMS 279

Cherubin dared not go on; he was tremendously sur-
prised that he had said so much; but Madame Celival,
to whom the compliment seemed quite natural, replied
with a smile:

" Really ! do you think me lovely ? Oh ! but it costs
you men so little to say things that you don't
mean ! "

And, as she spoke, Madame Celival leaned carelessly on
the cushion of the violet velvet couch on which she was
half -reclining, and her bosom rose and fell rapidly as
she gazed at Cherubin, who was sitting on a chair by
her side ; he lowered his eyes, dared not look at her, and
held his peace.

After a long pause, Madame Celival, finding that
Cherubin did not speak, exclaimed :

" But I am forgetting our breakfast ! Perhaps you
are hungry ? "

" Why yes, madame, I am very hungry," Cherubin at
once replied.

" And it seems that your appetite deprives you of the
power of speech," said Madame Celival with a smile.
" Mon Dieu ! why didn't you remind me ? I don't want
to see you fall dead from starvation. Please ring that
bell."

Cherubin pulled a cord and a maid appeared.

" Serve breakfast," said Madame Celival. " We will
breakfast here," she added, turning to Cherubin, "be-
cause then we shall not be disturbed by anybody ; if any
unwelcome visitor calls, they will say that I'm not at
home. Do you think that I have done well ? "

" Oh, yes, madame, it will be much pleasanter ! "

Madame Celival smiled again; perhaps she thought
that their tete-a-tete would become pleasanter; but this
is mere conjecture.



28o THE BASHFUL LOVER

The maid quickly laid the table with two covers.
Cherubin noticed that she placed the dessert on a small
table beside the large one, which was covered with dishes.

Then Madame Celival dismissed her, saying:

" If I want you, I will ring. And now," said the fas-
cinating brunette, offering her hand to the young man,
who continued to gaze at her admiringly, " take your seat,
monsieur le marquis, and excuse me for treating you so
unceremoniously; but this is not a formal breakfast."

Madame Celival's informal breakfast consisted of a
terrine de Nerac, a stuffed partridge, small birds aux
pistaches, and a superb dish of crabs; and on the small
table were pastry, preserves, and a compote of plums, for
dessert; lastly, several decanters of choice wines indi-
cated that the hostess did not propose that her young
guest should retain his self-possession unimpaired.

Cherubin was seated beside Madame Celival, who
helped him to everything, but ate very little; by way of
compensation, the young man ate for two. After he was
at the table, he felt much less embarrassed, more inclined
to talk; he concluded that he had guessed aright, and
that to eat and drink freely would give him assurance;
so he did honor to everything that was set before him
and drank whatever was poured into his glass.

Madame Celival was very lively; she knew the art of
keeping the conversation from flagging ; and she seemed
delighted by the way in which her companion did honor
to the breakfast.

" Really," she said laughingly, " I am not surprised
that you didn't say anything just now, that you seemed
so taciturn ! It was because you were dying of hunger."

" It is true, madame, that I have an excellent appetite ;
and then, with you, it seems to me that one must needs
always be hungry."



THE PLUMS 281

" Oh ! I don't feel sure whether I ought to take that
for a compliment or not! There is a proverb which
would rather work against me."

" What is the proverb, madame ? "

" As you don't know it, I won't tell you. Now, we
will proceed to the dessert; I had it put within our
reach, so that we need not ring; all we have to do is to
change tables. Don't you think that that is pleasanter ? "

These last words were accompanied with such a tender
glance that Cherubin was greatly confused; to recover
his self-possession, he hastily pushed away the table on
which they had breakfasted and replaced it by the smaller
one on which the dessert was all set out.

Madame Celival, who was desirous that the breakfast
should come to an end, made haste to serve her guest,
and offered him everything. Cherubin scrutinized the
compote of plums and asked:

"What is that?"

" Plums. Do you mean to say that you don't know
this dish?"

" Mon Dieu ! no, I never saw it before. At my nurse's
we never ate it."

Madame Celival laughed heartily.

" At your nurse's ! " she repeated ; " that is lovely ! an
excellent joke! One would think, to hear you, that you
had remained out at nurse to this day."

Cherubin bit his lips; he thought that he had made a
foolish speech, and was overjoyed to find that she took
it for a good joke. He accepted the plums which Ma-
dame Celival offered him.

" Well ! " said the lovely widow, after a moment, " how
do you like what you never had at your nurse's ? "

" Very well ! delicious ! "

" Will you have some more ? "



282 THE BASHFUL LOVER

" With pleasure."

Madame Celival served him again to plums, and he
said, as he ate them:

" But you are eating nothing, madame."

" Oh ! I am not hungry."

"Why not?"

" Why not ! what a strange question ! Because women
aren't like men, and when they have anything on their
mind, they live on their thoughts and their feelings, and
those are all they need."

These last words were uttered in a tone of annoyance,
for Madame Celival was beginning to think that Cheru-
bin passed an unduly long time at the table; however,
she continued to offer him the different dishes, like a
woman of breeding, who knows how to do the honors
of her house.

" Thanks," said Cherubin, " but I like the plums better
than anything."

" Very well, take some more."

" Really if I dared "

" You are not going to stand on ceremony, are you ? I
shall be offended."

Cherubin remembered that he must not be timid, that
it was that which had been so harmful to him. So he
helped himself to plums ; in a moment he took some
more; and as Madame Celival laughed heartily over his
passion for plums, and he was delighted to entertain her,
he did not stop until the dish contained no more.

The lovely widow seemed very well pleased when the
plums were exhausted, and the words : " That is very
lucky ! " escaped from her lips ; but they were almost
inaudible, and Cherubin did not hear them.

Meanwhile the pretty hostess had softly moved her
chair away from the table; she drank a few spoonfuls



THE PLUMS 283

of coffee, placed her cup on the mantel, then resumed
her seat on her couch, saying to the young man, in a
voice that went to his heart:

"Well! aren't you coming to sit by me?"

Cherubin began to understand that the time had come
when he must turn his attention to something besides
plums ; he left the table and walked about the salon, ad-
miring divers lovely engravings, the subjects of which,
while not too free, were well adapted to appeal to the
passions. He went into ecstasies before Cupid and
Psyche, the river Scamander, and an Odalisk lying on
her couch ; and finally he seated himself beside Madame
Celival, who said to him:

" Do you like my engravings ? "

" Yes, all those women are so lovely especially the
Odalisk!"

" The painter has hardly clothed her ; but to enable
us to admire her beauty, it was necessary to show her to
us unclothed. That is allowed in painting; artists have
privileges; we pardon everything in talent or in love."

These last words were accompanied by a sigh. Cheru-
bin looked at the lovely widow, and she had never seemed
to him more alluring ; for her eyes shone with a fire that
was at once intense and soft, and her half-closed lips
seemed inclined to reply to many questions. The young
man ventured to take a hand which was relinquished to
him without reserve ; he gazed fondly at that soft, plump,
white hand, with its tapering fingers; he dared not put
it to his lips as yet, but he pressed it tenderly, and not
only was it not withdrawn, but a very warm pressure
responded to his. Encouraged by that symptom, Cheru-
bin was about to cover that hand with kisses, when he
suddenly felt a sharp pain in the intestinal region.

Cherubin was thunderstruck.



284 THE BASHFUL LOVER

" What's the matter ? " queried Madame Celival,
amazed to find him holding her hand in the air, without
kissing it.

" Nothing, oh ! nothing, madame ! "

And the young man tried to dissemble a wry face
caused by a second pang, less sharp, it is true, but fol-
lowed by internal rumblings which portended a violent
tempest.

Meanwhile, being completely engrossed by his sensa-
tions, and disturbed by the thought of the possible sequel,
Cherubin ceased to take any part in the conversation
and dropped Madame Celival's hand on the couch.

" In heaven's name, what is the matter, monsieur ? "
murmured the pretty widow, in a half-reproachful, half-
melting tone. " You seem distraught, absent-minded ;
you say nothing to me. Do you know that that is not
agreeable on your part ? "

" Mon Dieu, madame, I assure you that nothing is the
matter ; you are mistaken."

And Cherubin did what he could to mask another con-
tortion; he was attacked by gripes which fairly tortured
him ; he realized that he had the colic, and not for any-
thing on earth would be have had Madame Celival guess
what had happened to him.

However, it is not a crime to feel indisposed ! But we
weak mortals, who seek sometimes to exalt ourselves to
the rank of gods, we blush because we are subject to all
the infirmities of the simplest of God's creatures; there
are times when we are sorely embarrassed to be at once
the man of the world and the natural man. Poor Cheru-
bin found himself in that predicament; the plums were
playing him a very treacherous trick.

Madame Celival could not misunderstand the young
marquis's tone. Piqued, too, because she could no longer



THE PLUMS 285

read in his eyes either affection or desire, she exclaimed
after a moment:

" Evidently, monsieur, you find it dull with me."

" Why, madame, I swear to you that that is not true
far from it; but "

" But you would prefer to be with Madame de Valdieri,
wouldn't you ? "

" Oh, no ! that is not where I would like to be at this
moment ! "

" Indeed ! where would you like to be at this moment,
monsieur ? "

Cherubin did not know what to reply; he endured
with difficulty another sharp pain, and felt the cold per-
spiration standing on his forehead. He cut a very sad
figure at that moment, and did not in the least resemble
a lover.

Madame Celival looked at him; she compressed her
lips angrily, and cried:

" Oh ! what an extraordinary face you are making !
Such a thing was never seen before by me, at all events.
Come, monsieur, speak, explain yourself; something is
the matter, certainly."

And the fair widow, still impelled by the tender senti-
ment which spoke in Cherubin's favor, walked toward
him and would have taken his hand; but he hastily
drew back, faltering in a stifled voice :

" Oh ! don't touch me, madame, I implore you ! "

" What does that mean, monsieur ? I beg you to be-
lieve that I have not the slightest desire to touch you,"
retorted Madame Celival, offended by the alarm depicted
on the young man's face. " But, monsieur, I am justified
in being surprised by the ill humor that has suddenly
taken possession of you; I did not expect that I should
er frighten you by showing you what pleasure it gave



286 THE BASHFUL LOVER

me to entertain you. Ha! ha! it is most amusing, on
my word ! "

Instead of replying to what she said, Cherubin abruptly
sprang to his feet, muttering:

" Excuse me, madame, excuse me but an appointment
I had forgotten I absolutely must go."

" What, monsieur ! you made an appointment when
you knew that you were to breakfast with me! That is
extremely courteous of you! You cannot make me be-
lieve that it is so urgent that you must go at once."

" Oh ! yes, madame, yes ! it is horribly urgent ; I can-
not postpone it any longer. Adieu, madame, adieu ! "

And Cherubin, after running madly about the boudoir
three times, in search of his hat, spied it at last, seized it,
rushed at the door, threw it open with such force that
he nearly broke it, and fled through all the rooms of
the suite, as if he were afraid of being pursued, leaving
Madame Celival aghast at his manner of taking leave of
her.

Cherubin reached home at last cursing the plums and
the ill-fortune which seemed to pursue him in his love-
affairs.

Toward evening Monfreville called upon his friend;
he was curious to know if he acquitted himself more
creditably at his last assignation than at the first. When
he saw the young marquis, still pale and exhausted, he
smiled and said:

" I see that your good fortune was complete this time,
and that you won a grand victory."

Cherubin looked at his friend with such a piteous ex-
pression that he did not know what to think. After care-
fully closing the door of his apartment, Cherubin told
Monfreville what had happened in his second amorous
tete-a-tete. Monfreville could not keep a sober face as



THE PLUMS 287

he listened to the story; and although Cherubin did not
share his merriment, it was a long time before he could
restrain it.

" So you consider it very amusing, do you ? " said
Cherubin, with a sigh.

" Faith, my dear fellow, it is very hard not to laugh
at the plight in which you found yourself."

" Agree that I am very unlucky."

" It is your own fault. When you breakfast tete-a-tete
with a lady, you should not stuff yourself with plums,
especially after you have already eaten heartily, as you
seem to have done."

" I did it to give myself courage, nerve ! "

" What you did give yourself was very agreeable."

" Well, no such accident will happen in my next tete-
a-tete with Madame Celival; I shall have better luck
next time."

" Oh ! don't flatter yourself that you will obtain a
second assignation from the fair widow. You are ruined
in her esteem, as well as in the little countess's. That
makes another conquest that you must abandon."

" Do you think so ? How unfair ! Does a woman
cease to love us because we are suddenly taken ill ? "

" Not for that reason, but because you behaved so
clumsily."

" What would you have done in my place ? "

" I would have said frankly that my breakfast was
disturbing me, that I was feeling very sick; then she
would have understood and excused my departure."

" Oh ! I would have died of shame rather than say
that!"

" That is very poor reasoning, my dear fellow ; re-
member that a woman will forgive everything except
contempt or indifference to her charms."



288 THE BASHFUL LOVER

Cherubin was very much cast down during the rest of
the day ; it seemed to him that there was a sort of fatality
about his love-affairs, and he was afraid that it would
continue to pursue him. But that same evening Darena
came to his house, to apprise him of the results of his
negotiations with the charming woman he had seen at
the Cirque.

" Victory ! " cried Darena, bringing his hand down
on the young marquis's shoulder ; " it's going on finely,
my friend ; your business is in good shape."

" Well, have you obtained an appointment for me ? "
inquired Cherubin, with an almost frightened expres-
sion.

" Deuce take it ! not yet ; such things don't go so fast
as you think; the young Polish countess is closely
watched, surrounded by duennas and Cerberuses."

" Is she a Polish countess ? "

"Yes, the Comtesse de Globeska, wife of the Comte
de Globeski, a man of high social position who had to
flee from his country because he was accused of high
treason. He's as jealous as a tiger! he's the kind of
fellow that talks of nothing but stabbing his wife if she
should give so much as one hair to a man ! "

"This is terrible!"

" It's of no consequence at all ! Women haven't the
slightest fear of daggers; on the contrary, they love to
defy danger. I succeeded in getting your letter to the
fair Globeska. It was a hard task ; I had to scatter gold
lavishly, and I did so; in fact, I borrowed some, as I
had not enough. I know that you will make it up to me,
and I thought that you would not blame me for being
zealous in the service of your love."

" Oh ! far from it, my dear Darena ; I thank you. But
did the pretty Pole write me a word in reply ? "



THE PLUMS 289

" No, she didn't write you ; perhaps she doesn't write
French very well that is excusable in a foreigner; but
women abound in self-esteem; they are afraid of being
laughed at if they make a mistake in grammar; in fact,
the enchanting Globeska replied by word of mouth, and
what she said is worth all the billets-doux that ever were
written."

"What did she say?"

" She said to her maid, whom I had seduced I mean
that I bribed her with money : ' Say to this young
Frenchman who has written me, that I share his passion.
Since I saw him, I dream of him all the time, even when
I am not asleep/ "

"Did she say that? Oh! what joy!"

" Let us finish : ' I am bound to a tyrant whom I detest.
Let this Frenchman devise some way to carry me off, and
I am ready to go with him I will throw myself into
his arms.' Well, what do you say to that, my lucky
Lovelace? I should say that you had turned her
head ! "

" Yes, my friend, I am very glad ; for I feel that I like
that young woman better than all the rest. With her it
seems to me that I shall be more at my ease than with
the women in fashionable society, who always intimidate
me."

" You will be very much at your ease, I promise you ;
the Poles are very unceremonious."

" But she talks about my carrying her off. Can that
be done ? Is it allowable to carry off a man's wife ? "

" Oh ! what a child ! In the first place, you don't
ask leave; and secondly, you see that she herself wants
it done. Never fear, I will look after the abduction;
I make that my business."

" My dear Darena, how much I am indebted to you ! "



290 THE BASHFUL LOVER

" But the main point is to know where I shall take
your charmer. You will understand that it would be
neither proper nor prudent to bring her to this house,
where your servants will see her, and "

" Oh ! certainly not. But where can we take her
then?"

" Nothing can be simpler. All that we have to do is
to hire a little house near Paris, in the suburbs, in some
lonely and quiet spot. Do you wish me to attend to that
too?"

" Oh, yes ! I beg that you will."

" Very good, I will hire a house. If it isn't furnished,
I will send some furniture. Give me some money ; I shall
want quite a great deal."

Cherubin ran to his desk, took out some bank-notes,
and handed them to Darena, saying:

" Here, here are two thousand, three thousand francs
is that enough ? "

" Yes ; but you may as well give me four thousand at
once; I must not fall short. Now, let me manage the
affair. I will make sure of a house, first of all, and have
it arranged to receive your inamorata ; then I will watch
for a favorable opportunity; as soon as it comes, I will
abduct the lady, then I will come here and tell you.
All that you will have to do will be to pluck the fruit
of the victory, and that will not be an unpleasant task."

"It is delightful!"

" But, above all, not a word of this to Monfreville,
or I will have nothing more to do with it."

" Never fear, that is understood."

" When your charmer has escaped from her tyrant's
hands, I will take care to order a dainty repast sent to
your little retreat. It is always essential that a lady
should find something to eat when she arrives."



A FAMILY INTERIOR 2$1

" Yes, my friend, order a supper. But no plums, I
beg ! No plums ! I have a horror of them ! "

Darena stared at Cherubin in amazement as he replied :

" Never fear. I was not aware of your aversion for
plums; they are said to be very healthful."

" If I see any on the table, I shall run off at once."

" All right don't get excited. I will see that none are
served."

And the count left his young friend, after pocketing the
bank-notes.

" Well," said Cherubin, " this conquest shall not escape
me, and it will make up to me for all that I have lost."



XXIII

A FAMILY INTERIOR

As Ernestine had announced to Louise, Madame de
Noirmont returned home on the day that she was ex-
pected. Her arrival was a festal occasion for Ernestine,
who flew to meet her mother the instant that she caught
sight of her, and threw herself into her arms. Madame
de Noirmont responded lovingly to her daughter's ca-
resses ; it was easy to see that she was touched by them,
and that she was genuinely happy to be at home once
more.

Monsieur de Noirmont did not rush to meet his wife;
such tokens of affection were not in accordance with his
nature; he feared that, by indulging in them, he should
compromise his dignity. However, when he learned that
she had returned, he went to her room and greeted her
pleasantly, but did not kiss her.



292 THE BASHFUL LOVER

"Did you have a pleasant journey, madame?"

" Yes, thanks, monsieur."

" And how is your aunt, Madame Duf renil ? "

" She is much better, monsieur ; her health is entirely
restored. But it was time for me to return, or I should
have been really ill with ennui, from being away from
my daughter so long. I was very sorry that you did not
allow me to take her with me, monsieur."

" The result of that, madame, is that you have the
greater pleasure in seeing her again, and I trust that
it will make you love her dearly."

With that, Monsieur de Noirmont saluted his wife and
returned to his study.

When her husband had gone, Madame de Noirmont
drew her daughter to her and pressed her to her heart
again and again:

" Your father thinks that I do not love you," she mur-
mured. " Do you think so too, my love ? "

" Oh, no ! indeed I don't, mamma," cried Ernestine.
" But papa doesn't think so, either ; I am sure of it.
I know that you love me; and why shouldn't you? am
I not your daughter ? "

Madame de Noirmont's features contracted nervously ;
her brow darkened, and she hastily extricated herself
from Ernestine's arms. But the cloud soon vanished and
she drew the girl to her again, saying in a melancholy
tone:

" Oh, yes, yes ! I love you dearly ! "

" I have never doubted it, mamma, and if you have


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