Paul de Kock.

Novels by Paul de Kock (Volume 19) online

. (page 23 of 27)
Online LibraryPaul de KockNovels by Paul de Kock (Volume 19) → online text (page 23 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and fled ; but he was not so quick that he did not receive
the toe of Jasmin's boot in his posterior; and the old
servant said to him at the same time : " There, you thief ;
take that for your preserves ! "


Monfreville walked toward Chichette, who had re-
mained on the couch, without speaking or moving; he
could not help smiling at her expression.

" And you, madame la comtesse," he said, " in what
shop do you usually work ? "

" I make Italian straw hats on Rue de Grenetat. It
wasn't my fault; they promised me a lot of money if
I'd make believe I was monsieur's wife ; and I consented
so I could put it by and marry my little pays."

Mademoiselle Chichette drew her handkerchief and
looked as if she were going to weep; but Monfreville
reassured her by saying:

" I have nothing against you, my girl ; don't cry, and
go back to your Italian straw hats. But believe me, it is
much better for one in your trade to dance the cancan
than to play the great lady."

Mademoiselle Chichette blew her nose, made several
curtsies, then left the room with a shamefaced air, not
venturing to glance at Cherubin.

" And now, my friend," said Monfreville to the young
marquis, " I think that we too may quit this wretched
barrack. I believe that there is nothing to detain us
here longer."

" Oh, no ! and I am so happy, my dear Monfreville,
after having such a terrible fright! I will tell you the
whole story ; but first tell me how you succeeded in learn-
ing that I was here, and how you happened to arrive so

" That's easily done ; do you see that cab at the door ? "

" Yes."

" It's the same one that brought you here. I called at
your house after you left ; I found Jasmin very uneasy ;
he told me that you had gone away in a cab with Darena,
whose frequent visits of late, together with his air of


mystery, had aroused my suspicions ! I asked Jasmin if
he had called the carriage himself, and when he said yes,
I asked him to take me to the cabstand. There we waited
more than two hours for your cab to return. It ap-
peared at last. I gave the driver twenty francs and told
him to take us to the place to which he had taken you;
he asked nothing better, and he brought us to this house.
Knaves are very shrewd, my dear boy, but luckily there
is a concealed power shrewder than they, who defeats
the most cunningly devised schemes at the moment when
their authors deem themselves most certain of impunity.
Some call that power Providence, others chance, fatality,
destiny, luck. I don't know what name to give it, but I
bow before it and am only too glad to believe that, if
there are people here on earth inclined to do evil, there
is a power on high, ever on the watch to prevent or
repair it."

Cherubin pressed Monfreville's hand affectionately;
then they left the house on the outer boulevard, which
even little Bruno had abandoned, for they saw no sign
of anybody. They entered the cab with Jasmin, upon
whom they were almost obliged to use force, because the
old fellow insisted on riding behind.

When they reached home, Cherubin told Monfreville
how Darena had managed the affair, and how he had
urged him above all things to preserve the most absolute
secrecy about it.

" I am not surprised," said Monfreville, " that he urged
you not to mention it to me ; he knew that I would not
be taken in by the story of a Polish countess who was
anxious to be abducted by a young man whom she had
seen just once, at the theatre."

" He said that you set yourself up now as a man of
strict virtue, to make people forget your former conduct ;


he declared that you used to be famous for your love-
affairs, your conquests, and that your principles then
were much less severe than they are to-day. Forgive
me I am only repeating what he said."

Monfreville's brow had grown dark ; his face wore an
expression of deep sorrow, and he was silent for some
time. At last, fixing his eyes upon Cherubin's, he said
in a melancholy tone :

" It is true, my friend, that in my youth I did many
foolish things, and I have some serious faults with which
to reproach myself. But I was so cruelly punished that
I was cured in good season. That does not prevent me
from being indulgent to others, because I am well aware
that it is a part of our nature to be subject to passions and
weakness, and to be led astray by them sometimes. Some
day, Cherubin, I will tell you a story of my young days,
which has had an influence on my whole life. You will
see that these love-affairs, which we treat so cavalierly
at twenty, sometimes have very bitter results."

" Thus far," said Cherubin, with a sigh, " I haven't
been lucky in my love-affairs, and my amorous adventures
have not afforded me much enjoyment ! "



After Monsieur de Noirmont expressed in such de-
cided terms his resolution with respect to Louise, Ernes-
tine's mother said not a word to indicate that she still
thought of dismissing the young woman ; on the contrary
it seemed that, having made up her mind to submit to


her husband's desire, Madame de Noirmont had recov-
ered from her apparent prejudice against Louise. She
still treated her with a coldness which sometimes ap-
proached severity; but the tone of her voice, sharp and
curt at first, often softened so far as to seem almost
affectionate. One would have said that she was van-
quished by the charm with which the girl's whole per-
sonality was instinct, by her timid obedience, by the
eagerness with which she waited on her mistress, so that
the latter was sometimes, in spite of herself, drawn on to
love her.

Louise did not know that Madame de Noirmont had
thought of sending her away. Ernestine and her father
alone were aware of the circumstance, and the former,
when she learned that her mother's determination would
not be carried out, had concluded that it would be use-
less to mention it to Louise, that it would grieve her to
learn that she was so far from having succeeded in win-
ning her mistress's favor by her zeal, that that mistress
had intended to dismiss her. As for Monsieur de Noir-
mont, after making his wishes known, he was not the
man to mention such domestic matters to anybody on

But a thing that was easily noticed, and that Louise
saw, together with all the rest of the household, was that
Madame de Noirmont became more depressed and gloomy
every day.' A smile never appeared on her lips; she
avoided society ; visits annoyed her and were a burden to
her; spending almost all the time in her apartment, she
ordered the servants to say that she was out, or not feel-
ing well, so that she might not be disturbed in her soli-
tude ; even her daughter's presence seemed sometimes to
oppress and irritate her. The sweet-tempered Ernestine,
who had done nothing to forfeit her mother's affection,


was sometimes very much distressed at being treated so
coldly by her; when she went to Madame de Noirmont,
to kiss her, she would push her away impatiently, or re-
ceive with listless indifference the marks of her affection ;
thereupon the girl would turn away, forcing back the
tears which rose to her eyes, but which she would not
allow to appear, for fear of angering her mother.

Louise, seeing her young mistress furtively wipe her
eyes, would say to her:

" You are unhappy, mademoiselle, and I am very sure
that it's because your mamma hasn't kissed you for some
time past."

Whereupon Ernestine would reply, with a deep sigh :

" That is true ; I don't know what mamma can have
against me; it's of no use for me to try to think what
I can have done to displease her; I can't remember
anything. But for some time she hasn't called me her
dear child or taken me in her arms. It isn't possible,
though, that she doesn't love me, is it, Louise? It's her
health that makes her like this; her nerves are out of
order; she doesn't complain, but I am perfectly sure
that she is sick; besides, anyone can see that she has
changed a great deal lately."

" That is true, mademoiselle, I have noticed it too.
Yes, you are right, it's because madame isn't well that
she is more melancholy and doesn't caress you so much.
But why don't you send for the doctor?"

" Several times I have said to mamma : ' You are
pale, you must be suffering; you ought to send for
Monsieur Derbaut, our doctor ; ' but mamma always
answers in a provoked tone : ' Nothing's the matter with
me ; it's useless to have the doctor, I don't need him.' "

The two girls exchanged their ideas thus, seeking a
way to make themselves useful, one to her mother, the


other to her mistress; for they both loved Madame de
Noirmont, despite the harshness and capriciousness of her
temper, which so often made her unjust; Ernestine loved
her with all the clinging affection of a child who refuses
to see her mother's faults ; Louise with a respectful devo-
tion which would have led her joyfully to undertake the
most painful task, if it would have earned her a smile
from her mistress.

But Madame de Noirmont seemed carefully to avoid
giving Louise any opportunity to wait upon her; only
in her husband's presence, and when it was impossible
for her to do otherwise, would she give her an order or
two, or take something from her hand. The young lady's
maid, who would gladly have anticipated her mistress's
slightest wish, sometimes followed her with her eyes, in
the hope of making herself useful to her ; but if Madame
de Noirmont caught Louise's glance fastened upon her,
her own expression would become sterner, and she would
instantly motion to her to leave the room.

One day, madame was in her room, as usual, holding a
book of which she read very little, because her thoughts
absorbed her so completely that she could give no atten-
tion to anything else. Ernestine was seated at a little
distance, embroidering, and from time to time glancing
furtively at her mother, in the hope of meeting her eyes
and of obtaining from her a smile, which had become a
very infrequent favor. Madame de Noirmont turned to
her and said, holding out the book:

" Ernestine, bring me the second volume of this ; you
will find it in the library, on the second shelf at the

The girl rose quickly, took the book and left the room,
eager to obey her mother. Having found the volume for
which Madame de Noirmont had asked her, she was


about to take it to her, when she found her drawing-
master, who had just arrived, waiting for her in the
salon. Ernestine gave Louise the book and told her to
take it to her mother; then she sat down by her teacher
to take her lesson.

Louise took the book and went to her mistress's room.
When she was about to turn the knob, she felt that she
was trembling; she was so afraid of offending Madame
de Noirmont, who had not sent her on that errand. How-
ever, she went in.

Madame de Noirmont was seated, her head fallen for-
ward on her breast. She did not raise her eyes when
she heard the door open, for she had no doubt that it
was Ernestine; and Louise reached her side and handed
her the book without daring to utter a word.

But at that moment, impelled by an outburst of mater-
nal affection, she took the hand that offered the book
and squeezed it in her own, murmuring:

" My poor love, you must have thought me most un-
just to you of late, and you think perhaps that I no
longer love you! Do not think that, my child; I still
love you as dearly as I ever did; but you cannot under-
stand what is taking place in my heart, and what I
suffer. No, you will never know "

At that moment she raised her head and drew the girl
toward her, meaning to kiss her. Not until then did she
recognize Louise. She was speechless and motionless
with surprise; a terrified expression appeared on her
face, from which all the blood receded, and she raised
her eyes to heaven, faltering:

" O mon Dieu ! and I called her my child ! "

" Forgive me, madame, forgive me," murmured Louise,
terribly alarmed at her mistress's condition. " It was
not my fault, it was mademoiselle who sent "


Madame de Noirmont struggled to master her emo-
tion, and rejoined in a sharp, stern tone:

" Why did you come into my room ? Did I call you ?
Why are you here? To try to surprise my thoughts, my
secrets ? "

" O madame mon Dieu ! can you believe it ? "

" Have I not constantly found your eyes fastened on
me of late, mademoiselle following, watching my slight-
est movements? What makes you act so? Have you
some hidden motive? Come, speak, mademoiselle."

" If I have offended you, madame, it was entirely
without intention; if my eyes have sometimes rested on
you, it is because I would have been happy to anticipate
some wish of yours, to do something that would please
you, to earn a word or a kind look from you; that was
my motive, when I ventured to look at you. And then
too it was a joy to me, madame; but I will do without
it, since you forbid it."

Louise bent her head before her mistress; she was
almost on her knees, and her voice trembled so that
she could hardly finish what she was saying.

Madame de Noirmont seemed deeply moved; one
would have said that a conflict was raging in the tlepths
of her heart; she rose, paced the floor, walked away
from Louise, then toward her. She gazed at her for a
long, very long time, but not with a stern expression;
her eyes were filled with tears. Suddenly she ran to
the girl, who had remained on the same spot, with down-
cast eyes and afraid to take a step; she took her hand
and drew her toward her but almost instantly pushed
her away again, saying sharply:

" Go, mademoiselle, go ; I have no further need of

Louise obeyed. She left the room, saying to herself:


" Mon Dieu ! what is the matter with her, and what
have I done to her ? "

A week after this incident, Monsieur de Noirmont in-
formed his wife that he proposed to give a great dinner.
He named the persons whom he had invited, fifteen in
number, and added:

" I had an idea of inviting young Marquis Cherubin
de Grandvilain too; but I asked him to come to see me,
and he has never come ; and so, as he has not shown the
slightest desire to associate with an old friend of his
father, we will not have him."

Madame de Noirmont could not conceal the annoyance
which the announcement of that function caused her.
But Monsieur de Noirmont continued in a very curt tone :

" Really, madame, if I should leave you to follow
your own desires, we should have no company, we should
live like owls. I am not a fool a devotee of pleasure;
but still, I don't propose to live like a hermit. Besides,
madame, we have a daughter, and it is our duty to think
about her welfare; before long it will be time to think
of marrying her, of finding a suitable match for her;
meanwhile we must not keep her sequestered from so-
ciety, of which she is destined to be an ornament some
day. Poor Ernestine! you refuse every opportunity
that offers to take her to balls or receptions or concerts.
You are ill, you say. I cannot compel you to go out,
madame; but, as your health confines you constantly to
the house, we will entertain; such is my present deter-
mination, madame."

Madame de Noirmont made no observation, for she
was well aware that as soon as her husband had made
up his mind to do a thing, nothing could divert him from
his resolution; and Monsieur de Noirmont left her,
having requested her to give the necessary orders so


that everything might be ready for the dinner, which
was appointed for the Thursday following.

Madame de Noirmont resigned herself to the inevit-
able; when the day drew near, she gave her orders and
superintended the preparations for the banquet. Ernes-
tine, when she learned that they were to entertain many
guests and give a grand dinner, rejoiced greatly and
looked forward to it with the keenest pleasure. Pleasures
and amusements had become so rare in her life, that
every departure from the customary monotony seemed a
blessing. Louise hoped that the dinner would afford her
an opportunity to make herself useful, to display her
zeal, and she shared her young mistress's childlike joy.

At last the day came when the interior of that house,
ordinarily so placid, was to echo with the voices of a
numerous company. From early morning there was a
great commotion in the Noirmont mansion; the master
of the house alone spent the day as usual, working
tranquilly in his study, awaiting the hour when the guests
were to arrive ; but Madame de Noirmont issued orders,
overlooked the preparations, made sure that everything
that she had ordered was at hand. Ernestine followed
her mother about, dancing and laughing, anticipating
great pleasure for that day.

" You must make yourself very lovely for the dinner,"
she said to Louise, " because you are to wait at table
with Comtois; that is the custom when we have com-

" Never fear, mademoiselle," replied Louise ; " I don't
know whether I shall be lovely, but I promise to do my
best to wait at table well, so that madame your mother
will be content with me."

But, a few moments before it was time for the guests
to arrive, Madame de Noirmont said to her daughter:


" Ernestine, I don't want your maid to wait at table ;
tell her that she may remain in her room; we shall not
need her."

Ernestine could not understand her mother's whim;
she looked up at her and said hesitatingly:

" But, mamma, usually, when we have company you
know "

" I do not ask for your comments, my child ; do what
I tell you."

Ernestine obeyed her mother; she went sadly to
Louise's room, where she found her finishing her toilet.

" Do you like me in this dress, mademoiselle ? " in-
quired Louise ; " is it suited to my position ? "

" Oh ! yes, yes, my poor Louise, you look very pretty ! "
replied Ernestine, heaving a deep sigh ; " but it was not
worth while to take so much pains with your toilet, for
mamma doesn't want you to wait at table; she says that
you can stay in your room."

Louise's face expressed the disappointment caused by
that command ; however, she did not indulge in a single

" I will obey, mademoiselle," she replied ; " doubtless
madame your mother has good reasons for wishing me
not to do it. Alas ! I am afraid that I can guess them :
she doesn't like to see me; my presence annoys her;
I will obey, she shall not see me."

Ernestine did not feel equal to contradicting her; for,
knowing that her mother had once intended to dismiss
Louise, she believed that the girl had guessed aright.
She simply pressed her hand, then left her, because the
time had come when the guests would probably begin
to arrive.

Monsieur de Noirmont had invited more men than
ladies; however, the wife of a certain advocate arrived


with her husband; she was a tall, large woman, of
much pretension, very fond of listening to herself talk,
but, to balance matters, little inclined to listen to others.

Another lady, young and rosy and affable, formed a
striking contrast to the first; she was the wife of a
solicitor, who had just married in order to pay for his
office. The advocate had married the tall lady so that he
could afford to wait for clients. In society nowadays
a marriage is a matter of business, seldom of sympathetic

A few serious men, two young exquisites, and Mon-
sieur Trichet, whom we have met before at Madame
Celival's, completed the party. Monsieur de Noirmont
received his guests with his customary phlegmatic man-
ner. Madame de Noirmont, who had made the best of
it and had resigned herself to receive all that company,
tried not to allow her ennui to appear ; she did the honors
of her salon with much grace; she forced herself to
smile ; she was able, when she chose, to address a pleas-
ant word to each guest; and they were all the more
pleased because they were not used to it.

Ernestine recovered her spirits when she saw that
her mother seemed to have recovered hers; at her age
small vexations are soon forgotten; she loved company,
and of late she had had so few opportunities to enjoy
herself, that she joyfully seized every one that presented
itself. As the young lady of the house, she listened to
those complimentary remarks which it is not safe to be-
lieve, but which are always pleasant to the ear. They
said that she had grown and improved ; they did not say
it to her, but they said it to her parents loud enough for
her to hear. Madame de Noirmont listened indifferently
to the compliments paid to her daughter, but Monsieur
de Noirmont was enchanted by them.


Monsieur Trichet was the same as always : talking all
the time, determined to know everything, taking part in
every conversation, and with his ear always on the alert
to hear what was being said in all the corners of the
salon; that man was kept very busy in company.

Comtois announced that dinner was served, and the
whole company adjourned to the dining-room. They
took their seats and began to eat, with the silence of
good breeding, which is sometimes maintained until the

The first course was still in progress when Monsieur
de Noirmont, not being served quickly enough, looked
about the room and said to Comtois:

" Where is the maid ? why is she not assisting you ?
I am not surprised that the service is so slow ! What is
she doing, pray? Didn't you tell her that she was to
wait at table?"

Comtois was sadly embarrassed; when he called
Louise, she told him what orders she had received from
her mistress. He twisted his tongue about, and answered
half audibly:

" Monsieur I madame said that that it was un-
necessary for "

Monsieur de Noirmont did not allow Comtois to finish
his sentence; he rejoined shortly:

" Tell Louise to come at once ; she must help you

Comtois did not wait for the order to be repeated,
especially as he was very glad, in the bottom of his heart,
to have the girl assist him.

Madame de Noirmont looked at her plate and turned
ghastly pale; Ernestine gazed anxiously from her father
to her mother; and Monsieur Trichet, who had com-
ments to make on everything, exclaimed:


" Ah ! so you have a lady's maid who doesn't want
to serve at table? You are perfectly right to compel
her to do it. Servants are amazing nowadays! If we
listened to them they would do nothing at all, and we
should pay them high wages! I am curious to see your
lady's maid."

Louise's arrival put an end to these remarks. The
girl was much embarrassed when she received the order
sent through Comtois; she hesitated to follow him at
first, but Comtois said :

'' You must come, mademoiselle ; monsieur says so,
and when he gives an order, you must obey."

So Louise decided to go with the valet. The thought
that she was going to vex her mistress by obeying her
master's commands caused her very great distress ; so
that she entered the room with downcast eyes and with
her cheeks flushing hotly. But she was all the prettier
so, and most of the guests seemed impressed by her

" Upon my word," said Monsieur Trichet, " this girl
would have done very wrong not to show herself! I
have seen few servants so pretty. What is that you are
saying, Monsieur Dernange? Oh! I hear you: you
said : ' A Greek profile/ True, very like it. But Greek
or not, it is very distinguished for the profile of a lady's

The two young men did not make their reflections
aloud, like Monsieur Trichet, but they seemed not to
weary of gazing at Louise, and they were delighted to
have their plates changed by her.

The tall, pretentious lady cast a disdainful glance at
Louise and muttered :

" I cannot understand how anyone can call a servant
pretty ! "


" That girl is fascinating ! " cried the other lady ;
" and she has such a modest air ! Everything about her
speaks in her favor."

" Oho ! " said Monsieur Trichet, " it isn't safe to trust
to such airs ; they're often very deceptive. I know what
I am talking about; I have had two hundred maids,
and they have all stolen from me."

Madame de Noirmont made no reply to all these re-
flections inspired by the sight of her pretty lady's maid.
But it was plain that she was suffering, that she was
holding herself back, that she was doing her utmost to
appear calm and amiable as before.

Ernestine was no longer in a merry mood, for she
saw that something was wrong with her mother.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 23 25 26 27

Online LibraryPaul de KockNovels by Paul de Kock (Volume 19) → online text (page 23 of 27)