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help inwardly espousing the cause of poor
Madame de Chanteloup.

One afternoon an event for which I had
been fully prepared took place. My servant
brought me a card, which bore the name of Sir
Francis Porneroy, and announced that the
gentleman was waiting to hear whether I
would receive him. Of course I had to send
out a request that he would do me the honour
to come in. I did not know much about him ;
I had met him perhaps half a dozen times in
years gone by. I was intimate with some of
his relations, and I had written a polite reply
to the letter of introduction which had been
delivered to me by his son. It seemed probable
that he had now come to upbraid me for having
led his son into a guet-apens. However, the
tall, spare, grey-headed gentleman who was
presently ushered into my presence proved as


reasonable in behaviour as lie was courteous in

*' I have taken the liberty of calling upon
you before letting Eyre know of my arrival,
Mr. Wortley," he began, " because it will make
an unpleasant task somewhat easier for me if I
can obtain beforehand from a disinterested
source some account of this unfortunate
entanglement of his. You will allow that it
is an unfortunate entanglement ? "

" I don't know that I should describe it as an
entanglement," I replied. " I suppose I must
call it unfortunate by reason of certain rumours
which are tolerably notorious, and which may
even have reached your ears."

" They have not only reached my ears," said
Sir Francis, composedly, " but I have taken
pains to verify them. I have been at our
Embassy to-day, and also at the Lega-
tion " (for obvious reasons I suppress the
nationality of the Legation that he mentioned),



" and the result is that I have been allowed to
see documents which place the affair altogether
out of the category of rumours. There it all
is in black and white the private or semi-
private instructions of the Prince's Govern-
ment, the pressure brought to bear by our own
people, the Comte de Chanteloup's demands,
and his formal acknowledgment of the receipt
of a sum of money for a specific purpose. I
was not, it is true, allowed to take copies of
these papers, and I was warned that they
could never be made public ; but, of course, no-
thing of that kind is necessary for my purpose.
What I have seen amply justifies me in saying
that I cannot permit my son to marry a woman
with such a record as Madame de Chanteloup's.
I won't speak of his proposed change of religion.
It is a subject upon which I feel strongly ; but
the point really doesn't arise, and need not
be alluded to. My only wish is not to make
myself more disagreeable to Eyre than I can


help ; so I should be glad if you wouldn't mind
telling me whether he is ignorant of the cir-
cumstances, and whether, in that event, you
had any good reason for keeping him in ignor-
ance of them."

This was a little awkward, but I made out as
good a case as I could for myself, and I tried
also though I knew it would be useless to
make out as good a case as I could for Madame
de Chanteloup. Sir Francis listened to me
with perfect politeness and good temper ; he
even expressed sympathy with the unfortunate
lady, who, he said, might very likely have been
more sinned against than sinning.

" Only, of course," he added, " it's out of
the question for my son to marry her."

" You mean," I could not help observing,
" that you will forbid him to marry her. Isn't
it possible, though, that he may insist upon
marrying her, notwithstanding your pro-
hibition ? "


" Such a thing is possible, but I cannot think
it at all likely. You see, Mr. Wortley, both
you and Madame de Chanteloup have well, I
won't say you have deceived him ; but at all
events you haven't enlightened him. It
devolves upon me to do that, and, painful
though the duty is, I should be inexcusable if
I evaded it."

I could not urge him to refrain from doing
what any father would have done in his place ;
but I did venture to remind him that he was
not quite entitled to speak of Madame de
Chanteloup as a woman of damaged reputation.
" When all is said," I remarked, " there remains
a doubt, and I think she might be allowed the
benefit of it."

" I have no wish to be uncharitable,"
answered Sir Francis, getting up ; " but what
there cannot be the slightest doubt about is that
the Comte de Chanteloup was paid to marry
this lady, that the money was provided by the


father of the present king, and that Mrs. Wilbra-
ham threatened to make damaging disclosures if
the required sum was not forthcoming. From
those undisputed facts most people would say
that only one conclusion could be drawn."

I was not under any illusion as to what most
people would say, and in fact did say, about
this melancholy business ; yet I felt pretty sure
that Eyre Pomeroy would prove less amenable
to reason than his father expected him to be.
It is perhaps a mistake to be generous and
unsuspicious, and I myself may be too old to be
either the one or the other ; still I admire those
qualities in my juniors, and although, as I have
said, I had been a little disappointed in Madame
de Chanteloup for accepting Eyre, I should
have been still more disappointed in him if the
revelation which he was about to hear had
induced him to break with her. At the same
time, it will be readily understood that I did
not see my way to lending countenance or


encouragement to filial rebellion ; so that when,
some hours later, my young friend was an-
nounced, I began at once by saying

" If you have come here to ask me to inter-
cede for -you with your father, you have come
upon a vain errand. I warned you from the first,
remember, that you would have trouble with
him, and now you must fight your own battle."

" I haven't come upon any errand of that
kind, Mr. Wortley," answered the young man
gravely and sadly, " and there is no quarrel
between me and the governor, who, I must
say, has been as as considerate as it was
possible to be. More considerate, perhaps,
than some other people."

His tone was so absolutely the reverse of
what I had anticipated, that I was fairly taken
aback, and, to tell the truth, rather angered
into the bargain.

" Meaning me ? " I inquired.

" Well," answered the young man, seating


himself and I noticed that there was a drawn
look about his face, while all the healthy colour
had deserted it " I think you might have been
more candid with me. I can't help saying that
I think I might have been more candidly dealt
with. If it had been a question of mere gossip,
I should have had nothing to complain of;
but I don't quite understand my having been
allowed to remain in ignorance as to matters
of fact."

" Why, God bless my soul, sir ! " I exclaimed
(for in the days of my youth I had a hasty
temper, of which some traces still linger
within me), " do you venture to rebuke me
because I didn't poke my nose into the byways
of diplomacy in order to blacken the fair fame
of the very best woman with whom I have
the honour to be acquainted ? Who are you,
pray, that I should stab a friend in the back
to save you from committing an act of folly
upon which you were bent ? You intend, I


take it, to break faith with Madame de Chan-
teloup. Very well ; only, if you are in any
degree a gentleman, you will account for your
abandonment of her by affirming what, I should
think, was perfectly true that your father's
stalwart Protestantism won't admit of a matri-
monial alliance between his heir and a

The young fellow did not respond to my out-
burst by any counter-demonstration. " There
is no use in using strong language, Mr.
Wortley," said he, in the same calm, despairing
voice. " I am as unhappy as you could possibly
wish me to be ; but I am not ashamed. If
what my father has told me is true and I
am afraid that is beyond question I can no
more think of marrying the woman whom I
love than I could think of disgracing myself
and my family in any other way. Surely that
must be obvious to you ! And I don't think
it would be honest on my part to give her any


reason except the real one for what you call
my abandonment of her."

He was undeniably and exasperatingly in
the right. " As you please/' I returned. " I
can only say to you, as I have said to your
father, that there is a doubt, and that, in my
opinion, Madame de Chanteloup ought to be
allowed the benefit of it. However, it really
doesn't signify; because you don't mean to
marry her and, for the matter of that, I never
believed that you would. And now, as I have
an engagement to keep, and as I presume that
you have nothing more to say, I will ask you
to be so kind as to excuse me."

But it seemed that he had something more
to say ; it seemed to put things coarsely
that he was desirous of employing me as a
go-between, and that he thought I might spare
him some pain by taking a message from him
to Madame de Chanteloup. I need scarcely
add that I emphatically declined to be employed
in any such capacity.


" You have ridden at a fence which you are
afraid to take," said I ; " personally I don't
care a straw whether you shirk it or break
your neck over it. It is no business of mine
to find you in courage, or to see you through

" I must write to her, then," he replied,
meekly. " You may call me a coward if
you like ; but I daren't trust myself to see

So he went his way ; and I confess that,
after he had departed, my conscience reproached
me a little for the severity with which I had
treated him. He was not really behaving so
very badly ; he really had been deceived, and
I suppose it was the case that he owed some
sacrifice of his personal inclinations to ex-
pediency and to the honour of the good old
family whose name he bore. Still I could not
forget my poor Countess's radiant face as I had
seen it when she emerged from St. Germain


1'Auxerrois, and I could not for one instant
believe that she had ever been a bad woman,
though hard facts demonstrated that she had
been what, to all worldly intents and purposes,
is the same thing.

On the following afternoon I called at her
house. I can't exactly say what my object was
in so doing, nor had I any expectation that I
could be of the slightest use to her in her
distress ; but, havingjieard nothing of or from
young Pomeroy during the morning, and being
by no means sure that he would not leave
Paris without even bidding me good-bye, I
yielded to the feeling of restless uneasiness
which had oppressed me ever since the con-
clusion of my interview with him. If the
reader likes to assume that I was prompted by
mere vulgar curiosity, I make the reader
welcome to that assumption : it would not be
the first time that such a charge has been
brought against me.


Anyhow, my curiosity was not gratified,
for I failed to obtain admission into Madame
de Chanteloup's drawing-room. Madame
la Comtesse, the servant informed me, was
tres-souffrante ; she had had one of her bad
neuralgic headaches all day, and had now
gone to bed, giving orders that she was on
no account to be disturbed until the evening.
So I handed him my card, mentioned that I
would return to make inquiries on the morrow,
and went my way to the club, where I remained
until the clock warned me that it was time to
go home and dress for a dinner-party to which
I had been bidden.

A fiacre was turning away from my door
just as I reached it, and when I was about
half-way upstairs I overtook Eyre Pomeroy,
who was clinging to the banisters and who
seemed scarcely able to put one foot before

" What is the matter ? " I exclaimed, taking


him by the arm ; " what has happened ? " for
I saw by his ghastly face that some catastrophe
must have occurred.

" What has happened ? " he repeated, in a
strange thick voice. " Haven't you heard ?
no, of course you haven't. She is dead, that's
all yes, dead ! I don't know whether you
can believe it or not ; / can't, though there
isn't a doubt about its being true."

To the best of my recollection, I did not
believe it. I thought the lad must have been
drinking, or that he was the victim of some
hallucination. He was, at all events, incapable
of expressing himself coherently. It was only
after I had got him into an arm-chair and had
made him swallow a couple of glasses of wine
that he recovered the use of his tongue ; and
even then he remained so painfully agitated
that I had difficulty in understanding what
he said. I gathered, however, that he had, on
the previous evening, written such a letter to


Madame de Chanteloup as he had intimated his
intention of writing.

"I received her answer," he said, "an hour
or perhaps it was two hours" ago. Here
it is; read it, and you will see you will
see "

His voice broke, and it was some seconds
before he could resume : " Of course, I rushed
at once to her house. There was a great dis-
turbance there. I didn't understand what it
was about ; but they tried to keep ine back,
and I forced my way in. All the doors were
open ; the servants were in her bedroom,
sobbing and chattering ; I think there was a
policeman there too ; I saw her lying on the
bed, dead and cold. She had been ill and had
taken an over-dose of chloral, they said. I
think I had better kill myself too ; for you
will see by her letter that she was innocent
and that I murdered her ! "

I quieted him as best I could ; but naturally




I myself was somewhat overcome, arid even
if I had had all my wits about me I don't know
that I could have said very much to comfort
him. Presently he sank back in his chair and
motioned to me to read the letter which he had
placed in my hand.

I need not quote the whole of it; indeed,
I am not sure that, had he been calmer, he
would have cared to let me see the opening
sentences, which conveyed an assurance of such
passionate love as I should scarcely have sup-
posed Madame de Chanteloup capable of pen-
ning, and which, even at that sad moment,
I could not help wondering at his having had
the power to arouse. But, notwithstanding
this or possibly on account of it the writer
acquiesced without a murmur in the sentence
which had been pronounced against her, ac-
knowledging that it was inevitable, and only
marvelling that she had ever imagined that
it might be averted.


" Still," she added, " now that all is over
between us, and since you cannot, I think,
suspect me of any wish to bring you back to
me, I should like you to know that the truth
is not quite so bad as you have been led to
believe. The Prince paid me great attentions,
and my vanity was flattered by them ; I liked
him very much, though I did not love him ;
I was scarcely more than a child ; I knew
nothing of the world, and when he used to

talk about a morganatic marriage I saw no


impossibility in such an arrangement. Indeed,
so far as I had any voice in the matter, I had
consented to this when, all of a sudden, I was
told that he had gone away, that I should
never see him again, that he had even been
placed under a sort of arrest, and that I was
to marry M. de Chanteloup. Of course I was
very unhappy; but I had always been com-
pletely under the control of my mother, who
told me this was not a case for argument, that


she had done the very best she could for me,
and that I must bow to necessity. It was not
until after my marriage that I learnt from my
husband by what infamous means the trans-
action which handed me over to him had been
brought about. I don't speak of my mother's
share in it. She was ambitious ; in her eager-
ness to make what she considered a magnificent
alliance for me she probably committed herself
to false statements which may afterwards have
been used against her, and from which she
could find no honourable way of escape. At
any rate, my husband's revelation came far
too late to save or serve me. If I had pro-
claimed my true story from the house-tops,
not one person in a thousand would have
believed it. But you, I hope, will believe it,
and forgive the wrong I was so nearly doing
you, as I have forgiven those who have ruined
iny life."

There was a good deal more; but I could


only glance at the remainder of the letter;
for young Pomeroy had started up from his
recumbent attitude, and his cold, trembling
fingers were laid upon my wrist.

" Well ? " said he, impatiently. " Speak
out don't be afraid of hurting me. Do you
think she did it ? "

I was astonished at the question. " Why/
I exclaimed, " you yourself told me just now
that you were persuaded of her innocence,
and I must confess "

"No, no!" he interrupted, fretfully; "you
don't understand me. As if I would let you
dare to cast a doubt upon her innocence !
What I mean is, do you do you think she
killed herself ? "

I could only say, as I had said in a previous

instance, that I thought she should be allowed

the benefit of the doubt. That is all that I can

say or think now ; and although Eyre Pomeroy

would have been better pleased, I suppose,


if I could have given him the more positive
assurance which he craved, he did not, pre-
sumably, consider that the circumstances would
justify him in fulfilling his own threat of

Far from acting so foolishly and wickedly,
he has lately gratified his family by making
a highly satisfactory marriage, and I should
not imagine that he has revisited Pere Lachaise
since the dismal, rainy day when he followed
poor Madame de Chanteloup's remains to their
last resting-place in that dreariest of all burial



THE little sitting-room, at
whose open window I was
seated, was very hot; from
the lodgings on either hand
there broke into the quie-
tude of the night a horrid,
distracting noise of jingling
pianos, accompanied by a
squealing of female voices. The hour was about
eleven. I filled my pipe afresh, left the house,
and walked in the direction of the beach.

The moon rode high; I had never before
seen the orb so small and also so brilliantly
piercing ; she diffused a wide haze of greenish



silver round about her in the heavens, in the
skirts of which a few stars of magnitude shone
sparely, though, clear of the sphere of this
steam-like radiance, the sky trembled with
brilliants, and went hovering to the sea-line,
rich with prisms and crystals. In the heart
of the silent ocean lay the fan-shaped wake
of the moon, and the splendour of its hither
extremity, so wide-reaching was it, seemed to
melt in the lines of summer surf, which formed
and dissolved upon the wet-darkened sand.

It wanted about a quarter of an hour to
the turn of the ebb. The sands were a broad,
firm platform, and stretched before and behind
me, whitened into the complexion of ivory by
the moonbeams. The cliffs rose tall and dark
on my left, a silent range of iron terraces, with
the black sky-line of them showing out against
the stars, and with nothing to break their
continuity save here and there a gap, as of
some ravine. The summer-night hush was


exquisitely soothing. From afar came the thin,
faint notes of a band of music playing in the
town, past the huge shoulder of cliff, but the
distance was too great to suffer the strains to
vex the ear; indeed, the silence was accen-
tuated rather than disturbed by that far-off
music. The creeping of the surf was like the
voice of innumerable fountains. There was
not a breath of air ; the moon's reflections lay
tremorless; and in the liquid dusk on the
western edge of that motionless path of light
floated the phantom shape of a ship, her hull
as black as ink, and her sails stirlessly poised
over her, like ice in shadow.

I walked dreamily onwards, smoking my
pipe, and listening to the innumerable babble
of the waters upon the beach. I went perhaps
a mile. There was plenty of time ; no hurry
to go to bed on such a night, and there would
be abundance of room for the walk home, long
after the tide should have turned.


I came abreast of a mass of black rock, table-
shaped, and nearly awash ; that is to say, the
water stood almost at the level of it, so that
at flood it would be submerged and out of
sight. I spied what I thought to be a gleam
of light resting upon it ; but on looking again
I was sure that that strange shining could
not be moonlight, for the lustre was local,
and it was not light either, but white, and
its size was about that of a man's body; and,
indeed, it looked so much like a naked man
that I drew close to examine it. There was
dry sand to the rock ; but the water brimmed
very nearly around it, and there was water
under where the white object lay. On drawing
near, I observed that what I had thought to
be a gleam of light was the body of a drowned
man. I stood staring long enough to satisfy
me that he was dead. It was a dismal and
a dreadful object to light upon. The very
silence of the night, the beauty ^of the stars,


the high, peaceful, piercing moon somehow
increased the horror of the thing. On a dark,
stormy night, I do not know that such a
spectacle would have so shocked and unnerved
me as this now did.

I peered to right and left, but not the shadow
of mortal being stirred upon the white sweep
of the sands. Then, casting my eyes up at
the cliff, I recollected that a little distance
further on there was a gully, at the head of
which stood a coastguard's hut, and, knowing
that there would be a man stationed on the
look-out up there, I forthwith bent my steps
in the direction of the gully, and ascended it,
until I arrived at the hut. Here I found a
coastguard. He eyed me fixedly as I approached

I said, " Good night, coastguard."

" Good night," he answered, attentively
surveying me by the light of the moon.

" I am somewhat breathless," said I ; " I have


walked fast, and that gully is hard to climb.
There is a dead body down on the beach."

u Whereabouts, sir ? " he exclaimed with the
instant promptitude of the seaman, and he
advanced to the edge of the cliff.

" It lies on that rock there," said I, pointing.
" I see it, sir," said he. " D'ye mind coming
along with me? My mate won't be here for
a bit."

Together we proceeded to the sands. The
coastguard got upon the rock and stood view-
ing the body. Then, catching hold of it by
the arms, he dragged it gently on to the sand.

" Ay," said he ; " I thought as much. This'll
be the gent as was drowned whilst bathing
out of a boat yesterday. Poor fellow ! he's
left a wife and two children. There's been
a reward of twenty pounds offered for his
body. That'll be yourn, sir."

" It will be yours," said I. " I do not stand
in need of money earned in this fashion."


The body was that of a man of about thirty.
He had fair hair and a large moustache, and
in life had doubtless been a handsome young

" 'Tain't often as they comes ashore so per-
fect," said the coastguard. " They're mostly
all ate up so as to be unrecognizable."

I recoiled, and said, " Why am I afraid of
this body ? It cannot hurt me. It is but a
dead man, and comely too. Why, as he lies
there, coastguard, he might be formed of ivory,
moulded by the fingers of the sea out of its
own foam, and cast up thus. And yet," said
I, looking round with a silly, chilly shiver
running through me, " I believe it would go
near to unsettling my wits were I forced to
stand watch by this body all through the night

"I see he's got his rings on," said the
matter-of-fact coastguard, stooping to bring
his eyes close to the fingers of the body.


" "What is now to be done ? " said I.

" Which way might you be going, sir ? "

" Home back to the town," I replied ; " I've
walked enough by the sea-shore to-night."

" Then," said the coastguard, " I'll ask you
to report this here discovery to the first bobby
ye meets with. Tell him that the body lies

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Online LibraryThomas HardyStories in Black and white → online text (page 2 of 13)