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denly a bell rang sharply in some distant room.
'It is Monsieur le Baron for the bouilli,' muttered François, and he shuffled off.
'Let us make haste,' said Albert; and he was leading the way upstairs, having just reached the first step, when a lady's voice made Frank start violently. It sounded so sweet and strange in the desolate gloomy old house, where there seemed to be no welcome and no warmth.
'Do I hear Albert's voice?' said the lady.
She had suddenly appeared in a low-arched doorway, which framed her in like a picture. Frank, who was the nearest, made her a low bow. She curtsied with extreme politeness; but Frank was sure that there was the faintest quiver of amusement about her mouth, and felt miserably conscious of being an absurd object. It was a new thing for him not to be quite satisfied with his own appearance.
'Ah, there you are, ma belle !' exclaimed Albert, and he marched up to the lady. 'I dare not even allow myself to kiss your hand. May I present my friend, Monsieur Morley, to my sister, Mademoiselle de Saint-Flor?'
'I am charmed to see you, monsieur,' said the lady, smiling on Frank with a grave sweetness which reassured him. 'But how did you bring yourself and your friend into this sad plight, my poor brother? Tell me, then-you have walked in this frightful weather all the way from Bordeaux ?'
'No, indeed; only from the railway. But I will explain presently,' said Albert. Excuse us a moment, dearest. Beg my father and mother to pardon this sudden intrusion, and to give us something to eat.'
But certainly, poor travellers! Make haste, then. Ah, let me
see-I will send old Marie to you with dry clothes."
Albert tore up-stairs, followed by his friend, whose brain was in a strange commotion. Twenty railway accidents would have been less exciting than this encounter with Mademoiselle de Saint-Flor, whose pitying glance and smile, half pensive, half amused, seemed a revelation of something so completely new and charming. He thought he had never seen so picturesque a figure. She was rather tall, and very thin; pale, in fact completely colourless; but there was nothing painful or unhealthy in the look of her creamy skin. It was simply beautiful. Her face was delicate, full of expression, and very French. Her hair was almost black. She was dressed in a thick, soft, white stuff, with black ribbons; the only colour she had was in her eyes, which were those truly violet eyes possessed by one woman in a million.
As he hastily prepared himself to appear before this angel at dinner, Frank shouted to Albert, who was in an adjoining room with the door open,
'I thought you told me that you and mademoiselle your sister were like each other?'
'My dear friend, our features are precisely the same.'
'Then you are a much handsomer fellow than I took you for,' said Frank, half to himself, but Albert was listening.
'Aha, you are always so droll! You find her handsome, then, my sister?'
'She is perfectly beautiful,' said Frank, in a lower voice still.
There was a suppressed irritation about the tone of these remarks which gave Albert a certain malicious pleasure. He laughed to himself as he stood before the chimney-glass brushing up his black hair.
MONSIEUR LE BARON and Madame la Baronne de Saint-Flor were by no means such agreeable people as their son and daughter. They were stiff with an old - fashioned provincial stiffness. The Baron had been in the navy, had gray whiskers, and a red ribbon in his button-hole. Madame was a dark, grave, little woman with an important manner. They were both inclined to look on an Englishman as their natural enemy, and on this special one as a thing thing of inferior creation. With no title, not even in the army or navy, a merchant actually-but that must be some mistake, the Baronne was sure. Her son, with all his modern ideas, would never have brought as guest to Château Maupas a person who made his living by buying and selling. Monsieur and Madame de Saint-Flor made these remarks to each other privately. If they had known the length to which Albert's ideas had gone, led by common sense and affection for his friend, perhaps they would hardly have behaved to Frank with even outward courtesy. But in that they were faultless they both treated him with ceremonious politeness.
Somehow-Frank hardly knew how it happened-he found himself staying on, day after day, at the château. He had his excuses. The roads were blocked with snow; the newspapers brought terrible accounts of the state of Paris buried in snow; so that all work was stopped, and the poor were starving. Madame de Saint-Flor insisted that her son should not risk his life on the railway in such weather, and was obliged to express polite anxiety about her guest too. Frank knew it was all nonsense; that under ordinary circumstances mountains of snow would not have kept him in CHRISTMAS, '80.
a dismal old place like this, with nothing to do but smoke and stare at the ancient tomes in the library, appear at meals when the bell clanged, listen to the eternal prosings of Monsieur le Baron, read the Union with its one-sided politics, hand madame her coffee after dinner. His active limbs could not be exercised by strolling backwards and forwards along the swept path to the stables, where two fat old horses stood eating their heads off. He felt inclined to suggest a game of Going to Jerusalem,' as he had seen it played by a number of lively people in a great house in the North one wet day. The long corridors of the château would have done well for such a game; but he looked at his four companions, and did not suggest it.
After all he did not really want any amusement. He was deeply interested' that was the way he put it to himself-in Mademoiselle de Saint-Flor, and was wondering how he could hint to Albert that it was all humbug about waiting till he was forty, and marrying a countrywoman of his own. course he had very little talk with her, and their acquaintance did not seem to advance much. The sweet welcoming manner, the sympathetic smiles of the first evening, seemed to be her highest mark. In her mother's presence she scarcely ever went so far, and she and Frank were never alone together. Now and then their eyes met, and though it was only for an instant, Frank felt a strong deep excitement, a longing to make her look at him again.
By and by, when he was satisfied that she in her strange way was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, it dawned on him that her usual expression was intensely sad; that when her mouth and eyes were quiet, and her face
bent over the tapestry she worked at for hours together, she looked as if she could never smile again. Frank thought about her day and night. He trembled at every sign of a thaw, and the white flakes as they steadily descended were more precious to him than showers of gold. Madame de Saint-Flor came into the diningroom one morning and found him standing at the window whistling cheerfully, as he stared out into a thick snow-storm.
'You are most unfortunate, monsieur,' she said. Instead of improving, the weather seems to grow worse. I sympathise most truly with both you and Albert.'
You are very good, madame,' said Frank, smiling. I assure you that I never was more happy and contented. If it had not been for this obliging snow, I might never have known Albert's relations.'
You make the bad weather pass very pleasantly for us,' said the Baronne graciously. 'We too are glad to know our son's best friend.'
She could not resist the conviction that this merchant was like a gentleman, though it half provoked her that he should take their hospitality for granted in this sort of
At breakfast that day the talk happened to turn on architecture, and Monsieur de Saint-Flor assured Frank that the house which sheltered him at that instant was a pure specimen of François Premier. The outer walls and fortifications had of course been pulled down: there had formerly been eight corner towers, of which only one remained, the old disused colombier. But the three pavillons of the house itself, with the galleries connecting them, stood precisely as the sixteenth century had left them. Monsieur de Saint-Flor told
his companions that he was proud of their very dilapidation, and would never consent to their being restored. He remarked that restoration was the tomb of history. Frank, who had often heard Albert speak of the old château in a very different strain, was irreverent enough to wonder whether a good balance at his banker's would not alter M. le Baron's opinion. He discovered, however, that Marguérite this was her lovely name, by which the bold Englishman already called her in his dreamshad a very affectionate admiration for the old place; she looked up and smiled, and joined in the conversation quite eagerly.
After breakfast Albert walked down with his father to the village, half a mile off, to settle some business at the Mairie. Frank, after wandering all round the château, even under the rugged walls of the south front, where there was a patch of ground railed off and planted with shrubs, and where he saw something that startled him a good deal, made his way back to the salon windows, where he looked in and saw Marguérite sitting over her tapestry. The wild old place with its long history, its owners with their stiff old-fashioned ways, the stern winter that blocked it in, the dead silence, only broken by the fall of a mass of snow from some overladen tree, and now a real mystery to account, as it were, for all this suggestiveness-these were certainly strange surroundings for a matter-of-fact young Saxon. Marguérite herself was like an enchanted lady, so silent and lovely, and always dressed in white and black, like a nun, or a creature with some sad history. It was a privilege to find her alone, and he hurried into the room, where she welcomed him with a smile. He stood and watched her needle as it