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passed in and out among the coloured arabesques she was working.
Have you been examining our architecture, monsieur?' she said. 'I saw you wandering round the house.'
"Yes, mademoiselle. And I saw something that puzzled me; perhaps you can explain it ?'
Marguérite dropped her needle, leaned back, and fixed her eyes on him; the deep, wondering sadness in them appalled the young man.
'Do not distress yourself,' he said, colouring. It is too curious of me to notice it, perhaps.'
'What was it? I should like you to tell me.'
'Well, I was under the windows of the south pavillon, where the garden is railed off, you know. The windows are barred, but one of them was open, and an old lady was standing at it. Her hair was white. She had nothing on her head. I am afraid she would catch cold. She looked at me, and waved her hand through the bars. I took off my hat, and she called out suddenly, "Take care what you are doing, monsieur!" and then she turned away and I no more of her. Mademoiselle, perhaps I had no business in that part of the garden?'
'No, no, you had not,' repeated Marguérite hastily.
'No one told me to keep out of it,' said Frank, in a low voice, looking at her intently.
She stooped forward over her work, and took up her needle again; but her fingers were trembling, he saw, so that she could not guide it. He saw that she was flushing slowly and deeply, her whole face and neck changed from their usual ivory to rosy red. She stooped forward still more, and suddenly a tear fell, shining on the work. Then she got up with a quick movement, and was going
to leave the room, but to do this she had to pass Frank, and he was not inclined to let her go so easily.
'At least forgive me before you go, mademoiselle?' he said, with an air of the deepest penitence. 'What have I said or done? I am perfectly wretched. I shall go out and shoot myself.'
At this threat a smile just quivered about Marguerite's mouth.
'I beg you will do no such thing!' she said, with a momentary glance and a renewed blush. 'I am very foolish. I must tell you the truth. The old lady you saw is an aunt of ours. We have all lived here together for the last nine or ten years. She is peculiar,
and has rooms of her own in that part of the house. She does not like strangers-never sees any one -I think you had better not go near her again.'
'I am very sorry, indeed, that I intruded on her,' he said. 'But no one had given me a hint of her existence.'
'She prefers to be unknown,' said Marguérite, and she sighed deeply as she turned away to open the door.
Frank Morley always prided himself on his knowledge of foreign life and customs. He used to talk finely of meeting foreigners on their own ground; but it seems as if he must just then have forgotten where he was, carried away by the excitement of the moment. Forgetting all the proprieties, he threw himself-figuratively-at the feet of Mademoiselle de Saint-Flor.
This is not a place for you; you are not happy here!' he burst forth; and then he told her that he loved her passionately, and asked her if he must be miserable for life.
She clasped her hands, and retreated from him a step or two,
for at that moment Frank was very tragical. She looked extremely surprised, as well she might, at his extraordinary breach of etiquette. But she did not seem angry, and she made no effort to leave the room.
Ah, what are you saying?' she whispered. You forget-you forget'
'What do I forget?' said Frank. Is there anything I ought to remember? Are you offended? Will you answer me?'
She shook her head. Presently, after more prayers and eager questions, she confessed that she did not hate him-no, why should she? But he had surprised her very much, and-in fact, she did not know what to say.
'I ought to have spoken first to your father!' cried Frank, suddenly recollecting himself. But that roundabout fashion is all very well for those who don't care as I do. Are you angry? Do you wish that I had spoken to him first?'
'I don't know-everything is strange,' said Marguérite. It is only because I am afraid he will think that you ought. We always do, you know.'
Then you will let me speak to him now exclaimed Frank, in immense excitement.
You frighten me-you are so terribly English. Can I prevent you?'
As the Baron was half a mile off through the snow, and as Frank felt that his part of the business must be managed through Albert with all possible formality, he did not find it necessary to leave off his love-making at this point, unorthodox as it was. Marguérite, with all her charm, was a puzzle to him. There seemed to be more wistful sadness than ever in those wonderful violet eyes as she looked up at him; a sort of sad indifference in her manner too, though
through it all he knew that she belonged to him, and that she recognised the fact. For some minutes she seemed to be trying to say something, to give him some warning; she had a way of lifting up her hand, as if to check him in his protestations.
Let me speak,' she said at last; let me tell you something. You are making a sad mistake; it may be only the beginning of the end. Do you believe me? Are you superstitious at all?'
'Not in the least, thank Heaven,' said Frank. 'And I never make mistakes. Are you superstitious? Is there anything that makes you afraid for yourself? Is it leaving your country?'
'I am not afraid for myself,' she answered. And the superstition-it is all nonsense, after all. But what did I want to say to you? Ah, this! I am not a girl, you know. I am a woman, more than twenty-six years old. I have suffered a great deal. I have not much to give you, except just myself.'
'What do I want more?' said Frank. Yes, one knows you have suffered, even by your dress. Do you never wear even a blue ribbon, Marguérite?
She looked at him solemnly for a moment, and then smiled. 'No,' she said; but you must not ask me why. Perhaps some day I may tell you. Now I must not stay here with you any longer. Open the door, if you please, and let me go.'
Frank obeyed. She paused in the doorway, under the shadow of the velvet curtain; laid two fingers on her lips, and looked at him, deeply, intently, as if she was asking him some question on the answer to which her life depended. He thought afterwards that he had never seen anything so extraordinary.
'You love me?' she said, under her breath, and without waiting for any sort of reply she glided away and was gone. He stood for at least two minutes with the curtain in his hand, staring in a sort of bewilderment, long after she had vanished.
A FEW Weeks later, after his visit to frozen Paris, Frank Morley found himself once more at Château Maupas, this time, wonderful to tell, as the accepted lover of Mademoiselle de Saint-Flor. Frank never knew, and did not much try to find out, how Albert had conquered the prejudices of his parents. There may have been more reasons than one for their consenting. Besides the solid advantage of belonging to a rich and generous Englishman, this marriage was, perhaps, seen by them to be a way out of a painful difficulty. Frank was afterwards conscious that the whole explanation was very clear, if he had cared to think it out; but he was a chivalrous fellow, and thinking it out seemed almost an impertinence, both to the poor proud people who bowed their heads in such a stately way to circumstances, and to their beautiful unhappy daughter. He came to Maupas by special invitation, on his way back to Bordeaux, joining Albert, who had gone before to smooth the way for him.
The snow was gone, but the weather was still bitterly cold; a frosty wind made music among the dark shivering firs, and howled dismally about the high roofs of the château. Frank thought it all looked even more desolate than when it was buried in snow, and there was hardly enough cheerfulness indoors to make up for the dismal weather.
Albert was the only person who received him with any animation. Monsieur and Madame de SaintFlor were grave and polite; Marguérite, though her smile made him understand that he was very welcome, looked, if possible, sadder than ever. Her eyelids were heavy, as if she had been crying. By the end of the evening, the discovery that they were not to be left alone together had thrown Frank into a state bordering on frenzy. What was the use of being engaged if they were to behave to each other like strangers, if they might not even talk unheard by other people? Frank resolved that either these manners and customs should give way before his English will, or else that he would leave the château the next day, and see none of them again till it was time to be married. He could not annoy his lady-love and her parents by any open rebellion, but he promised himself that Albert should know his mind on the subject; and he gave it him that evening in the smokingroom, after Monsieur de SaintFlor had left them and gone to bed.
'Certainly, my dear friend; what you ask is only reasonable,' said the amiable Albert. 'Trust to me. I will do everything. My mother naturally keeps to her own ways, and expects Marguérite to conform to them. But I will arrange that you shall have an interview to-morrow. Trust to me.'
'Thank you,' said Frank, with satirical earnestness. If you fail to make that arrangement, sir, I shall make it myself.'
He smoked in silence for a few minutes. Albert also looked very grave, perceiving that his friend was out of temper, and perhaps feeling himself in an awkward position between these jarring nationalities.
'Marguérite looks terribly sad. What on earth is the matter with her? As I have no chance of asking herself, I must ask you,' said Frank presently.
'How should I know? She is of a melancholy temperament,' said Albert.
'There I differ from you. is as capable of being happy as any one else. Do you know of anything that ought to make her unhappy at this moment?'
Frank fixed his eyes on Albert's thin dark face, which certainly looked grave and puzzled at the question. But it was answered immediately.
'Nothing, I should say, that ought to make her unhappy.'
What is it, then? There is something.'
Albert shrugged his shoulders, and became impenetrable.
Presently they went up-stairs together. The young Frenchman left his future brother-in-law, still rather injured and sulky, in a large state bedroom, given him in honour of his new position in the family. A fire was burning on the low hearth. Two candles hardly lighted the high dark room, which was hung with old faded tapestry. The flames, as they flared and fell, seemed to make a sudden stir among the ghostly figures on the walls. A crowd of pale-faced hunters on white horses would come riding forward, dogs would run among the trees, peacocks would wave their once shining tails in the light.
Frank, as he had told Marguérite, was not superstitious. He glanced once round the room, and then, pulling up a great chair in front of the fire, sat down and thought about that sad white face, those dear wistful eyes that seemed to be for ever asking the same question that once had made its way into words, 'You love me ?——
a question which, it seemed to him, he had never been allowed to answer properly. Could she doubt him? Was that why she looked so sad? Had she consented to this match for any reason but to please herself-any idea of duty to her family? He promised himself to have that all made clear to-morrow.
A little noise, like a door opening gently, made him turn his head and look round the room again: seeing nothing, he supposed there must be rats behind the wainscot, and returned to the fire and his meditations. At the far corner of the room there was a door opening into a dressing-room, which again communicated with
the passages. Frank, full of
other thoughts, had not noticed this entrance; and now he was not at all aware that a hand was pushing the dressing-room door, and that eyes were peeping at him from behind it. Footsteps on the boards of his room, however, with the slight tap of a stick, slowly approaching him, made him spring from his chair in real surprise. Standing by the table, on which François had arranged the materials for eau sucrée, was a small elderly lady, dressed in black, with a fair sharp face, a suspicious expression, and a quantity of white hair rolled up high over a cushion. She wore long gloves, and carried a cane in her hand. Frank stared at her in speechless surprise.
'I am not a ghost, monsieur, and you have seen me before,' she said. Her voice had a sort of disagreeable snap in it.
Frank recognised the old aunt who had looked out of her window that snowy morning, and had told him to take care what he was doing. He bowed politely.
'Pardon me, madame. I remember you very well,' he said. Can I do anything for you?'
come here to do you a kindness. Is it true that
Give me a chair. you are to marry my niece, Mademoiselle de Saint-Flor?'
She sat down, placed her feet on a footstool, and looked at him magisterially. Frank thought she was probably mad. He stood opposite to her, at the further end of the table, and answered her very meekly.
'Yes, madame, I am to have that honour.'
'I suspected it from the moment I saw you in the garden, and since then I have heard all about it. My brother was obliged to tell me. He can never keep a secret, poor man. I suppose he thought I had forgotten the past, or that I should not venture to interfere again. But no, I would not sit in my tower and see a fine young man sacrificed. Did you ever hear of Grégoire de la Masselière ?'
'No,' said Frank, as she waited for an answer.
'Ah, I thought not. Or of Jules de Marigny?
'Or of my son, Léon de Maupas, and his brother Célestin?' 'No, madame.'
'Very well. Listen, and I will tell you a little history about those four young men. It is more than nine years since the war. In those days I and my two sons lived here in this house, and my brother and his wife and those children of his were miserably poor people living at Tours. Out of kindness to my brother I arranged that my elder son, the Comte de Maupas, should marry that girl Marguérite, though I never cared for her to my eyes she always had misfortune written on her face. But my son admired her, and he was willing enough. She was a
mere child then. Well, they were betrothed, and then the war broke out, and my son Léon went straight to the front and was killed in the first battle. Do you understand?' 'Perfectly, madame,' said Frank gravely.
The story improves as it goes on. After that, in the winter, we arranged that my second son, Célestin, should marry Marguérite. I did it all out of kindness to my brother, remember. Célestin also was in the army. He was killed in the spring in the last battle.'
Frank could not restrain a slight shiver. There was something quite awful in the Comtesse's sharp voice, her cold eyes, her air of repressed excitement, with quick nervous little movements of her two thin hands.
After that,' she said, 'you would have thought, perhaps, they might have had the decency to send the girl to a convent. But no; she must make a good match in spite of everything. They waited only two years, and then they arranged a marriage for her with Jules de Marigny. He looked as strong and handsome as yourself. But I knew he would not livewhy should he, when my sons died? A week before the marriage he was out shooting, and he shot himself by accident-accident !'
Madame de Maupas raised her voice almost to a scream, and ended this part of her story with a little shrill laugh, which made Frank feel colder than ever.
Good,' she said, going on more quietly. Now we come to the fourth, to Grégoire de la Masselière. He was only three years ago-for, let me tell you, people talked about all this, and saw plainly that it would be tempting Fate to ally themselves with such an unlucky young person. But this worthy man had been abroad