LA PETITE MADELAINE.

BY MRS SOUTHEY.

[MAGA. August 1831.]

I was surprised the other day by a visit from a strange old lady, brought hither to be introduced to me, at her own request, by some friends of mine with whom she was staying in this neighbourhood. Having been, I was informed, intimately acquainted, in her early years, with a branch of my mother’s family, to which she was distantly related, she had conceived a desire to see one of its latest descendants, and I was in consequence honoured with her visit. But if the honour done me was unquestionable, the motive to which I was indebted for it was not to be easily divined; for, truth to speak, little indication of good-will towards me, or of kindly feeling, was discernible in the salutation of my visitor, in her stiff and stately curtsy, her cold ceremonious expressions, and in the sharp and severe scrutiny of the keen grey eyes, with which she leisurely took note of me from head to foot.

Mrs Ormond’s appearance was that of a person far advanced in years; older than my mother would have been if still living; but her form, of uncommon height, gaunt, bony, and masculine, was firm and erect as in the vigour of life, and in perfect keeping with the hard-featured, deep-lined countenance, surmounted by a coiffure that, perched on the summit of a roll of grizzled hair, strained tight from the high and narrow forehead, was, with the rest of her attire, a facsimile of that of my great-aunt Barbara (peace be to her memory!) as depicted in a certain invaluable portrait of that virtuous gentlewoman, now deposited, for more inviolable security, in the warmest corner of the lumber-room.

Though no believer in the influence of “the evil eye,” there was something in the expression of the large, prominent, light grey orbs, so strangely fixed upon me, that had the effect of troubling me so far, as to impose a degree of embarrassment and restraint on my endeavours to play the courteous hostess, and very much to impede all my attempts at conversation.

As the likeliest means of breaking down the barrier of formality, I introduced the subject most calculated, it might be supposed, to awaken feelings of mutual interest. I spoke of my maternal ancestry—of the Norman blood and Norman land from which the race had sprung, and of my inherited love for the birthplace of those nearest and dearest to me in the last departed generation; though the daughter of an English father, his country was my native, as well as my “Father-land.”

Mrs Ormond, though the widow of an English husband, spoke with a foreign accent so familiar to my ear, that, in spite of the sharp thin tones of the voice that uttered them, I could have fancied musical, had there been a gleam of kindness in her steady gaze. But I courted it in vain. The eyes of Freya were never fixed in more stony hardness on a rejected votary, than were those of my stern inspectress on my almost deprecating face; and her ungracious reserve baffled all my attempts at conversation.

All she allowed to escape her, in reference to the Norman branches of our respective families, was a brief allusion to the intimacy which had subsisted between her mother and my maternal grandmother; and when I endeavoured from that slight clue to lead her farther into the family relations, my harmless pertinacity was rebuked by a shake of the head as portentous as Lord Burleigh’s, accompanied by so grim a smile, and a look of such undefinable meaning, as put the finishing-stroke to my previous bewilderment, and prevented me from recalling to mind, as I should otherwise have done, certain circumstances associated with a proper name—that of her mother’s family, which she spoke with peculiar emphasis—and having done so, and in so doing (as she seemed persuaded) “spoken daggers” to my conscience, she signified by a stately sign to the ladies who had accompanied her that she was ready to depart, and, the carriage being announced, forthwith arose, and honouring me with a farewell curtsy, as formal as that which had marked her introduction, sailed out of the apartment, if not with swan-like grace, with much of that sublimer majesty of motion with which a heron on a mud-bank stalks deliberately on, with head erect and close depending pinions. And as if subjugated by the strange influence of the sharp grey eyes, bent on me to the last with sinister expression, unconsciously I returned my grim visitor’s parting salutation with so profound a curtsy, that my knees (all unaccustomed to such Richardsonian ceremony) had scarcely recovered from it, when the closing door shut out her stately figure, and it was not till the sound of carriage-wheels certified her final departure, that, recovering my own identity, I started from the statue-like posture in which I had remained standing after that unwonted genuflection, and sank back on the sofa to meditate at leisure on my strange morning adventure.

My ungracious visitor had left me little cause, in truth, for pleasing meditation, so far as her gaunt self was immediately concerned, but a harsh strain, or an ungraceful object, will sometimes (as well as the sweetest and most beautiful) revive a long train of interesting associations, and the plea alleged for her introduction to me had been of itself sufficient to awaken a chord of memory, whose vibration ceased not at her departure. On the contrary, I fell forthwith into a dreaming mood, that led me back to recollections of old stories, of old times—such as I had loved to listen to in long-past days, from those who had since followed in their turn the elders of our race (whose faithful historians they were) to the dark and narrow house appointed for all living.

Who that has ever been addicted to the idle, and I fear me profitless, speculation of waking dreams, but may call to mind how, when the spell was on him, as outward and tangible things (apparently the objects of intent gaze) faded on the eye of sense, the inward vision proportionately cleared and strengthened—and circumstances long unremembered—names long unspoken—histories and descriptions once attended to with deep interest, but long passed from recollection, are drawn forth, as it were, from the dark recesses of the mind, at first like wandering atoms confused and undefined, but gradually assuming distinctness and consistency, till the things that be are to us the unreal world, and we live and move again (all intervening space a blank) among the things that have been?

Far back into that shadowy region did I wander, when left as described by “the grim white woman,” to ponder over the few words she had vouchsafed to utter, and my own “thick-coming fancies.” The one proper name she had pronounced—that of her mother’s family—had struck on my ear like a familiar sound; yet—how could I have heard it? If ever, from one person only—from my dear mother’s lips—“De St Hilaire!”—again and again I slowly repeated to myself—and then—I scarce know how—the Christian name of Adrienne rose spontaneously to my lips; and no sooner were the two united than the spell of memory was complete, and fresh on my mind, as if I had heard it but yesterday, returned the whole history of Adrienne de St Hilaire.

Adrienne de St Hilaire and Madelaine du Résnél were far-removed cousins; both “demoiselles de bonnes families,” residing at contiguous chateaux, near a small hamlet not far from Caen, in Normandy; both well born and well connected, but very unequally endowed with the gifts of fortune. Mademoiselle de St Hilaire was the only child and heiress of wealthy parents, both of whom were still living. Madelaine du Résnél, the youngest of seven, left in tender infancy to the guardianship of a widowed mother, whose scanty dower (the small family estate devolving on her only son) would have been insufficient for the support of herself and her younger children (all daughters), had she not continued mistress of her son’s house and establishment during his minority.

“La petite Madelaine” (as, being the latest born, she was long called by her family and friends) opened her eyes upon this mortal scene but a week before her father was carried to his grave, and never was poor babe so coldly welcomed under circumstances that should have made her doubly an object of tenderness.

“Petite malheureuse! je me serais bien passée de toi,” was the maternal salutation, when her new-born daughter was first presented to Madame du Résnél—a cold-hearted, strong-minded woman, more absorbed in the change about to be operated in her own situation by her approaching widowhood, than by her impending bereavement of a most excellent and tender husband. But one precious legacy was in reserve for the forlorn infant. She was clasped to the heart of her dying father—his blessing was breathed over her, and his last tears fell on her innocent, unconscious face. “Mon enfant! tu ne connaitra jamais ton père, mais il veillera sur toi,” were the tender, emphatic words with which he resigned her to the arms of the old servant, who failed not to repeat them to her little charge when she was old enough to comprehend their affecting purport. And well and holily did la petite Madelaine treasure that saying in her heart of hearts; and early reason had the poor child to fly for comfort to that secret source. Madame du Résnél could not be accused of over-indulgence to any of her children—least of all to the poor little one whom she looked on from the first almost as an intruder; but she felt maternal pride in the resemblance already visible in her elder daughters to her own fine form and handsome features,—while la petite Madelaine, a small creature from her birth, though delicately and perfectly proportioned—fair and blue-eyed, and meek-looking as innocence itself, but without one feature in her face that could be called handsome, had the additional misfortune, when about five years old, to be marked—though not seamed—by the small-pox, from which cruel disease her life escaped almost miraculously.

“Qu’elle est affreuse!” was the mother’s tender exclamation at the first full view of her restored child’s disfigured face. Those words, young as she was, went to the poor child’s heart, that swelled so to bursting, it might have broken, (who knows?) but for her hoarded comfort: and she sobbed herself to sleep that night, over and over again repeating to herself, “Mon papa veille sur moi.”

If there be much truth in that poetical axiom,

“A favourite has no friend,”

it is at least as frequently evident, that even in domestic circles the degree of favour shown by the head of the household to any individual member too often regulates the general tone of consideration; and that even among the urchins of the family, an instinctive perception is never wanting, of how far, and over whom, they may tyrannise with impunity.

No creature in whose nature was a spark of human feeling could tyrannise over la petite Madelaine,—she was so gentle, so loving (when she dared show her love), so perfectly tractable and unoffending; but in the Chateau du Résnél no one could have passed two whole days without perceiving she was no favourite, except with one old servant—the same who had placed her in her dying father’s arms, and recorded for her his last precious benediction—and with her little brother, who always vowed to those most in his confidence, and to Madelaine herself, when her tears flowed for some short, sharp sorrow, that when he was a man, “toutes ces demoiselles”—meaning his elder sisters and monitresses—should go and live away where they pleased, and leave him and la petite Madelaine to keep house together.

Except from these two, any one would have observed that there were “shortcomings” towards her; “shortcomings” of tenderness from the superiors of the household—“shortcomings” of observances from the menials; anything was good enough for Madelaine—any time was time enough for Madelaine. She had to finish wearing out all her sisters’ old frocks and wardrobes in general, to eat the crumb of the loaf they had pared the crust from, and to be satisfied with half a portion of soupe au lait, if they had chosen to take double allowance; and, blessedly for la petite Madelaine, it was her nature to be satisfied with everything not embittered by marked and intentional unkindness. It was her nature to sacrifice itself for others. Might that sacrifice have been repaid by a return of love, her little heart would have overflowed with happiness. As it was, she had not yet learnt to reason upon the want of sympathy; she felt without analysing. She was not harshly treated,—was seldom found fault with, though far more rarely commended,—was admitted to share in her sisters’ sports, with the proviso that she had no choice in them,—old Jeannette and le petit frère Armand loved her dearly; so did Roland, her father’s old faithful hound,—and on the whole, la petite Madelaine was a happy little girl.

And happier she was, a thousand times happier, than her cousin Adrienne—than Adrienne de St Hilaire, the spoilt child of fortune and of her doting parents, who lived but in her and for her, exhausting all the ingenuity of love, and all the resources of wealth, in vain endeavours to perfect the felicity of their beautiful but heartless idol.

The families of St Hilaire and Du Résnél were, as has been mentioned, distantly related, and the ties of kindred were strengthened by similarity of faith, both professing that of the Reformed Church, and living on that account very much within their own circle, though on terms of perfect good-will with the surrounding Catholic neighbourhood. Mlle. de St Hilaire might naturally have been expected to select among the elder of her cousins her companion and intimate, their ages nearly assimilating with her own; but, too cold-hearted to seek for sympathy, too proud to brook companionship on equal terms, and too selfish and indolent to sacrifice any caprice, or make any exertion for the sake of others, she found it most convenient to patronise la petite Madelaine, whose gentle spirit and sweet temper insured willing though not servile compliance with even the unreasonable fancies of all who were kind to her, and whose quickness of intellect and excellent capacity more than fitted her for companionship with Adrienne, though the latter was six years her senior. Besides all, there was the pleasure of patronage—not the least influential motive to a proud and mean spirit, or to the heart of a beauty, well-nigh satiated, if that were possible, by the contemplation of her own perfections. When la petite Madelaine was ten years old, and la belle Adrienne sixteen, it therefore happened that the former was much oftener to be found at Chateau St Hilaire than at le Manoir du Résnél; for whenever the parental efforts of Monsieur and Madame de St Hilaire failed (and they failed too often) to divert the ennui and satisfy the caprices of their spoiled darling, the latter was wont to exclaim, in the pettish tone of peevish impatience, “Faites donc venir la petite Madelaine!” and the innocent charmer was as eagerly sought out and welcomed by the harassed parents as ever David was sought for by the servants of Saul, to lay with the sweet breathings of his harp the evil spirit that possessed their unhappy master. Something similar was the influence of la petite Madelaine’s nature over that of her beautiful cousin. No wonder that her presence could scarcely be dispensed with at Chateau St Hilaire. Had her own home been more a home of love, not all the blandishments of the kindest friends, not all the luxuries of a wealthy establishment, would ever have reconciled her to be so much separated from her nearest connections. But, alas! except when her services were required (and no sparing and light tasks were her assigned ones), she was but too welcome to bestow her companionship on others; and except Roland, and le petit frère, who was there to miss la petite Madelaine? And Roland was mostly her escort to St Hilaire; and on fine evenings, when le petit frère had escaped from his tutor and his sisters, Jeannette was easily persuaded to take him as far as the old mill, half-way between the chateaux, to meet her on her way home. Those were pleasant meetings. Madelaine loved often, in after-life, to talk of them with that dear brother, always her faithful friend. So time went on—Time, the traveller whose pace is so variously designated by various humours, is always the restless, the unpausing—till Mademoiselle de St Hilaire had attained the perfection of blooming womanhood—the glowing loveliness of her one-and-twentieth summer—and la petite Madelaine began to think people ought to treat her more like a woman—for was she not fifteen complete? Poor little Madelaine! thou hadst indeed arrived at that most womanly era. But, to look at that small slight form, still childishly attired in frock and sash, of the simplest form and homeliest materials—at that almost infantine face, that looked more youthful, and almost beautiful, when it smiled, from the effect of a certain dimple in the left cheek (Adrienne always insisted it was a pock-mark);—to look at that form and face, and the babyish curls of light-brown hair that hung about it quite down the little throat, and lay clustering on the girlish neck—who could ever have thought of paying thee honour due as to the dignity of confirmed womanhood?

So it was Madelaine’s fate still to be “La petite Madelaine”—still nobody—that anomalous personage who plays so many parts in society,—as often to suit his own convenience as for that of others; and though people are apt to murmur at being forced into the character, many a one lives to assume it willingly—as one slips off a troublesome costume at a masque, to take shelter under a quiet domino. As for la petite Madelaine, who did not care very much about the matter, though it was a little mortifying to be patted on the head, and called “bonne petite,” instead of “mademoiselle,” as was her undoubted right, from strangers at least, it was better to be somebody in one or two hearts (le petit frère et Jeannette) than in the mere respects of a hundred indifferent people; and as for la belle cousine, Madelaine, though on excellent terms with her, never dreamed of her having a heart,—one cause, perhaps, of their mutual good understanding; for la petite Madelaine, actuated by instinctive perception, felt that it would be perfectly irrational to expect warmth of affection from one constituted so differently from herself; so she went on, satisfied with the consciousness of giving pleasure, and with such return as was made for it.

But la petite Madelaine was soon to be invested with a most important office; one, however, that was by no means to supersede her character of Nobody, but, enigmatical as it may sound, to double her usefulness in that capacity—while, on private and particular occasions, she was to enact a somebody of infinite consequence—that of confidante in a love affair—as la belle cousine was pleased to term her liaison with a very handsome and elegant young officer, who, after some faint opposition on the part of her parents, was duly installed at St Hilaire as the accepted and acknowledged lover of its beautiful heiress. Walter Barnard (for he was of English birth and parentage), the youngest of three brothers, the elder of whom was a baronet, was most literally a soldier of fortune, his portion, at his father’s death, amounting to no more than a pair of colours in a marching regiment—and the splendid income thereunto annexed. But high in health and hope, and “all the world before him where to choose”—of high principles—simple and unvitiated habits—the object of the love of many friends, and the esteem of all his brother officers—the young man was rather disposed to consider his lot in life as peculiarly fortunate, till the pressure of disease fell heavy on him, and he rose from a sick-bed which had held him captive many weeks, the victim of infectious fever, so debilitated in constitution as to be under the necessity of obtaining leave of absence from his regiment, for the purpose (peremptorily insisted on by his physician) of seeking the perfect change of air and scene which was essential to effect his restoration. He was especially enjoined to try the influence of another climate—that of France was promptly decided on—not only from the proximity of that country (a consideration of no small weight in the young soldier’s prudential calculations), but because a brother officer was about to join a part of his family then resident at Caen in Normandy, and the pleasure of travelling with him settled the point of Walter’s destination so far—and, as it fell out, even to that other station in the route of life, only second in awfulness to the “bourne from whence no traveller returns.” His English friends, who had been some years inhabitants of Caen, were acquainted with many French families in that town and its vicinity, and, among others, Walter was introduced by them at the Chateau de St Hilaire, where the Protestant English were always welcomed with marked hospitality. The still languishing health of the young soldier excited peculiar interest; he was invited to make frequent trials of the fine air of the chateau and its noble domain. A very few sufficed to convince him that it was far more salubrious than the confined atmosphere of Caen; and very soon the fortunate invalid was installed in all the rights and privileges of “L’Ami de la Maison.”

Circumstances having conducted our dramatis personæ to this point, how could it fall out otherwise than that the grateful Walter should fall desperately in love (which, by the by, he did at first sight) with la belle Adrienne, and that she should determine to fall obstinately in love with him! He, poor fellow! in pure simplicity of heart, really gazed himself into a devoted passion for the youthful beauty, without one interested view towards the charms of the heiress. But, besides thinking him the handsomest man she had ever seen, she was determined in her choice, by knowing it was in direct opposition to the wishes of her parents, who had long selected for her future husband a person so every way unexceptionable, that their fair daughter was very likely to have selected him for herself, had they not committed the fatal error of expressing their wishes with regard to him. There was PERSUASION and DISSUASION—mild opposition and systematic wilfulness—a few tears, got up with considerable effort—vapeurs and migraines in abundance—loss of appetite—hints about broken hearts—and the hearts of the tender parents could hold out no longer—Walter Barnard was received into the family as the future husband of its lovely daughter.

All this time, what had become of la petite Madelaine? What does become of little girls just half-way through their teens, when associated, under similar circumstances, with young ladies who are women grown? Why, they are to be patient listeners to the lover’s perfections when he is out of the way, and more patient companions (because perfectly unnoticed at such times) of the lovers’ romantic walks; shivering associates (at discreet distance) of their tender communings on mossy banks, under willow and acacia, by pond-sides and brook-sides—by daylight, and twilight, and moonlight—at all seasons, and in all temperatures—so that by the time the pastoral concludes with matrimony, it may be accounted an especial mercy if the “mutual friend” is not crippled with the rheumatism for life, or brought into the first stage of a galloping consumption. No such fatal results were, however, in reserve for the termination of la petite Madelaine’s official duties; and those, while in requisition, were made less irksome to her than they are in general to persons so circumstanced,—in part through the happy influence of her own sweet nature, which always apportioned to itself some share of the happiness it witnessed; in part through her long-acquired habits of patience and self-sacrifice; and, in part also, because Walter Barnard was an especial favourite with her—and little wonder that he was so—the gay and happy young man, devoted as he was to Adrienne in all the absorbing interest of a first successful passion, had yet many a kind word and beaming smile to spare for the poor little cousin, who often but for him would have sat quite unnoticed at her tent-stitch, even in the family circle; and when she was the convenient tiers in the romantic rambles of himself and his lady-love, thanks to his unfailing good-nature, even then she did not feel herself utterly forgotten.

For even in spite of discouraging looks from la belle Adrienne, of which in truth he was not quick to discern the meaning, he would often linger to address a few words to the silent little girl, who had been tutored too well to speak unspoken to, or even to walk quite within ear-shot of her soi-disant companions. And when he had tenderly assisted Adrienne to pass over some stile or brooklet in their way, seldom it happened but that his hand was next at the service of Madelaine; and only those whose spirits have been long subdued by a sense of insignificance, impressed by the slighting regards or careless notice of cold friends or condescending patrons, can conceive the enthusiastic gratitude with which those trivial instances of kindness were treasured up in her heart’s records. So it was, that la petite Madelaine, far from wearying of Walter’s praises, when it pleased Adrienne to descant upon them in his absence, was apt to think her fair cousin did him scant justice, and that if she had been called on as his eulogist, oh! how far more eloquently could she speak! In short, la petite Madelaine, inexperienced as of course she was in such matters, saw with the acuteness of feeling, that Walter had obtained an interest only in the vanity and self-love, not in the heart of his fair mistress. “Poor Adrienne! she cannot help it, if she has no heart,” was Madelaine’s sage soliloquy. “Mais quel dommage pour ce bon Walter, qui en a tant!”

“Le bon Walter” might possibly have made the same discovery, had the unrestricted intercourse of the lovers been of long continuance; and he might have also ascertained another point, respecting which certain dubious glimmerings had begun at intervals to intrude themselves on his meditations couleur de rose,—was it possible that the moral and intellectual perfections of his idol could be less than in perfect harmony with her outward loveliness? The doubt was sacrilegious, detestable, dismissed with generous indignation, but again and again some demon (or was it his good genius?) recalled a startling frown, an incautious word or tone, a harsh or fretful expression from the eye and voice of his beloved, addressed to la petite cousine or to himself, when in lightness of spirit, and frank-hearted kindness, he had laughed and talked with the latter, as with a young engaging sister. And then, except on one topic, his passion for la belle Adrienne, and her transcendent charms, of which, as yet, he was ever ready to pour out the heart’s eloquent nonsense, somehow their conversations always languished. She had no eye for the natural beauties, of which he was an enthusiastic admirer; yawned or looked puzzled or impatient, when he stopped to gaze upon some glorious sunset, or violet-hued distance, melting into the roseate sky. And though she did not reject his offering of wild roses, or dewy honeysuckles, it was received with a half-contemptuous indifference, that invited no frequent renewal of the simple tribute; and from the date of a certain walk, when the lover’s keen glance observed that the bunch of wild-flowers, carelessly dropt by Adrienne a few minutes after he had given them to her, was furtively picked up by la petite Madelaine as she followed in the narrow woodpath, and placed as furtively within the folds of her fichu—if Monsieur Walter, from that time forth, pulled a wild rose from the spray, or a violet from the bank, it was tendered with a smile to one whose hand at least was less careless than Adrienne’s; and for her heart, that mattered not (farther than in brotherly kindness) to the reputed possessor of la belle St Hilaire’s. Yet, in long after days, when silver threads began to streak the soft fair hair of Madelaine du Résnél, and the thick black clustering curls of Walter Barnard were more than sprinkled with the same paly hue, he found in turning over the leaves of an old French romance, in which her name was inscribed, the dried, faded, scentless forms of what had been a few sweet wild-flowers. On the margin of the page, to which time had glued them, was a date, and a few written words. And the sight of those frail memorials, associated with those age-tinted characters, must have awakened tender and touching recollections in his heart who gazed upon them; for a watery film suffused his eyes as he raised them from the volume, and turned with a half-pensive smile to one who sat beside him, quietly busied with her knitting needles in providing for his winter comfort.

“Mais revenons à nos moutons.” Our present business is with the young lover and his fair mistress, and the still younger Madelaine. Time will overtake them soon enough. We need not anticipate his work. The old inexorable brought to a conclusion Walter’s leave of absence, just as certain discoveries to which we have alluded were beginning to break upon him; just as la belle Adrienne began to weary of playing at parfait amour, enacting the adorable to her lover, and the aimable to her cousin in his presence; just as Monsieur and Madame, her weak but worthy parents, were secretly praying for their future son-in-law’s departure, in the forlorn hope (as they had stipulated that even les fiançailles should not take place for a twelve-month to come) that some unexpected page might yet turn over in the chapter of accidents, whereon might be written the name of Jules Marquis d’Arval, instead of that of the landless, untitled Walter Barnard, for the husband of their beautiful heiress.

Just at this critical juncture arrived the day of separation—of separation for a year certain! Will it be doubted that with the parting hour, rushed back upon Walter’s heart a flood of tenderness, even more impassioned than that with which it had first pledged itself to the beautiful Adrienne? The enthusiasm of his nature, acting as a stimulus to her apathetic temperament, communicated to her farewell so much of the appearance of genuine feeling, that the young soldier returned to his country, and to his military duties, imbued with the blissful assurance that, whatever unworthy doubts had been suggested occasionally by fallacious appearances, the heart of his fair betrothed was as faultless as her person, and exclusively devoted to himself. So wholly had the “sweet sorrow” of that farewell absorbed his every faculty, that it was not till he was miles from St Hilaire on his way to the coast, that Walter remembered la petite Madelaine; remembered that he had bid HER no farewell; that she had slipt away to her own home the last evening of his stay at St Hilaire, unobserved by all but an old bonne, who was commissioned to say Mademoiselle Madelaine had a headache, and that she had not reappeared the next morning, the morning of his departure. “Dear little Madelaine! how could I forget her?” was the next thought to that which had recalled her. “But she shall live with us when we are married.” So having laid the flattering unction to his conscience, by that satisfactory arrangement for her future comfort, he “whistled her image down the wind” again, and betook himself with redoubled ardour to the contemplation of Adrienne.

And where was la petite Madelaine?—What became of her, and what was she doing that livelong day? Never was she so much wanted at St Hilaire—to console—to support—to occupy the “fair forsaken;” and yet she came not. “What insensibility—what ingratitude! at such a time!”—exclaimed the parents of the lovely desolate—so interesting in her becoming character of a lone bird “reft of its mutual heart,” so amiable in her attempted exculpation of the neglectful Madelaine! “She does not mean to be unkind—to be cruel—as her conduct seems”—sweetly interposed the meek apologist.—“But she is thoughtless—insouciante—and you know, chère Maman! I always told you la petite Madelaine has no sensibility—Ah Ciel!”——That mine were less acute!—was, of course, the implied sense of that concluding apostrophe—and every one will feel the eloquence of the appeal, so infinitely more affecting than the full-length sentence would have been. If vagueness is one great source of the sublime—it is also a grand secret in the arcana of sensibility.

But we may remember that poor little Madelaine had slipt away to her own home the preceding evening, pleading a headache as the excuse for her evasion. Perhaps the same cause—(was it headache?) holds her still captive in her little chamber, the topmost chamber in the western pepper-box turret, four of which flank the four corners of the old Chateau du Résnél. Certain it is, from that same lofty lodging Madelaine has not stirred the livelong day—scarcely from that same station;—

“There at her chamber window high,
The lonely maiden sits—
Its casement fronts the western sky,
And balmy air admits.

“And while her thoughts have wandered far
From all she hears and sees,
She gazes on the evening star,
That twinkles through the trees.—

“Is it to watch the setting sun,
She does that seat prefer?
Alas! the maiden thinks of one,
Who little thinks of her.”

“Eternal fidelity”—being, of course, the first article agreed and sworn to in the lovers’ parting covenant, “Constant correspondence,” as naturally came second in the list, and never was eagerness like Walter’s to pour out the first sorrows of absence in his first letter to the beloved, or impatience like his for the appearance of her answer. After some decorous delay——(a little maiden coyness was thought decorous in those days)—it arrived, the delightful letter! Delightful it would have been to Walter, in that second effervescence of his first passion, had the penmanship of the fair writer been barely legible, and her epistolary talent not absolutely below the lowest degree of mediocrity. Walter (to say the truth) had felt certain involuntary misgivings on that subject. Himself not only an ardent admirer of nature, but an unaffected lover of elegant literature, he had been frequently mortified at Adrienne’s apparent indifference to the one, and seeming distaste to the other. Of her style of writing he had found no opportunities of judging. Albums were not the fashion in those days—and although, on the few occasions of his absence from St Hilaire after his engagement with Adrienne (Caen being still his ostensible place of residence), he had not failed to indite to her sundry billets, and even full-length letters, dispatched (as on a business of life and death) by bribed and special messengers,—either Mlle. de St Hilaire was engaged or abroad when they arrived—or otherwise prevented from replying; and still more frequently the lover trod on the heels of his despatch. So it chanced that he had not carried away with him one hoarded treasure of the fair one’s writing. And as to books—he had never detected the “dame de ses pensées” in the act of reading anything more intellectual than the words for a new Vaudeville, or a letter from her Paris milliner. He had more than once proposed to read aloud to her—but either she was seized with a fit of unconquerable yawning before he proceeded far in his attempt—or the migraine, or the vapours, to which distressing ailments she was constitutionally subject—were sure to come on at the unfortunate moment of his proposition—and thus, from a combination of untoward accidents, he was not only left in ignorance of his mistress’s higher attainments, but at certain moments of disappointed feeling reduced to form conjectures on the subject, compared to which “ignorance was bliss;” and to some lingering doubts of the like nature, as well as to lover-like impatience, might be attributable the nervous trepidation with which he broke the seal of her first letter. That letter!—The first glimpse of its contents was a glimpse of Paradise!—The first hurried reading transported him to the seventh heaven—and the twentieth (of course, dispassionately critical) confirmed him in the fruition of its celestial beatitudes. Seriously speaking, Walter Barnard must have been a fool, as well as an ingrate, if he had not been pleased—enraptured with the sweet, modest, womanly feeling that breathed through every line of that dear letter. It was no long one—no laboured production—(though perfectly correct as to style and grammar); but the artless affection that evinced itself in more than one sentence of those two short pages, would have stamped perfection on the whole, in Walter’s estimation, had it not (as was the case) been throughout characterised by a beautiful, yet singular simplicity of expression, which surprised not less than it enchanted him. And then—how he reproached himself for the mixed emotion!—Why should it surprise him that Adrienne wrote thus? His was the inconceivable dulness—the want of discernment—of intuitive penetration into the intellectual depths of a character, veiled from vulgar eyes by the retiringness of self-depreciating delicacy, but which to him would gradually have revealed itself, if he had applied himself sedulously to unravel the interesting mystery.

Thenceforward, as may well be imagined, the correspondence, so happily commenced, was established on the most satisfactory footing, and nothing could exceed the delightful interest with which Walter studied the beautiful parts of a character, which gradually developed itself as their epistolary intercourse proceeded, now enchanting him by its peculiar naïveté and innocent sportiveness, now affecting him more profoundly, and not less delightfully, by some tone of deep feeling and serious sweetness, so well in unison with all the better and higher feelings of his own nature, that it was with more than lover-like fervour he thanked Heaven for his prospects of happiness with the dear and amiable being, whose personal loveliness had now really sunk to a secondary rank in his estimation of her charms. A slight shade of the reserve which, in his personal intercourse with Adrienne, had kept him so unaccountably in the dark with respect to her true character, was still perceptible, even in her delightful letters, but only sufficiently to give a more piquant interest to their correspondence. It was evident that she hung back, as it were, to take from his letters the tone of her replies; that on any general subject, it was for him to take the lead, though, having done so, whether in allusion to books, or on any topic connected with taste or sentiment, she was ever modestly ready to take her part in the discussion, with simple good sense and unaffected feeling. It was almost unintentionally that he made a first allusion to some favourite book; and the letter, containing his remark, was despatched before he recollected that he had once been baffled in an attempt to enjoy it with Adrienne by the manner (more discouraging than indifference) with which she received his proposition, that they should read it together. He wished he had not touched upon the subject. Adrienne, excellent as was her capacity—spiritual as were her letters, might not love reading. He would, if possible, have recalled his letter. But its happy inadvertence was no longer matter of regret when the reply reached him. That very book—his favourite poet—was Adrienne’s also! and more than one sweet passage she quoted from it! His favourite passages also! Was ever sympathy so miraculous! And that the dear diffident creature should so unaccountably have avoided, when they were together, all subjects that might lead to the discovery!

The literary pretensions of the young soldier were by no means those of profound scholarship, of deep reading, or even of a very regular education; but his tastes were decidedly intellectual, and the charm of his intercourse with Adrienne was in no slight degree enhanced by the discovery that, on all subjects with which they were mutually acquainted, she was fully competent to enter with equal interest.

Absence and lengthened separation are generally allowed to be great tests of love, or, more properly speaking, of its truth. In Walter’s case, they hardly acted as such, for distance had proved to him but a lunette d’approche, bringing him acquainted with those rare qualities in his fair mistress which had been imperceptible during their personal intercourse. With what impatience, knowing her as he now did, did he anticipate the hour of their union! But it was with something like a feeling of disappointment that he remarked in her letters a degree of uneasiness on that tender subject, to which (as the period of separation drew nearer to a close) he was fain to allude more frequently and fondly. One other shade of alloy had crossed at intervals his pleasure in their correspondence. Many kind inquiries had he made for la petite Madelaine, and many affectionate messages had he sent her. But they were either wholly unnoticed, or answered in phrase the most formal and laconic,—

“Mlle. du Résnél was well, obliged to Monsieur Walter for his polite inquiries.—Desired her compliments.”

It was in vain that Walter ventured a half-sportive message in reply to this ceremonious return for his frank and affectionate remembrances—that, in playful mockery, he requested Adrienne to obtain for him “Mademoiselle du Résnél’s forgiveness for his temerity in still designating her by the familiar title of La Petite Madelaine.” The reply was, if possible, more brief and chilling—so unlike (he could not but remark) to that he might reasonably have expected from his grateful and warm-hearted little friend, that a strange surmise, or rather a revived suspicion, suggested itself as the possible solution of his conjectures. But was it possible—(Walter’s face flushed as bethought of his own possible absurdity in so suspecting)—was it in the nature of things—that Adrienne, the peerless, the lovely and beloved, should conceive one jealous thought of the poor little Madelaine? The supposition was almost too ridiculous to be harboured for a moment—and yet he remembered certain passages in their personal intercourse, when the strangeness (to use no harsher word) of Adrienne’s behaviour to her cousin, had awakened in him an indefinite consciousness that his good-humoured notice of the poor little girl, and the kind word he was ever prompt to speak in her praise when she was absent, were likely to be anything but advantageous to her in their effect on the feelings of her patroness. One circumstance, in particular, recurred to him,—the recollection of a certain jour de fête, when la petite Madelaine (who had been dancing at a village gala, kept annually at the Manoir du Résnél in honour of Madame’s name-day) presented herself, late in the evening, at St Hilaire, so blooming from the effects of her recent exhilarating exercise—her meek eyes so bright with the excitement of innocent gaiety, and her small delicate figure and youthful face set off so advantageously by her simple holiday dress, especially by her hat, à la bergère, garlanded with wild roses, that even the old people, M. and Mad. de St Hilaire, complimented her on her appearance, and himself (after whispering aside to Adrienne, “La Petite est jolie à ravir,”) had sprung forward, and whirled her round the salon in a tour de danse, the effect of which impromptu was assuredly not to lessen the bloom upon her cheeks, which flushed over neck and brow, as, with the laughing familiarity of a brother, he commended her tasteful dress, and especially the pretty hat, which she must wear, and that only, he assured her, when she wished to be perfectly irresistible. Walter’s sportive sally was soon over, and Madelaine’s flush of beauty (the magical effect of happiness) soon faded. Both yielded to the influence of another spell—that wrought by the coldly discouraging looks of Adrienne, and by the asperity of the few sentences, which were all she condescended to utter during the remainder of the evening. When la petite Madelaine reappeared the next morning with her cousin (who, on the plea of a migraine, remained till late in her own apartments), Walter failed not to remark that her eyes were red and heavy, and that her manner was more constrained than usual; neither did it escape his observation when Sunday arrived, that the tasteful little hat had been strangely metamorphosed, and that when he rallied her on her capricious love of changes, which had only spoiled what was before so becoming, she stole a half-fearful glance at Adrienne, while rather confusedly replying that “it was not her own doing, but that Ma’amselle Justine, her cousin’s femme-de-chambre, had been permitted by the latter to arrange it more fashionably.” The subject dropped then, and was never resumed; but Walter then made his own comments on it. And now that the peculiar tone of Adrienne’s letters in referring to Madelaine brought former circumstances vividly to mind, it is not surprising that he fell into a fit of musing on the possibility, which he yet rebuked himself for suspecting. It must be confessed that his reflections on the subject were of a less displeasing nature than those which had suggested themselves on former occasions, before epistolary correspondence with his fair betrothed had given him that insight into her character and feelings which, strange to say, he had failed to obtain during their personal communication. Now he felt assured, that if indeed she were susceptible of the weakness he had dared to suspect, it was mingled with no unkindly feelings towards her unoffending cousin, but sprang solely from the peculiar sensitiveness of her nature, and the exclusive delicacy of her affection for himself.

Where ever was the lover—(we say not the husband)—who could dwell but with tenderest indulgence on an infirmity of love so flattering to his own self-love and self-complacency? We suspect that Walter’s fervour was anything but cooled by the fancied discovery; and his doubts on the subject, if he still harboured any, were wholly dispelled by a postscript to Adrienne’s next letter, almost amounting, singular as was the construction, to an avowal of her own weakness.

In the three fair pages of close writing of which that letter consisted, was vouchsafed no word of reply to an interrogatory—the last, he secretly resolved, he would ever venture on that subject—whether his “little cousin Madelaine,” as he had sometimes sportively called her by anticipation, had quite forgotten her friend Walter. But on one of the outside folds, evidently an after-thought, written hurriedly, and, as it seemed, with a trembling hand, was the following postscript:—

“La Petite Madelaine se souvient toujours du bon Walter—Comment férait-elle autrement?

“Mais, cependant, qu’il ne soit plus question d’elle dans les lettres de Mons. Walter.”

“A most strange fancy! an unaccountable caprice of this dear Adrienne’s!” was Walter’s smiling soliloquy. “Some day she shall laugh at it with me—but for the present and for ever, be the dear one’s will my law.” Thenceforth “il n’était plus question de la Petite Madelaine” in Walter’s letters, and in those of Adrienne she was never more alluded to.

Mademoiselle de St Hilaire’s mind was about this time engrossed by far more important personages than her absent lover, or her youthful friend. The present occupants, herself (no new one truly), and a certain Marquis d’Arval, who would probably have been her first choice, if he had not been the selected of her parents. Not that she had by any means decided on the rupture of her engagement with Walter (if indeed such a contingency had ever formed the subject of her private musings); neither, at any rate, would she have dissolved it, till his return should compel her to a decision. For his letters were too agreeable, too spiritual—too full of that sweet incense that never satiated her vanity, to be voluntarily relinquished.

But in the mean time, the correspondence, piquant as it was—a charming passe-temps!—could not be expected to engross her wholly. Many vacant hours still hung upon her hands, wonderful to say, in spite of those intellectual and elegant pursuits, the late discovery of which had so enraptured the unsophisticated Walter. Who so proper as the Marquis d’Arval, then on a visit at the Chateau,—her cousin too—besides being the especial favourite of her parents—(dutiful Adrienne!)—to be the confidential friend of la belle délaissée?—to be in fact the substitute of the absent lover, in all those petits soins that so agreeably divert the ennui of a fine lady’s life, and for which the most sentimental correspondence can furnish no equivalent? In the article of petits soins indeed (the phrase is perfectly untranslatable), the merits of d’Arval were decidedly superior to those of his English competitor, whose English feelings and education certainly disqualified him for evincing that peculiar tact and nicety of judgment in all matters relating to female decoration and occupation, so essential in the cavalier servente of a French beauty. Though an excellent French scholar, Walter never could compass the nomenclature of shades and colours, so familiar and expressive to French tongues and tastes. He blundered perpetually between “rose tendre,” and “rose foncée;” and was quite at fault if referred to as arbitrator between the respective merits of “Boue de Paris,” or “Crapeau mort d’amour.”

Achilles, in his female weeds, was never more awkward at his task than poor Walter, when appointed, by especial favour, to the office of arranging the ribbon collar, or combing the silken mane and ruffled paws of Silvie, Adrienne’s little chien lion. And though ready enough (as we have seen) to importune his mistress with worthless offerings of paltry wild-flowers, it never entered his simple fancy to present her with small, compact bouquets, sentimentally and scientifically combined (the pensée never omitted, if in season), the stems wound together with silk of appropriate hue, or wrapped round with a motto, or well-turned couplet. In these, and all accomplishments of a similar nature, Walter Barnard’s genius was immeasurably distanced by that of the Marquis d’Arval.

The latter was also peculiarly interesting in his character of a despairing lover; and his attentions were particularly well-timed, at a season when the absence of the happy lover had made a vacuum in the life (of course not the heart) of Adrienne, who on her part was actuated by motives of pure humanity in consoling d’Arval (as far as circumstances permitted) for the success of his rival, by proofs of her warmest friendship and tenderest commiseration.

Since the Marquis’s arrival at St Hilaire, his universal genius had in great measure superseded la petite Madelaine in her office of exorcist to the demon of ennui, her fair cousin’s relentless persecutor. She was therefore less frequently, or rather less constantly, at the Chateau—though still summoned to secret conference in Adrienne’s boudoir, and often detained there for hours by consultations or occupations of that private and confidential nature, so interesting to the generality of young ladies who have lovers in their hearts or heads, though the details might be insipid to the general reader, if it were even allowable to reveal mysteries little less sacred than the Eleusinian.

It might have been inferred, however, that la petite Madelaine was but an unwilling sharer of those secret conferences; for she often retired from them with looks of more grave and even careful expression, than were well in character with the youthful countenance, and an air of dejection that ill suited the recent listener to a happy love-tale. And when her services (whatever were their nature) were no longer required, Adrienne evinced no inclination to detain her at St Hilaire.

She was still, however, politely and even kindly welcomed by the owners of the Chateau; but when no longer necessary to the contentment of their idolised daughter, the absence or presence of la petite Madelaine became to them a matter of the utmost indifference, and by degrees she became painfully sensible that there is a wide difference in being accounted nobody with respect to our individual consequence, or in relation to our capabilities for contributing, however humbly, to the comfort and happiness of others. To the first species of insignificance Madelaine had been early accustomed, and easily reconciled; but the second pressed heavily on her young heart—and perhaps the more so, at St Hilaire, for the perpetually recurring thoughts of a time still recent—(“the happy time,” as that poor girl accounted it in her scant experience of happiness)—when she had a friend there who, however his heart was devoted to her cousin, had never missed an occasion of showing kindness to herself, and of evincing to her, by those attentions which pass unnoticed when accepted as a due, but are so precious to persons situated as was la petite Madelaine, that to him at least her pains and pleasures, her tastes, her feelings, and her welfare, were by no means indifferent or unimportant. The dew of kindness never falls on any soil so grateful as the young heart unaccustomed to its genial influence. After-benefits, more weighty and important, fail not in noble natures to inspire commensurate gratitude—but they cannot call forth that burst of enthusiastic feeling, awakened by the first experienced kindness, like the sudden verdure of a dry seed-bed called into life and luxuriance by the first warm shower of spring.

La petite Madelaine’s natural home was at no time, as has been observed, a very happy one to her. And now that it was more her home than for some years it had been, time had wrought no favourable change in her circumstances there. Time had not infused more tenderness towards her into the maternal feelings of Madame du Résnél—though it had worked its usual effect of increasing the worldliness, and hardening the hardness, of her nature. Time had not dulcified the tempers of the three elder Mademoiselles du Résnél, by providing with husbands the two cadettes between them and Madelaine. And time had cruelly curtailed the few home joys of the poor Madelaine, by sending le petit frère to college, and by delivering up to his great receiver, Death—her only other friend—the faithful and affectionate Jeannette. Of the few that had once loved her in her father’s house, only the old dog was left to welcome her more permanent abode there; and one would have thought he was sensible of the added responsibilities death and absence had devolved upon him. Forsaking his long-accustomed place on the sunny pavement of the south stone courtyard, he established himself at the door of the salon if she was within it, himself not being privileged to enter there—or with his young mistress in her own little turret-chamber, where he had all entrées—or even to her favourite arbour in the garden he contrived to creep with her, though his old limbs were too feeble to accompany her beyond that short distance. And when they were alone together, he would look up in her face with such a “human meaning” in his dim eyes, as spoke to Madelaine’s heart, as plainly and more affectingly than words could have spoken—“I only am left to love my master’s daughter, and who but she cares for old Roland?”

In the mean time, Walter’s year of probation was fast drawing to a close; and his return to St Hilaire, and all thereon depending, was looked forward to with very different feelings by himself (the happy expectant!) by the inhabitants of the Chateau, and by its still occasional inmate, the little Maiden of the Manoir, whose meditations on the subject were not the less frequent and profound, because to her it was obviously one of little personal interest. Monsieur and Madame de St Hilaire had watched with intense anxiety the fancied progress of the Marquis d’Arval in supplanting the absent Walter in the affections of their daughter. But experience had taught them that the surest means of effecting their wishes was to refrain from expressing them to the dutiful Adrienne. So they looked on, and kept silence, with hopes that became fainter as the decisive period approached, and they observed that the lovers’ correspondence was unslackened, and the Marquis made no interesting communication to them of that success on his part which, he was well aware, they would receive as most gratifying intelligence. On the contrary, he found it necessary, about this time, to make a journey to Paris, and to his estates in Languedoc; but as he still seemed devoted to Adrienne, and his devotions were evidently accepted with the sweetest complacency, the bewildered parents still cherished a belief that the young people mutually understood each other—that d’Arval’s temporary absence had been concerted between them, from motives of prudence and delicacy with respect to Walter, and that when the latter arrived, their daughter would either require him to release her from her rash engagement, or empower them to acquaint him with her change of sentiments.

Nothing could be farther from truth, however, than this fancied arrangement of the worthy elders. Whatever were d’Arval’s ultimate views and hopes, he had contented himself during his visit with playing the favourite lover pro tempore. Perhaps he was too honourable to take further advantage of his rival’s absence—perhaps too delicate, too romantic, to owe his mistress’s hand to any but her cool after-decision, unbiassed by his fascinating presence. In short, whatever was the reason, he was au désespoir—accablé!—anéanti! But he departed, leaving la belle Adrienne very much in doubt whether his departure was desirable or otherwise. It certainly demolished a pretty little airy fabric she had amused herself with constructing at odd idle moments of tender reverie; such as a meeting of the rivals—jealousy—reproaches—an interesting dilemma—desperation on one side (she had not settled which)—rapture on the other—defiance to mortal combat—bloodshed, perhaps. But these feelings drew a veil over the imaginary picture, and passed on to the sweet anticipation of rewarding the survivor. If the marring of so ingenious a fancy sketch were somewhat vexatious, on the other hand it would be agreeable enough to be quite at liberty (for a time at least), after Walter’s return, to resume her former relations with him. And as to the result, whatever was his impatience, that might still be delayed, and the Marquis would return. She was sure of him, if after all she should decide in his favour; and then, who could tell—the fancy sketch might be completed at last. La petite Madelaine was not of course made the depositary of her fair cousin’s private cogitations; but she had her own, as has been observed, and she saw, and thought, and drew her inferences—devoutly hated Le Marquis d’Arval—could not love her cousin—and pitied—Oh! how she pitied le bon Walter!

Le bon Walter, whose term of banishment was now within three weeks of expiration, would have accounted himself the most enviable of mortals, but for his almost ungovernable impatience at the tedious interval which was yet to separate him from his beloved; and for a slight shade of disquietude at certain rumours respecting a certain Marquis d’Arval, which had reached him through the medium of the friend (the chaplain of his regiment), whose visit to his family established at Caen had been the means of inducing Walter to accompany him thither, little dreaming, while quietly acquiescing in his friend’s arrangements, to what conclusions (so momentous for himself) they were unwittingly tending. The brother and sister-in-law of Mr Seldon (the clerical friend alluded to) were still resident at Caen, and acquainted, though not on terms of intimacy, with the families of St Hilaire and Du Résnél. La petite Madelaine was, however, better known to them than any other individual of the two households. They had been at first kindly interested for her, by observing the degree of unmerited slight to which she was subjected in her own family, and the species of half dependence on the capricious kindness of others to which it had been the means of reducing her. The subdued but not servile spirit with which she submitted to undeserved neglect and innumerable mortifications, interested them still more warmly in her favour; and on the few occasions when they obtained permission for her to visit them at Caen, the innocent playfulness of her sweet and gentle nature shone out so engagingly in the sunshine of encouragement, and her affectionate gratitude evinced itself so artlessly, that they felt they could have loved her tenderly, had she been at liberty to give them as much of her society as she was inclined to do. But heartlessness and jealousy are not incompatible, and Mlle. de St Hilaire was jealous of everything she condescended to patronise. Besides, la petite Madelaine had been too useful to her in various ways to be dispensed with; and when, latterly, the capricious beauty became indifferent, or rather averse to her continuance at the Chateau beyond the stated period of secret service in the mysterious boudoir, Madelaine was well content to escape to her own unkindly home; and, strange to say, better satisfied with the loneliness of her own little turret-chamber, or the dumb companionship of poor Roland, and with the drudgery of household needlework (always her portion at home), than even in the society of her amiable friends at Caen, to which she might then have resorted more unrestrainedly. But though they saw her seldom, the depression of her spirits and her altered looks passed not unnoticed by them. And although she uttered no complaint of her cousin, it was evident that at St Hilaire she was no longer treated even with the fitful kindness and scant consideration which was all she had ever experienced. These remarks led naturally, on the part of the Seldons, to close observance of the conduct of Mlle. de St Hilaire with the Marquis d’Arval—a subject to which common report had already drawn their attention, and which, as affecting the welfare of their friend Walter Barnard, could not be indifferent to them. They saw and heard and ascertained enough to convince them that his honest affections and generous confidence were unworthily bestowed, and that a breach of faith the most dishonourable was likely to prove the ultimate reward of his high-raised expectations. So satisfied, they felt it a point of conscience to communicate to him, through the medium of his friend (and in the way and to the extent judged advisable by the latter), such information as might, in some degree, prepare him for the shock they anticipated, or at least stimulate him to sharp investigation. The office devolved upon Mr Seldon was by no means an enviable one; but he was too sincerely Walter’s friend to shrink from it, and by cautious degrees he communicated to him that information which had cast the first shade over his love-dream of speedy reunion with the object of his affections.

It was well for the continuance of their friendship that Mr Seldon, in his communication to Walter, had not only proceeded with infinite caution, but had armed himself with coolness and forbearance in the requisite degree, for the young man’s impetuous nature flamed out indignantly at the first insinuation against the truth of his beloved. And when, at last—after angry interruptions, and wrathful sallies innumerable—he had been made acquainted with the circumstances which, in the opinion of his friends, warranted suspicions so unfavourable to her, he professed utter astonishment, not unmixed with resentment, at their supposing his confidence in Adrienne could be for one moment shaken by appearances or misrepresentations, which had so unworthily imposed on their own judgment and candour.

After the first burst of irritation, however, Walter professed his entire conviction of, and gratitude for, the good intentions of his friends; but requested of Seldon that the subject, which he dismissed from his own mind as perfectly unworthy of a second thought, should not be revived in their discussions; and Seldon, conscientiously satisfied with having done as much as discretion warranted in the discharge of his delicate commission, gladly assented to the proposition.

But in such cases it is easier to disbelieve than to forget; and it is among the countless perversenesses of the human mind, to retain most tenaciously, and recur most pertinaciously to, that which the will professes most peremptorily to dismiss. Walter’s disbelief was spontaneous and sincere. So was his immediate protest against ever recurring, even in thought, to a subject so contemptible. But, like the little black box that haunted the merchant Abudah, it lodged itself, spite of all opposition, in a corner of his memory, from which not all his efforts could expel it at all times; though the most successful exorcism (the never-failing pro tempore) was a reperusal of those precious letters, in every one of which he found evidence of the lovely writer’s ingenuousness and truth, worthy to outweigh, in her lover’s heart, a world’s witness against her. But from the hour of Seldon’s communication, Walter’s impatience to be at St Hilaire became so ungovernable, that finding his friend (Mr —— was again to be the companion of his journey) not unwilling to accompany him immediately, he obtained the necessary furlough, although it yet wanted nearly three weeks of the prescribed year’s expiration; and although he had just despatched a letter to the lady of his love, full of anticipation, relating only to that period, he was on his way to the place of embarkation before that letter had reached French ground, and arrived at Caen (though travelling, to accommodate his friend, by a circuitous route) but a few days after its reception at St Hilaire.

The travellers reached their place of destination so early in the day, that, after a friendly greeting with Mr and Mrs Charles Seldon (though not without a degree of embarrassment on either side, from recollection of a certain proscribed topic), Walter excused himself from partaking their late dinner, and with a beating heart (in which, truth to tell, some undefinable fear mingled with delightful expectation) took his impatient way along the well-remembered footpaths that led through pleasant fields and orchards, by a short cut, to the Chateau de St Hilaire. He stopped for a moment at the old mill, near the entrance-gate of the domain, to exchange a friendly greeting with the miller’s wife, who was standing at her door, and dropt him a curtsy of recognition. The mill belonged to the Manoir du Résnél, and its respectable rentiers were, he knew, humble friends of la petite Madelaine; so, in common kindness, he could do no otherwise than linger a moment, to make inquiries for her welfare, and that of her fair cousin, and their respective families. It may be supposed that Walter’s latent motive for so general, as well as particular an inquiry, was to gain from the reply something like a glance at the Carte du Pays he was about to enter—not without a degree of nervous trepidation, with the causelessness of which he reproached himself in vain, though he had resisted the temptation of putting one question to the Seldons, who might have drawn from it inferences of misgivings on his part, the existence of which he was far from acknowledging even to his own heart.

“Mademoiselle Madelaine was at the Chateau that evening,” the dame informed him—“and there was no other company, for M. le Marquis left it for Paris three days ago.”—Walter drew breath more freely at that article of intelligence.—“Some people had thought M. le Marquis would carry off Mademoiselle after all”—(Walter bit his lip);—“but now Monsieur was returned, doubtless”—and a look and simper of vast knowingness supplied the conclusion of the sentence. “Au reste—Mademoiselle was well, and as beautiful as ever; but for ‘cette chère petite,’ [meaning la petite Madelaine],—she was sadly changed of late, though she did not complain of illness—she never complained, though everybody knew her home was none of the happiest, and (for what cause the good dame knew not) she was not so much as formerly at St Hilaire.”

Walter was really concerned at the bonne femme’s account of his little friend, but at that moment he could spare but a passing thought to any subject save one; and having gleaned all the intelligence he was likely to obtain respecting it, he cut short the colloquy with a hasty “Bon soir,” and bounded on his way with such impetuous speed, that the entrance-gate of St Hilaire was still vibrating with the swing with which it had closed behind him, when he was half through the avenue, and just at one of its side openings into a little grove, or labyrinth, in which was a building, called Le Pavillon de Diane. He stopped to gaze for a moment at the gleam of its white walls, discernible through an opening in the thicket, for the sight was associated with many “blissful memories.” But the present was all to him, and again he was starting onward, when his steps were arrested by sounds that mingled with the cooing of the wood-pigeon among “the umbrageous multitude of leaves.”

Other sounds were none at that stillest hour of the still sultry evening; and among the mingled tones, Walter’s ear caught some not to be mistaken, for the voice that uttered them was that of Adrienne. Its breathings were, however, in a higher and less mellifluous key than those of the plaintive bird; but a third voice, sweeter than either, uttered a low undertone, and that voice was the voice of Madelaine. Quick was the ear of Walter to recognise and distinguish those familiar accents, but its sense of melody yielded of course to the fond prejudice, which could not have been expected to find harshness in the tones of his mistress, or allow superior sweetness to those of another voice. Whatever were his secret thoughts on that head, it is not to be supposed that at such a moment he stopped to compare the “wood-notes wild,” as coolly and critically as if he were weighing the merits of a pair of opera-singers. No—after a second of attention—not half a one of doubt—he sprang aside from the road leading to the mansion, and was lightly and swiftly threading the tortuous woodpath, and could now discern, through one of its bowery archways, the sparkling of the little fountain that played before one of the three entrances to the pavilion, and another turn of the sylvan puzzle would have brought him to the spot; but in his impatience he lost the well-known clue, and in a moment found himself at the back, instead of the front of the small temple. The corner would have been rounded at three steps; but at that critical moment, a word spoken by the most vehement of the fair colloquists—spoken at the highest key of a voice, whose powers Walter was now for the first time fully aware of—arrested his steps as by art magic. His own name was uttered, associated with words of such strange import, that Walter’s astonishment, overpowering his reflective faculties, made him excusable in remaining, as he did, rooted to the spot, a listener to what passed within.

That strange colloquy consisted, on one side, of taunts, and accusations, and menaces. On the other, of a few deprecating words—a sigh or two—and something like a suppressed sob—and lastly, of an assurance, uttered with a trembling voice, that the speaker “never had harboured the slightest thought of betraying the secret she was privy to, or entertained any hope less humble than to be permitted to stay unnoticed and unremembered in her own home”——where she “would be equally uncared for,” was probably her heart’s muttered conclusion, for the word home trembled on her tongue, and she burst into an agony of tears.

Neither the gentle appeal, nor the gush of distressful feeling in which it terminated, seemed to touch the heartless person it was addressed to, for there was no softening in the voice with which, as she quitted the pavilion, she issued her commands, that on her return some half-hour hence, “the letter should be finished, and not more stupidly than usual, or it would be à refaire.” And so departed the imperious task-mistress, and as her steps died away, and the angry rustling of her robes, the tinkling of the little fountain was again heard chiming with the stock-doves’ murmurs, and within the temple all was profoundly still, except at intervals a smothered sob, and then a deep and heart-relieving sigh, the last audible token of subsiding passion. And Walter was still rooted, spell-bound—immovable in the same spot. Lost in a confusion of thoughts, that left him scarcely conscious of his own identity, of the reality of the scene around him, or of the strange circumstances in which he found himself so suddenly involved—more than a few moments it required to restore to him the power of clear perception and comprehension, but not one, when that was regained, to decide on the course he should pursue.

Quickly and lightly he stepped round the angle of the building to the side entrance (like the two others, an open archway), through which his eye glanced over the whole interior, till it rested on the one living object of interest. At some little distance, with her back towards him, sat la petite Madelaine, one elbow resting on the table before her, her head disconsolately bowed on the supporting hand, which half concealed her face; the other, with a pen held nervously by the small fingers, lay idle beside the half-finished letter outspread before her. Once she languidly raised her head and looked upon it, with a seeming effort dipped her pen in the ink, and held it a moment suspended over the line to be filled up. But the task seemed too painful to her, and with a heavy sigh she suffered her head to drop aside into its former position, and her hand, still loosely holding the inactive pen, to fall listlessly upon the paper. During this short pantomime, Walter had stolen noiselessly across the matted floor, to the back of Madelaine’s chair, and knowing all he now knew, felt no conscientious scruple about the propriety of reading over her shoulder the contents of the unfinished letter. They were but what he was prepared to see, and yet his trance of amazement was for a moment renewed by ocular demonstration to the truth of what had been hitherto revealed to one of his senses only. The letter was to himself—the reply to his last, addressed to Mlle. de St Hilaire—the continuation of that delightful series he had for the last twelve-month nearly been in the blissful habit of receiving from his adored Adrienne. Here was the same autograph—the same tournure de phrase—the same tone of thought and feeling (though less lively and unembarrassed than in her earlier letters)—and yet the hand that traced, the mind that guided, and the heart that dictated, were the hand and mind and heart of Madelaine du Résnél!

“Madelaine! dear Madelaine!” were the first whispered words by which Walter ventured to make his presence known to her. But low as was the whisper—gentle as were the accents—a thunder-clap could not have produced an effect more electric. Starting from her seat with a half shriek, she would have fallen to the ground from excess of agitation and surprise, but for Walter’s supporting arm, and it required a world of soothing and affectionate gentleness to restore her to any degree of self-possession. Her first impulse, on regaining it, was the honourable one of endeavouring to remove from Walter’s observation the letter that had been designed for his perusal under circumstances so different; but quietly laying his hand upon the outspread paper, as she turned to snatch it from the table, with the other arm he gently drew her from it to himself, and with a smile in which there was more of tender than bitter feeling, said—“It is too late, Madelaine—I know all—who could have thought you such a little impostor!” Poor little Madelaine! never was mortal maiden so utterly confounded, so bewildered as she, by the detection, and by her own hurried and almost unintelligible attempts to deprecate what, in the simplicity of her heart, she fancied must be the high indignation of Walter at her share of the imposition so long practised on him.

Whether it was that, in the course of her agitated pleading, she spied relenting in the eyes to which hers were raised so imploringly, or a something even more encouraging in their expression, or in the pressure of the hands which clasped hers, upraised in the vehemence of supplication, certain it is that she stopped short in the middle of a sentence—with a tear in her eye and a blush on her cheek, and something like a dawning smile on the lip that still quivered with emotion, and that “Le bon Walter” magnanimously illustrated by his conduct the hackneyed maxim, that

“Forgiveness to the injured doth belong,”—

and that plenary absolution, and perfect reconciliation, were granted and effected, may be fairly inferred from the testimony of the miller’s wife, who, still lingering at the threshold when the grey twilight was brightening into cloudless moonlight, spied Walter and Madelaine advancing slowly down the dark chestnut avenue, so intent in earnest conversation (doubtless on grave and weighty matters), that they passed through the gate, and by the door where she stood, without once looking to the right or left, or, in consequence, observing their old friend as she stept forward to exchange the evening salutation. The same deponent, moreover, testified, that (from no motive of curiosity, but motherly concern for the safety of Madelaine, should Walter, striking off into the road to Caen, leave her at that late hour to pursue her solitary way through the Manoir) she took heed to their further progress, and ascertained, to her entire satisfaction, that so far from unknightly desertion of his fair charge, Walter (seemingly inclined to protect his guardianship to the last possible moment) accompanied her through her home domain till quite within sight of the Chateau, and even there lingered so long in his farewell, that it might have tired out the patience of the miller’s wife, if the supper-bell had not sounded from the mansion, and broken short as kind a leave-taking as ever preceded the separation of dearest friends.

It must be quite needless to say, that Walter Barnard appeared not that night at the Chateau de St Hilaire, where his return to Normandy was of course equally unknown with his late visit to the pavilion. Great was the wrath of the lovely Adrienne, when, on her return thither, soon after the expiration of the time she had allotted for the performance of Madelaine’s task, she found la place vide—that the daring impertinent had not only taken the liberty of departing undismissed (doubtless in resentment of fancied wrongs), but had taken with her the letter that was to have been finished in readiness for the postman’s call that evening on his way to Caen. The contretemps was absolutely too much for the sensitive nerves of la belle Adrienne, agitated as they had been during the day by a communication made to her parents, and through them “to his adorable cousin,” by the Marquis d’Arval, that his contract of marriage with a rich and beautiful heiress of his own province was on the point of signature.

“Le perfide!” was the smothered ejaculation of his fair friend on receiving this gratifying intelligence from her dejected parents, thus compelled to relinquish their last feeble hope of seeing their darling united to the husband of their choice. To the darling herself the new return of Walter became suddenly an object of tender interest. Nothing could be so natural as her immediate anxiety to express this impatience in a reply to his last letter, and nothing could be more natural than that she should fall into a paroxysm of nervous irritation at the frustration of this amiable design, by the daring desertion of her chargé-d’affaires. But she was too proud to send for her, or to her: it would look like acknowledgment of error. She would “die first,” and “the little impertinent would return of her own accord, humble enough, no doubt, and she should be humbled.” But for the next two days nothing was heard or seen of “the little impertinent” at the Chateau de St Hilaire. On the third, still no sign of her repentance, by reappearance, word, or token. On the fourth, Adrienne’s resolution could hold out against her necessities no longer, and she was on the point of going herself in quest of the guilty Madelaine, when she learned the astounding tidings that Walter had been five days returned to Caen, and on that very morning when the news first reached her,——

But Walter’s proceedings must be briefly related more veraciously than by the blundering tongue of common rumour, which reported them to Adrienne. He had returned to Caen, and to the hospitable home of his English friends, to whose ear, of course, he confided his tale of disappointed hopes. But, as it should seem by the mirthful bearing of the small party assembled that night round the supper-table after his affecting disclosure, not only had it failed in exciting sympathy for the abused lover, but he himself, by some unaccountable caprice, was, to all appearance, the happiest of the social group.

Grave matters, as well as trivial, were, however, debated that night round the supper-table of the English party; and of the four assembled, as neither had attained the coolness and experience of twenty-six complete summers, and two of the four (the married pair) had forfeited all pretensions to worldly wisdom by a romantic love-match, it is not much to be wondered at that Prudence was scarcely admitted to a share in the consultation, and that she was unanimously outvoted in conclusion.

The cabinet council sat till past midnight, yet Walter Barnard was awake next morning, and “stirring with the lark,” and brushing the dew-drops from the wild-brier sprays, as he bounded by them through the fields, on his way to——not St Hilaire.

Again in the gloaming he was espied by the miller’s wife, threading the same path to the same trysting-place—for that it was a trysting-place she had ocular demonstration—and again the next day matins and vespers were as duly said by the same parties in the same oratory, and Dame Simonne was privy to the same, and yet she had not whispered her knowledge even to the reeds. How much longer the unnatural retention might have continued, would have been a curious metaphysical question, had not circumstances, interfering with the ends of science, hurried on an “unforeseen conclusion.”

On the third morning the usual tryst was kept at the accustomed place, at an earlier hour than on the preceding days; but shorter parley sufficed on this occasion, for the two who met there with no cold greeting, turned together into the pleasant path, so lately traced on his way from the town with beating heart, by one who retraced his footsteps even more eagerly, with the timid companion, who went consentingly, but not self-excused.

Sharp and anxious was the watch kept by the miller’s wife for the return of the pair, whose absence for the next two hours she was at no loss to account for; but they tarried beyond that period, and Dame Simonne was growing fidgety at their non-appearance, when she caught sight of their advancing figures, at the same moment that the gate of the Manoir swung open, and forth issued the stately forms of Madame and Mesdemoiselles du Résnél!

Dame Simonne’s senses were well-nigh confounded at the sight, and well they might, for well she knew what one so unusual portended—and there was no time—not a moment—not a possibility to warn the early pedestrians who were approaching, so securely unconscious of the impending crisis. They were to have parted as before at the Manoir gate—to have parted for many months of separation—one to return to England, the other to her nearer home, till such time as——. But the whole prudential project was in a moment overset. The last winding of the path was turned, and the advancing parties stood confronted! For a moment, mute, motionless as statues—a smile of malicious triumph on the countenances of Mesdemoiselles du Résnél—on that of their dignified mother, a stern expression of concentrated wrath, inexorable, implacable. But her speech was even more calm and deliberate than usual, as she requested to know what business of importance had led the young lady so far from her home at that early hour, and to what fortunate chance she was indebted for the escort of Monsieur Barnard? The grand secret might still have been kept. Walter was about to speak—he scarce knew what—perhaps to divulge in part—for to tell all prematurely was ruin to them both. But before he could articulate a word, Madame du Résnél repeated her interrogatory in a tone of more peremptory sternness, and la petite Madelaine, trembling at this sound, quailing under the cold and searching gaze that accompanied it, and all unused to the arts of deception and prevarication, sank on her knees where she had stopped at some distance from her incensed parent, and faltered out with uplifted hands,—“Mais—mais, maman! je viens de me marier!”

The truth was told—the full, the simple truth—and no sooner told than Walter’s better nature rejoiced at the disclosure, rejoiced at its release from the debasing shackles imposed by worldly considerations, and grateful to the young ingenuous creature whose impulsive honesty had saved them both from perseverance in the dangerous paths of deception, even at the cost of those important advantages which might have resulted from a temporary concealment of their union. Tenderly raising and supporting her he was now free to call his own in the sight of men and angels, he drew her gently towards the incensed parent, the expected storm of whose just wrath he prepared himself to meet respectfully, and to deprecate with all due humility. But the preparation proved perfectly unnecessary. Madame du Résnél, whose rigidity of feature had relaxed into no change of line or muscle indicative of surprise or emotion at her daughter’s abrupt confession, now listened with equally imperturbable composure to Walter’s rather hurried and confused attempts at excusing what was, in the strict sense, inexcusable; and to his frank and manly professions of attachment to her daughter, and of his desire, if he might be received as a son by that daughter’s mother, to prove, by every act of his future life, his sense of such generous forgiveness. Having heard him to the end, with the most exemplary patience and faultless good-breeding, Madame du Résnél begged to assure Monsieur Barnard, that, “so far from assuming to herself any right of censure over him or his actions, past, present, or to come, she begged leave to assure him she was incapable of such impertinent interference; and that, with regard to the lady who had ceased to be her daughter on becoming the wife of Monsieur Barnard, she resigned from that moment all claims on the duty she had violated, and all control over her future actions. Les effets appartenant à Mademoiselle Madelaine du Résnél—[poor little Madelaine, few and little worth were thy worldly goods!]—should be ready for delivery to any authorised claimant.” “Au reste”—Madame du Résnél had the honour to felicitate Monsieur and Madame Barnard on their auspicious union, and to wish them a very good morning—an adieu sans au revoir—with which tender conclusion she dropped a profound and dignified curtsy, and with her attendant daughters (who dutifully followed the maternal example) passed through the gate of the Manoir, and closed it after her, with no violence, but a deliberate firmness, that spoke to those without more convincingly than words could have expressed it—“Henceforward, and for ever, this barrier is closed against you.”

That moment was one of bitterness to the new-made wife—to the discarded daughter; and, for a time, all the feelings that had led to her violation of filial duty—all the excuses she had framed to herself for breaking its sacred obligations—all the “shortcomings” of love she had been subjected to in her own home—and all—ay, even all the love, passing speech, which had bound up her life with Walter Barnard’s—all was forgotten—merged in one absorbing agony of distress, at the sudden and violent wrench-asunder of Nature’s first and holiest ties. She clung to the side-post of the old gate that opened to her paternal domain—to the house of her fathers. She kissed the bars that excluded her for ever. Was it for ever? A gleam of hope brightened in her streaming eyes—“Her dear Armand! Le petit frère would return to the Manoir, and he would never shut its gates against poor Madelaine.”

Her husband availed himself of the auspicious moment; he encouraged her hopes, and she listened with the eager simplicity of a child; he spoke words of comfort, and she was comforted; of love, and she forgot her fault and her remorse—her home—her friends—the world—and everything in it but himself.

Three days from that ever-memorable morning, la petite Madelaine stood with her husband upon English ground, but for him, a stranger in a strange land—the portionless bride of a poor subaltern. For though she had brought with her all the “effets” which, through Madame’s special indulgence, she had been permitted to remove from her own little turret-chamber, they helped but poorly towards the future ménage, consisting only of her scanty wardrobe, a few books (her most precious property), a little embroidered purse, containing a louis-d’or, sundry old silver coins, and pièces de dix sous, a bonbonnière full of dragées, a birthday present from le petit frère, a gold etui, the gift of her grandmother, and a pair of silver sugar-tongs, the bequest of old Jeannette. To this splendid inventory she was, however, graciously allowed to annex the transfer of honest Roland, her father’s ancient servitor, who, as if endowed with rational comprehension, made shift to leap into the cart which conveyed to Caen the poor possessions of his master’s daughter, and came crouching to her feet, with looks and actions needing no interpretation to speak intelligibly—“Mistress! lead on, and I will follow thee.”

The married pair were indeed embarked together on a rough sea, with little provision for the voyage, to which they had been in a manner prematurely driven; but, by the blessing of Providence, they weathered out its storms, now sheltering for a season in some calm and friendly haven, and anon compelled (but with recruited courage) to renew their conflict with the winds and waves. But throughout, their hearts were strong, for they were faithfully united; and that devoted affection for her husband, which had saved the heart of Madelaine from breaking in its first and sharpest agony (the sharpest, because mingled with remorse), was the continued support and sweetener of her after-life, through a lot of infinite vicissitude.

If haply I have evinced some partiality to poor little Madelaine, even in the detail of her unsanctioned nuptials, accuse me not, reader, of making light of the sin of filial disobedience. I have told you that she judged herself;—let you and I do likewise, and abstain from passing sentence on others. But if your Christian charity, righteous reader! is so rigidly exacting as to require punishment as well as penitence, be comforted even on that score, and lay the assurance to your feeling heart, that la petite Madelaine had her full share of worldly troubles; the last and crowning one of all, that she was doomed to be, by some years, the survivor of the husband of her youth—the friend and companion of her life—the prop and staff of her declining days.

But she was not long an outcast from her own people and her early home. “Le petit frère” found means, soon after the attainment of his majority, and the full rights and titles it conferred on him, as lord of himself and the Manoir du Résnél, to prevail on his lady-mother (who still remained mistress of the establishment) to receive, on the footing of occasional guests, her long-banished child, with her English husband. From that time, Monsieur du Résnél proved himself, on all occasions, the affectionate brother and unfailing friend of Walter and Madelaine; and the good understanding then established between themselves and Madame du Résnél was never interrupted, though jealousies among the elder sisters were always at work to undermine it by innumerable petty artifices. Madame was not their dupe, however. Nature had formed her with a cold heart, but a strong understanding. She felt and knew that the respect and attention invariably shown towards her by Madelaine and her husband, were the fruits of right principle and kindly disposition, unswayed by any interested consideration, and that her other daughters were actuated by the sordid view of appropriating to themselves exclusively, at her decease, the small hoard she might have accumulated in the long course of her rigid and undeviating economy. As the burden of years pressed more heavily upon her, she became more and more sensible of the worth and tenderness of her once-slighted Madelaine; and when circumstances made it expedient that she should remove from her son’s roof, she took up her last lodging among the living under that of the dutiful child, whose widowed sorrows were soothed by her tender performance of the sacred duty which had thus unexpectedly devolved upon her.

When the mother and daughter were reunited under circumstances so affecting, the latter had almost numbered the threescore years, so near the age of man; and the former, with all her mental faculties in their full vigour, and retaining her bodily strength and all her senses to an extraordinary degree, was on the verge of fourscore years and five. But the tender and unremitting cares of her filial guardian were blessed for three years longer in their pious aim,—

“T’ explore the wish—explain the asking eye,
And keep awhile one parent from the sky.”

Then the full of days was summoned to depart, and I—yes—I remember well the last scene of her long pilgrimage, though a little child when present at it, and carried in my nurse’s arms to the chamber of death. My mother was there also, for she was the granddaughter of that aged dying woman—the daughter of Walter Barnard and Madelaine du Résnél. And so it came to pass that la petite Madelaine was my own dear grandmother, and that the fact was (I suppose) written on my forehead, for the future investigation of that “grim white woman,” the daughter of Adrienne de St Hilaire, who, impelled by curiosity, and armed with hereditary hate, dismayed me by that mysterious visit, which, opening up the forgotten sources of old traditional memories, gave rise to my after daydream and to this long story.