Mademoiselle by Mrs. Margaret Oliphant
She was not altogether French, notwithstanding her name: indeed her
nationality was the most dubious thing in the world, unless any assault
was made upon either of the countries to which she owed her parentage.
She had a way of thus becoming intensely English at a moment's notice,
and intensely French the next—the latter, perhaps, with still greater
warmth than the former, as became the constitutional difference between
French and English. She was a woman in the full flower and prime of
life—that is, approaching thirty-five: a period, however, at which few
people will acknowledge a woman's prime to be. According to the vulgar
notion, indeed, beauty has begun to fade at this period, when it ought
to be in fullest, gorgeous flower. There are some liberal minds which
will confess that a woman who is married is in all her magnificence at
this age; but for those who are unmarried it is always, in England at
least, considered a time of decadence. Thirty-five means fading—the
state of the délaissée—the condition of the old maid. Mademoiselle
had come to this age. She had been a governess for a great part of her
life, since she was twenty: fifteen long years, but it seemed a hundred
as she looked back upon it. She had developed in that time from a raw
girl—weeping passionate tears over a great many things which she
scarcely noticed now, feeling herself abandoned, miserable, left in the
background, left out of everything, humiliated in her unaccustomed
position, injured by life and all that happened to her—into a rational,
calm woman, who had made up her mind to the path she was compelled by
necessity to tread, and had acquired a dignity of her own which no
little slights or scorn could touch. The number of people who are
absolutely unkind to their governesses and dependents is small, and yet
it can scarcely be, except in very exceptional cases, a comfortable
position. To be as good as, or perhaps better than, your employers and
superiors—as good and yet so very much worse; to live in a house, and
yet not to belong to it; to sit alone and hear the echoes of life going
on all round—sounds of voices, of doors opening and shutting, of people
coming and going, which you cannot help hearing, and yet have nothing to
do with; to be contented and independent alone, not showing too much
sympathy nor too much zeal, interfering with nothing, making no
remark,—can anything be more difficult? A woman can scarcely do this
without deteriorating in some way; and there is a state of mind which is
born of the condition—its most common development—a state in which the
faculties are on the alert to interpret all the echoes, to catch at
every whisper, to make out everything that is concealed or under the
surface. The back-stairs at Court do not afford an edifying sphere of
study, but still there are notable persons coming and going, and a faint
reflection of history in their chance words and looks. But the
back-stairs in an ordinary house, in Belgravia, in Bloomsbury, in the
suburban villas, are so much less elevating that there is nothing
notable or historical in them. And yet how can a woman, all alone in a
schoolroom, keep from hearing what floats upward, keep from that
curiosity which all human creatures share, in respect to the people whom
she is meeting every day? The pitiful little records that form the chief
interest of so many starved and impoverished lives afford often one of
the saddest spectacles in existence. And the woman who is able to resist
this tendency runs the risk of growing stoical, cynical, harsh, and
contemptuous. A girl may go through a few years of it without suffering.
If she is happy at the end, and is able to live her own life, she
forgets the difficulties of the probation, and probably the strongest
feeling in her mind is the sense of being neglected, justly or unjustly,
which is very bitter yet evanescent. But a woman who goes on with it for
life has a hard lot.
Mademoiselle had carried on this profession for fifteen years, and she
had no prospect but to continue it all her life. It had developed in her
a sort of self-denied and reserved quietude, which was strangely out of
accord with the natural vivacity which she had inherited from her French
father, and which all the subduing influence of an English mother had
not brought under. A foreign governess is so much worse than a native
that she has not even possession of an independent and distinctive
name. Miss Smith or Miss Jones is better off than the impersonal
Mademoiselle or Fräulein, whose title is generic and official, to be
transferred to her successor with an indifference to any individuality
in it which, were it not the mere growth of unthinking custom, would be
brutal. Perhaps the ladies thus officially addressed do not, among their
many grievances, count this; but the special personage of whom we speak,
who was in her soul a very proud woman, and possessed, as it happened, a
beau nom, a fine, and ancient, and high-sounding name, did feel it,
though she was one who never owned to any grievances, nor showed her
dislike of any of the peculiar methods of English politeness in dealing
with governesses. Her name was De Castel-Sombre, an old name of Béarn,
from whence her family came: but her father had been the last of his
branch of the house, and had fallen off from its spirit by becoming an
artist, which, as he had no money to begin with, had cut him off
entirely from the favour of the noble cousins who might have helped him
on had he been without tastes of his own. Mademoiselle's pride,
therefore, was purely visionary, and had nothing vulgar embodied in it.
It was the refuge of a high mind, longing for everything that was
excellent, yet attached by straitest bonds of necessity to the common
soil. When Monsieur de Castel-Sombre died he left his wife with scarcely
any money, two girls, and a number of unsold pictures, for which nobody
cared. Naturally, at that moment these women believed that he was one of
the greatest of unappreciated painters, and that it was the cruelty and
envy of the world which had deprived him of the fame which was due to
him. At least Madame de Castel-Sombre clung to this belief, which her
daughters held hotly until experience taught them better. Mademoiselle
(she had really a Christian name also of her very own, and was called in
her family Claire) knew now as well as any one that these cherished
pictures, with which her mother's little rooms were darkly hung, were of
small merit, and that there was nothing at all remarkable in the fact
that they had not found anybody to buy them; but that, too, was a
discovery which it took time and experience to make.
Thus she had come through a great many illusions, and discovered the
falsehood of them before the time at which our story begins. She no
longer felt that she was left out of life when the family in which she
lived received company or returned their visits. She no longer believed
that it was intended as a slight to her, or neglect of her, when she was
left behind, but perceived that it was the commonest necessary
arrangement, a thing which she herself approved. Instead of being
always offended, always conscious of injury, she perceived now all the
difficulty of circumstances, and that the presence of a stranger in the
house was often as great an inconvenience to the people of the house as
it was a humiliation to the governess. She learned to look upon the
circumstances in general with those "larger, other eyes" which the poet
has attributed to the dead. In one sense Mademoiselle felt that she was
dead. She had died to, or rather had outlived, many things in which the
chief charm of life seemed once to lie. She no longer expected, as young
people do, that life would change sooner or later, and that one time or
another she should have what she wanted. This is an illusion that some
people pursue as long as they live, and which even age does not cure.
"Hope springs eternal in the human breast." They think, however
unlikely, that it is not possible but things must improve, and the good
they desire come to them before they die. Mademoiselle had got over
that. She expected nothing but to go on as she was doing for the rest of
her life. It was not, perhaps, an exhilarating prospect. She had thought
it over in every way, but she could not make anything better of it. She
had thought of taking up a school, which was the highest possibility in
the future of a governess, and getting her mother under the same roof,
and her sister to help. But to set up a school required capital, and
Mademoiselle had none. She had a little—a very little—laid by in case
of illness, or to bury her if she died, which is a forlorn provision
often made by lonely proud women, who even in death would be indebted to
no one; but to furnish a house and live till pupils came would require
what would have appeared a fortune to Mademoiselle—a thousand pounds,
or something of that sort. As well say a million at once. She had
learned, among her many experiences, that to rise to the height of
independence like that it was necessary to begin on a large scale—to
have a good house, and gardens, and servants, and pretensions. The
little bit of a house in a little street, with half-a-dozen little daily
pupils drawn from the neighbourhood, meant beggary and misery and
endless struggles. When the time should come that the mother wanted her
children's care and tendance, and could not be left alone, then it might
come to that; but a mother who was only sixty, and full of activity,
required no such sacrifice. Therefore Mademoiselle had arrived at the
conviction that there was no change to be expected in the tenor of
existence—no change for the better—nothing but decadence and downfall.
When the present pupils grew up she would go on to another family. She
would have little difficulty in finding another situation. It gets very
speedily known in any profession what people are worth, and she would
find another place easily enough; but she would be older, and when
another change came older still. By the time she was fifty she would
have finished her present pupils, and probably another set, and then she
would be old, and the young mothers of growing girls would not care to
have her. They would fear that she would not be strong enough, that she
would be unable to take the walks that were necessary, and to be up
sufficiently early in the morning. They would be alarmed lest she should
fall ill on their hands. She looked forward, seeing this prospect very
clearly before her, not deceiving herself, thinking it all over with a
sort of cheerful despair. She kept cheerful—for what good would it do
her to be gloomy?—and it was altogether foreign to her temper, in which
there was a natural horror of dulness and monotony, and an elasticity
which astonished even herself; but yet, no doubt, the outlook was one of
despair: to labour on, always with a kind of personal luxury, living and
lodging more or less as people who are very well off lodge and live, yet
with so little money—money which, when she sent a share to her mother,
and looked to her modest, serious wardrobe, her dark gowns, which were
so thrifty, and lasted for ever, left so little over—sometimes a few
pounds, sometimes only shillings! Great is the power of saving, as we
have all heard, and many littles make a mickle, the proverb says; but
you may think how slow a process saving is when all that it permits to
be laid by is, perhaps, ten pounds a-year. In ten years a hundred
pounds! which was a great comfort, and made her feel that she might have
a long illness and die of it, and be laid in the bosom of the
mother-earth without being indebted to anybody—a consolation
unspeakable; but yet, when you come to think of it, one which means
despair, though always a cheerful despair. Alas! no chance of ever
getting a Rosebank, a Sunnyside, a dignified mansion that would pay, for
such a sum as that: it would, however, be enough for the expenses of a
last illness (if not too long), and of her burial after, which was a
great relief to think of, and gave her the power of looking without fear
in the face of fate.
Mademoiselle was at present in the family of Mr Leicester Wargrave, who
was in the City, but who lived in an old-fashioned house in the
Bayswater district—a house with beautiful rooms and a delightful
garden, though not within the lines of fashion. He was the junior
partner in the business to which he belonged, a rising man making a
great deal of money, but also with many demands upon him in the shape of
a large family and a hospitable, cheerful disposition, which his wife
shared fully. They both liked to see their friends, to have their house
full, to enjoy their life. Though Mrs Leicester Wargrave was in the
habit of declaring with some ostentation that she and her husband were
quite outside the fashionable world, yet they loved to entertain people
from Belgravia, to show their fine rooms, their beautiful old-fashioned
decorations, their large shady garden—a thing so unusual in London. "We
don't pretend to be fashionable, but we have something to show for
ourselves," said the lady, who was fond of asserting that she was
nothing but a City lady; "City people, pur et simple"—people with no
pretensions to be anything better. There are many ways in which pride
shows itself, and this mock humility was one of these ways. Mrs Wargrave
had a number of vanities, though she was, on the whole, a nice woman.
She liked to speak French with the governess in the presence of people
not, perhaps, quite conversant with any language but their own, which is
so often the case in the best society; and she liked to say that her
governess was "a great swell—far finer, you know, than anything we can
pretend to—a fille de Croisé, and that sort of thing." But if there
was one thing more than another of which she was proud, it was the
influence which she allowed she had over her cousin-in-law, the head of
the firm, who was a bachelor, a man about town, a fashionable person. "I
don't know, I'm sure, what he sees to make such a fuss about in us," Mrs
Leicester Wargrave said; "I suppose ours is the only house, poor fellow,
in which he finds real family life. There is nothing he wouldn't do for
me. Leicester and he have always been like brothers, but my husband says
I can do more with Charlie than he can. I don't think myself that he
will ever marry. I know as a fact that many and many a set has been made
at him, but he only comes and tells me and laughs over it. He had a
disappointment, you know, in early life, before he settled to the
business. Oh, he has not settled much to it now. He came in in his
father's place, which makes him nominally the head; but my husband is
really the first working partner. He is not too fine for City life. It
is a little absurd, isn't it, that a man who never does anything should
get the lion's share, and the real workers come off second best?"
"It is a question of capital, I suppose," said the friend to whom she
was telling this story of the family fortunes.
"Oh, to be sure! he has the capital which the old gentleman worked for,
so now he doesn't require to do much, and everybody toils for him. But I
don't think he will ever marry—all his habits are against it. And he
says why should he, when we have been so kind as to provide an heir for
him as well as a home? He refers to little Charles, of course. You may
imagine I don't build much on what a young man like that says; but I
really don't, myself, believe he will ever marry. He is too happy with
"He is very young to come to such a decision," was the remark of the
listener, whose private opinion was that Mrs Leicester Wargrave was far
too self-important, and ought to be taken down.
"Oh, yes, not much over thirty. Of course it's ridiculous: but I have my
own ways of knowing, and you'll see it'll come true."
Whether Mrs Leicester Wargrave believed that a hopeless platonic
attachment for herself lay at the bottom of Mr Charles Wargrave's
determined celibacy it would be difficult to say. She was certainly very
proud of his devotion to her, of the dutiful way he appeared at all her
parties, and the familiar manner in which he haunted her house. It was a
very pleasant house, unlike other London houses, in the depths of the
quaint little square of which it formed one side—with its great wide
staircase showing a sublime disregard of space, its stuccoed roofs and
walls, fine garlands of delicate white against a pale green not quite so
faded as the last novelty of asceticism, though a hundred and fifty
years old, and its windows opening upon a genuine garden—a garden in
which you could lose yourself, in which there were shady walks and great
trees, in which it was impossible to believe that at the other side of
the house omnibuses were standing, and that a hansom could be called to
the door by a whistle almost at any hour of the night or day. This gave
it a quaint and paradoxical character, adding a charm to the large
pleasant rooms, which were not shrouded in curtains and blinds as London
houses usually are, but saw clear sky out of every window—clear sky and
waving trees. And Mrs Leicester Wargrave had a choice of very good
society, mixed and more original than is usual. She had a number of law
people, a few who were simply society people, an occasional literary
person, and a certain contingent from the City. The City makes a good
mixture when it is carefully done. It brings in the practical, it brings
a kind of intelligence always entertaining to the other classes, and a
kind of prejudice and narrowness all its own, which is, as people say,
"full of character" and amusing to the enlightened. This sort of thing
is, perhaps, more practicable in Bayswater than it is in Belgravia.
Need less to say that Mrs Leicester Wargrave cultivated relations also
in the world of artists, meaning the musical and dramatic professions,
especially the former, for it was necessary to amuse her guests. An
Academician now and then is a feather in one's cap, but it is not
exactly amusing. This, however, was the society which Charles Wargrave
found sufficiently agreeable to bring him across the Park whenever his
cousin's wife held up her little finger. He thought it more amusing than
anything he found in Mayfair or St James's. I do not suppose he was
fortunate enough to be anything but an occasional guest in the very
greatest houses of all, which are the Elysian fields of society.
Such were the assemblies which Mademoiselle heard arriving and departing
as she sat up-stairs in the schoolroom, thinking her own thoughts or
reading her book. Sometimes she was invited to be one of the guests;
more often she was not wanted or was forgotten. She kept up on the
outside a serene indifference, and really believed that she did not at
all care one way or the other. As a matter of fact, some remnant of the
old passionate sense of being left out would occasionally revive in her
mind; but, on the other hand, Claire de Castel-Sombre did not like to be
introduced to strangers as "Mademoiselle," so that there was a good deal
to be said on both sides.
One summer evening Mademoiselle was seated in her schoolroom as usual,
which was a very pretty room though at the top of the house, a room with
a balcony overlooking the garden, and refreshed by all the air which was
kept up by the fanning of the trees and the open space. It was covered
with fresh cool matting, and lighted by a reading-lamp, which scarcely
added to the heat, and diffused a mild light. The large window was wide
open. The balcony with its seats seemed to form part of the room, and
Mademoiselle had put herself into a white dressing-gown. The children
were in bed, and a grateful stillness filled this part of the house. The
rest, the quiet, and the coolness were very refreshing after the
intolerable heat and noise of the day. There had been a dinner-party
down-stairs, and, as usual, the carriages coming and going had been
heard in the schoolroom. The children had brought up a description, as
they generally did, of the splendour of the ladies, for they had been
in the drawing-room in all their finery when the guests arrived.
Mademoiselle had listened to their remarks and criticisms, but she had
not regretted her own absence. She had accomplished all her little tasks
after Edith and Dorothy had gone to bed—corrected their exercises,
looked over their lessons for next day—and then she had put on her
dressing-gown, and concluded to put off certain mendings that were
necessary till next evening, as it was so hot, and had taken up her
She was thus seated in great luxury when the sound of some one running
and stumbling up-stairs startled her—evidently a maid in great haste,
her foot catching in her gown. She put down her book and listened,
feeling that she was about to be called upon for some service. Then came
a hurried knocking and a cry of "Mademoiselle!" "Oh, if you please, come
down-stairs; Mrs Wargrave has gone off quite dead-like, and they don't
know what to do. O Mademoiselle, come quick, for the gentlemen is off
their heads," cried the messenger, continuing in her excitement to drum
against the door. Mademoiselle sprang up, and only pausing to take a
bottle of eau-de-cologne and a fan from a table, hurried down-stairs.
"It will be a faint," she said. "I don't know what it is, but she looks
like death," said the maid. The governess had forgotten her
dressing-gown, her loosened hair, her aspect altogether informal and out
of character with her position. She rushed into the drawing-room to find
Mrs Wargrave lying on the floor, her husband slapping her hands and
calling to her, half in fright, half in anger, "Marian, Marian! wake up;
what's the matter? Wake up, dear!" Charles Wargrave had gone to fetch
some water, and came in with it ready to discharge it upon the head of
the poor lady. When something white descended between them, shedding
odours of some perfume and raising a sudden air with the fan, the two
men were more startled than ever. Neither of them had ever had to do
with a woman in a faint before.
"It will be nothing," said Mademoiselle. "She has fainted. It is the
great heat. She has not been well all day." She took the command of the
situation quite simply, taking the water from Charles Wargrave's hand
without even looking at him, and sending the aggrieved husband out of
the way. The men ran about quite humbly, obeying the orders of
Mademoiselle, who knew what to do, setting the door open to make a
draught, bringing cushions, doing everything she told them. It is
doubtful for the moment whether even Mr Leicester Wargrave, though he
was her employer, said good morning to her every day at breakfast, and
gave her a cheque every quarter, was at all clear as to who she was; and
Mr Charles Wargrave did not know her at all. She did not look like
Mademoiselle, a mere official without any name of her own. In her loose
white dressing-gown, her hair falling out of its very insecure
fastenings, her mind entirely occupied with her patient, she looked like
one of those beings whom men call angels, when they come in unexpectedly
and save a great deal of trouble. This was the position which
Mademoiselle had suddenly taken. They had been about to send for the
doctor, to do all sorts of desperate things. Mademoiselle in a moment
took everything out of their hands.
By-and-by, when Mrs Wargrave had recovered consciousness, the white
figure with the falling hair disappeared as suddenly as she had come.
When the lady came to herself she had looked up and asked, "What is the
matter? Where am I?" and then she had breathed out with a faint
vexation, "Oh, is it you, Mademoiselle?"
"She ought to go to bed," said Mademoiselle to the husband.
"I feel as if I had been ill," said Mrs Wargrave. "Where am I? Where is
Jervis? I want Jervis. O Jervis, send these gentlemen away and let me
get to bed."
Mademoiselle had disappeared. She had slightly shrugged her shoulders
with a gesture which was not British; and suddenly, no one knew how, had
stolen away. To have her services of kindness so repulsed and the maid
called for—the maid who had been too frightened to do or think of
anything while her mistress lay insensible—was painful enough. No, she
said to herself, not painful—nothing so tragic—only disagreeable; for,
after all, it was not gratitude nor tenderness which she looked for from
Mrs Wargrave. She had not done any great thing—only the most common
good offices of one human creature to another. Why should Mrs Wargrave
be grateful? And, naturally, she liked the services of her maid, to whom
she was used, best. There was nothing in it to resent, nothing to be
pained by. And just then Mademoiselle had caught sight of herself with
the white dressing-gown and her hair hanging loose, in the great dim
mirror between the windows, and this had so quickened the effect upon
her of Mrs Wargrave's cry for Jervis that in a moment she was gone. She
flew up-stairs like an arrow from the bow. She was horrified by the
sudden sight of her own negligent apparel, of which till now, in the
necessity of the moment, she had not thought.
When Mademoiselle arrived again in the shelter of the cool schoolroom,
with its windows open to the night and its mild lamp burning steadily,
she was panting with the haste and slight excitement of the moment, and
still more with her hurried rush up-stairs; but she was not excited in
any other way, and she would have laughed, or, at least, smiled to scorn
the idea that anything had happened in those few minutes which could in
any way affect her life. Nevertheless, she was a little struck by the
sight of herself which suddenly appeared to her in the glass which was
over the mantelpiece of the schoolroom, straight in front of her, as she
came hurriedly in. The white figure seemed to fill the mirror with
light. Her hair had not got completely detached, but hung loosely,
forming a sort of frame round her face, which, naturally pale, had now a
slight rose-flush; and her eyes, generally so quiet, were shining with
the commotion produced in her physical being by the accelerated
throbbing of her heart and pulses—due, as much as anything else, to her
rapid flight, first down- and then up-stairs. Everything had passed in
the course of a few minutes; and, of course, the hasty movement, the
momentary thrill of alarm and anxiety, had made her heart beat; but it
was curious that it should have produced the change in her appearance
which she could not but perceive as she caught the reflection of her own
face in the glass. She half laughed to herself with amusement and
surprise, and no doubt a little pleasure too. She looked (she thought)
as she had done when she was a girl of twenty. The reflection passed
through her mind that white was very becoming, très flatteur. It is
not flatteur to everybody, but it certainly was to Mademoiselle. She
laughed to herself at the young, bright figure which she saw in the
glass, and then shook her head with a sort of amused melancholy. No,
Claire! no white gowns for you to make you look young and fair. Why
should you look young and fair, not being either? White dresses, like
other illusory pleasures, are not adapted for a governess of
thirty-five. With this thought she shook back those loose locks,
thrusting them behind her ears. Many people have grey hair at her age,
but not a thread of white was in that dark-brown chevelure, which was
so abundant and vigorous. Mademoiselle had always been a little proud of
her hair—a small and innocent vanity. She pushed it away, and sat down
again to her book, which, somehow, did not arrest her attention after
that very brief, very insignificant episode. Mrs Leicester Wargrave was
a pretty woman in her way. As she lay on the floor in her faint,
Mademoiselle had admired her straight features, her fine shoulders,
partially uncovered, the dazzling whiteness of her complexion. She was a
year or two older than the governess, but her circumstances were very
different. She had a devoted husband, nice children, a beautiful house,
plenty of money. Why did she faint, par exemple? This question,
however, did not produce in Mademoiselle any conjectures of mystery or
mental trouble. She concluded, more sensibly and practically, that it
was the heat, the thunder in the air, or that something had gone wrong
in the unromantic regions of the stomach. Faints come from these reasons
rather than from the non-ethereal causes to which they are attributed in
dramatic art. If it is true that men die and worms eat them, but not for
love, it is also true that women faint, in most cases, from anything but
mental trouble. Mademoiselle did not attempt to hunt out any mystery.
She did not dwell upon the enormous difference between the woman to whom
she had just been ministering, and who did not want her ministrations,
and herself. With one of those exercises of the philosophy of experience
which were habitual to her, she said to herself that nobody would
willingly change their own identity for that of another, however much
they might like the advantages belonging to the other, and that she
herself would certainly rather be Claire de Castel-Sombre than Mrs
Leicester Wargrave: though she added also to herself that this, too, was
a delusion, and that there was nothing so delightful in Claire de
Castel-Sombre that a reasonable mind should prefer her personality in
this decided way. However, Mademoiselle was wise enough to see that
there was little progress to be made by entering into the region of
metaphysics in this way; so that, with a smile at herself, she returned
to her book in earnest, and found the thread of interest in it again.
The one result which remained from the incident of the evening was a
sensation of pleasure, at which she mocked, but which was quite real, in
her own momentary return to her youthful brilliancy—a sensation
expressed in the passing reflection that white was très flatteur, and
that she was not too old to look well in it, but yet——
"Who is the angel and minister of grace that you keep in your house,
ready for any emergency?" said Mr Charles Wargrave to his cousin, when
the mistress of the house had been transported to her room and left in
the care of her maid.
"Eh?" said Mr Leicester Wargrave, dully; but his mind was occupied with
other questions. "I wonder what made my wife faint?" he said; "there was
nothing in what we were talking of that could have made her faint." He
was of the romantic opinion that mental shocks were the causes of such
disturbances, and not the weather or the digestive organs. He had not
the least suspicion or jealousy of his wife, but he was a man of some
temper, and took such a performance as more or less an offence to
"I have no doubt it was the heat."
"Oh, the heat! in this cool room? And why to-night, specially? It has
been as hot for the last three days."
"I suppose that having borne it for three days would make one all the
more likely to succumb on the fourth," said Charlie.
Leicester Wargrave shook his head. "Suppose we had been out," he said;
"suppose it had been in somebody else's house. What a nuisance it would
have been—making everybody talk! I shall have to speak to Marian
"You don't suppose she fainted to annoy you?" said Charles.
"Oh, you never can tell what a woman will do," said the husband. "If I
could only remember what we were talking of when she went off in that
"We were talking of nothing of the least importance, Leicester."
"Ah, you don't know. A wife's a great comfort in some circumstances, I
don't deny, and Marian's a good wife; still, there's nobody can make a
man look so ridiculous—when she chooses."
"Poor Marian! It must have been very unpleasant for herself: she
couldn't have done it on purpose, you know."
"You can never tell," said the aggrieved master of the house. He looked
so rueful and so annoyed that the young man burst into a laugh. He was
aware that his cousin was prone to blame some one for every accident
that occurred, but it seemed a new way of dealing with a fainting-fit.
After a minute of silence, during which Leicester Wargrave kept walking
up and down the room in an impatient way, Charles repeated his previous
question. "I say, old fellow, who was the angelic being in white?"
"Eh?" said the other again, with half attention; then he added angrily,
"Don't be such a fool—the angelic being was simply Mademoiselle."
"Mademoiselle! the governess? That's nonsense, Leicester."
"What is nonsense? I hope I know as much as that: and there is no doubt
about it. She was in a nightgown, or something; that woman Jervis, who
is good for nothing, fetched her, I suppose. I'll tell Marian to send
that useless fool away. She's no good."
"Mademoiselle," said Charlie, "the governess? I thought she was a dowdy,
elderly person—but this one was a beautiful girl. Are you sure you are
not making a mistake?"
"Girl!" said Mr Leicester Wargrave; "she's nearer forty than thirty.
She's not a bad-looking woman—there's a good deal in her: I've often
said as much to Marian. But Marian says she's very French—though that's
what we have her for, I suppose."
"I don't mind what country she is of. She's——" But here Charles
Wargrave seemed to check himself, and said no more.
"You—don't mind? No, I don't suppose so. Between ourselves, I don't see
what you've got to do with it," said Leicester, with a laugh.
Charles, who had been sitting with his hands in his pockets, thrust
deeply down, and his head bent as if in deep consideration, here roused
himself a little, and gave his head a shake as if to chase some cobwebs
away. "No," he said, after a moment's pause, "I don't suppose I have got
anything to do with it—as you say."
This being granted, and his grievance in respect to his wife's faint
beginning to subside a little, Mr Wargrave unbent. "Yes," he said, "I
noticed she looked very well to-night. She had a little colour; that's
the drawback of Frenchwomen, they have so little colour—except what
they put on themselves, don't you know."
The two men laughed at this, though it was not very funny. "By Jove!
they do make up!" said the elder. "There's plenty of that in the Park,
but still Englishwomen have complexions. The French like it—they talk
of blanc mat, though there's not much blanc either, by nature, any
more than red—except what's put on."
The joke failed the second time, and did not even elicit a smile from
Charlie Wargrave, who sat with a perfectly grave face staring straight
before him and swinging his leg. He was seated on the arm of a sofa—not
the legitimate part to sit upon—and either he did not care to discuss
the charms of Frenchwomen or he was fatigued by the discussion. He got
up suddenly and held out his hand.
"You want to get up-stairs, I'm sure, to see after Marian. I think I'd
"Oh, don't hurry yourself, Charlie. I could go up and come back to you
again if I was so anxious as that."
"Anyhow, I must go, it's getting late," said the visitor, getting up. He
paused a moment, as if he were trying to recall something as he stood in
the middle of the room, where his cousin's wife had lain fainting with
Mademoiselle bending over her. To think that it was only Mademoiselle!
He felt a sort of dazzle in his eyes, not thinking, as she had done,
that white was becoming, but wondering how it was that a sort of light
seemed to diffuse itself from the white figure—healing and consolation.
She had scarcely spoken at all; she had not so much as looked at him or
taken any notice of his existence. She had taken the water out of his
hands as if he had been a servant—more than that, as if he had been the
table on which it stood—without looking at him. She had said "Get me a
cushion" with the same non-recognition of him or his existence. And the
moment that the necessity for her presence was over she had disappeared
like a vision. It was curiously disappointing, tantalising, provoking to
hear that she was only Mademoiselle. Charles Wargrave was not a man whom
ladies generally—women much more imposing than any governess—passed
over without notice. He reflected that of those he knew very few, even
in a similar emergency, would have treated him with that calm and
absolute indifference. There would have been a glance in recognition of
the fact that he was he, never an unimportant person. There would have
been something in the shape of a smile of thanks, or of apology. But
this lady had taken no more notice of him than if he had been a wooden
figure made to hold things in his hands, like the grinning negro
candelabras of Venice. One would not say "thank you" to the painted and
gilded blackamoors, and neither did she say "thank you" to him. He could
think of no fitter image. As if he were made of wood! Charles Wargrave
was not used to this sort of treatment. He laughed to himself softly at
the thought of it—laughed, yet was piqued and a little rueful. And all
the time it was only Mademoiselle!
Mrs Wargrave made next morning a very pretty little speech of mingled
gratitude and apology to Mademoiselle. "I can't imagine," she said,
"what made me so silly as to faint last night. It is a thing I've always
been subject to, but it's always a stupid thing to do. I hear you were
so good, coming down directly when Jervis lost her head, and doing
everything that was kindest and best. I am so much obliged to you,
Mademoiselle. Of course I was not conscious of what was going on, so I
couldn't show you any gratitude then."
"De rien," said Mademoiselle, "à votre service, as my country-folk say."
"Your country-folk are always polite," said Mrs Wargrave, and then she
laughed a little meaning laugh. "I hear the gentlemen were quite
impressed by the sight of you in your dressing-gown."
Mademoiselle coloured a little. She had forgotten that reflection of
hers that white was becoming, and only felt the horror of having been
seen in déshabillé. "I did not stop to think," she said, "how I was
dressed: and it was so hot. I had no idea that I should be called
"No, how could you? I shall not do anything so absurd again if I can
help it. I have told that foolish creature Jervis what she ought to have
done. Yes, I feel all right this morning, thanks. The heat was
tremendous last night, there was not a breath of air, but this morning
it's quite cool again. Don't let me delay the lessons. I only came to
say again 'Thank you,' Mademoiselle."
"De rien," said Mademoiselle again. Edith and Dorothy were sitting very
demurely all the time with their books quite ready, waiting to begin.
They were two nice little girls, and they learned their lessons very
creditably. Mademoiselle sat and heard their little dull, expressionless
voices running on glibly enough, giving forth the knowledge of the
schoolbooks, the information, cut and dry, which had nothing to say to
any circumstance round them, and remained in its concrete state, never
dissolved or assimilated as long as memory held out—and wondered to
herself what was the good of it, and wherein these unexceptionable
children were the better for the pills or stores of knowledge which they
thus swallowed dutifully. But this was not a reflection to be followed,
since it would go to the root of much that is called education, and
drive many honest persons out of the occupation by which they made their
living. It was Mademoiselle's vocation, as it is of so many other people
more pretentious, head-masters and classical tutors, and all the
high-priests of the schools, to superintend the swallowing of these
pills, which might be digested or otherwise, as it pleased Providence.
The brother of the little girls was disposing of many more such doses at
Eton with much the same result. It is, however, perhaps rather a pity
when the teachers of youth are disturbed by such thoughts. It is much
better to believe entirely in the advantage of what one is doing, as
some happy people do,—to believe that you are determining the character
of children when you administer boluses of knowledge, and that it is for
the eternal gain of your parishioners that they should go to hear you
preach. Mademoiselle did not believe that the little girls in the
nursery would be at all changed out of their natural bent by anything
she could do—and this, perhaps, took something from the fervour of her
teaching, though everybody said she was so conscientious. Perhaps the
thing which Edith and Dorothy retained most clearly from the day's
lessons was their mother's laugh and assertion that the gentlemen had
been "so impressed" by the appearance of Mademoiselle in her
dressing-gown. What gentlemen? and why were they impressed? and which
was it, the white one or the blue one? These were questions in which
they took more interest than in the Merovingians and the divisions of
the Continent under Charlemagne. Mademoiselle herself took the reference
as a little prick on the part of Mrs Wargrave—a reminder that even to
succour the sick it is indiscreet and unladylike to come down-stairs in
a dressing-gown, and she felt it was a reproof to which she had perhaps
justly laid herself open. She resolved that, until she was certain that
everybody was in bed, nothing should induce her to put on a
Mr Charles Wargrave, however, was moved by very different feelings. He
could not get that white figure out of his head. Perhaps he was piqued
to think that there was a woman, and she a dependant, who could look at
him as if she did not see him, and take a thing from his hand without,
so to speak, being conscious of his existence. He came in one day to
luncheon without any warning, apologising for taking advantage of the
invitation so often given him, and making a very lame explanation of how
he had been passing through the Square and had heard the bell ring for
the nursery dinner. He was made to sit down with the little fuss and
commotion of laying a new place, at Mrs Wargrave's right hand, and then
cast his eyes about with great anxiety to discover who was there. The
sunblinds were down and the room in a sort of rosy twilight, shutting
out as much of the light and heat as possible. But he recognised
Mademoiselle at the other end of the table. She was in a dark dress, and
her hair was more tidy than words could say. She sat with Dorothy at one
side of her, paying more attention to the little girl's dinner than to
anything else, taking a slight share in the conversation now and then,
only enough not to be remarkable—a true governess, knowing her place,
not taking too much upon herself, or asserting her right to be treated
as one of the company. After luncheon she left the room immediately with
a child on each side. It would be difficult to describe the
disappointment with which Charles Wargrave looked after her, the curious
revulsion of feeling that had taken place within him! He felt angry that
such a person should have cheated him out of so many thoughts—a mere
nobody—a person evidently quite suited to her circumstances, nothing
but a governess. He gave himself a shake, and threw off the ridiculous
impression which had been made upon him, he supposed, by the mere
situation—the helpfulness of the woman, and the dress, which had
produced a false air of gracefulness and youth. Youth! She was no doubt,
as Marian said, five-and-thirty if she was a day—and not particularly
handsome; a fine sort of air noble about her, a nice way of carrying
herself—but that was all. What a fool he had been to be taken in so
easily by appearances! He was obliged to confess to himself, however,
that the deception was not Mademoiselle's doing—that she had no hand in
it. She was a sensible person of middle age, devoted to her own duties,
giving herself no airs. If he was taken in, it was entirely his own
As for Mademoiselle, she knew as little that she had disappointed
Charles Wargrave as she knew that she had excited his imagination. She
thought nothing at all about it—did not try to look dowdy, or to limit
her remarks to the most formal subjects, any more than she had tried to
excite his interest. He was just the same to her as one of the pictures
which Mr Leicester Wargrave called family portraits which hung on the
However, the matter did not end there, though Charles Wargrave hoped it
would. He went away from the Square feeling quite light, and released
from a burden that had been weighing on him—for, to be sure, he had no
desire to attach himself to a governess, however beautiful and charming
she might be—and it was a real relief to find that he could shake off
the visionary yoke, and that she was not either charming or beautiful.
He left the house in the Square quite at his ease, saying to himself
that it would be a joke indeed, after having passed harmless through all
the snares which every man about town believes to be laid for him,
should he fall a victim at last to the delusive angelic presence of
"When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou."
That was all very well, and women were good sick-nurses in general, and
Mademoiselle in particular might be very kind and ready, he made no
doubt. It might be reasonable enough to fall subject to an angelic nurse
who had ministered to yourself; but when it was only your cousin-in-law
who was the object of the ministrations! He laughed, and said to himself
that it was a good joke, as he went away, and shook off the
recollection, which was a sort of hallucination, a deceptive effect of
the lights, and the white dress, and the extreme consolation of having a
woman in a faint taken off his hands. He had no doubt Mademoiselle was
quite a superior article of her kind, a nice woman, and all that. He was
glad he had seen her in her everyday garb, and convinced himself what a
nice, commonplace, ordinary governess she was. He went out feeling quite
emancipated and much pleased to have altogether regained his
independence. Good heavens! what a business it would have been had he,
acquainted with the finest women in London, fallen a victim to a
governess! It was too ludicrous to be considered for a moment—and yet
it was certainly an escape.
But next morning Mademoiselle, by some inexplicable caprice, had
regained her unconscious ascendancy. The governess in the dark gown
disappeared and the white figure came back. He could not get it out of
his eyes. He said to himself that it was a mere vision, and had no
existence at all, but all the same it haunted him, and he could not get
it out of his mind. It was with an effort that he kept his feet from
moving towards the Square. He felt that he must see her again and
convince himself that she was merely the governess, a dowdy and elderly
person, nothing at all like his imagination. It was with the utmost
difficulty that, reasoning with himself, and pointing out the
consequences that must result if he were to be seen constantly at his
cousin's in the middle of the day when there was no occasion for his
presence, he persuaded himself not to go again to luncheon till several
days were past. The second time he appeared was on Sunday, when Mr
Leicester Wargrave was at home, and his appearance more natural. But
Mademoiselle was absent. He thought at first she was only late, and kept
watching the door, expecting her to come in, and almost disposed to find
fault, as an employer might have done, at her tardy appearance and want
of punctuality. But the meal went on without remark from any one, and
the governess did not appear. It was not till something was said about
Mademoiselle that he, with his embarrassing consciousness of having come
there to see her, and her alone, ventured to ask a question.
"Oh!—Mademoiselle! what has become of her?" he said at last.
"She has a friend she goes to on Sundays—not every Sunday, but a day
now and then. It is a great loss for me," said Mrs Wargrave, "for there
are so many people that call on Sunday afternoon, and I have the
children on my hands."
Charles Wargrave received this explanation very unsympathetically. He
relapsed into silence, not taking the trouble to make himself agreeable,
and he took a long walk afterwards, during which his curiosity and
interest grew higher and higher. He tried all the means in his power to
put out of his mind this unwelcome visitor: for she was unwelcome. Of
all people in the world, persons in her position were the least likely
to occupy this man of fashion. He began to feel it something like a
calamity that he had been present on that unlucky occasion when Marian
was so silly as to faint. No more absurd seizure of the fancy had ever
happened. What was Mademoiselle to him, or he to Mademoiselle? And yet
the unlucky fellow could not get her out of his head.
About a week later he went to the Square in the afternoon, whether
wishing to see her or wishing not to see her it was difficult to say. He
was told that Mrs Wargrave had gone up to have tea with the young ladies
in the schoolroom, but could be called at once. It was a wet day, and
probably she expected nobody. "With the young ladies in the schoolroom?"
he repeated; "is there any one else?"
"There's only Mademoiselle," said the butler—"the governess, sir."
Charles Wargrave felt disposed to knock the fellow down for his
impertinence; he had scarcely patience to desire him to show the way.
How dared he speak of a lady so—a lady better than any one in the
house, the pampered menial? He made the man an impatient sign to get out
of the way when they came to the top of the house to the schoolroom
door, which was sufficiently pointed out by the sound of cheerful voices
within. He knocked, smiling to himself at the little Babel of noise, two
or three speaking together; and was bidden to come in by a voice with a
faint little parfum of foreignness in its sound, so faint as to be
only discernible by the sharpest ears. A sudden flush came to his face
as he heard it. It was not a voice, he thought, like the others. It was
full of sweetness and yet of power—a voice round and harmonious like
the notes of an organ, with nothing shrill or thin or common in it; a
voice which suddenly brought before him again, not the dowdy governess,
but the white-robed ministering angel. He felt himself flush with
pleasure and expectation as he opened the door.
Mademoiselle was sitting opposite pouring out the tea. She had her back
to the light, and he saw her in a kind of relief against the large
window—the shape of her head, her hair a little loosened, not quite
smoothed upon her brow, in the shining perfection of the other day. He
saw her face in a luminous shadow, clear yet dusky, her eyes looking
down, somewhat deeply set, the oval of their form and the hollow under
the eyebrow clearly defined. She had not perceived him, nor did she even
look up to see who was coming in in obedience to her invitation. It was
only when the children made a sudden pause in their chatter with a cry
of, "O Uncle Charles!" that Mademoiselle raised her eyes and stopped,
with teapot in hand, to see who it was.
"Yes, it's me," he said, more cheerfully than grammatically. "I heard
you were here, and I thought I'd ask Mademoiselle's permission to come
in—and, perhaps, get a cup of tea——"
"Oh, come in, Charles," said Mrs Wargrave; "I'll answer for it you shall
be welcome: we are all glad of anything to break the monotony of a long
Mademoiselle made no movement, gave no sign, except the faintest,
scarcely perceptible bow of recognition. She found a clean cup for him
and filled it with tea, calling one of her pupils to present it to him.
She withdrew a little into the seclusion of her subordinate place while
Mrs Wargrave took up the talk. It did not occur to the governess that
she had anything to do with it. She had no great interest even in the
visitor. The monotony of the long day was her natural atmosphere. She
had no recognised need of anything to break it. Mrs Wargrave went on
talking, and Mademoiselle heard and assisted now and then to keep the
speakers going when she found that from the stranger, to whom the
discourse was addressed, there was little response. And the children
resumed their chatter sotto voce. As for Charles Wargrave, he sat
still, saying very little, watching them all, but especially
Mademoiselle, wondering how it was that such a woman could pass under a
generic name, and bear, so far as the people around her were aware, no
individuality at all. She withdrew from the centre of the scene, so to
speak, in order to let the chief personages, Mrs Wargrave and her
visitor, occupy it. Then, when it became necessary that there should be
a response, or chorus, she disclosed herself by moments out of the
background, just enough to keep up the action. He sat and watched them,
watched her under his eyelids. Mrs Wargrave found Charlie more than
usually taciturn, but felt that she was entertaining him—helping him to
overcome his dulness, whatever might be the occasion of it. It never
occurred to any one that he had another object, still less that his
object could be in any way associated with Mademoiselle.
It was not at once remarked in the Square that Mr Charles Wargrave had
changed his habits in respect to his visits there,—that he came in the
afternoon and at the hour of luncheon, and often declined invitations
for the evening, which had previously been the time he generally spent
with his cousins. This was partially accounted for, when it was noticed,
by the reflection that during the height of the season the evenings of a
young man who was to some extent a man of fashion and "went everywhere"
were not his own. "He comes as much as he can," Mrs Leicester Wargrave
said; "he comes when he can: of course he's full of evening
engagements—three or four every night." She was, indeed, on the whole,
pleased with the demonstrations of pleasure in her society, as she
thought, which the young man showed. "He takes us just as he finds us.
We have no inducements to offer him. He has such simple tastes. There is
nothing he is so fond of as family life. He comes to me and the children
just as if he were one of the family. Of course he is one of the family,
but you would think he was either a son or a brother to see how that
young fellow, to whom every smart house in London is open, comes and
spends his afternoons with the children and me!" Mrs Wargrave was a
little proud of the good influence which she felt she was exercising
over her husband's cousin. He was becoming so domestic, so fond of home!
He even sometimes met the children on their walks, and had taken them
over to the Natural History place, and another time to the Kensington
Museum. It was really too kind of him to think of the little girls.
During all this time, except on those two occasions when he had met the
children, Charles Wargrave had not been able to secure any personal
communication with Mademoiselle. She accompanied her charges with the
greatest calm—a calm which was not at all complimentary to the young
man who thus made himself her companion whether she would or not. She
showed no signs whatever of embarrassment, or of supposing that his
attentions might be misconstrued. If he had been eighty she could not
have been more at her ease. And Edith and Dorothy had seized upon him on
both sides, each clinging to an arm, which was not at all what he
intended. He was so entirely discomfited, indeed, by the too much
empressement of the little girls and the too little of Mademoiselle,
that after these two accidental encounters he gave up attempting
anything of the sort. However domestic he might be, it did not suit him
to expound the Kensington Museum to Edith and Dorothy, each clinging to
an arm. And was she made of stone, that woman? Was she made of vulcanite
or some such impervious material, white to the sight but tough and
unyielding to the touch? He was so much disgusted after that second
expedition that he turned violently round upon himself and declared that
he would have nothing more to say to Mademoiselle. What was Mademoiselle
that she should exact such service? To be sure, it could not be said
that she exacted any service; she smiled and ignored it with a perfect
composure which was still more aggravating. And why should a man take
all that trouble for a woman who took no notice, who never seemed to see
anything, neither his civilities nor his impatience? He said to himself
that it was in every way a mistake, that to pursue a person of that
class was the height of folly, that to marry her would be madness
itself. To marry a governess! a woman almost middle-aged, as Mrs
Leicester Wargrave assured him so often—a foreigner—a nobody—above
all, one who showed no appreciation of his attentions, and probably
would not marry him! Oh, it was too much. He would break off at once and
think of such folly no more.
This decision Charles Wargrave emphasised by going out of town for a
whole week. But when he returned the first place he went to was the
Square, just to see whether she was as composed as ever, he said to
himself. As it happened it was in the afternoon, after the hour of
luncheon and before that of tea, that he presented himself at Leicester
Wargrave's house, and Mrs Wargrave was out. He paused a moment to think
what he was to do; then, hearing the voices of the children, asked if
they were in the garden.
"Yes, sir, with Mademoiselle," replied the servant.
"Then," said Charles, "I'll go out there, and you can let me know when
your mistress comes in."
The garden was large and shady, and there was always something banal
to say about the wonder of finding such a place in London, with
omnibuses and hansom cabs on the other side of the house. He found
Mademoiselle walking slowly round under the trees while the children
played, and he felt sure that she gave a start when first she saw him—a
quiver of astonishment and dismay. She might be dismayed and astonished
for anything he cared. She might look all round for a way of escape;
this time she should find none. Edith and Dorothy were in the middle of
a game at tennis, and the governess was at some distance from them,
taking a meditative walk. She was in a white dress, the first he had
seen her wear since that night. It was a very still afternoon, the
borders flaring with their late summer show of geraniums and all the
foliage in full green, untouched as yet even by the heat and dust of
London summers. He saw her before she saw him, walking along with her
head bent a little, and an air of meditation and thought about her. She
had a book in her hand, as if she had intended to read, but the soft
stillness, the green shadiness, the warm, soft, drowsy air, had
vanquished that intention. And then she perceived him and started with a
slight glance round, as if she would have run away. No, no; not this
time. He felt a kind of revengeful exultation in the suggestion of alarm
which was in her startled movement. She was afraid then, after all her
It was, however, with the greatest composure that they met. She began at
once to tell him how sorry she was that Mrs Wargrave was out.
"Oh, I can wait," he said; "I am in no hurry. She will come in
by-and-by, no doubt."
"Not for some time, I fear," said Mademoiselle.
"Oh, I am in no hurry," he repeated, and, turning, walked with her. It
was so sweet and still, and he found it so satisfactory to have at last
got this impenetrable person to himself, with leisure to speak to her
and nobody looking on, that for a time Charles Wargrave said nothing at
all. It was pleasant to walk by her, to be conscious of the white figure
by his side, so perfectly quiet and tranquil, not betraying by so much
as a quiver of her dress anything of that alarm which he had divined in
her at the first sight of him. For a minute or two he was quite
satisfied with this; and it was to his surprise Mademoiselle herself who
burst into those usual banal sentences about the strangeness of this
garden in London, so secluded, so perfectly quiet, as if there was not a
house or a vulgar sound within miles, while all the time the omnibuses
were running, &c. He knew the words exactly, and had indeed meant to say
them himself if other means of conversation failed.
"Yes," he said, "it is wonderful; but not so wonderful as some other
things—for instance, to find you here, waiting upon the amusements of
these two little——Mademoiselle, will you do me a favour?"
She looked up surprised—alarmed, too, this time, he felt sure—but said
with a smile, "If it is anything in my power."
"It is quite in your power. It is very simple. Do you know that I have
known you all this time without knowing you by anything else than the
absurd official (if I may call it so) generic name of Mademoiselle?"
She coloured a little and laughed. "That is allright," she said, with
one of the few slips she made in English, running the last two words
into one. "It is an official title, and I am Mademoiselle. You would
refuse to let an Englishwoman be called Miss, but with a Frenchwoman it
"I don't think it all right; I dislike it very much. Will you permit me
the pleasure of being able to call you by your name?"
Mademoiselle paused a little. She was evidently doubtful which was the
more dignified—debating between a reluctance to reply and a reluctance
to permit it to be seen that she had any objection to reply. A denial,
it appeared to her, might seem coquettish—a sort of challenge to a
playful struggle. So she raised her head and answered, "I am Claire de
Castel-Sombre," with the air of a queen.
"Ah," said Wargrave, "I thought as much. Is it out of pity for us as
nobodies, with a name never heard of till our grandfathers went into
business, that you have concealed, Mademoiselle de Castel-Sombre, un si
"I have not concealed it," she said with a smile. "Mrs Wargrave knows my
name; but why waste breath upon so many syllables when Mademoiselle
answers every purpose just as well?"
"That is a little scoff at us as industrials—not willing to waste
anything, even our breath."
She shook her head. "I will not be tempted into an argument."
"No?" said Wargrave, changing rapidly from one language into the other.
He knew French well, which is not too common with young men about town,
and he was proportionately pleased with his own acquirement, and glad to
note the little start of light and colour in Mademoiselle's face. "You
are too proud to argue or even to assert the difference between an old
noble name of Béarn and a common English one which, on the foundation of
a little money, sets itself up as something, and condemns a woman like
you, such a woman as you, to give up every attribute of real life and
waste all your gifts and become an abstraction for the benefit of
"Stop, stop!" she cried; "you are going a great deal too far. I am not
compelled to anything. I am doing only what it is my business to do, in
circumstances which are unusually comfortable and favourable. I do not
know what can have put such an idea of my situation into your mind."
"It is very easy to explain that," he said. "My indignation has been
growing since ever I made your acquaintance. As if you did not know very
well that there is nobody in this house at all your equal, either in
family and breeding—which are, perhaps, accidental advantages, for, of
course, to have them you had only to give yourself the trouble of being
born—but also in mind, in heart——"
She put up her hand to stop him. "Mr Wargrave, you are under some
strange delusion. I am neither very clever nor very highly instructed,
nor capable of anything above what I have to do. As for breeding, I was
trained to be a governess as I am. Oblige me by giving up this subject,
which can lead to nothing but misunderstanding. I possess nothing but
that beau nom of which you form so great an idea. Of all visionary
things to stand upon, is not birth the most visionary? Certainly it is
so in my country: and ought to be still more in yours, which is so
"Mine is not practical at all," said Wargrave; "that is one of the
mistakes you make. You are far less affected by romantic reasons than we
are. I have always thought so, and more than ever now."
She said nothing, but with a little movement of her hand seemed to wave
his argument away. "These things are beyond discussion," she said.
"That may be; but you cannot imagine that one can look on and see such a
sacrifice, and not earnestly protest against it?" Wargrave said.
Mademoiselle laughed—half pleased, half provoked. "You force me into a
discussion," she said. "I don't know what to say to convince you that I
am very well off, and desire no better. If I was not doing this, what
should I do?"
She turned and looked him in the face as she put this question, half
angry, half flattered, amused also at the young man's curious
earnestness and excitement. The look was unexpected, and caught him full
in the eyes. He made a hurried step backwards, and uttered an
"There is nothing," she said, quickly—"nothing else that I could do. Do
not disturb with such suggestions a woman working for her bread. One
might have had other dreams when one was young. But life is very
different from one's dreams. I am very well off; and there is nothing
else that I could do."
"Yes," he said, drawing a long breath, "there is something else. I must
say it—you could marry me."
She looked at him again with consternation, falling back a little,
drawing away, her eyes opening wide with amazement, and made no answer
for a moment. Then she said in a soothing tone, "Mr Wargrave, don't you
think you had better go home?"
Charlie was piqued beyond measure by this speech. "I believe she thinks
I am out of my mind," he said.
"It looked like it for a moment." She gave a little, low, uneasy laugh.
"You have given me a great fright. Pray go in at least, and lie down
upon the sofa till Mrs Wargrave comes in."
"Do you think me mad?" he said.
Her eyes dwelt upon his face with a serious doubt. "I think—the sun has
been too much for you. Your head is a little confused, Mr Wargrave.
Don't let us talk of it. I am quite sure that you did not mean to be
"Rude!" he cried; "Mademoiselle de Castel-Sombre, you are very cruel to
me; you wound me deeply. I made you a very serious proposition, and you
treat me as if I were insane."
"Temporarily," she said. And at this moment there came an interruption
unexpected on his part. The two little girls had finished their game,
and they came with a rush, both together, upon Uncle Charlie, as they
called him, pushing between him and Mademoiselle, and breaking up the
situation in a moment. Edith and Dorothy seized him and clung to him,
hanging one on each arm. "O Uncle Charlie, where have you been? What are
you doing in the country? Why, everybody is in London at this time of
"Ask this lady what I was doing—she knows," he replied, not without an
effort to cast them off: but the children held fast.
"Ask Mademoiselle! How does Mademoiselle know? Was that what you were
telling her in French? I didn't know you could speak French, Uncle
Charles. O mamma! Here he is, and he's been here all the time waiting
for us till the set was over and talking French to Mademoiselle."
"Well, I am sure I am very glad to see you, Charles. I hope you're
better for your change," said Mrs Wargrave, sailing up to the group
across the grass in all her finery. "And so you were talking French to
Mademoiselle? Well, of course, I understand it, and read it and all
that, but I'm not good at talking. Mademoiselle must have been quite
pleased to have a chat in her own language. Come in; there's tea in the
drawing-room, and it is cooler there than out of doors. Edith and
Dorothy, don't hang on to your uncle so."
"Oh, he doesn't mind!" cried the children, hanging on more closely than
ever. He was led in thus helpless to the cool drawing-room, unable even
to gain a look from Mademoiselle. She fell back in her habitual way,
leaving Mrs Wargrave to take her place. He was himself forced forward in
advance when she dropped behind. And the last he saw of her was the
sweep of her white dress across the grass as she went another way. He
turned his head to look after her, but she did not vouchsafe him a
glance. And the family loudly called for his attention, and dragged him
over the sill of the great window which opened on to the lawn.
As for Mademoiselle, she went hastily up-stairs and reached the
schoolroom almost at a flying pace; nor did she pause then, but went
into her own room, which opened from it, shutting the door behind her.
She was in great agitation, she who was always so calm. She tore her
dress, stumbling and treading upon it as she made that breathless run
up-stairs. Her breath came quick, and she turned the key in the door as
if she were afraid of being pursued, which, of course, was nonsense. But
Mademoiselle was not in a state of mind to weigh possibilities. The
question was, what had happened to her? Had she been insulted, or had
some new thing too strange to be comprehensible entered into her life?
Claire de Castel-Sombre reached her room in a condition of mind in
which, though this was quite unusual, she forgot altogether that she was
Mademoiselle and became herself, a woman of strong feelings, great
personal pride, and a temperament impassioned and imperious rather than
subdued and calm. It was subdued under the burden of all those
necessities which made her natural impetuosity almost a crime, so out of
place was it, and out of keeping with every circumstance around her; but
such subjugation, being artificial, is always at the mercy of an emotion
or an impulse too strong for manufactured bonds, and at this moment the
natural flood had swelled beyond all restraint. Her usual paleness was
flushed with angry colour. Her eyes shone, her whole figure thrilled
with an excitement which was beyond all restraint. A curious
consequence, one would suppose, of a proposal of marriage made by a
young man considered eligible in every way in circles much more exacting
than Mrs Leicester Wargrave's daughters or sister, much less her
governess. But Claire was roused by emotions which would not have
influenced these young ladies. It was not that there was anything in the
English language which prevented her full understanding of what was said
to her, or in the habits of Englishmen; but perhaps something of French
breeding, and something of the involuntary depression and susceptibility
which are fostered by such a position as hers, turned her from the
natural interpretation of such an overture to a strained and false one.
She thought that she had been insulted by a light proposal which meant
nothing, which was not intended to mean anything, which was a sort of
jibe and no more; and every sentiment in her mind, as well as every drop
of blood in her veins, seemed to rise up again. "You might marry me;"
it meant contempt, or suggestive of an impossible escape from the
subdued state which, in the first place, it was insulting for any man to
remark upon. A woman who does her duty in the position which her
circumstances compel her to accept, whose pride lies in accepting those
circumstances as not alone the only possible, but as the most natural
and dignified, is not a woman to be insulted, she said to herself,
passionately stamping her foot upon the floor in her paroxysm of wounded
pride and feeling. In her usual condition Mademoiselle would have been
bitterly ashamed of that stamp upon the floor. She was even now, in the
fumes of her passion, and blushed for herself, clenching her hands,
which was a noiseless operation, to stay in herself any possible
repetition of that bêtise. All good feeling, all honour, all justice
even, forbade that a woman should be jeered at for circumstances she
could not help, circumstances which her strength lay in making the best
of, in taking the sting out of by a dignified acceptance of them, in
which there should be neither question nor assumption of injury, nor the
pose of a person wronged. Above all things that pose of wrong was
abhorrent to Claire. It went against her pride to acknowledge that she
was in an inferior position, a dependant, and in the cold shade. Her
pride had been to ignore all that, to define her place as clearly as
possible, and make it fully comprehensible that it was the place which
she chose and that pleased her best. To remark upon it at all, as Mr
Charles Wargrave had done, even though in a way that was intended to be
flattering, was very bad taste, to say the least; but to end these
remarks by such a suggestion, by an offensive jest, was an insult in
every sense of the word. Her blood boiled in her veins. She walked up
and down the room to wear out as far as she could the exasperation that
possessed her, not stamping her foot any more, which was a humiliating
confession of weakness, but pacing up and down because she was incapable
of keeping quiet. A woman who had always avoided any folly of so-called
sensitiveness, who had accepted everything with a smiling face, never
murmured, never taken offence, consented to be Mademoiselle, and to
dignify the title by the perfect philosophy of her self-adaptation to
it—and after all these years, after all these heroisms, after her proud
self-denials and self-subjugation, to be thus insulted! a sneer flung
full in her face, a dart of contempt to her heart! Mademoiselle felt as
if that sneer had struck her like a blow. Her face burned with the smart
of it: she had the sensation of the physical shock as well as of the
rush of blood to the brain which is its result.
And there was this special smart in it, that she had been beginning to
find in Charles Wargrave a friendly figure, a sympathetic look. He had
not been so often in the schoolroom, so often at the luncheon-table,
without exchanging now and then a word with herself which had made her
feel that he was more akin to her than his relations were, more able to
understand. The people under whose roof she had lived for a year had not
the faintest beginning of understanding, nor were they likely to have it
should she remain there for five years more, which was very likely if
she continued to "give satisfaction." But he had looked at her now and
then as if he recognised that she was an individual, and not merely
Mademoiselle. He had asked her opinion on one or two subjects on which
he and she were in accord against the other stolid couple whose point of
view was so different. Mademoiselle had not been able to deny to
herself—nay, had done so with serious pleasure—that she liked to see
M. le Cousin; that he was one of the few people whose entrance was
agreeable to her. The fact that he was young made no impression upon
this well-trained stoic. She herself was old, she was on the level of
men ten years her senior, according to a well-understood chronology
current in society. There might not be, perhaps, much actual difference
between them in point of years, but, according to this system, she was
at least ten years in advance of her male contemporaries. It is
difficult, perhaps, to know the reason why, but it is perfectly
understood by everybody. She was "old enough to be his mother," and she
had no feeling that it was otherwise. She regarded him as so completely
out of her sphere, in character and in age, as well as in circumstances,
that it had never occurred to the imagination of Claire that he and she
should meet anywhere save as they sometimes did, on the ground of a
mutual opinion, a common taste. But this was enough to make her feel
that it was an outrage greater and more painful than usual, that scorn
or insult should come from him.
There was a knock at the door while Claire had as yet scarcely regained
any of her usual composure. "Please, Mademoiselle, mother wants to know
if you're coming down for tea?"
She paused a moment to master herself, and then opened the door. "Not
this afternoon, Edith. As you are going out with your mother I am going
to begin my mending, do you see?" There were some garments laid out upon
the bed that supported her plea. The little girl cast a glance upon the
high colour, so unusual in her governess's cheeks, and ran off, with a
vague sense of something which she did not understand.
"She's not coming; she's going to mend her things; and, oh! mamma, she's
got such a red face, like she does when she's furious with us!"
"To hear these little monkeys," said Mrs Wargrave, "you would think
Mademoiselle had the temper of a fiend. But she hasn't, Charlie; don't
take up a false impression. She is really one of the best-tempered women
I ever knew."
If any one had looked at Charles Wargrave at that moment it would have
been seen that he had "a red face" too; but he said nothing, and
presently went away.
That evening, sitting alone in the schoolroom, having so exercised the
power over herself which she had acquired by the practice of many years
as to banish the unusual colour from her face, to subdue the
over-beating of the heart and pulses, and to present to the eager eyes
of the children, when they returned from their drive, the same calm
countenance with which they were acquainted, Mademoiselle received a
letter which made her glad that she was alone, with nobody to spy the
changes of her face. It was very short, and, though she had never seen
his handwriting before, she knew that it was from Charles Wargrave
before she had taken it from the attendant housemaid's tray. It was as
"I feel that I have offended you, though I scarcely know why. I
spoke hastily, without considering the form of words I used. If you
had been an Englishwoman you would perhaps have thought less of
that: but as you are you are the only woman in the world for me. My
hasty proposal was not hasty in meaning, and it was made in all
reverence and respect, though I fear you did not think so. Forgive
what has seemed to you careless in the expression, but believe in
the love that made it. Say I was rude, and punish me as you
please, but reply; and oh! if you can, accept.—Yours ever and
Mademoiselle read this letter over three times, almost without
breathing, and then she laid it down on the table before her, and grew,
not red, but pale. Her lips dropped apart with a long-drawn breath which
seemed to come from the very depths of her being; the blood seemed to
ebb away from her heart; she grew white like marble, and almost as
chill, with a nervous shiver. She was terrified, panic-stricken,
dismayed. If all the anger had gone out of her it had been replaced by
something else more trying still. Astonishment in the first place,
dismay, a panic which impelled her to rise and flee. But this it was
impossible to do out of this well-regulated house, where all went on
with such unfailing routine, and there were no breaches either of
decorum or of hours. To have gone out after dinner, unless for an
understood engagement, would have scandalised every inmate, as well as
Mademoiselle herself, who also had far too much good sense to allow for
a moment, even to herself, that it was possible to run away. No; she
had, as is usual, something much worse to do—to remain; to meet the man
who, she thought, had insulted her, who, instead of insulting her, had
done her the greatest honour in his power, who had attracted her
sympathy and liking, and now had made himself one of the most
interesting of all mankind in her eyes—to meet him without betraying by
a sign that anything had ever passed between them more than good-night
or good-morrow, to discourage and dismiss him summarily at once, yet to
be always ready to receive him when he deigned to converse with her, as
though never a word had been said between them which all the world need
not hear. Mademoiselle's first impulse was absolute dismay; the
embarrassment of the situation struck her above everything else.
Everything about it was embarrassing. She would have to answer his
letter, yet she must put her answer in the post herself, keeping it away
from all prying eyes: for why should she write to Charles Wargrave, the
cousin of the house? Supposing that the housemaid saw it, that Edith or
Dorothy saw it? Though she was utterly blameless, how could that be
proved,—how could she keep their untutored minds from drawing their own
conclusions? She had nothing whatever to blush for, and yet she blushed
instinctively, involuntarily, at the idea of being found out in a
correspondence with Charles Wargrave. How much more, she said to herself
with fright, had she accepted his offer (wild thought which sent all
her pulses beating!). And then she must meet him absolutely unmoved; not
only without a look or word, but without the suspicion of a breath that
could have any meaning. The air must not move a fold of her dress or
lock on her forehead, lest it might be supposed that she trembled. These
were difficulties of which he would never think—how should he?—of
which nobody would think who was not in her position. And though nothing
else came of it, this must come of it. Nothing else! What else? She
paused, with a shock of abrupt cessation in her thoughts, as one does
who suddenly stops running. What else? Nothing else except this—that
she could never be at her ease, but must always seem to be at her ease,
in Charles Wargrave's presence again.
In the meantime, the first thing to be done was to answer his letter:
that was a thing that could not be delayed, that must be accomplished at
once. And yet it took a long time even to begin it. Mademoiselle
arranged the paper upon her desk a dozen times before she was satisfied.
She did more than this. She shut up the schoolroom writing-table, where
all her usual writing was done, and fetched from her bedroom a little
old desk, a relic of girlish days, once pretty in its inlaid work and
velvet lining, now sadly shabby in faded finery. She did not even say to
herself what freak of fancy it was which made her produce this old toy,
this treasury of girlish souvenirs, for the serious purpose she had in
hand. It gave her a great deal of trouble, for there was no ink in the
minute ink-bottle, no pens in the tray, nothing she wanted. She had to
bring the paper from the writing-table, and all the other accessories.
Even after she had surmounted these obstacles there was still a
considerable delay. She wrote a letter in French, and then one in
English, and tore them both into small pieces, and it was not till
almost midnight, after all the other members of Mr Leicester Wargrave's
family were in bed, that Mademoiselle succeeded in producing the
following, which, though it did not please her, she sent, as being the
best she could do:—
"I am very thankful, sir, that it is not as I at first supposed:
and indeed I ought to have known better, and never to have believed
that an English gentleman would insult a woman in my position. I
thank you that you have not done so; but, on the contrary,
complimented and indeed flattered me to a very high degree.
"In return I send you a very direct answer, as you have a right.
There can be no question, sir, of my accepting a gift far too
great, which I had never anticipated, to which my thoughts were
never directed at all. It would be a poor compliment in return for
your goodness if I should take what you offer as carelessly as if
it were a cup of tea you were offering me. Oh, no! no! I respect
you too much to do so. A moment's thought will also show you how
very unsuitable in every way it would be. You are young, you are
rich, you have all the world can give. I am old—a middle-aged
woman. I have nothing at all but the beau nom you were so good as
to recognise. It does not mean even what it would mean in
England—it means nothing; in my own country, being poor, I would
not even carry it. My mother calls herself in Paris only Madame
Castel. And, chief of all, I am more old than you, middle-aged; it
is therefore a thing beyond the possibility of even taking into
consideration at all.
"Adieu, monsieur, je vous remercie de tout mon cœur; vous ne m'avez
pas insultée, vous m'avez flattée; je réponds avec une vive
reconnaissance. Que le bon Dieu vous donne tous ce que vous pouvez
désirer hors la pauvre et obscure créature qui s'appellera
"Claire de Castel-Sombre."
She wrote this in great haste at last, and, without even trusting
herself to read it over, fastened it hastily into its envelope. She was
so frightened lest anybody should see it—lest it should fall under the
eyes of any youthful observer, whether pupil or attendant—that she put
it by her bedside unaddressed until the morning, when she concealed it
in her pocket until, in the course of the morning's walk, she could put
it into the nearest post-office. Perhaps it was her sense of wishing to
conceal which made the children's chatter so significant to her. "Oh,
Mademoiselle," said Edith, "why didn't you send your letters out for the
early post with mother's?" "And why didn't you give it me to carry?"
cried Dorothy; "you know I'm always the postman." "Mother would say it
was to somebody, and you didn't want us to see the address," said the
one little importunate. "And you needn't have been so careful,
Mademoiselle," said the other, "for I would never have told who it was."
"There is no question of telling," said Mademoiselle, very gravely, to
stop further discussion; but as she turned away from the post-office
another dreadful and unforeseen accident happened. Charles Wargrave came
up to the group. She felt her heart leap from where it was, very low
down in her being, up, up to her throat. The children seized upon their
cousin as usual, while she walked along by their side with downcast
head. They told him all the story, how Mademoiselle had been posting a
letter and would not let any one see the address. "And I always put the
letters in the post," said Dorothy, aggrieved. Mademoiselle kept her
eyes down, and would not meet the look which she divined.
It would not be easy to find a more difficult position than that in
which Mademoiselle now found herself. She had just put into the post-box
a letter to the man who came up at the moment, almost before it had
disappeared, and before she had returned his bow and evaded the hand
held out to her in greeting. The children had informed him of this
almost clandestine letter, which the governess would intrust to nobody,
which she had posted with her own hands. He gave her a rapid look of
inquiry, which she saw without making any response to it. She could even
see, somehow, without looking, the flush that rose to his face on this
intimation. He knew as well as she knew that the letter was to himself,
and, perhaps, perceived for the first time, in a sudden flash of
unconsciously communicated feeling, how it was that she had posted it
herself, and the reluctance she must feel to allow the fact of her
communications with him to be known. The flush on his face was partly
pain at this discovery, and partly suspense on his own part, and the
tantalising consciousness that, though she was so near him, and a
word—even a look—might enlighten him, neither word nor look was to be
had from her. She had completely relapsed into Mademoiselle—the careful
guardian of the children, a member of a distinct species, an official
personage, not Claire de Castel-Sombre, nor any mere individual. She was
at her post like a sentinel on duty, to whom the concerns of his
personal life must all be thrown into the background. There was no place
in the world where she would not rather have been than walking along the
road towards Kensington Gardens by Charles Wargrave's side, though with
the potent interposition of Edith and Dorothy between. But, though he
felt this, he went on, with a curious fascination, prolonging the
strange thrill of sensation in himself, and glad to prolong it in her,
to keep up in her the excitement and whirl of feeling which he knew
must exist in the strange, concealed circumstances which, for the moment
at least, bound the two together. To think that they should be walking
thus, not speaking, she, at least, never turning her head his way, who
possibly might be destined to spend all their lives together, to be one
for the rest of their days! Charles felt, with a sickening sensation of
failure, that there was little prospect of this; but yet that moment
could never, whatever happened, pass from the memories of either for all
their lives to come. He liked to prolong it, though he was aware it must
give her pain, though it made himself giddy and dazed in the confusion
and suspense. There was a cruel kind of pleasure in it—a pleasure that
stung, and smarted, and thrilled every nerve. They walked thus, with the
children chattering, along the side of Kensington Gardens towards Hyde
Park, all the freshness of morning in the air, the sounds softened by
summer and that well-being and enjoyment of existence which warmth and
sunshine bring. When at last he left them, he would not let Mademoiselle
off that touch of the hands which she had the excuse of French habit for
eluding, but he the settled form of English use and wont to justify his
insistence upon. It was another caprice of the excitement in his mind to
insist upon shaking hands: but the hurried, reluctant touch taught him
nothing, except that which he did not desire to learn.
Mademoiselle reached home much exhausted by her walk, and retired to her
room, complaining of headache, which was very unusual; but not before
the whole history of the morning had been reported to Mrs Wargrave—the
mysterious letter put in the post, the meeting with Uncle Charlie, and
all the rest. Happily, no member of the Wargrave family required any
reason, save his devotion to themselves, for Charles Wargrave's
appearance. "He is so devoted to the children; it is quite beautiful in
a young man!" their mother said. But she felt, at the same time, that
Mademoiselle's behaviour required looking into. A mysterious letter
transferred from her pocket to the post-office, though Dolly was always
the postman, and loved to be so employed—as if she did not want the
address to be seen! and then the mysterious headache, so unusual in
Mademoiselle, who, in delightful contrast to other governesses, never
had headaches, never was ill, but always ready for her duties. Mrs
Leicester Wargrave was divided between the fear of any change which
might deprive her of so admirable a governess, and that interest which
every woman feels in the possibility of a romance going on under her
eyes, and of which she has a chance of being the confidante. She
graciously consented that Mademoiselle should not come down-stairs to
luncheon, but paid her a visit afterwards in her room, with every
intention of finding out what was the matter. She found Mademoiselle in
her dressing-gown—that famous white dressing-gown—retired into her own
chamber, but with nothing the matter, she protested; no need for the
doctor—only a headache, the most common thing in the world.
"But not common with you, Mademoiselle," Mrs Wargrave said, drawing a
chair near, and putting her hand on the governess's wrist to feel if she
were feverish,—for, of course, she knew, or thought she knew, something
of nursing, as became a woman of her time.
"No, it is not usual with me: I am glad, for it is not pleasant," said
"I am very glad, too, I assure you; for a person in the house with a
continual headache is the most horrid thing! It is always such a
pleasure to find you ready for everything—always well."
Mademoiselle smiled, but said nothing. She was not without sympathy for
the employers of governesses who had perpetual headaches: at the same
time it is, perhaps, not exhilarating to be complimented on your health
as a matter of convenience to another—though quite reasonable, as she
was ready to allow.
"That is what makes me think," said Mrs Wargrave, "that you must have
something on your mind."
This assault was so entirely unexpected that Mademoiselle not only
flushed to her very hair, but started from her half-reclining attitude
in her chair.
"Ah," said Mrs Wargrave, "I thought as much! I don't call myself clever,
but it isn't easy to deceive me in that sort of a way, Mademoiselle. I
have noticed for a long time that you were not looking like yourself.
Something has happened. The children—they are such quick observers, you
know, and they tell me everything, poor things!—said something about a
letter. You know, I am sure, that I don't want to pry into your affairs,
but sometimes it does one good to confide in a friend—and I have always
wished my governesses to consider me as a friend—especially you, who
give so little trouble. I thought it might, perhaps, be a comfort to you
Mademoiselle, during this speech, had time to recover herself. She said
only, however, with the most polite and easy way of evasion, "I know
that you are always very kind."
"I am sure that I always mean to be," her patroness said, and she sat
with her eyes fixed upon the patient, expectant—delighted with the idea
of a sentimental confession, and yet rather alarmed lest this might
lead to an intimation that it would be necessary to look for a new
governess. Mrs Leicester Wargrave meant no harm to anybody, and was, on
the whole, an amiable woman; but, as a matter of fact, the thing that
would have truly delighted her, real pleasure without any penalty, would
have been the confession from Mademoiselle of an unhappy love.
And now there suddenly occurred an idea, half mischievous, half
humorous, to Claire, who, in her own personality, had once been
espiègle, and was not now superior to a certain pleasure in exposing
the pretences of life. She scarcely understood how it was that, having
finally and very seriously rejected the curious proposal which
certainly, for a day or two, had done her the good service of quickening
the monotony of life, she should have the sudden impulse of taking
advice about it, and asking Mrs Wargrave, of all persons in the world,
what she ought to do. Caprices of this kind seize the most serious in a
moment without any previous intention, and the thought that to get a
little amusement out of Charles Wargrave's proposal was permissible,
seeing how much embarrassment and annoyance she was sure to get out of
it, came to her mind with a flash of amused impulse: she said, "I did
not think I had betrayed myself; and, indeed, it is only for a day or
two that I have had anything on my mind."
"Then there is something?" cried Mrs Wargrave, delighted, clasping her
hands. "I was sure of it: I am a dreadful person, Mademoiselle; there is
no deceiving me."
"So it would appear," said Claire, with a gleam of humour which was a
little compensation, she felt, for her trouble. And she added, casting
down her eyes, "I have had a—very unexpected—proposal of marriage."
"I knew it!" Mrs Wargrave said. She added, more warmly than she felt,
"And I hope it is a good one—and makes you happy. Tell me all about it,
It was not that she had never called Mademoiselle "my dear" before, for
this is a word which glides very easily to some women's lips: but once
more it made Claire smile.
"It makes me neither happy nor unhappy," she said, "though it is a very
good one; for it is not a possible thing: except the trouble of vexing
some one, it can do nothing to me."
"You can't accept it?" Mrs Wargrave felt a momentary relief, and then a
stronger sentiment seized her. She could not bear to have sport spoiled
in the matrimonial way. "But why?" she said. "Why? Do tell me all about
it. If it is a good offer, and there is nothing against the man, why
shouldn't you accept it, Mademoiselle?"
"I have many reasons, Madame; but the first is, that I do not care for
him at all. You do not accept an offer which you have never expected,
never thought of as possible."
"Oh, if that is all!" said Mrs Wargrave. "Good heavens! nobody ever
would be married if that was to be the rule. Why, I never was more
surprised in my life than when Mr Wargrave proposed to me! That's
nothing—nothing! If it is a good match——"
"It is much too good a match. The gentleman is not only much, much
richer than I—that is nothing, for I am poor—but he is better in the
world in every way. His family would consider it a mésalliance: and it
would be so completely to my interest——"
"But, good heavens!" cried Mrs Wargrave again, "what does that matter?
Let his family complain—that's their affair. You surely would never
throw up a good match for that? Is there anything against the man?"
"Nothing!" said Mademoiselle, with some earnestness.
"Then, what does it matter about his family? I suppose he's old enough
to judge for himself? And he could make nice settlements, and all that?"
"Very likely—I do not know. He is rich, I am aware of that."
"You surprise me very much," cried Mrs Wargrave. "I have always heard
that the French cared nothing for sentiment—that it was always reason
and the dot, and all that, that was considered. Yet, here you are,
talking like a silly girl. Mademoiselle, if you will be guided by me,
you will not let any romantic nonsense stand in the way of your
advancement. Dear me! you don't disapprove of married life, I suppose?
You don't want to set up as superior to your neighbours? And, only think
what your position is—Mr Wargrave and I are very much satisfied with
you, and I had hoped you would stay with us as long as Edie and Dolly
require a governess; but you must reflect that you won't be any younger
when that time comes. We are all growing older, and the time will come
when ladies will think you are not lively enough to take the charge of
young children; they will think you are not active enough to go out for
their walks. Many people have a prejudice against old governesses. I
want to put it quite clearly before you, Mademoiselle. Think what it is
to go on slaving when you are an old woman. And you will never be able
to earn enough to keep you comfortable if you should live to be past
work; and what will you do? Whereas, here is, apparently, an excellent
chance, a certain provision for you, and a far more comfortable life
than any governess could ever expect. Goodness! what do you look for?
You must accept it; you must not throw such a chance away. I can't hear
of it; and any one that had your real interests at heart would say the
Mrs Wargrave spoke like a woman inspired. She reddened a little in her
earnestness, she used little gestures of natural eloquence. All selfish
thoughts of retaining so good a governess for Edith and Dorothy had gone
out of her mind. She could not endure that such a piece of folly should
be perpetrated under her eyes.
"All that I know very well," said Mademoiselle. "I have gone over it too
often not to know."
"And yet!" cried Mrs Wargrave, with a sort of exasperation. "Come,
come," she added with a laugh, "you are only playing with my curiosity.
Of course you can't possibly mean to do such a silly thing as refuse.
Poor man! when everything is in his favour and nothing against him! I
never heard of such a thing. I can't have it! Your friends must
"But his friends will be most indignant—they will be in a state of
fury—they will say I am an adventuress, a schemer, a designing
woman—everything that can be said."
"Let them say!" cried Mrs Wargrave in her enthusiasm; "what have you to
do with that? Of course they'll say it. Men's friends always do: but
what is it to you what they say? that's their concern, not yours. I
suppose he is old enough to judge for himself."
"That is the last and greatest objection of all," said Mademoiselle. "He
is quite old enough to judge for himself: but he is younger than I am.
If all the rest could be put right, there is still that."
"Oh!" said Mrs Wargrave, making a pause. "Well, that is a pity," she
added, slowly. "I don't much fancy these marriages myself. But," she
said, pausing again, "it can't be denied that they turn out very well. I
have known three or four, and they've all turned out well. And, besides,
that's the man's own affair. If he is pleased, I don't see why you
should object. Is it much?" she asked, with a little hesitation.
"I am sure as much as—two or three years," said Mademoiselle, firmly.
Mrs Wargrave was so indignant that she sprang from the chair and all but
stamped her foot. "Two or three years!" she cried. "Do you mean to laugh
in my face, Mademoiselle? I thought you were going to say a dozen at
least. I supposed it must be some boy of twenty. Two or three years!"
"No, not twenty, nor thirty, but still younger than I am."
"This is quite absurd," said Mrs Wargrave, sharply; "a year or two makes
no difference, and you must let me say that it will be not only
foolish but wicked, criminal, to let such an opportunity slip. How can
you think of doing it, you who have a mother, and nothing but your own
work to look to? How do you know how long you may be able to work? how
can you tell what may come upon you if you slight a distinct
interposition of Providence like this? I can't imagine what you are
thinking of. Do I know the gentleman? Is he a Frenchman? I hope, when
you have thought it over, you will not be such a fool as to send such a
"No, he is not a Frenchman. He is English," said Mademoiselle, eluding
the other question. "And do you think I could bear it that his family
should call me all the names and turn against him?"
"His family!" repeated Mrs Wargrave with fine scorn. "What have his
family to do with it? It will be the most dreadful folly in the world to
give up your own happiness for anything his family can say."
She had no patience with Mademoiselle. She preached quite a clever
little sermon upon the necessity and duty of thinking of herself, and of
the ingratitude not only to Providence, which had afforded this chance,
and to the man who had given it, but even to the people under whose roof
she was, and who had her best interests at heart, should she neglect
such a means of securing her own comfort and independence. Mrs Wargrave
ended by feeling herself aggrieved. Mademoiselle's culpable
sentimentality, her rejection of the best of advice, her obstinacy and
wrong-headedness would, she felt sure, recoil upon herself—but in the
meantime Mrs Wargrave could not conceal that she was wounded, deeply
wounded, by seeing her advice so slighted—"Though it is yourself who
will be the chief sufferer, Mademoiselle," she said, with almost
vindictive vehemence. And it was in this mood that she left the room,
leaving, so to speak, a prophecy of doom behind her. Mademoiselle, she
said, would repent but once, and that would be all her life.
Mademoiselle tried to laugh when Mrs Wargrave was gone, but the effort
was too much, and she astonished herself very much by suddenly bursting
into tears instead. What for, she could not tell. It was, she supposed,
a case of overstrained nerves and bodily exhaustion, for she felt
herself curiously worn out. But afterwards she grew more calm, and it
was impossible for her not to go over Mrs Wargrave's arguments, and to
find in them many things which she could not gainsay. The smile that
came over her face at the thought of her own little mystification, the
snare which had been laid without intention, and into which her adviser
had fallen so easily, was very transient; for, indeed, the oracle which
she had so lightly evoked had spoken the words of truth and soberness.
Claire asked herself whether, on the whole, this matter-of-fact and
worldly woman was not right. Poor, solitary, and, if not old, yet within
sight of the possibility of growing into what was old age for a woman in
her position, had she any right to reject the chance of comfort and
advancement thus held out to her? Had she any right to do it? She asked
herself this question so much more at her ease that she had already
rejected it, and Charles Wargrave must already have accepted her
decision, so that she said to herself it was only a hypothetical case
she was considering. The question was, under such circumstances, a mere
speculation. What should a woman do? Poverty before her on one side and
wealth on the other—obscurity, helplessness, the absence of all power
to succour or aid, and possibly want at the end—while with a word she
could have all that a woman could desire, every possibility of
helpfulness, comfort for her family, freedom for herself, the freedom
from all cares and personal bondage. And it was not as if there was
anything wrong involved. Mademoiselle knew herself not only to be a
woman who would do her duty, but one who would have no thought beyond it
or struggle against it. If she married a man she would be a good wife to
him, one in whom his soul might trust. Was it necessary to reject the
overture which would bring so much, because she had not that one
ethereal thing—the sentiment above duty, the uncertain errant principle
called Love, to justify the transaction? She asked herself the question,
with all the French part of her nature and breeding urging her towards
the common-sense view. Marriage meant a great deal more than mere
loving. It meant the discharge of many duties which she could undertake
and faithfully do. It meant a definite office in life which she knew she
could fulfil. It meant fellowship, companionship, the care of joint
interests, the best advice, support, and backing up that one human being
could give another. She felt, though she would not have said it, that
all this she could give, far better, perhaps, than a girl could, who
would be able to fancy herself in love. Ah! but then——The other side
of her character turned round and cut her short in her thinking, but
with an abruptness that hurt her. She gave an almost sobbing sigh of
regret and something like pain.
Then another part of Mrs Wargrave's argument came to her mind. Let his
family say what they pleased, that was their concern. After all there,
too, was the teaching of common-sense. Mademoiselle had felt as if it
would be something like treachery to live in the Wargraves' house and
allow their relation to make such overtures to her. Why? The Wargraves
were kind enough, good enough, but not more to her than she to them.
They gave her the food and shelter and wages they had engaged to give,
and she gave to them a full equivalent. They never considered her but as
their children's governess. On what rule should she consider them as
something more than her employers, as people to whom she owed a higher
observance beyond and above her duty? Gratitude?—there was no reason
for gratitude. There is a curious prejudice in favour of being grateful
to the people under whose roof you live, however light may be the bond,
however little the bargain may be to your advantage. Mademoiselle knew
that the day she ceased to be useful to the Wargraves they would tell
her so, and arrange that she should leave them, not unkindly but
certainly, on the common law which exists between employers and
employed. And why should she abandon any hope of improving her condition
through a visionary sentiment of treachery to them? Ah! she said to
herself again, but then——What was it that stopped her thoughts in both
these cases? In neither was there anything wrong—no law of man, none
even of God would be broken. She would wrong no one. And yet——She
ended her long course of thinking with a sigh. An invisible barrier
stood before her which she regretted, which was unreal, which was,
perhaps, merely fantastic—a folly, not a thing to interfere with any
sensible career. But there it stood.
What a good thing that the case was merely hypothetical, everything
being in reality quite fixed and decided, to be reopened no more!
That night late there came a note by the last post—that post which
sometimes adds horrors to the night in London, with missives which
interfere hopelessly with the quiet of the hour. In it Charles Wargrave
thanked her that she did not accept his heart carelessly, as if it were
a cup of tea. He thanked her for her decided answer, but he thought she
would at least understand him when he said that, so far as he was
concerned, it could not stop there. Next time it would not at least be
a question which she had not anticipated, and he would still hope that
her prayer for his welfare might be accomplished without the condition
she put upon it—with which there could be no welfare for him at all. It
cannot be said that, though her heart beat at the sight of it, this
letter was a great surprise to Claire. Notwithstanding her conviction
that it was a hypothetical case which she was putting to herself, she
felt now that she had not indeed really imagined or believed that
Charles Wargrave, a man who had got his own will all his life, was now
to be thwarted in so important a matter without resistance or protest.
She felt at once that this was what was to be expected. The letter,
however, piqued her a little—annoyed her a little. It would have been
reasonable that he should have met her arguments one way or other. It
would have been civil to have protested, and declared that she was not
old, though she pleased to call herself so. Though Mademoiselle was
herself so full of common-sense on this subject, as on most others, she
had a feeling that it was a failure of politeness on the part of Charles
Wargrave not to have said something about it. When she discovered this
sentiment in her own spirit she was a little ashamed of it, but still it
was there. And the note in general said so little that it piqued and
interested her. It was skilfully done; but Mademoiselle did not see
this—neither, perhaps, did the writer. Perhaps Mademoiselle was
momentarily vexed, too, that there was no need to answer it. If there is
one weakness which is common to human nature, it is the pleasure which
people take in explaining themselves, especially on emotional subjects,
so as to leave their correspondents in no doubt as to their real
meaning. Claire had written very hurriedly the first time, with a
genuine desire to sweep such a troublesome episode out of her life. She
felt now that it would be pleasant to fill out and strengthen all these
arguments, and especially to bring out that point of age of which he had
taken no notice. He might, perhaps, from what she had herself said,
think her forty or more, seeing that he did not object to her statement
about her age; and she would have liked, while reiterating that, to have
made it quite clear what her age was—not, after all, so much as he
might think. But her good sense was sufficiently effective still to make
her feel that no answer was needed to his letter. She put it away in the
little faded desk, which, perhaps, was doing it too much honour. There
the matter would end, notwithstanding what he said. He should find it
impossible to get any opportunity of speech; nothing would induce her to
listen to him in his cousin's house—nothing, though she had felt all
the force of Mrs Wargrave's arguments about the family. In short, it
must be allowed that, in respect to the question, in this, its second
phase, Claire de Castel-Sombre did not carry with her all the prudence
and experience of Mademoiselle, but was sometimes in her thoughts more
like a petulant girl than was at all consistent with her character of a
philosopher or a mature woman of the world.
And then there occurred what can only be called a pause in life.
Everything, of course, went on quite as usual; but in this particular
matter there was silence in heaven and earth. Life came to a pause, like
that pause in music which gives so much expectancy to what precedes it,
so much emphasis and effect to what follows. It is easy to notice the
advantage of a pause in music, but not so much in life, where perhaps
the occurrence of an interval, whether agreeable or disagreeable, is,
while it lasts, exceedingly tedious, involving many stings of
disappointment and blank moments of suspense. Claire would not have
allowed even to herself that she wanted the sensation, the new condition
of affairs to go on, which had suddenly brought a shock of interest and
novelty into her monotonous existence. But, all the same, she suffered
when it stopped. The monotony to which she had so well schooled herself
seemed more monotonous than ever. A restless desire that something
should happen dawned within her; not so much that another incident in
this history should happen, as that something should happen—an
earthquake, a great fire, even a thunderstorm if nothing more. But this
desire was in vain, for nothing happened. There was a time of very
brilliant yet mild weather, not even too hot, threatening nothing, and
all went on in its usual routine. Mr Charles Wargrave came occasionally
to luncheon, as he had been in the habit of doing, but Mademoiselle had
always the best of reasons for withdrawing immediately that the meal was
over—lessons that required instant attention, or letters that had to be
sent off by the afternoon post. Sometimes she caught a look from him
which reproached her, or questioned her, or merely assured her, as a
look can do, that he saw through her artifices, yet was not moved by
them. She felt the strain upon her nerves of these meetings, which were
not meetings at all, and in which no word was exchanged on any private
subject; but when he was absent, and did not appear for about a
fortnight, strangely enough Claire felt this still more. She said to
herself, with a smile, that he was at last convinced and saw the
futility of the pursuit; but though the smile ran into a laugh, there
was no sense of absolute pleasure in her mind. When an exciting story
stops, even when it is only a story in a book, and there are no more
accidents and adventures to anticipate, it leaves a dulness behind. And
Claire felt a dulness. The story of Charles Wargrave stopped. She did
not want it to go on—oh! far from that, she said quickly, with a hot
blush; but it left a dulness—as much as that a woman might allow.
The season was just about coming to an end, and Mrs Leicester Wargrave's
engagements were many in the rush of the final gaieties. She had gone
out one afternoon, taking the little girls with her, to a garden-party,
a thing which did not happen often, but when it did come was a holiday
to Mademoiselle. It was the beginning of July, still and warm, and
Claire went out with her work to the garden, to a shady corner in which
she could be quiet and undisturbed. She had no fear of any interruption:
a visitor for herself was the rarest possible occurrence (for people
naturally do not like the governess's visitors about, who might be
mistaken for visitors of the house), and none of Mrs Wargrave's visitors
were likely to penetrate to the garden, the mistress of the house being
absent. Claire had brought out her mending, which was her chief work in
her brief moments of solitude. It was in a trim little covered basket,
not to offend anybody's eye; and, as a matter of fact, she did more
thinking than sewing. The happiness of thinking is when you think about
nothing in particular, thinking without an object: and the sense of
unusual leisure and quiet, and the soft influences of the air
outdoors—which she could enjoy without any anxiety as to Edith exposing
herself to the sun, or Dorothy running too fast—had filled Claire's
mind with this soft atmosphere of musing without definite thoughts.
Stray fancies went flitting through her mind like the little white
clouds upon the sky. She was Claire de Castel-Sombre through and
through, she was not Mademoiselle at all. She had forgotten to remember
about Charles Wargrave, and the story which had come to a pause.
For once in a way to have got rid of all that, and then to lift your
eyes quickly at the sound of a step on the gravel, and to see him,
walking out quietly from under the shadow of the trees! Her heart gave a
leap as if it had somehow got loose, but she rose to meet him with a
countenance which was no longer that of Claire de Castel-Sombre, but the
well-trained face of Mademoiselle.
"I am sorry," she said, "Mrs Wargrave and the children are gone out.
There is a garden-party at the Merewethers'."
"I know," he said, "and hoped to find you alone."
"They were kind enough to ask me too," said Mademoiselle.
"I am very glad you did not go; I have been watching for this
opportunity so long! I suppose you don't think what it is to see you
across the table, and never have a chance of a word?"
"Monsieur Wargrave," said Mademoiselle, "might avoid that by coming—to
dinner, for example, when I am not there."
"It is malice that makes you say so," he replied. She had changed into
French and he followed her lead. "You know the purpose for which I come.
No, I cannot consent to lose my small opportunity, my holiday from
observation, by not speaking of what is nearest my heart."
"Monsieur does not care, then, for spoiling mine?"
"Ah!" he said, "Mademoiselle de Castel-Sombre, you think you can silence
me with that. So you can. If it is, indeed, to take anything from you,
to spoil your quiet, of course there cannot be any question on the
subject, and I will go away."
Thus it would have been easy to finish the conversation. No doubt it
would have been rude—and to be rude was very abhorrent to all
Mademoiselle's notions—still, on such an important issue, and to secure
that he should go away! But Mademoiselle evidently would rather suffer
than be so impolite, for she answered not a word.
"I must take advantage when I can," he said, "or otherwise how am I to
make myself known to you—how prepare the way? I will talk on any
subject you please. I have not come here to worry you, to press myself
upon you like an ice or a cup of tea. How I thank you for that simile! I
do not want you to take me, when you take me, as if I were a cup of
Mademoiselle once more was silent. If she had combated the assumption of
that when, it might have reopened the whole discussion, she said to
"There are certain mistakes about myself I should like to correct," he
said. "You seem to have thought I was twenty or twenty-five, and I am
thirty-four. It is not of much importance, but I should like you to know
it. I wonder Mrs Wargrave, who knows everybody's age, did not inform you
"She does not care about the ages of men," said Mademoiselle with an
effort. Like many other people, when there was a desperate occasion for
keeping up the conversation, she plunged into sarcasm as the easiest
way. "To keep women from going wrong about their age is what she wishes.
You know we are sometimes accused of taking off a year or two."
"Unless when you add a year or two," he said. She had ventured on a
glance upward at him over her work, and he caught the glance, being on
the watch, and made a point on his own side by that which replied to
it. "I suppose both have their uses," he added, "to attract or to
"If you think," said Mademoiselle hastily, "that all women think of is
either to attract or repel——! But even were it so, it is but a small
number of women who are within that circle. In youth it may be the
object of too many thoughts, but when a woman is in the midst of life,
do her thoughts dwell on such arts more than a man's? No, Mr Wargrave,
it is not just to say so."
"Mademoiselle de Castel-Sombre," he said with great gravity, pronouncing
every syllable, till she smiled at the formality in spite of herself, "I
am not superior to such arts, if I knew how to use them. And, man or
woman, I think the desire to please is of itself a great charm."
"It must be kept within bounds," she said, vaguely, scarcely knowing
what it was she said.
"There would be no bounds in mine if I had the luck to succeed," he
said, "or even the hope of succeeding." Then he stopped himself with a
little abruptness, and there was a silence during which the birds came
in singing, and the leaves rustling in a curious little interlude which
Mademoiselle never forgot. At last he said: "The opportunity of speaking
with you alone goes to my head. And I run the risk of wearying you, I
know, of pressing prematurely. I wish you would tell me—anything you
would like me to do."
"Yes," she said, suddenly putting down her work and looking up at him.
She saw against the trees, for a moment, his head bent forward, his look
of profound pleasure, the expectation in his face. "If you wish to
please me," she said, "you will go away."
It was cruel, and she felt it to be cruel,—an insult flung full in his
face when he looked for it so little. He sprang suddenly to his feet as
if he had been shot. His countenance changed. Mademoiselle bent her head
again, not to see what she had done.
"Mademoiselle!" he cried, with a pang in his voice, then composing
himself. "If that is really what you wish—if it is the only thing I can
do for you, to relieve you of my presence——"
"Forgive me!" said Mademoiselle, very low. She added more distinctly:
"Monsieur Wargrave will see that here, in the home of his family, who
would resent it so much, is the last place in the world——"
"Confound my family!" he cried, then begged her pardon hastily; "they
are not my family—a cousin, to whom I am no more responsible than to
"But I am responsible," she said. "She is my—mistress. Ah! whatever
glosses we put upon it, that is the case. I will not be dishonourable to
listen to what would enrage her and shock her, here."
"Then I may speak—elsewhere?" he said, eagerly.
"There is no elsewhere; we are here. It is the only place where we meet.
Monsieur Wargrave must not take advantage of what I say. There is but
one good thing and true that can be done."
"And that is to leave you?" he said, despondently. "Mademoiselle, it is
yours to command and mine to obey—but it is cruel. Surely at the most,
with all your delicacies and precautions, you cannot think a man's
honest love, and wish to commend himself to her, is any shame to a
"Not if she were a queen!" Claire could not have said otherwise had she
died for it; but she did die, or rather put herself to death, and
Mademoiselle came back to her place. "But there are times and seasons,
and there are places in which what was honourable becomes profane. If
Monsieur Wargrave will put himself in my place, instead of thinking of
Mademoiselle did not know whether she was most elated or depressed by
her victory. When he had left the garden she hurried indoors, feeling
that all the peacefulness of her previous mood was gone. The afternoon
quiet had been sweet to her, but it was so no more, and all that had
made her position endurable seemed to have gone with it. Why should the
life, which she had so carefully shaped into the limitations in which
she believed it must be bound for ever, be thus disturbed? She thought
with almost resentment that it was for a caprice, for a little
additional pleasure to a man who had all the pleasures of life at his
command, that this had been done, and that he had thought of himself,
and not of her, when he thus took in hand the unsettling of all her
views, the disturbance of every plan. It would have been little had he
been satisfied with her first reply, had he left her to herself when he
saw that there was no response in her to his proposition; but to
continue to push on, in spite of her prohibition! She went in angry in
her annoyance and trouble, for it was now no use to say to herself, as
she had done at first, that it was nothing, a passing folly, to-morrow
to be numbered among the follies of the past. Now she knew very well
that her life had been disturbed, that the interruption was not a
nothing; that the calm had been broken up, and all her rules displaced.
And all this by no doing of hers, at the caprice of a young man, who
wanted for nothing, to whom, perhaps, it was but one of many diversions!
She was very indignant with him as she gained the refuge of her room;
but milder thoughts came in, relentings, a curious rueful sense of the
interest and variety which he had brought into her monotonous life. She
had been contented after a sort. She had fully adapted herself to her
fate, and learned to think it not an ill fate, better than so many. But
now! And yet there had been a certain pleasure in the disturbance all
Mademoiselle did not see Mrs Wargrave till next day, when she asked to
speak to her, and to that lady's great astonishment put forward a
request for a holiday—leave to go to Paris to see her mother, who was
ailing and wanted her. Mrs Wargrave grew pale with astonishment and
dismay. "A holiday, Mademoiselle! to go to Paris! You could not have
chosen a more inconvenient time. You know we shall be going to the
country in about a month, and how do you suppose I can take the charge
of the children, with all I have to do?"
"I will come back before that time," said Mademoiselle.
"Then it is now directly you want to go? But that is worse and worse,
for I have numbers of engagements; and what is to happen to the girls if
you are away?"
"I am very sorry," said Mademoiselle, "but my mother——"
"Your mother cannot be more important to you than my children are to me.
And you must recollect you have not yet been two years with us,
Mademoiselle. I don't expect any governess to ask for a holiday till
after the second year."
"I am very sorry," said Mademoiselle again; "but it is very important
for me to go away. I—am not well: I must go—I cannot continue now. It
is plus forte que moi."
"Mademoiselle! it is not your mother, it is this business about your
"Not my marriage; I shall never marry."
"Oh, nonsense, nonsense!" cried Mrs Wargrave. "I am sure you want to
have him all the time. It will be too ridiculous if for a set of foolish
romantic scruples you go and throw a good match away."
Mademoiselle made no reply. She stood uneasily moving from one foot to
another, clasping and unclasping her hands. "I must, I must get away,"
she said, quietly, almost under her breath. "It must come to an end. I
can do no good while I am kept in agitation. Ah, Mrs Wargrave, let me
"I wish you would be frank and tell me who he is," said Mrs Wargrave.
"I wish you would let me speak to him. Going away is the very last thing
you ought to do. To throw away a good match at your age, and with your
prospects! I told you before it was criminal, Mademoiselle."
Mademoiselle said something under her breath, in her agitation, which
sounded like "You do not know," and Mrs Wargrave grew angry. "I don't
know? Who knows, then, I wonder? I tell you that for you, in your
position, with your mother to think of, it is simple wickedness. If the
man were an ogre I'd marry him if I were in your position. Goodness,
what have you to do with his family? You make me so impatient I could
shake you. You should marry him, whoever he is, if he can give you a
"If Madame Wargrave could but spare me for a month—for three weeks!"
"I am sure it's not for your own good. You should be proud to stay and
marry him, for your own good. Mademoiselle! I tell you, whoever he is,
if he were an ogre——"
Mademoiselle suddenly laid her hand upon the arm of her patroness. There
was a gleam of desperation in her eyes. "You would not say so were I to
tell you his name."
"I would say so, whatever is his name, for your own good. What is his
They stood looking at each other for a moment, both of them excited, Mrs
Wargrave full of curiosity, and Claire carried away by the passion of
the moment, feeling it the only way to clear herself, to throw off the
shadow of double-dealing which she felt upon her: but the crisis was a
desperate one, and calmed her in spite of herself. She took her hand
from the other's arm. "It is Mr Charles Wargrave," she said.
Mrs Wargrave received the shock in all its force, being wholly
unprepared for it. She was so startled that her sudden movement shook
the very walls. "Mr Charles Wargrave!" she repeated, with a voice of
horror. "It can't—it can't be true! Is it true?"
To this question Mademoiselle did not answer a word.
"Charles Wargrave!" repeated the lady, with a mixture of consternation
and incredulity. "And you're not ashamed to tell me that?" she cried.
"You can stand and look me in the face?"
Claire had not looked her in the face, but at these words she raised her
head and met Mrs Wargrave's angry eyes. She was pale, but she did not
flinch. Now it was all over, she knew. This house, which might have been
more or less hers for five years, the salary which had helped to
maintain her mother, the freedom from care for so long,—all was over!
When she went out of these doors it would be to face the world again, to
find another means of subsistence, to begin anew.
Mrs Wargrave turned and left the room, and Mademoiselle saw nothing of
her till next day, when in the morning, before the lessons had begun,
she was summoned down-stairs. To her surprise she found Mr Leicester
Wargrave, as well as his wife, awaiting her in the room which they
called the library. He was seated at the writing-table with some papers
before him, she standing beside him. With some ceremony a chair was
placed for her, and she was asked to sit down. "We will not detain you
long, Mademoiselle," Mr Wargrave said, clearing his throat; and Mrs
Wargrave, too, coughed and cleared hers before she began.
"Mademoiselle, you will not wonder that I thought it right to consult my
husband about what you said last night. He thinks you must have made a
mistake. His cousin is not at all that kind of man."
Claire's countenance lighted up with sudden indignation. "I have made no
mistake," she said.
"Ladies are apt to think, when a young man is just amusing himself, that
he means something. Anyhow, of course we can't pass it over."
"Pass it over!"
"I mean—that we think your going to Paris a very good plan; and
perhaps, if you could find something there that would suit you, it would
be better for you—to be within reach of your mother."
"You mean that I am not wanted here again?"
"It is not so decided as that. I'm sure we're both very sorry that any
unpleasantness should have arisen, and both Mr Wargrave and I think you
have behaved very well, Mademoiselle. You have nothing to reproach
yourself with, and we'll be delighted to answer any inquiries. But, on
the whole, I think, if you could find something in Paris, or
thereabouts—where you could be nearer your mother—I do think you would
find it—a relief to your mind."
"You are, no doubt, right, Mrs Wargrave," said Mademoiselle, rising from
"Yes, I'm sure I'm right: and Mr Wargrave has written a cheque—for the
difference, you know. And if you would like Sarah to help you with your
boxes—we thought you might, perhaps, like to go by the night train."
It is needless to add that Claire did not say a word in remonstrance or
objection. She was startled and unprepared for such summary measures.
And yet she said to herself that she had fully expected it, and was not
surprised that her employer should take energetic measures to stop such
a mésalliance. A mésalliance! But she reflected with her usual
philosophy that it would be so, that her beau nom meant nothing—less
even in her own country than here. If she had been a man who could
confer that beau nom in return for some romantic nobody's money, then
perhaps there might have been some value in it; but to her, a woman, an
old maid, a governess! She was far too proud to ask for an hour's delay,
even for so much as would enable her to travel by day instead of by
night; yet there was no doubt that it was with a very strange sensation
that she felt herself dismissed from the recognised place in which
yesterday she had expected to remain for years, and facing once more a
blank world, in which she knew not where to go, or what her next
standing-point might be. It is true that she was in no way destitute or
without a refuge. She had her mother's house to go to, the little shabby
apartment in Paris, where she could scarcely hope to be triumphantly
received, seeing that her return meant a diminution of its slender
resources, besides the inference which old Aunt Clotilde at least would
be so ready to draw, that Claire had left her good situation in
disgrace. This suggestion made her blood boil, and it was one which was
inevitable. But still there was nothing hopeless or even terrible in her
position. She was sufficiently well known in the circles where people of
her class are known to have little fear of finding another situation.
And she had already known so many new beginnings that another did not
appal her. No, there was nothing desperate, nothing tragical in her
circumstances. A little additional humiliation, a shock, perhaps a
reproach, but no more. And perhaps it was the best thing that could have
happened. It put a stop summarily to an episode that never would have
come to anything, which was well; surely from any point of view it was
well. When she found herself on the Channel, looking somewhat wistfully
at the clear sky overhead, full of the softness of the summer stars, and
at the dim whiteness of the cliffs she was leaving behind, it is
possible that Claire saw them blurred yet amplified though the medium of
a tear. In front of her the other coast was lost in the distance and
darkness of night, so that while what was past was still clear, what was
future was wholly invisible, which was a perfect symbol of life itself.
She noted the similitude with that love of imagery which is natural to a
soul in trouble, with forlorn interest. How little she had expected last
night to be crossing the Channel thus! how suddenly her existence had
But these are vicissitudes which must occur in the life of a governess,
for whom more than for most human creatures there is no continuing city;
and by the time Mademoiselle had left behind her that dark and mystic
interval of the Channel, with all its suggestions, she had begun to be
able to indulge in a rueful smile at the transformation scene which had
been played for her (doubtful) amusement in her late home in the Square.
Mrs Wargrave's indignation at her fastidious and romantic objection to
marry a man who could make a provision for her turned in a moment into
swift horror and alarm lest such a catastrophe should occur, and the
acknowledgment that Mademoiselle had "behaved very well" in the
reluctance which half an hour before she had denounced as folly! Claire
had known how it would be from the first, and it was an amusing
exhibition of human inconsistency. But yet she was not so much amused
after all. Exhibitions of this kind, perhaps, fail of their effect when
they are too closely connected with ourselves. The spectator must not be
too much involved in them if he would retain his power to smile.
When Charles Wargrave next appeared at the Square he was greeted by his
two small cousins with rapture. They had great news to tell him.
Mademoiselle had gone away. "Oh, Uncle Charles, only think what has
happened!" The information was so unexpected that he was off his guard,
and his consternation was evident. "Mademoiselle de Castel-Sombre!" he
said, in tones of dismay. Mrs Wargrave kept her countenance very well,
and maintained a close watch upon him under her eyelids, without
betraying herself; but Leicester Wargrave, who was at home, as it was
Sunday, was exceedingly uneasy, and hewed away at the roast-mutton
before him, though everybody had been helped, to conceal the agitation
"Oh, you know her name? It is such a funny name, like a name in a novel.
I never could keep it in mind; but, of course, to introduce her to any
one, in her position, it was enough to say Mademoiselle."
"Do you think so? It is scarcely like your usual good breeding," said
Charles, concealing his agitation too as best he could under a tone of
high and somewhat acrid superiority. "And perhaps you don't know that
Castel-Sombre is a historical name, and one of the best in Béarn—which
makes a difference."
"Oh, if you go so far as that," said Mrs Wargrave, with a slight quaver
in her voice. She did not resent what he said; indeed, she felt very
humble before him, and deprecated any argument. "We did not know, of
course, when she came, that she was any one—in particular. I mean, any
one out of the ordinary."
"And has it been long settled that she was to go away?" said Charles
Wargrave in his most formal voice, addressing his cousin grandly from an
eminence: which he had a right to do, as at once a man of fashion and
the principal partner in the firm—a right, however, which he very
"Oh, it was only on Friday," cried Edith; "she never said a word till
"And she went away the same night, oh! in such a hurry," added Dorothy,
breathless to bring forth her part of the news before she could be
frustrated. "She went by the night train."
"After she had that talk in the morning, mother, with you and papa in
the library," Edith burst in.
"Yes, poor thing!" said Mrs Wargrave. "She had told me on Monday night
her mother was ill; and, of course, in the circumstances, I spoke to
Leicester, and we did what we could to make it easier for her."
Leicester paused in his destruction of the leg of mutton at this speech,
and gave his wife an astonished look; but Charles was too much
preoccupied to note these signs of excitement, and he had to defend
himself from observation at the same time.
"That was kind of you," he said, though with a certain haughtiness. He
was angry that they should have given her aid, that she should have
accepted it; but this was a sentiment impossible to express. "Then I
suppose you little ones have holidays now, and no lessons?" he said,
attempting a lighter tone.
"Only till the new governess comes," said Edith; "and oh! mother went
out that very day to ask about another," cried Dorothy, in an aggrieved
"Oh!" he said; "then Mademoiselle de Castel-Sombre is not coming back?"
"She is so anxious about her mother," said Mrs Wargrave, "we
thought—that is, she made up her mind—that it would be better to look
for something in Paris, that she might be near her mother. You know,"
added the lady, seeing a chance of administering a return blow, "her
mother must be quite an old lady, for Mademoiselle herself is far from
Charles Wargrave gave her a keen look. But the pudding had been placed
before her, and she was busy serving it, an occupation quite
inconsistent, surely, with any unkind meaning. Leicester was a great
deal more likely to betray himself, and was indeed very uneasy, looking
and feeling very guilty, wondering how his wife should be able to tell
such lies, yet not venturing to contradict her; for he had been as
strong as she was on the necessity of parting Charlie (if he was really
such a fool) from Mademoiselle.
Little more, however, was said. Charles was so much confused by this
sudden catastrophe that it took him some time to collect his thoughts.
And he felt it quite possible that Claire might have fled from him, and
not by any means the worst omen for his success. If she had fled it was
that she was afraid of yielding. His heart rose as he reflected that, by
going home, she had freed herself from all hindrance to their
intercourse; that he might go and see her without having to watch for an
opportunity; that he might gain partisans in her family, make himself
friends. These reflections cleared his brow, and made this alarming
explanation, which had hung like a thunder-cloud over Mrs Leicester
Wargrave, pass over with more ease than could have been hoped. The pair
exchanged a look of congratulation as they rose from the table. The
danger for the moment was past, or so at least they thought.
"By the way," said Charles, when his cousin and he strolled out into the
garden to smoke the inevitable cigarette, "I suppose you can give me
Mademoiselle de Castel-Sombre's address in Paris?" He took his cigarette
from his mouth and blew away a long pennon of smoke, as if it had been
the most simple question in the world.
"Mademoiselle's address!" said Leicester Wargrave, with open eyes and
"Yes. I've—I've got a book of hers which I should like to send back."
"You'd better send it to my wife," said Leicester. "Women have ways of
managing these things. You had much better send it to my wife."
"Women have ways! One would think it was some mystery you were talking
"I say, Charlie, I'm older than you are, and I've seen more of the
world. Don't you go after that Frenchwoman. They're not to be trusted.
Marry if you like, but marry an English——"
"What are you talking of?" cried Charles, red with wonder and wrath.
"Well, I don't know. Perhaps it's only the silly way women have of
looking at a thing. They said, you know—but I don't generally mind them
for my part.
"I should like very much to know what they said."
Mrs Wargrave was seized with a panic when she saw the two gentlemen
together. She had no confidence in her husband. "He will go and spoil
everything," she said to herself; and the consequence was that she
hurried out to join them, arriving just at this critical point in the
conversation. "What who said?" she asked, lightly. "I believe you are
talking gossip, you two."
"Leicester tells me that somebody, whom he calls the women, have been
talking—apparently about me. I want to know what they said."
"You are a pair of regular old gossips," said the lady, though she grew
a little pale. "They said, and he said, and she said! You need not be
afraid, dear Charlie; nobody says any harm of you."
"It is to be hoped so," he replied, shortly. "Perhaps you will tell me,
Marian, the address of Mademoiselle de Castel-Sombre in Paris; Leicester
does not seem to know."
"Mademoiselle's address!" cried Mrs Leicester, startled like her
"Is there anything so wonderful in my question? I may have something to
send her. I may know some one who wants—her help."
"Dear Charlie," said Mrs Wargrave, "I know you'll think it strange when
I tell you—just as if she had something to conceal!—she left no
He turned upon his cousin, who was gazing at his wife, and caught him
unawares. Seizing his arm: "Is that true?" he said.
"Charlie, don't!" said Leicester Wargrave. "My good fellow, don't do it.
You'll never repent it but once, and that will be all your life."
"What does he mean?" said Charles, turning from the husband to the wife.
"How can I tell what he means?" cried that lady. "You are very uncivil
to ask him if what I say is true. It is perfectly true. He may talk as
much nonsense as he pleases, but it is the plain fact that I don't know
Charles Wargrave looked her in the face sternly. "I do not believe you!"
he said, as if every word had been a stone; and, flinging his cigarette
among the bushes, he turned round and left the garden and the house. It
startled him a little as he went out to receive the same answer from the
butler to whom he repeated his question. "The young lady, sir, went off
in a great hurry. I asked her where I should send her letters, but she
said she expected no letters. And she went off without leaving an
Was it a conspiracy against him, framed by her? or was it some
interference of Marian's? or was it true, which would almost be worst of
It is a bad thing not to leave an address, but it is not such an
effectual shield of privacy as might be wished. What with directories
and other aids, it is very difficult for any one who does not belong to
the hopelessly nomadic portion of the population to conceal their
whereabouts for long. Charles Wargrave had all his wits about him, and
he knew his Paris as well as foreigners ever succeed in knowing that
wonderful city. The result of his investigations was that before a
fortnight had passed he knocked at a door on the second floor of a house
in one of the smaller streets near the Arc de Triomphe, and asked to see
Madame Castel. He was shown into a tiny salon, looking out upon a narrow
court,—a little room full of traces of a larger life, which did not
make it more attractive now, with furniture too large, pictures which
seemed to overshadow its small dimensions like clouds—relics evidently
of a time when the family life was not pinched and restrained as now. A
photograph of Claire was on the mantelpiece among other household
treasures, at sight of which the visitor gave an exclamation of relief:
for, though he had come in so boldly, he had been quite uncertain
whether this was or was not the place he was seeking. He was standing
before the little picture which had given him the welcome assurance that
he was right, when the door opened and an old lady came in. She was, as
Mrs Leicester Wargrave had suggested, quite an old lady, with, a cap
made of black lace covering her rusty grey hair. Keen curiosity and an
almost hunger of earnestness were in her blue eyes, which kept their
colour and brightness, though the countenance was so faded. She had the
air of one who had kept asking, "What is it? what is it?" for weary and
unsatisfied years. She was dressed with that curious neglect which
characterises so many Frenchwomen indoors, in garments indescribably
dingy, of the colour of poverty, a well-ascertained and understood
hue—the same, with variations, which was visible in the carpets and
curtains and all the old furniture—but had so much intelligence in her
face that her age and shabbiness had nothing in them that was
disagreeable. Charles Wargrave made her his bow, like an Englishman,
not like a Frenchman, and the old lady, though her nationality had been
partly washed out by long acquaintance with Parisian shabbiness and
mannerisms and formality, the reverse of the medal of which the brighter
side only is visible to visitors, noted the difference with a favourable
impression. There was a certain witchlike ruggedness in her features and
look which betrayed the old Scotch stock, never uncongenial with the
French, from which she sprang.
"You have a daughter, Madame," said Wargrave, who felt as shy as a
schoolboy before the keen old lady, who measured him from head to foot
with her penetrating eyes.
"Two," she replied, quickly. "That is Claire, at which you are looking;
and that is Leonore, who is away, who is in a situation. My eldest
daughter came home about a fortnight ago. She has gone out to see some
people who put an advertisement in 'Galignani.' Perhaps you wish to see
her—about an engagement?"
"That is exactly what I wish," said Wargrave, with an uneasy smile.
"Ah! will you take a seat? She may come back at any moment; and if I
could in the meantime give you any particulars——"
"Madame de Castel-Sombre——"
"No, no," said the old lady, putting away the double-barrelled name, as
it were, with a wave of her hand. "Plain Castel, if you please; that is
enough for us now."
"Madame," repeated Charles Wargrave, "it is not the kind of engagement
you think of, which I wish to propose to Mademoiselle Claire."
"Ah!" cried the mother with a sudden start; "is it, well—what is it? I
may misunderstand you. Please to speak plainly. You are——?" She gave a
quick glance at his card, which she held in her hand. "It is the same
name as Claire's employers in London. Perhaps I am making a mistake. Is
she called back?"
"The people in London are my relations. I saw your daughter there; you
will not wonder, perhaps, that I admired her, that I did all I could to
make myself known to her—that I loved her."
He made a pause, feeling his story somewhat embarrassing to tell under
the close inspection of the mother's eyes.
"No," she said, after a moment's pause, "I am not surprised. I have
always thought Claire a very interesting woman; but, pardon me, I should
have thought her a little too old for you."
"What does that matter?" he cried, vehemently angry to have this
objection produced against him from the last quarter in the world where
it could have been expected.
"Well, nothing, if you don't think so," said this reasonable old lady.
"I only mentioned it as a fact, you know. I am afraid it will weigh with
"Madame Castel, I have come to throw myself upon your protection. Would
it not be better for Claire to be the mistress of her own house, and
that a good one, to have her own life, and that a prosperous one, even
though weighted with a husband, than to live and work as she is doing
"Perhaps I should think the husband the best part of it," said Madame
Castel. "Your appeal is a little bewildering, seeing that I never saw
you before; but I agree with you, if it is as you say. My protection,
however, is not of much importance. What would you have me to do?"
"Mademoiselle de Castel-Sombre is French, and in France a mother's power
"Ah," said the old lady, shaking her head, "don't flatter yourself. A
mother's power is seldom supreme over a daughter of thirty-five; and,"
she added, "I would gladly secure these good things for my Claire; but
she is more able to judge than I am. Does she know?"
"I have done all I could to make her aware of my respectful devotion,"
said the young man, with a certain formality which came to him in the
air of the unaccustomed foreign place; "but, indeed, I have no reason to
flatter myself. My hope is that the objections which she thought valid
in my cousin's house might not exist here."
"Ah, it was in your cousin's house. Then that explains——" Madame
Castel said. She gave a sigh of relief. "I had been fearing something, I
know not what. She came so suddenly, without any warning but a telegram.
I see it now."
"Mother, what is it you see now?"
Claire came into the room, bringing the air of the morning with her, a
fresh waft of outdoor atmosphere. She was not the Mademoiselle of the
Square. There was a freedom in her movements—the freedom of a woman at
home—not the enforced sobriety of an official. Her look was alert and
bright; she had found pleasure in her native air, in the surroundings
she loved: and yet there was a line of anxiety in her forehead. She was
emancipated for the moment, and keenly felt the warm thrill of
independence; but she was anxious for her future, and that of her
mother, and full of care. Pleased, yet anxious and full of care—it
seemed a contradiction in words—and yet Charles Wargrave saw all that,
and read more, written in her face. She had not seen him as he sat
within the shadow of the door, and, he thought, he had never seen her
before, free to express any emotion, free to come and go as she pleased,
carrying her heart in her face.
"I have not been successful," she said. "Never mind; better luck will
come to-morrow. They say I am quite sure to hear of something
before——Mr Wargrave!" she cried, with a sudden step back. The blood
rushed to her face and then forsook it. Her brow clouded, her
"Yes, Mademoiselle Claire." He had risen to his feet, and stood before
her with a painful, whimsical consciousness that he could not bow like a
Frenchman, which, perhaps, was the sort of thing to please her, shooting
through his mind even in the excitement of the moment, and all the eager
rush of feeling roused by seeing her again in this new phase.
Claire was too much startled to know what she was saying. A flood of
strange feelings seemed to carry her away. Her head, which she had
carried with such airy grace, drooped; something seemed to dazzle her
eyes. "I did not expect," she said, faltering, "to see you here."
"I have come—to seek the protection of your mother," he said. It was
said in English, but the meaning was French. And there was something so
strange in the idea of Madame Castel's protection—the shabby, eager,
old lady—extended to this young man, who had everything that life could
bestow, that Claire, after a hard effort to restrain herself, and with
something hysterical climbing in her throat, suddenly broke the
embarrassment of the situation by the most inappropriate thing in the
world—a burst of unsteady laughter, which returned again and again, and
would not be quieted. "My mother's protection!"
It was the ridiculous which follows so close upon the heels of the
sublime. But though she laughed, Claire foresaw how it would be: Madame
Castel's protection threw such a weight into the scales on Charles
Wargrave's side that there was scarcely anything more to say. He was not
sent away again. He remained, and found the little shabby apartment
divine. It was his turn to laugh when they compared notes and found that
even the obstacle of age meant nothing more than a few days. And thus
this little drama, so exciting while it lasted, came to a speedy and
satisfactory end. It is the penalty of a happy dénoûment that it is
not half so interesting as the painful steps that sometimes lead to it;
and Claire, in all the brilliancy of her late but perfect good fortune,
was too happy to mind or to attract that sympathy which attended
The Leicester Wargraves found it a bitter experience when Mademoiselle
returned as Madame, with a finer house, finer carriages, more social
honours, than themselves. They said everything which she had herself
predicted to Mrs Wargrave that they would say, calling her a designing
woman, an artful adventuress, and half-a-dozen slanders more. But if
anybody was harmed by their proceedings it was themselves, and not