Mademoiselle by Mrs. Margaret Oliphant

CHAPTER I.

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 us here."

"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.

CHAPTER II.

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 book.

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 himself.

"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 seriously——"

"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 ridiculous way——"

"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 better go."

"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!

CHAPTER III.

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 down-stairs."

"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 dressing-gown again.

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 fault.

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 walls.

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 old-fashioned poetry—

"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 day."

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.

CHAPTER IV.

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 imperturbable airs!

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 is allright."

"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 beau nom?"

"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 two——"

"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 practical——"

"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 unconscious exclamation.

"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."

"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 the year."

"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?

CHAPTER V.

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 follows:—

"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 only,

"C. W."

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 toujours,—Votre obligée,

"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.

CHAPTER VI.

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 Mademoiselle.

"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 to speak."

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, my dear."

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 same."

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 interpose."

"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 man away."

"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!

CHAPTER VII.

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 tea."

Mademoiselle once more was silent. If she had combated the assumption of that when, it might have reopened the whole discussion, she said to herself.

"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 of that."

"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 repel."

"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 his gardener."

"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 woman?"

"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 his own."

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 the same.

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 marriage."

"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 go."

"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 good home."

"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 name?"

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 her chair.

"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."

CHAPTER VIII.

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 changed!

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 he felt.

"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 seldom exercised.

"Oh, it was only on Friday," cried Edith; "she never said a word till then."

"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 tone.

"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 young."

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 mouth.

"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 of."

"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 husband.

"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 address."

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 Mademoiselle's address."

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 address."

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 all?

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 Claire herself."

"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 now?"

"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 is supreme."

"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 countenance fell.

"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 Mademoiselle.

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 Claire.