THE pictures come back fast and thick upon my mind. I suppose every life, even the quietest, has its picture-book, its record of some one time that seems filled with beauty or joy as a cup that brims over. Every one, perhaps, could write his own fairy story; this is mine.
The next day Yvon had a thousand things to show me. The ladies sat in their own room in the morning, and the rest of the castle was our own. It amazed me, being a great building, and the first of the kind I had seen. Terraces of stone ran about the house, except on the side of the courtyard, and these were set with flowering shrubs in great stone pots, that would take two men to lift. Beyond the terraces the ground fell away in soft banks and hollows to where I heard a brook running through a wood-piece. Inside, the rooms, very lofty and spacious, were dark to my eyes, partly from the smallness of the windows, partly from the dark carved wood that was everywhere, on floor and walls and ceilings. I could never be at home, I thought, in such a place; though I never found elsewhere such a fine quality of floor; smooth in the perfect degree, yet not too slippery for firm treading, and springing to the foot in a way that was next to dance music for suggestion. I said as much to Yvon, and he caught the idea flying, as was his way, and ran to bring his sister, bidding me get my fiddle on the instant. We were in a long hall, rather narrow, but with excellent space for a few couples, let alone one. Mlle. de Ste. Valerie came running, her hand in her brother's, a little out of breath from his suddenness, and in the prettiest morning dress of blue muslin. I played my best waltz, and the two waltzed. This is one of the brightest pictures in my book, Melody. The young lady had perfect grace of motion, and had been well taught; I knew less about the matter than I do now, but still enough to recognise fine dancing when I saw it; her brother was a partner worthy of her. I have seldom had more pure pleasure in playing dance music, and I should have been willing it had lasted all day; but it was not long before a sour-faced maid came and said my Lady had sent her to say mademoiselle should be at her studies; and she ran away laughing, yet sorry to go, and dropped a little running curtsey at the door, very graceful, such as I have never seen another person make.
The room was darker when she was gone; but Yvon cried to me I must see the armory, and the chapel, and a hundred other sights. I followed him like a child, my eyes very round, I doubt not, and staring with all my might. The armory was another of the long halls or corridors that ran along the sides of the courtyard. Here were weapons of all kinds, but chiefly swords; swords of every possible make and size, some of great beauty, others clumsy enough, that looked as if bears should handle them. I had never held a sword in my hand,—how should I?—but Yvon vowed I must learn to fence, and told some story of an ancestor of mine who was the best swordsman in the country, and kept all comers at bay in some old fight long ago. I took the long bit of springy steel, and found it extraordinary comfortable to the hand. Practice with the fiddle-bow since early childhood gave, I may suppose, strength and quickness to the turn of my wrist; however it was, the marquis cried out that I was born for the sword; and in a few minutes again cried to know who had taught me tricks of fence. Honesty knows, I had had no teaching; only my eye caught his own motions, and my hand and wrist answered instantly, being trained to ready obedience. I felt a singular joy in this exercise, Melody. In grace and dexterity it equals the violin; with this difference, which keeps the two the width of the world apart, that the one breeds trouble and strife, while the other may, under Providence, soothe human ills more than any other one thing, save the kindly sound of the human voice.
Make the best defence I could, it was not long before Yvon sent my foil flying from my hand; but still he professed amazement at my ready mastering of the art, and I felt truly that it was natural to me, and that with a few trials I might do as well as he.
Next I must see the chapel, very ancient, but kept smart with candles and crimson velvet cushions. I could not warm to this, feeling the four plain walls of a meeting-house the only thing that could enclose my religious feelings with any comfort; and these not to compare with a free hillside, or the trees of a wood when the wind moves in them. And then we went to the stables, and the gardens, laid out very stately, and his sister's own rose garden, the pleasantest place in the whole, or so I thought.
So with one thing and another, it was late afternoon before Yvon remembered that I must not sleep again without visiting my own tower, as he would call it; and for this, the young lady had leave to go with us. It was a short walk, not more than half a mile, and in a few minutes we were looking up at the tower, that seemed older and sadder by day than it had done in the evening dimness. It stood alone. The body of what had been behind and beside it was gone, but we could trace the lines of a large building, the foundations still remaining; and here and there were piles of cut stone, the same stone as that in the tower. Yvon told me that ever since the castle had begun to fall into decay (being long deserted), the country people around had been in the habit of mending their houses, and building them indeed, often, from the stone of the old chateau. He pointed to one cottage and another, standing around at little distance. "They are dogs," he cried, "that have each a bit of the lion's skin. Ah, Jacques! but for my father of blessed memory, thy tower would have gone in the same way. He vowed, when he came of age, that this desecration should go no further. He brought the priest, and together they laid a fine curse upon whoever should move another stone from the ruins, or lay hands on La Tour D'Arthenay. Since then, no man touches this stone. It remains, as you see. It has waited till this day, for thee, its propriety."
He had not quite the right word, Melody, but I had not the heart to correct him, being more moved by the thing than I could show reason for. Inside the tower there was a stone staircase, that went steeply up one side, or rather the front it was, for from it we could step across to a wide stone shelf that stood out under the round window. It might have been part of a great chimney-piece, such as there still were in Chateau Claire. The ivy had reached in through the empty round, and covered this stone with a thick mat, more black than green. Though ready enough to step on this myself, I could not think it fit for Mlle. de Ste. Valerie, and took the liberty to say so; but she laughed, and told me she had climbed to this perch a hundred times. She was light as a leaf, and when I saw her set her foot in her brother's hand and spring across the empty space from the stair to the shelf, it seemed no less than if a wind had blown her. Soon we were all three crouching or kneeling on the stone, with our elbows in the curve of the great window, looking out on the prospect. A fair one it was, of fields and vineyards, with streams winding about, but very small. They spoke of rivers, but I saw none. It was the same with the hills, which Yvon bade me see here and there; little risings, that would not check the breath in a running man. For all that, the country was a fine country, and I praised it honestly, though knowing in my heart that it was but a poor patch beside our own. I was thinking this, when the young lady turned to me, and asked, in her gracious way, would I be coming back, I and my people, to rebuild Chateau D'Arthenay?
"It was the finest in the county, so the old books say!" she told me. "There was a hall for dancing, a hundred feet long, and once the Sieur D'Arthenay gave a ball for the king, Henri Quatre it was, and the hall was lighted with a thousand tapers of rose-coloured wax, set in silver sconces. How that must have been pretty, M. D'Arthenay!"
I thought of our kitchen at home, and the glass lamps that Mere-Marie kept shining with such care; but before I could speak, Yvon broke in. "He shall come! I tell him he shall come, Valerie! All my life I perish, thou knowest it, for a companion of my sex, of my age. Thou art my angel, Valerie, but thou art a woman, and soon, too, thou wilt leave me. Alone, a hermit in my chateau, my heart desolate, how to support life? It is for this that I cry to the friend of my house to return to his country, the country of his race; to bring here his respected father, to plant a vineyard, a little corn, a little fruit,—briefly, to live. Observe!" Instantly his hands fluttered out, pointing here and there.
"Jacques, observe, I implore you! This tower; it is now uninhabited, is it not? you can answer me that, though you have been here but a day."
As he waited for an answer, I replied that it certainly was vacant, so far as I could see; except that there must be bats and owls, I thought, in the thickness of the ivy trees.
"Perfectly! Except for these animals, there is none to dispute your entrance. The tower is solid,—of a solidity! Cannon must be brought, to batter down these walls. Instead of battering, we restore, we construct. With these brave walls to keep out the cold, you construct within—a dwelling! vast, I do not say; palatial, I do not say; but ample for two persons, who—who have lived together, a deux, not requiring separate suites of apartments." He waved his hand in such a manner that I saw long sets of rooms opening one after another, till the eye was lost in them.
"Here, where we now are posed, is your own room, Jacques. For you this view of Paradise. Monsieur your father will not so readily mount the stairs, becoming in future years infirm, though now a tree, an oak, massive and erect. We build for the future, D'Arthenay! Below, then, the paternal apartments, the salon, perhaps a small room for guns and dogs and appliances." Another wave set off a square space, where we could almost see the dogs leaping and crouching.
"Behind again, the kitchens, offices, what you will. A few of these stones transported, erected; glass, carpets, a fireplace,—the place lives in my eyes, Jacques! Let us return to the chateau, that I set all on paper. You forget that I study architecture, that I am a drawsman, hein? Ten minutes, a sheet of drawing-paper,—pff! Chateau D'Arthenay lives before you, ready for habitation on the instant."
I saw it all, Melody; I saw it all! Sometimes I see it now, in an old man's dream. Now, of course, it is wild and misty as a morning fog curling off the hills; but then, it seemed hardly out of reach for the moment. Listening to my friend's eager voice, and watching his glowing face, there came to life in me more and more strongly the part that answered to him. I also was young; I also had the warm French blood burning in me. In height, in strength, perhaps even in looks, I was not his inferior; he was noble, and my fathers had stood beside his in battle, hundreds of times.
I felt in a kind of fire, and courted the heat even while it burned me. I answered Yvon, laughing, and said surely I would have no other architect for my castle. Mlle. de Ste. Valerie joined in, and told me where I should buy carpets, and what flowers I should plant in my garden.
"Roses, M. D'Arthenay!" she cried. "Roses are the best, for the masses. A few gillyflowers I advise, they are so sweet; and plenty of lilies, the white and yellow. Oh! I have a lily with brown stripes, the most beautiful! you shall have a bulb of it; I will start it for you myself, in a stone pot. You must have a little conservatory, too, for winter plants; one cannot live without flowers, even in winter. All winter, when no longer many flowers bloom out-of-doors, though always some, always my hardy roses, then I live half my day in the conservatory. You shall have some of my flowers; oh, yes, I can spare you plenty."
She was so like her brother! There was the same pretty eagerness, the same fire of kindliness and good will, hurrying both along to say they knew not what. I could only thank her; and the very beauty and sweetness of her struck all at once a sadness on my merriment; and I saw for a moment that this was all a fleeting wreath of fog, as I said; yet all the more for that strove to grasp it and hold it fast.
The sun went down behind the low hills, and the young lady cried that she must hasten home; her aunt would be vexed at her for staying so long. Yvon said, his faith, she might be vexed. If Mlle. de Ste. Valerie might not go out with her brother, the head of her house and her natural guardian, he knew not with whom she might go; and muttered under his breath something I did not hear. So we went back to the chateau, and still I was in the bright dream, shutting my eyes when it seemed like to break away from me. The evening was bright and joyous, like the one before. Again we three supped alone, and it seemed this was the custom, the Countess Lalange (it was the name of the aunt) seldom leaving her own salon, save to pass to her private apartments beyond it. We spent an hour there,—in her salon, that is,—after supper, and I must bring my violin, but not for dance music this time. I played all the sweetest and softest things I knew; and now and then the young lady would clap her hands, when I played one of my mother's songs, and say that her nurse had sung it to her, and how did I learn it, in America? They were the peasant songs, she said, the sweetest in the world. The lady aunt listened patiently, but I think she had no music in her; only once she asked if I had no sacred music; and when I played our psalm-tunes, she thought them not the thing at all. But last of all, when it was time for us to go away, I played lightly, and as well as I knew how to play, my mother's favourite song, that was my own also; and at this, the young girl's head drooped, and her eyes filled with tears. Her mother, too, had sung it! How many other mothers, I ask myself sometimes, how many hearts, sad and joyful, have answered to those notes, the sweetest, the tenderest in the world?
"Il y a longtemps que je t'aime; Jamais je ne t'oublierai!"
THIS was one day of many, my dear. They came and went, and I thought each one brighter than the last. When I had been a month at Chateau Claire, I could hardly believe it more than a week, so quickly and lightly the time went. The mornings, two children at play; the afternoons, three. I suppose it was because the brother and sister were so strangely like each other, that I grew so soon to feel Mlle. Valerie as my friend; and she, sweet soul, took me at Yvon's word, and thought me, perhaps, a fine fellow, and like her own people. That she never fully learned the difference is one of the many things for which I have to thank a gracious God.
Abby Rock told me, Melody,—in after-times, when we were much together,—how my poor father, at sight of my mother Marie, was struck with love as by a lightning-flash. It was a possession, she would say, only by an angel instead of an evil spirit; at the first look, she filled his life, and while she lived he wanted nothing else, nor indeed after she died. It was not so with me. And perhaps it might seem strange to some, my dear child, that I write this story of my heart for you, who are still a slip of a growing girl, and far yet from womanhood and the thoughts that come with it. But it may be some years before the paper comes to you, for except my poor father, we are a long-lived race; and I find singular comfort, now that I cannot keep myself exercised as much as formerly, by reason of growing years, in this writing. And I trust to say nothing that you may not with propriety hear, my dear.
When I had been a month at Chateau Claire, then, a new thing began to come slowly upon me. From the first I had felt that this young lady was the fairest and the sweetest creature my eyes had seen; like a drop of morning dew on a rose, nothing less. I dwelt upon the grace of her motions, and the way the colour melted in her cheek, as I would dwell upon the fairest picture; and I listened to her voice because it was sweeter than my violin, or even the note of the hermit-thrush. But slowly I became aware of a change; and instead of merely the pleasure of eye and ear, and the warmth at the heart that comes from true kindliness and friendship, there would fall a trembling on me when she came or went, and a sense of the room being empty when she was not in it. When she was by, I wanted nothing more, or so it seemed, but just the knowledge of it, and did not even need to look at her to see how the light took her hair where it waved above her ear. This I take to have been partly because the feeling that was growing up in me came not from her beauty, or in small part only from that, but rather from my learning the truth and purity and nobleness of her nature; and this knowledge did not require the pleasure of the eyes. I thought no harm of all this; I took the joy as part of all the new world that was so bright about me; if voices spoke low within me, telling of the other life overseas, which was my own, while this was but a fairy dream,—I would not listen, or bade my heart speak louder and drown them. My mind had little, or say rather, my reason had little to do in those days; till it woke with a start, if I may say so, one night. It was a July night, hot and close. We were all sitting on the stone terrace for coolness, though there was little enough anywhere. I had been playing, and we had all three sung, as we loved to do. There was a song of a maiden who fell asleep by the wayside, and three knights came riding by,—a pretty song it was, and sung in three parts, the treble carrying the air, the tenor high above it, and the bass making the accompaniment.
"Le premier qui passa,— The first who rode along,— 'Voila une endormie!' "Behold! a sleeping maid."
"Le deuxieme qui passa,— The next who rode along,— 'Elle est encore jolie!' "She's fair enough!" he said.
"Le troisieme qui passa, The third who rode along,— 'Elle sera ma mie!' "My sweetheart she shall be!"
"La prit et l'emporta, He's borne her far away, Sur son cheval d'Hongrie." On his steed of Hungary.
I was thinking, I remember, how fine it would be to be a knight on a horse of Hungary (though I am not aware that the horses of that country are finer than elsewhere, except in songs), and to stoop down beside the road and catch up the sleeping maiden,—and I knew how she would be looking as she slept,—and ride away with her no one could tell where, into some land of gold and flowers.
I was thinking this in a cloudy sort of way, while Yvon had run into the house to bring something,—some piece of music that I must study, out of the stores of ancient music they had. There was a small table standing on the terrace, near where we were sitting, and on it a silver candlestick, with candles lighted.
Mlle. Valerie was standing near this, and I again near her, both admiring the moon, which was extraordinary bright and clear in a light blue sky. The light flooded the terrace so, I think we both forgot the poor little candles, with their dull yellow gleam. However it was, the young lady stepped back a pace, and her muslin cape, very light, and fluttering with ruffles and lace, was in the candle, and ablaze in a moment. I heard her cry, and saw the flame spring up around her; but it was only a breath before I had the thing torn off, and was crushing it together in my hands, and next trampling it under foot, treading out the sparks, till it was naught but black tinder. A pretty cape it was, and a sin to see it so destroyed. But I was not thinking of the cape then. I had only eyes for the young lady herself; and when I saw her untouched, save for the end of her curls singed, but pale and frightened, and crying out that I was killed, there came a mist, it seemed, before my face, and I dropped on the stone rail, and laughed.
"You are not burned, mademoiselle?"
"I? no, sir! I am not touched; but you—you? oh, your hands! You took it in your hands, and they are destroyed! What shall I do?" Before I could move she had caught my two hands in hers, and turned the palms up. Indeed, they were only scorched, not burned deep, though they stung smartly enough; but black they were, and the skin beginning to puff into blisters. But now came the tap of a stick on the stone, and Mme. de Lalange came hobbling out. "What is this?" she cried, seeing me standing so, pale, it may be, with the young lady holding my blackened hands still in hers.
"What is the meaning of this scene?"
"Its meaning?" cried Mlle. Valerie; and it was Yvon's self that flashed upon her aunt.
"The meaning is that this gentleman has saved my life. Yes, my aunt! Look as you please; if he had not been here, and a hero,—a hero,—I should be devoured by the flames. Look!" and she pointed to the fragments of muslin, which were floating off in black rags. "He caught it from me, when I was in flames. He crushed it in his hands,—these poor hands, which are destroyed, I tell you, with pain. What shall we do,—what can we ever do, to thank him?"
The old lady looked from one to the other; her face was grim enough, but her words were courteous.
"We are grateful, indeed, to monsieur!" she said. "The only thing we can do for him, my niece, is to bind his hands with soothing ointment; I will attend to this matter myself. You are agitated, Valerie, and I advise you to go to your own room, and let Felice bring you a potion. If M. D'Arthenay will follow me into my salon, I will see to these injured hands."
How a cold touch can take the colour out of life. An instant before I was a hero, not in my own eyes, but surely in those tender blue ones that now shone through angry tears, and—I knew not what sweet folly was springing up in me while she held my hands in hers. Now, I was only a young man with dirty and blackened fingers, standing in a constrained position, and, I make no doubt, looking a great fool. The young lady vanished, and I followed madame into the little room. I am bound to say that she treated my scorched hands with perfect skill.
When Yvon came rushing in a few minutes later,—he had heard the story from his sister, and was for falling on my neck, and calling me his brother, the saviour of his cherished sister,—I know not what wild nonsense,—Mme. de Lalange cut his expressions short. "M. le Marquis," she said, and she put a curious emphasis on the title, I thought; "M. le Marquis, it will be well, believe me, for you to leave this gentleman with me for a short time. He has suffered a shock, more violent than he yet realises. His hands are painfully burned, yet I hope to relieve his sufferings in a few minutes. I suggest that you retire to your own apartments, where M. D'Arthenay will join you, say in half an hour."
Generally, Yvon paid little heed to his aunt, rather taking pleasure in thwarting her, which was wrong, no doubt, yet her aspect invited it; but on this occasion, she daunted us both. There was a weight in her words, a command in her voice, which I, for one, was not inclined at that moment to dispute; and Yvon, after an angry stare, and a few muttered words of protest, went away, only charging me to be with him within the half-hour.
Left alone with the ancient lady, there was silence for a time. I could not think what she wanted with me; she had shown no love for my society since I had been in the house. I waited, thinking it the part of courtesy to let her begin the conversation, if she desired any.
Presently she began to talk, in a pleasanter strain than I had yet heard her use. Was the pain less severe? she asked; and now she changed the linen cloths dipped in something cool and fragrant, infinitely soothing to the irritated skin. I must have been very quick, to prevent further mischief; in truth, it was a great debt they owed me, and she, I must believe her, shared the gratitude of her niece and nephew, even though her feelings were less vivaciously expressed.
I told her it was nothing, and less than nothing, that I had done, and I thought there had been far too much said about it already. I was deeply thankful that no harm had come to Mlle. de Ste. Valerie, but I could claim no merit, beyond that of having my eyes open, and my wits about me.
She bowed in assent. "Your wits about you!" she said. "But that in itself is no small matter, M. D'Arthenay, I assure you. It is not every young man who can say as much. Your eyes open, and your wits about you? You are fortunate, believe me."
Her tone was so strange, I knew not what reply to make, if any; again I waited her lead.
"The young people with whom I have to do are so widely different from this!" she said, presently. "Hearts of gold, heads of feather! you must have observed this, M. D'Arthenay."
I replied with some warmth that I had recognised the gold, but not the other quality. She smiled, a smile that had no more warmth in it than February sunshine on an icicle.
"You are modest!" she said. "I give you credit for more discernment than you admit. Confess that you think our marquis needs a stronger head beside him, to aid in his affairs."
I had thought this, but I conceived it no part of my duty to say as much. I was silent, therefore, and looked at her, wondering.
"Confess," she went on, "that you saw as much, when he came to your estate—of which the title escapes me—in North America; that you thought it might be well for him to have a companion, an adviser, with more definite ideas of life; well for him, and possibly—incidentally, of course—for the companion?"
"Madam!" I said. I could say no more, being confounded past the point of speech.
"It is because of this friendly interest in my nephew," the lady went on, taking no notice of my exclamation. "In my nephew, that I think to give you pleasure by announcing a visit that we are shortly to receive. A guest is expected at Chateau Claire in a few days; in fact, the day after to-morrow. My nephew has doubtless spoken to you of the Vicomte de Crecy?"
I said no, I had heard of no such person.
"Not heard of him? Unpardonable remissness in Yvon! Not heard of the vicomte? Of the future husband of Mlle. de Ste. Valerie?"
I took the blow full and fair, my dear. I think my father in me kept me from flinching; but I may have turned white as I saw myself an hour after; for after one glance the woman turned her eyes away, and looked at me no more as she spoke on. "It seems hardly credible that even my nephew's featherpate should have kept you a month in ignorance of what so nearly concerns his sister and our whole family. The vicomte is a charming man, of high polish and noble descent. His estate adjoins ours on the south. The match was made by my late brother, the father of Yvon and Valerie, shortly before his death. It had been his cherished plan for years, ever since Providence removed the vicomtesse to a better world than this; but Valerie was very young. The matter was arranged while she was still in the convent, and since then the vicomte has been travelling, in Russia, India, the world over, and is but just returned. The betrothal will be solemnised, now, in a few days."
I feared to speak at the moment. I snuffed the candle, and, finding my hand steady, tried my voice, which had a good strength, though the sound of it was strange to me.
"Do they—does she know?" I asked.
The lady cleared her throat, and looked—or I fancied it—a trifle confused. "I have not yet told my niece and nephew. I—the letter came but this evening. There was a letter also for you, M. D'Arthenay; I ordered it sent to your room. I think your hands will do well now, and I need no longer detain you from your friend."
I stood up before her.
"Madam," I said, "permit me a word. I have to thank you for your kindness, and for the hospitality which I have received under this kindly roof, whether it were with your will or not. For Mlle. de Ste. Valerie, I wish her all joy that earthly life can know. If her—if her husband be one half so noble as herself, she cannot fail of happiness. It is only a princely nature that should be matched with the purity of an angel and the goodness of a saint. For myself"—I paused a moment, finding myself short of breath; but my strength was come back to me. I sought her eye and held it, forcing her to look at me against her will. "For myself, I am no noble, though there is good blood in my veins. I am a plain man, the son of a peasant. But God, madam, who sees your heart and mine, created, I make bold to remind you, both noble and peasant; and as that God is above us, you have done bitter wrong to an honest man. There is no heart of a woman in you, or I would commend to it that fair young creature, who will need, I think, a woman's tenderness. I thank you again for your assistance, and I take my leave. And I pray you to remember that, whatever the D'Arthenays may have been in France, in my country, in America, madam, they pass for men of honour!"
I bowed, and left her; and now, methought, it was she who was white, and I thought there was fear in her eyes when she dropped them. But I turned away, and, passing Yvon's door, went to my own room.
THE shock of my awakening was so violent, the downfall of my air-castles so sudden and complete, that I think for awhile I had little sense of what was going on. Yvon came to my door and knocked, and then called; but I made no answer, and he went away, thinking, I suppose, that I had forgotten him, and gone to bed. I sat on the side of my bed, where I had thrown myself, great part of that night; and there was no thought of sleep in me. My folly loomed large before me; I sat and looked it in the face. And sometimes, for a few moments, it would not seem altogether folly. I felt my youth and strength in every limb of me, and I thought, what could not love do that was as strong as mine? for now I knew that all these quiet weeks it had been growing to full stature, and that neither gratitude nor friendship had any considerable part in my feeling, but here was the one woman in the world for me. And would it be so hard, I asked, to take her away from all this, and make a home for her in my own good country, where she should be free and happy as a bird, with no hateful watchers about her path? And would she not love the newness, and the greatness and beauty of it all, and the homely friends whom her brother so truly loved? Could I not say to her, "Come!" and would she not come with me?
Ah! would she not? And with that there fell from my eyes as it were scales,—even like the Apostle Paul, with reverence be it said,—and I saw the thing in its true light. My heart said she would come; had not her eyes answered mine last night? Was there not for her, too, an awakening? And if she came,—what then?
I saw her, the delicate lady, in my father's house; not a guest, as Yvon had been, but a dweller, the wife and daughter of the house, the wife of a poor man. I remembered all the work that my mother Marie had done so joyfully, so easily, because she was a working-woman, and these were the things she had known all her life. This form of grace that filled my eyes now was no lighter nor more graceful than hers; but the difference! My mother's little brown hands could do any work that they had strength for, and make it a woman's work in the doing, because she was pure woman in herself; but these white fingers that had caught mine last night,—what could they do? What ought they to do, save work delicately with the needle, and make cordials and sweets (for in this my young lady excelled), and beyond these matters, to play the harp and guitar, and tend her roses, and adorn her own lovely person?
"But," cried the other voice in me, "I am young and strong, and I can work! I can study the violin, I can become a musician, can earn my bread and hers, so that there will be no need of the farm. It would be a few years of study, a few years of waiting,—and she is so young!"
Ah, yes! she was so young! and then that voice died away, and knew that it had no more to say. What—what was this, to think of urging a young girl, still almost a child, to give up the station of life in which she had lived happy and joyous, and go away with a stranger, far from her own home and her own people, to share a struggling life, with no certain assurance of anything, save love alone? What was this but a baseness, of which no honest man could be capable? If,—if even I had read her glance aright,—last night,—or was it a year ago? Still, it was but a thing of a moment, the light springing up of a tiny fire of good will, that would die out in a few days after I was gone, for want of fuel; even if it were not snatched out strongly by other hands, as I had put out those climbing flames last night. How her startled eyes sought mine! How the colour flashed into her face when I spoke. No! no! Of that I must not think, if my manhood was to stay in me!
This other, then, who was coming,—this man would turn her thoughts. She would yield, as is the custom for young maidens in France, with no thought that it might be otherwise. He was no longer young,—he had already been once married,—I looked up at this moment, I do not know by what chance, and my eyes fell on a long glass, what they call a cheval-glass in France, my dear, showing the whole figure. I think no harm, seeing this was so long ago, in saying that I appeared to advantage in such a view, being well-made, and perhaps not without other good points. This will seem strangely trifling to you, my child, who see nothing but the soul of man or woman; but I have always loved a good figure, and never felt shame to thank God for giving me one. My clothes were good, having been bought in Paris as we came through. I have never made any claim to pass for a gentleman, Melody, but yet I think I made a fair enough show of one, that night at least. And being so constituted, I sat staring at my image in the mirror, and wondering like a fool if the other man were as good-looking. This would be like a slight crust of contentment,—sad enough at that,—forming for a moment over the black depth of sorrow that was my heart; and next moment the pain would stab through it again, till I could have cried out but for the shame of it; and so the night wore by, and the morning found me still there. I had learned little, save the one thing that was all the world,—that I could not commit a baseness.
It was strange to me, coming down to breakfast, to find Yvon unchanged, his own gay self simply. I was grown suddenly so old, he seemed no more than a child to me, with his bits of song that yesterday I had joined in with a light heart, and his plans for another day of pleasure, like yesterday and all the days. Looking at him, I could have laughed, had there been any laughter in me, at the thought of his aunt that I had come over with a view to bettering myself at his expense. It seemed a thing of so little moment; I had half a mind to tell him, but held my peace, wishing her really no evil, since what she had done had been through love and care for her own. There might be such men as she had thought me; I have since found that there are indeed.
Yvon was full of plans; we were to ride this afternoon, to such and such a place; it was the finest view in the country, there was nothing to approach it. Pierre should drive over and meet us there, with peaches, and cream, and cakes, and we would sup, we three together, and come home by moonlight. It would be the very thing! if I really could hold the bridle? it was the very thing to remove the recollection of last night from his sister's mind, impressionable, as youth always is. (He said this, Melody, with an air of seventy years, and wisdom ineffable, that was comical enough.) "From my own mind," he cried, "never shall the impression be effaced. Thy heroism, my Jacques, shall be inscribed in the annals of our houses. To save the life of a Demoiselle de Ste. Valerie is claim sufficient for undying remembrance; to save the life of my sister, my Valerie,—and you her saviour, the friend of my heart,—the combination is perfect; it is ideal. I shall compose a poem, Jacques; I have already begun it. 'Ciel d'argent—' you shall hear it when it has progressed a little farther; at present it is in embryo merely."
He sent for his sister, that they might arrange their plans before she passed to her lessons, which were strictly kept up. She came, and my heart spoke loud, telling me that all my vigil had brought to me was true, and that I must begone. There was a new softness in her sweet eyes, a tone in her voice,—oh, it was always kind,—but now a tenderness that I must not hear. She would see my hands; could not believe that I was not seriously wounded; vowed that her aunt was a magician; "though I prayed long, long, last night, monsieur, that the wounds might heal quickly. They are really—no! look, Yvon! look! these terrible blisters! but, they are frightful, M. D'Arthenay. You—surely you should not have left your room, in this condition?"
Not only this, I assured her, but I was so entirely well that I hoped to ride with them this afternoon, if the matter could be arranged. She listened with delight while Yvon detailed his plan; presently her face fell a little.
"Walk back!" she said. "Yes, Yvon, what could be more delightful? but when I tell you that the sole is sprung from my walking-shoe, and it must go to the village to be mended! How can I get it back in time?"
A thought came to me. "If mademoiselle would let me see the shoe?" I said. "Perhaps I can arrange it for her." Yvon frowned and pshawed; he did not like any mention of my shoemaking; this was from no unworthy feeling, but because he thought the trade unsuited to me. I, however, repeated my request, and, greatly wondering, the young lady sent a servant for the shoe. I took it in my hand with pleasure; it was not only beautiful, but well made. "Here is an easy matter!" I said, smiling. "Will mademoiselle see how they mend shoes in my country?" A hammer was soon found, and sitting down on a low bench, I tapped away, and soon had the pretty thing in order again. Mademoiselle Valerie cried out upon my cleverness. "But, you can then do anything you choose, monsieur?" she said. "To play the violin, to save a life, to mend a shoe,—do they teach all these things in your country? and to what wonderful school did you go?"
I said, to none more wonderful than a village school; and that this I had indeed learned well, but on the cobbler's bench. "Surely Yvon has told you, mademoiselle, of our good shoemaker, and how he taught me his trade, that I might practise it at times when there is no fiddling needed?" I spoke cheerfully, but let it be seen that I was not in jest. A little pale, she looked from one of us to the other, not understanding.
"All nonsense, Valerie!" cried Yvon, forcing a laugh. "Jacques learned shoemaking, as he would learn anything, for the sake of knowledge. He may even have practised it here and there, among his neighbours; why not? I have often wished I could set a stitch, in time of need, as he has done to-day. But to remain at this trade,—it is stuff that he talks; he does not know his own nature, his own descent, when he permits himself to think of such a thing. Fie, M. D'Arthenay!"
"No more of that!" I said. "The play is over, mon cher! M. D'Arthenay is a figure of your kind, romantic heart, Yvon. Plain Jacques De Arthenay, farmer's son, fiddler, and cobbler, stands from this moment on his own feet, not those of his grandfather four times back."
I did not look at my young lady, not daring to see the trouble that I knew was in her sweet face; but I looked full at Yvon, and was glad rather than sorry at his black look. I could have quarrelled with him or any man who had brought me to this pass. But just then, before there could be any more speech, came the sour-faced maid with an urgent message from Mme. de Lalange, that both the young lady and the marquis should attend her in her own room without delay.
Left alone, I found myself considering the roses on the terrace, and wondering could I take away a slip of one, and keep it alive till I reached home. In the back of my head I knew what was going on up-stairs in the grim lady's room; but I had no mind to lose hold on myself, and presently I went for my fiddle, which was kept in the parlour hard by, and practised scales, a thing I always did when out of Yvon's company, being what he could not abear. To practise scales is a fine thing, Melody, to steady the mind and give it balance; you never knew, my child, why I made you sing your scales so often, that night when your aunt Rejoice was like to die, and all the house in such distress. Your aunt Vesta thought me mad, but I was never in better wits.
So I was quiet, when after a long time Yvon came down to me. When I saw that he knew all, I laid my violin away, agitation being bad for the strings,—or so I have always thought. He was in a flame of anger, and fairly stammered in his speech. What had his aunt said to me, he demanded, the night before? How had she treated me, his friend? She was—many things which you know nothing about, Melody, my dear; the very least of them was cat, and serpent, and traitress. But I took a cool tone.
"Is it true, Yvon," I asked, "about the gentleman who comes to-morrow? You have already known about it? It is true?"
"True!" cried Yvon, his passion breaking out. "Yes, it is true! What, then? Because my sister is to marry, some day,—she is but just out of her pinafores, I tell you,—because some day she is to marry, and the estates are to join, is that a reason that my friend is to be insulted, my pleasure broken up, my summer destroyed? I insist upon knowing what that cat said to you, Jacques!"
"She told me what you acknowledge," I said. "That I can be insulted I deny, unless there be ground for what is said. Mme. de Lalange did what she considered to be her duty; and—and I have spent a month of great happiness with you, marquis, and it is a time that will always be the brightest of my life."
But at this Yvon flung himself on my neck—it is not a thing practised among men in this country, but in him it seemed nowise strange, my blood being partly like his own—and wept and stormed. He loved me, I am glad to believe, truly; yet after all the most part was to him, that his party of pleasure was spoiled, and his plans broken up. And then I remembered how we had talked together that day in the old grist-mill, and how he had said that when trouble came, we should spread our wings and fly away from it. And Ham's words came back to me, too, till I could almost hear him speak, and see the grave, wise look of him. "Take good stuff, and grind it in the Lord's mill, and you've got the best this world can give." And I found that Ham's philosophy was the one that held.
There was no more question of the gay party that afternoon. Mlle. de Ste. Valerie did not dine with us, word coming down that her head ached, and she would not go out. Yvon and I went to walk, and I led the way to my tower (so I may call it this once), thinking I would like to see it once more. All these three months and more (counting from the day I first met Yvon de Ste. Valerie at the priest's house), I had played a second in the duet, and that right cheerfully. Though my own age, the marquis was older in many ways from his knowledge of society and its ways, and his gay, masterful manner; and I, the country lad, had been too happy only to follow his lead, and go about open-eyed, seeing all he would show, and loving him with honest admiration and pride in him. But it was curious to see how from this moment we changed; and now it was I who led, and was the master. The master in my own house, I thought for a moment, as we sat on the shelf under the great round window, and looked out over the lands that had once belonged to my people. Here once more the dream came upon me, and I had a wild vision of myself coming back after years, rich and famous, and buying back the old tower, building the castle, and holding that sweet princess by my side. The poet Coleridge, my dear, in describing a man whose wits are crazed, makes use of this remarkable expression:
"How there looked him in the face An angel beautiful and bright, And how he knew it was a fiend, That miserable knight."
This knowledge was also mercifully mine. And I was helped, too, by a thing slight enough, and yet curious. Being in distress of mind, I sought some use of my hands, as is the case with most women and some men. I fell to pulling off the dead leaves of ivy from the wall; and so, running my hand along the inside of the window, felt beneath it a carving on the stone. I lifted the leaves, which here were not so thick as in most places, and saw a shield carved with arms, and on it the motto I knew well: "D'Arthenay, tenez foi!"
I told my friend that I must be gone that night; that I knew his aunt desired it, and was entirely in her right, it being most unfitting that a stranger should be present on such an occasion as this. Doubtless other friends would be coming, too, and my room would be wanted.
Here he broke out in a storm, and vowed no one should have my room, and I should not stir a foot for a hundred of them. And here had she kept him in the dark, as if he were a babe, instead of the head of the house. It was an affront never to be forgiven. If the vicomte had not been the friend of his father, he would break off the match, and forbid him the house. As it was, he was powerless, tied hand and foot.
I interrupted him, thinking such talk idle; and begged to know what manner of man this was who was coming. Was he—was he the man he should be?
He was a gallant gentleman, Yvon confessed; there was no fault to find with him, save that he was old enough to be the girl's father. But that was all one! If he were twenty viscounts, he should not turn out his, Yvon's friend, the only man he ever cared to call his brother,—and so on and so on, till I cut him short. For now I saw no way, Melody, but to tell him how it was with me; and this I did in as few words as might be, and begged him to let me go quietly, and say no more. For once, I think, the lad was put to such depth of sorrow as was in him. He had never guessed, never thought of this; his sister was a child to him, and must be so, he supposed, to all. How could he tell? Why had he brought me here, to suffer? He was a criminal! What could he do? And then there struck him a thought, and he glanced up sharply at me, and I saw not the face of my friend, but one cold and questioning. Had I spoken to his sister? Did she—
I cut him short at the word. Of that, I said, he could judge better than I, having been in my company daily for three months. He fell on my neck again, and implored my pardon; and said, I think, that twenty viscounts were less noble than I. I cared little for my nobility; all I asked was to get away, and hide my wound among my own friendly people.
And so it was arranged that I was to go that night; and we walked back to the chateau, speaking little, but our hearts full of true affection, and—save for that one sting of a moment—trust in each other.
THE disturbance of my mind had been so great, that all this while I had forgotten the letter of which Mme. de Lalange had spoken the night before. I had seen it when I first went to my room, but was in no mood for village news then; I saw that it was in the large round hand of Ham Belfort, and thought it kind in him to write, seeing that it cost him some effort; then I forgot it, as I said. But now, going again to my room, and with nothing much to do save wait the hour of my departure, I took the letter up, idly enough, thinking I might as well do this as another thing. This is what I read, Melody. No fear of my forgetting the words.
I am sorry to have bad news to send you this first time of my writing. Father says to prepare your mind, but I never found it work that way myself, always liking to know straight out how things was, and I think you are the same. Your father has been hearty, for him, till about a week ago. Then he begun to act strange, and would go about looking for your mother, as if she was about the place. Abby kep watch on him, and I happened in once or twice a day, just to pass the word, and he was always just as polite, and would read me your letters. He thought a sight of your letters, Jakey, and they gave him more pleasure than likely he'd have had if you'd have ben here, being new and strange to him, so to speak. He was a perfect gentleman; he like to read them letters, and they done credit to him and you. Last night Abby said to me, she guessed she would take her things over and stay a spell at the house, till your father was some better, he was not himself, and she owed it to you and your mother. I said she was right, I'd gone myself, but things wasn't so I could leave, and a woman is better in sickness, however it may be when a man is well. She went over early this morning, but your father was gone. There warn't no hide nor hair of him round the house nor in the garding. She sent for me, and I sarched the farm; but while I was at it, seems as if she sensed where he was, and she went straight to the berrin-ground, and he was layin on your mother's grave, peaceful as if he'd just laid down a spell to rest him. He was dead and cold, Jakes, and you may as well know it fust as last. He hadn't had no pain, for when I see him his face was like he was in heaven, and Abby says it come nearer smiling than she'd seen it sence your mother was took. So this is what my paneful duty is to tell you, and that the Lord will help you threw it is my prayer and alls that is in the village. Abby is real sick, or she would write herself. She thought a sight of your father, as I presume likely you know. We shall have the funeral to-morrow, and everything good and plain, knowing how he would wish it from remembering your mother's. So no more, Friend Jakey; only all that's in the village feels for you, and this news coming to you far away; and would like you to feel that you was coming home all the same, if he is gone, for there aint no one but sets by you, and they all want to see you back, and everybody says it aint the same place with you away. So I remain your friend,
P.S. I'd like you to give my regards to Eavan, if he remembers the grist-mill, as I guess likely he doos. Remember the upper and nether millstones, Jakey, and the Lord help you threw.
It is sometimes the bitterest medicine, Melody, that is the most strengthening. This was bitter indeed; yet coming at this moment, it gave me the strength I needed. The sharp sting of this pain dulled in some measure that other that I suffered; and I had no fear of any weakness now. I do not count it weakness, that I wept over my poor father, lying down so quietly to die on the grave of his dear love. In my distraction, I even thought for a moment how well it was with them both, to be together now, and wished that death might take me and another to some place where no foolish things of this world should keep us apart; but that was a boy's selfish grief, and I was now grown a man. I read Ham's letter over and over, as well as I could for tears; and it seemed to me a pure fruit of friendship, so that I gave thanks for him and Abby, knowing her silent for want of strength, not want of love. I should still go home, to the friendly place, and the friendly people who had known my birth and all that had fallen since. I had no place here; I was in haste to be gone.
At first I thought not to tell Yvon of what had come to me; but he coming in and finding me as I have said, I would not have him mistake my feeling, and so gave him the letter. And let me say that a woman could not have been tenderer than my friend was, in his sympathy and grieving for me. I have told you that he and my poor father were drawn to each other from the first. He spoke of him in terms which were no more than just, but which soothed and pleased me, coming from one who knew nobility well, both the European sense of it, and the other. Upon this, Yvon pressed me to stay, declaring that he would go away with me, and we would travel together, till my hurt was somewhat healed, or at least I had grown used to the sting of it; but this I could not hear of. He helped me put my things together, for by this time night was coming on. He had found his sister so suffering, he told me, that she felt unable to leave her bed; and so he had thought it best not to tell her of my departure till the morrow. And this was perhaps the bitterest drop I had to drink, my dear, to leave the house like a thief, and no word to her who had made it a palace of light to me. Indeed, when Yvon left me, to order the horses, a thought came into my mind which I found it hard to resist. There was a little balcony outside my window, and I knew that my dear love's window (I call her so this once, the pain coming back sharp upon me of that parting hour) opened near it. If I took my violin and stepped outside, and if I played one air that she knew, then, I thought, she would understand, at least in part. She would not think that I had gone willingly without kissing her sweet hand, which I had counted on doing, the custom of the country permitting it. I took the violin, and went out into the cool night air; and I laid my bow across the strings, yet no sound came. For honour, my dear, honour, which we bring into this world with us, and which is the only thing, save those heavenly ones, that we can take from this world with us, laid, as it were, her hand on the strings, and kept them silent. A thing for which I have ever since been humbly thankful, that I never willingly or knowingly gave any touch of pain to that sweet lady's life. But if I had played, Melody; if it had been permitted to me as a man of honour as well as a true lover, it was my mother's little song that I should have played; and that, my child, is why you have always said that you hear my heart beat in that song.
"Il y a longtemps que je t'aime; Jamais je ne t'oublierai!"
Before we rode away, Mme. de Lalange came out to the door, leaning on her crutched stick; the horses being already there, and I about to mount. She swept me a curtsey of surprising depth, considering her infirmity.
"M. D'Arthenay," she said, "I think I have done you an injustice. I cannot regret your departure, but I desire to say that your conduct has been that of a gentleman, and that I shall always think of you as noble, and the worthy descendant of a great race." With that she held out her hand, which I took and kissed, conceiving this to be her intention; that I did it with something the proper air her eyes assured me. It is a graceful custom, but unsuited to our own country and race.
I could only reply that I thanked her for her present graciousness, and that it was upon that my thought should dwell in recalling my stay here, and not upon what was past and irrevocable; which brought the colour to her dry cheek, I thought, but I could say nothing else. And so I bowed, and we rode away; my few belongings having gone before by carrier, all save my violin, which I carried on the saddle before me.
Coming to the Tour D'Arthenay, we checked our horses, with a common thought, and looked up at the old tower. It was even as I had seen it on first arriving, save that now a clear moonlight rested on it, instead of the doubtful twilight. The ivy was black against the white light, the empty doorway yawned like a toothless mouth, and the round eye above looked blindness on us. As I gazed, a white owl came from within, and blinked at us over the curve. Yvon started, thinking it a spirit, perhaps; but I laughed, and taking off my hat, saluted the bird.
"Monsieur mon locataire," I said, "I have the honour to salute you!" and told him that he should have the castle rent free, on condition that he spared the little birds, and levied taxes on the rats alone.
Looking back when we had ridden a little further, the tower had turned its back on me, and all I saw was the heaps of cut stone, lying naked in the moonlight. That was my last sight of the home of my ancestors. I had kept faith.
HERE ends, my dear child, the romance of your old friend's life; if by the word romance we may rightly understand that which, even if not lasting itself, throws a brightness over all that may come after it. I never saw that fair country of France again, and since then I have lived sixty years and more; but what I brought away with me that sorrowful night has sweetened all the years. I had the honour of loving as sweet a lady as ever stepped from heaven to earth; and I had the thought that, if right had permitted, and the world been other than it was, I could have won her. Such feelings as these, my dear, keep a man's heart set on high things, however lowly his lot may be.
I came back to my village. My own home was empty, but every house was open to me; and not a man or a woman there but offered me a home for as long as I would take it. My good friend Ham Belfort would have me come to be a son to him, he having no children. But my duty, as he clearly saw when I pointed it out, was to Abby Rock; and Abby and I were not to part for many years. Her health was never the same after my father's death; it was her son I was to be, and I am glad to think she found me a good one.
Father L'Homme-Dieu made me kindly welcome, too, and to him and to Abby I could open my heart, and tell them all that had befallen me in these three life-long months. But I found a strange difference in their manner of receiving it; for whereas the Father understood my every feeling, and would nod his head (a kind hand on my shoulder all the while), and say yes, yes, I could not have done otherwise, and thus it was that a gentleman should feel and act,—which was very soothing to me,—Abby, on the other hand, though she must hear the story over and over again, could never gain any patience in the hearing.
"What did they want?" she would cry, her good homely face the colour of a red leaf. "An emperor would be the least that could suit them, I'll warrant!" And though she dared not, after the first word, breathe anything against my sweet young lady, she felt no such fear about the old one, and I verily believe that if she had come upon Mme. de Lalange, she would have torn her in pieces, being extraordinary strong in her hands. Hag and witch were the kindest words she could give her; so that at last I felt bound to keep away from the subject, from mere courtesy to the absent. But this, as I have since found by observation, was the mother-nature in Abby, which will fill the mildest woman with desire to kill any one that hurts or grieves her child.
For some time I stuck close to my shoemaker's bench, seeking quiet, as any creature does that is deeply wounded (for the wound was deep, my dear; it was deep; but I would not have had it otherwise), and seeing only those home friends, who had known the shape of my cradle, as it were, and to whom I could speak or not, as my mind was. I found solid comfort in the society of Ham, and would spend many hours in the old grist-mill; sometimes sitting in the loft with him and the sparrows, sometimes hanging over the stones, and watching the wheat pour down between them, and hearing the roar and the grinding of them. The upper and nether millstones! How Ham's words would come back, over and over, as I thought how my life was ground between pain and longing! One day, I mind, Ham came and found me so, and I suppose my face may have showed part of what I felt; for he put his great hand on my shoulder, and shouted in my ear, "Wheat flour, Jakey! prime wheat flour, and good riz bread; I see it rising, don't you be afeard!" But by and by the neighbours in the country round heard of my being home again; and thinking that I must have learned a vast deal overseas, they were set on having me here and there to fiddle for them. At first I thought no, I could not; there seemed to be only one tune my fiddle would ever play again, and that no dancing tune. But with using common sense, and some talk with Father L'Homme-Dieu, this foolishness passed away, and it seemed the best thing I could do, being in sadness myself, was to give what little cheer I could to others. So I went, and the first time was the worst, and I saw at once here was a thing I could do, and do, it might be, better than another. For being with the marquis, Melody, and seeing how high folks moved, and spoke, and held themselves, it was borne in upon me that I had special fitness for a task that might well be connected with the pleasure of youth in dancing. Dancing, as I have pointed out to you many times, may be considered in two ways: first, as the mere fling of high spirits, young animals skipping and leaping, as kids in a meadow, and with no thought save to leap the highest, and prance the furthest; but second, and more truly, I must think, to show to advantage the grace (if any) and perfection of the human body, which we take to be the work of a divine hand, and the beauty of motion in accord with music. And whereas I have heard dancing condemned as unmanly, and fit only for women and young boys, I must still take the other hand, and think there is no finer sight than a well-proportioned man, with a sense of his powers, and a desire to do justice to them, moving through the figures of a contra-dance. But this is my hobby, my dear, and I may have wearied you with it before now.
I undertook, then, as my trade allowed it,—and indeed, in time the bench came to hold only the second place in the arrangement of my days,—to give instruction in dancing and deportment, to such as desired to improve themselves in these respects. The young people in the villages of that district were honest, and not lacking in wits; but they were uncouth to a degree that seemed to me, coming as I did from the home of all grace and charm, a thing horrible, and not to be endured. They were my neighbours; I was bound, or so it seemed to me, to help them to a right understanding of the mercies of a bountiful Providence, and to prevent the abuse of these mercies by cowish gambols. I let it be understood wherever I went that whoever would study under me must be a gentleman; for a gentleman is, I take it, first and last, a gentle man, or one who out of strength brings sweetness, as in the case of Samson's lion. To please, first the heart, by a sincere and cordial kindness, and next the eye, by a cheerful and (so far as may be) graceful demeanour; this disposition will tend, if not to great deeds, at least to the comfort and happiness of those around us. I was thought severe, and may have been so; but I lived to see a notable change wrought in that country. I remember the day, Melody, when a young man said to me with feeling, "I cannot bear to see a man take off his hat to a woman. It makes me sick!" To-day, if a man, young or old, should fail in this common courtesy, it would be asked what cave of the woods he came from. But let fine manners come from the heart, I would always say, else they are only as a gay suit covering a deformed and shapeless body. I recall an occasion when one of my pupils, who had made great progress by assiduous study, and had attained a degree of elegance not often reached in his station, won the admiration of the whole room by the depth and grace of his bow. I praised him, as he deserved; but a few minutes after, finding him in the act of mimicking, for the public diversion, an awkward, ill-dressed poor lad, I dismissed him on the instant, and bade him never come to my classes again.
In these ways, my child, I tried, and with fair measure of success, to ease the smart of my own pain by furthering the pleasure of others; in these ways, to which I added such skill as I had gained on the violin, making it one of my chief occupations, when work was slack, to play to such as loved music, and more especially any who were infirm in health, or in sorrow by one reason or another. It was a humble path I chose, my dear; but I never clearly saw my way to a loftier one, and here I could do good, and think I did it, under Providence. As an instance,—I was sent for, it may have been a year or two after my trouble, to go some distance. A young lady was ill, and being fanciful, and her parents well-to-do, she would have me come and play to her, having heard of me from one or another. I went, and found a poor shadow of a young woman, far gone in a decline, if I could judge, and her eyes full of a trouble that came from no bodily ailment, my wits told me. She sent her people away, saying she must have the music alone. I have seldom found a better listener, Melody, or one who spoke to me more plain in silence, her spirit answering to the music till I almost could hear the sound of it. Feeling this, I let myself slip into the bow, as it were, more than I was aware of; and presently forgot her, or next thing to it, and was away in the rose-garden of Chateau Claire, and saw the blue eyes that held all heaven in them, and heard the voice that made my music harsh. And when at last I brought it down to a whisper, seeing the young woman's eyes shut, and thinking she might be asleep, she looked up at me, bright and sharp, and said, "You, too?"
I never saw her again, and indeed think she had not long to live. But it is an instance, my dear, of what a person can do, if the heart within him is tender to the sorrows of others.
After Abby's death,—but that was years after all this,—I found it wise to leave my native village. I will not go into the cause of this, my child, since it was a passing matter, or so I trusted. There was some one there who had great good will to me, and, not knowing my story, may have fancied that I was one who could make her happy; I thought it right to tell her how I had fared, and then, she being in distress, I left my home, and from that time, I may say, had many homes, yet none my own. I have met with rare kindness; no man of my generation, I would wager, has the number of friends I can boast, and all kind, all hearty, all ready with a "welcome to Rosin the Beau." And now here, at your aunts' kind wish and your prayer, my dearest Melody, dear as any child of my own could be, I am come to spend my last days under your roof; and what more could mortal man ask than this, I truly know not. My violin and your voice, Melody; they were made for each other; everybody says that, my dear, and neither you nor I would deny it. And when the obligato is silent, as shortly it must be in the good course of nature, it is my prayer and hope that you will not miss me too much, my dear, but will go on in joy and in cheer, shedding light about you, and with your own darkness yielding a clear glory of kindness and happiness. Do not grieve for the old man, Melody, when the day comes for him to lay down the fiddle and the bow. I am old, and it is many years that Valerie has been dead, and Yvon, too, and all of them; and happy as I am, my dear, I am sometimes tired, and ready for rest. And for more than rest, I trust and believe; for new life, new strength, new work, as God shall please to give it me.
"I've travelled this country all over, And now to the next I must go; But I know that good quarters await me, And a welcome to Rosin the Beau."
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Obvious punctuation errors corrected.
Page 20, "our" changed to "her" (clapping her hands)
Page 63, " ather" changed to "father" (how my father)
Page 74, "couple" changed to "couples" (a few couples)