Eleanor Frances Poynter is the author of My little lady (1871 novel), Ersilia (1876 novel), Among the hills (1881 novel), Madame de Presnel (1885 novel), The wooing of Catherine and other tales (1886), The failure of Elisabeth (1890 novel), An exquisite fool (1892 novel), Michael Ferrier (1902 novel); and translator of Wilhelmine von Hillern's The vulture maiden (Die Geier-Wally) (1876) and Agnes Mary Duclaux (later Mrs James Darmesteter)'s Froissart (1895).
Two of her novels were translated in French: My little lady as Madeleine Linders (1873); and Among the hills as Hetty (1883).
The Saturday Review vol. XXX p. 794 comments My little lady as follows: "There are certain female characters in novels which remind one of nothing so much as of a head of Greuze,—fresh, simple, yet of the cunningly simple type, 'innocent—arch,' and intensely natural.... 'My Little Lady' is a character of this Greuze-like kind.... The whole book is charming; quietly told, quietly thought, without glare or flutter, and interesting in both character and story,... and, if slight of kind, thoroughly good of its kind."
MY LITTLE LADY.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
Thy sinless progress, through a world By sorrow darken'd and by care disturbed, Apt likeness bears to hers through gather'd clouds Moving untouch'd in silver purity.
MY LITTLE LADY.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
The Right of Translation is reserved.
MY LITTLE LADY.
In the Garden.
There are certain days in the lives of each one of us, which come in their due course without special warning, to which we look forward with no anticipations of peculiar joy or sorrow, from which beforehand we neither demand nor expect more than the ordinary portion of good and evil, and which yet through some occurrence—unconsidered perhaps at the moment, but gaining in significance with years and connecting events—are destined to live apart in our memories to the end of our existence. Such a day in Horace Graham's life was a certain hot Sunday in August, that he spent at the big hotel at Chaudfontaine.
Every traveller along the great high road leading from Brussels to Cologne knows Chaudfontaine, the little village distant about six miles from Liege, with its church, its big hotel, and its scattered cottages, partly forges, partly restaurants, which shine white against a dark green background of wooded hills, and gleam reflected in the clear tranquil stream by which they stand. On every side the hills seem to fold over and enclose the quiet green valley; the stream winds and turns, the long poplar-bordered road follows its course; amongst the hills are more valleys, more streams, woods, forests, sheltered nooks, tall grey limestone rocks, spaces of cornfields, and bright meadows. Everyone admires the charming scenery as the train speeds across it, through one tunnel after another; but there are few amongst our countrymen who care to give it more than a passing glance of admiration, or to tarry in the quiet little village even for an hour, in their great annual rush to Spa, or the Rhine, or Switzerland. As a rule one seldom meets Englishmen at Chaudfontaine, and it was quite by chance that Horace Graham found himself there. An accident to a goods train had caused a detention of several hours all along the line, as he was travelling to Brussels, and it was by the advice of a Belgian fellow-passenger that he had stopped at Chaudfontaine, instead of going on to Liege, as he had at first proposed doing, on hearing from the guard that it was the furthest point that could be reached that night.
Behind the hotel lies a sunshiny shady garden, with benches and tables set under the trees near the house, and beyond, an unkempt lawn, a sort of wilderness of grass and shrubs and trees, with clumps of dark and light foliage against the more uniform green of the surrounding hills, and it was still cool and pleasant when Graham wandered into it after breakfast on that Sunday morning, whilst all in front of the hotel was already basking in the hot sunshine. He had gone to bed the night before with the fixed intention of leaving by the earliest morning train, for his first impressions of Chaudfontaine had not been cheerful ones. It was nearly midnight when, with his companions, he had crossed the bridge that connects the railway station with the hotel on the opposite side of the stream, and scarcely a light was shining from the windows of the dim white building before him; he was very tired, rather cross, and disposed to grumble at the delay in his journey; and the general aspect of things—the bad supper, the sleepy waiter carrying a candle up flights of broad shallow wooden stairs, and down a long passage to a remote room barely furnished, the uncertain view of a foreground of rustling poplars, and close behind them a black silent mass of hill—all these had not tended to encourage him.
But a man must be very cynical, or very blase, or wholly possessed by some other uncomfortable quality, who does not feel much cheered and invigorated by morning sunbeams pouring into a strange bed-room, and awakening him to new scenes and unexperienced sensations. Horace Graham was neither cynical nor blase; on the contrary, he was a pleasant-tempered, fresh- hearted lad of twenty or thereabouts, who only three weeks before had made his first acquaintance with French gendarmes, and for the first time had heard children shouting to each other in a foreign tongue along white-walled, sunshiny, foreign streets. Three weeks touring in Germany had only served to arouse in him a passion for travelling and seeing, for new places and peoples and scenes, that in all his life, perhaps, would not be satiated; everything was new to him, everything amused him; and so it happened that, while he was dressing and studying from his window the view that had been only obscurely hinted at in the darkness of night before, a sudden desire came over him to remain where he was for that day, climb the hills that rose before him, and see what manner of country lay beyond.
It was still early when, after breakfasting by himself in the salle-a-manger, he found his way into the garden; no one was stirring, it seemed deserted; he wandered along the gravel paths, trod down the tall grass as he crossed the lawn, and arrived at the confines of the little domain. On two sides it was bounded by a narrow stream, separating it from the road beyond; at the angle of the garden the shallow, trickling water widened into a little fall crossed by a few planks; there were trees and bushes on each side, and the grassy garden bank sloped down to the stream. It was very green, and peaceful and dewy. Horace stood still for a minute looking at the flickering lights and shadows, and watching the dash and current of the water.
"Fi donc, Mademoiselle, tu n'es pas raisonnable," cries a sweet shrill little voice close to him, "tu es vraiment insupportable aujourd'hui."
He turned round and saw a child between five and six years old, dressed in a shabby little merino frock and white pinafore, standing with her back towards him, and holding out a doll at arm's length, its turned-out pink leather toes just touching the ground.
"Veux-tu bien etre sage?" continues the small monitress with much severity, "encore une fois, un, deux, trois!" and she made a little dancing-step backwards; then with an air of encouragement, "Allons, mon amie, du courage! We must be perfect in our steps for this evening, for you know, Sophie, if you refuse to dance, M. le Prince will be in despair, and M. le Baron will put his hand on his heart and cry, 'Alas, mademoiselle, you have no pity, and my heart is desolated!' "
"Madelon!" cries a voice through the trees in the distance.
"Me voici, papa!" she answered, stopping the dancing-lesson and looking round. As she did so she caught sight of Horace, and gazed up in his face with a child's deliberate stare. She had great brown eyes, a little round fair face, and light hair curling all over her head. She looked up at him quite fearlessly for a moment, and then darted away, dashing against somebody who was coming along the path, and disappeared.
"Take care, ma petite; you nearly knocked me down!" cried a good-humoured voice, belonging to a large gentleman with a ruddy face, and black hair and beard. "Ah! good morning, Monsieur," he continued as he approached Horace; "I rejoice to see that you have not yet quitted Chaudfontaine, as you spoke of doing last night."
"I have changed my mind," said Horace, smiling as he recognised his fellow-traveller of the night before. "I think of staying here to-day, and not leaving for Brussels till to- morrow morning."
"You will not regret it," said his companion, as they turned back towards the hotel, and walked on slowly together; "it is true there is not much here to tempt you during the day; but numbers will arrive for the four o'clock table-d'hote. In the evening there will be quite a little society, and we shall dance. I assure you, monsieur, that we also know how to be gay at Chaudfontaine."
"I don't doubt it," answered Graham; "and though I don't care much about dancing——"
"You don't care about dancing?" interrupted the Belgian with astonishment; "but that is of your nation, Monsieur. You are truly an extraordinary people, you English; you travel, you climb, you ride, you walk, and you do not dance!"
"I think we dance too, sometimes," said the young Englishman, laughing; "but I own that it is walking I care for most just now—the country about here seems to be wonderfully pretty."
"In fact it is not bad," said the Belgian, with the air of paying it a compliment; "and if you take care to return in time for the four o'clock table-d'hote, you cannot do better than make a little promenade to gain an appetite for dinner. I can promise you an excellent one—they keep an admirable cook. I entreat you not to think of leaving for Brussels; and precisely you cannot go," he added, drawing out his watch, "for it is just the hour that the train leaves, and I hear the whistle at this moment."
And, in fact, though they could not see the train from where they stood, they heard its shrill whistle as it rushed into the station on the other side of the river.
"So it is decided," said Graham, "and I remain."
"And you do wisely, Monsieur," cried his companion; "believe me, you will not regret passing a day in this charming little spot. Do they speak much in England of Chaudfontaine, Monsieur?"
"Well, no," Horace was obliged to acknowledge, "they do not."
"Ah!" said the Belgian, a little disappointed; "but they speak of Brussels, perhaps?"
"Oh! yes, every one knows Brussels," answered Graham.
"It is a beautiful city," remarked his companion, "and has a brilliant society; but for my part, I own that at this season of the year I prefer the retirement, the tranquillity of Chaudfontaine, where also one amuses oneself perfectly well. I always spend two or three months here—in fact, have been here for six weeks already this summer. Affairs called me to Aix- la-Chapelle last week for a few days, and that was how I had the good fortune to meet Monsieur last night."
"It was very lucky for me," said Horace. "I am delighted to be here. The hotel seems to be very empty," he added. "I have seen nobody this morning except one little girl."
"But no, the hotel is almost full—people are gone to mass, perhaps, or are in bed, or are breakfasting. It is still early."
"That little girl," said Horace—"does she belong to the house?"
"You mean the little girl who ran against me as I came up to you just now? No, the proprietaire of the hotel has but one daughter, Mademoiselle Cecile, a most amiable person. But I know that child—her father is one of the habitues of the hotel. She is much to be pitied, poor little one!"
"Why?" asked Graham.
"Because her father—ah! bon jour, Madame—excuse me, Monsieur, but I go to pay my respects to Madame la Comtesse!" cried the Belgian, as an elderly red-faced lady, with fuzzy sandy hair, wearing a dingy, many-flounced lilac barege gown, came towards them along the gravel path.
"At last we see you back, my dear Monsieur!" she cried—"ah! how many regrets your absence has caused!—of what an insupportable ennui have we not been the victims! But you are looking better than when you left us; your journey has done you good; it is plain that you have not suffered from absence."
"Alas! Madame," cries the other, "you little know! And how, for my part, can I venture to believe in regrets that have left no traces? Madame is looking more charming, more blooming——"
Horace waited to hear no more; he left the pair standing and complimenting each other on the sunny pathway, and wandered away under the shade of the big trees, crossed the little stream and the white dusty road beyond, and began to ascend the hills.
"What an ugly old woman!" thought the lad. "She and my friend seem to be great allies; she must be at least ten years older than he is, and he talks to her as if she were a pretty girl; but she is a Countess apparently, and I suppose that counts for something. Oh! what a jolly country!"
He strode along whistling, with his hands in his pockets, feeling as if he had the world before him to explore, and in the happiest of moods. Such a mood was not rare with Horace Graham in these youthful days, when, by force of a good health, and good spirits, and a large capacity for fresh genuine enjoyment, he was apt to find life pleasant enough on the whole, though for him it lacked several of the things that go to make up the ordinary ideal of human happiness. He was not rich; he had no particular expectations, and but few family ties, for his parents had both died when he was very young, and except an aunt who had brought him up, and a married sister several years older than himself, he had no near relations in the world. He was simply a medical student, with nothing to look forward to but pushing his own way, and making his own path in life as best he could. But he had plenty of talent, and worked hard at his profession, to which he was devoted for reasons quite unconnected with any considerations of possible profit and loss. Indeed, having just enough money of his own to make him tolerably independent, he was wont to ignore all such considerations in his grand youthful way, and to look upon his profession from a purely abstract scientific point of view. And yet he was not without large hopes, grand vague ambitions concerning his future career; for he was at an age when it seems so much easier to become one of the few enumerated great ones of the world than to remain amongst the nameless forgotten multitudes; and life lay before him rather as something definite, which he could take up and fashion to his own pleasure, than as a succession of days and years which would inevitably mould and influence him in their course. It is not wholly conceit, perhaps, which so assures these clever lads of the vastness of their untried capabilities, that there are moments when they feel as if they could grasp heaven and earth in their wide consciousness; it is rather a want of experience and clearness of perception. Horace Graham was not particularly conceited, and yet, in common with many other men of his age, he had a conviction that, in some way or other, life had great exceptional prizes in store for him; and indeed he was so strong, and young, and honest-hearted, that he had been successful enough hitherto within his narrow limits. He had pleasant manners, too, and a pleasant face, which gained him as many friends as he ever cared to have; for he had a queer, reserved, unsociable twist in his character, which kept him aloof from much company, and rather spoilt his reputation for geniality and heartiness. He hated the hard work he had to go through in society; so at least he was wont to grumble, and then would add, laughing, "I daresay I am a conceited puppy to say so: but the fact is, there are not six people in the world whose company I would prefer to my own for a whole day."
He found his own company quite sufficient during all his wanderings through that long summer's day in the lovely country round Chaudfontaine, a country neither grand nor wild, hardly romantic, but with a charm of its own that enticed Graham onwards in spite of the hot August sun. It was so green, so peaceful, so out of the world; the little valleys were wrapped so closely amongst the hills, the streams came gushing out of the limestone rocks, dry water, courses led him higher and higher up amongst the silent woods, which stretched away for miles on either hand. Sometimes he would come upon an open space, whence he could look down upon the broader valley beneath, with its quiet river flowing through the midst, reflecting white villages, forges, long rows of poplars, an occasional bridge, and here and there a long low island; or descending, he would find himself in some narrow ravine, cleft between grey rocky heights overgrown with brushwood and trailing plants, the road leading beside a marshy brook, full of rushes and forget-me-nots, and disappearing amongst the forest trees. All day long Graham wandered about that pleasant land, and it was long past the four o'clock dinner hour when he stood on the top of the hill he had seen that morning from his window, and looked across the wide view of woods and cornfields to where a distant cloud of smoke marked the city of Liege. Thence descending by a steep zig-zag path, with a bench at every angle, he crossed the road and the little rivulet, and found himself once more in the garden at the back of the hotel.
In the Salon.
He had left it in the morning dewy, silent, almost deserted; he found it full of gaiety and life and movement, talking, laughing, and smoking going on, pretty bright dresses glancing amongst the trees, children swinging under the great branches, the flickering lights and shadows dancing on their white frocks and curly heads, white-capped bonnes dangling their bebes, papas drinking coffee and liqueurs at the little tables, mammas talking the latest Liege scandal, and discussing the newest Parisian fashions. The table-d'hote dinner was just over, and everybody had come out to enjoy the air, till it was time for the dancing to begin.
The glass door leading into the passage that ran through the house stood wide open; so did the great hall door at the other end; and Graham could see the courtyard full of sunshine, the iron railing separating it from the road, the river gleaming, the bridge and railway station beyond, and then again the background of hills. He passed through the house, and went out into the courtyard. Here were more people, more gay dresses, gossip, cigars, and coffee; more benches and tables set in the scanty shade of the formal round-topped trees that stood in square green boxes round the paved quadrangle. Outside in the road, a boy with a monkey stood grinding a melancholy organ; the sun seemed setting to the pretty pathetic tune, which mingled not inharmoniously with the hum of voices and sudden bursts of laughter; the children were jumping and dancing to their lengthening shadows, but with a measured glee, so as not to disturb too seriously the elaborate combination of starch and ribbon and shining plaits which composed their fete day toilettes. A small tottering thing of two years old, emulating its companions of larger growth, toppled over and fell lamenting at Graham's feet as he came out. He picked it up, and set it straight again, and then, to console it, found a sou, and showed it how to put it into the monkey's brown skinny hand, till the child screamed with delight instead of woe. The lad had a kind, loving heart, and was tender to all helpless appealing things, and more especially to little children.
He stood watching the pretty glowing scene for a few minutes, and then went in to his solitary rechauffe dinner. Coming out again half an hour or so later, he found everything changed. The monkey boy and his organ were gone, the sun had set, twilight and mists were gathering in the valley, and the courtyard was deserted; but across the grey dusk, light was streaming through the muslin window curtains of the salon, the noise of laughter, and voices, and music came from within now, breaking the evening stillness; for everyone had gone indoors to the salon, where the gas was lighted, chairs and tables pushed out of the way, and Mademoiselle Cecile, the fat good- natured daughter of the proprietaire, already seated at the piano. The hall outside fills with grinning waiters and maids, who have their share of the fun as they look in through the open door. Round go the dancers, sliding and twirling on the smooth polished floor, and Mademoiselle Cecile's fingers fly indefatigably over the keys, as she sits nodding her head to the music, and smiling as each familiar face glides past her.
Horace, who, after lingering awhile in the courtyard, had come indoors like the rest of the world, stood apart at the further end of the room, sufficiently entertained with looking on at the scene, which had the charm of novelty to his English eyes, and commenting to himself on the appearance of the dancers.
"But you do wrong not to dance, dear Monsieur, I assure you," said his Belgian friend, coming up to him at the end of a polka, with the elderly Countess, who with her dingy lilac barege gown exchanged for a dingier lilac silk, and her sandy hair fuzzier than ever, had been dancing vigorously. "Mademoiselle Cecile's music is delicious," he continued, "it positively inspires one; let me persuade you to attempt just one little dance."
"Indeed, I would rather look on," said Horace; "I can listen to Mademoiselle Cecile's music all the same, and I do not care much for dancing, as I told you; besides, I don't know anyone here."
"If that be all," cried the other eagerly, "I can introduce you to half a dozen partners in a moment; that lady that I have just been dancing with, for instance, will be charmed——"
"Stop, I entreat you," said the young Englishman, in alarm, as his friend was about to rush off; "I cannot indeed—I assure you I am a very bad dancer; I am tired with my long walk too."
"Ah, that walk," said the Belgian, "I did wrong in advising you to take it; you prolonged it till you missed the table- d'hote dinner, and now you are too much fatigued to dance."
"But I am very much amused as it is, I assure you," insisted Graham. "Do tell me something about all these people. Are they all stopping at the hotel?"
His companion was delighted to give any information in his power. No, not a third of the people were stopping at the hotel, the greater part had come over from Liege, and would go back there by the ten o'clock train.
"Then you do not know many of them?" Graham said.
"No," the Belgian admitted, "he did not know many of them; only those who were staying at Chaudfontaine. That lady he had just been dancing with, Monsieur had seen in the morning, he believed; she was the Countess G——, a most distinguished person, with blood-royal in her veins, and came from Brussels. That pretty girl in blue was Mademoiselle Sophie L——, who was going to be married next month to one of the largest proprietors in the neighbourhood, the young man standing by her, who was paying her so much attention. The odd-looking man in shoes and buckles was a rising genius, or thought himself so, a violinist, who came over occasionally from Liege, and hoped to make his fortune some day in London or Paris; and perhaps he will do so," says the Belgian, "for he has talent. That little dirty-looking young man with a hooked nose, and the red Turkish slippers, is a Spaniard going through a course of studies at Liege; he is staying in the hotel, and so are the fat old gentleman and lady seated on the sofa; they are Brazilians, and he has been sent over by his Government to purchase arms, I believe. Those three young ladies in white are sisters, and are come here from Antwerp for the summer; that is their mother talking to Mademoiselle Cecile. I see no one else at this moment," he added, looking slowly round the room at the groups of dancers who stood chattering and fanning themselves in the interval between the dances.
"Who is that?" asked Graham, directing his attention to a gentleman who had just appeared, and was standing, leaning in the doorway opposite.
He was a tall handsome man, with light air, and a long fair moustache and beard, perfectly well dressed, and with an air sufficiently distinguished to make him at once conspicuous amongst the Liege clerks and shopkeepers, of whom a large part of the company consisted.
"Ah! precisely, Monsieur, you have fixed upon the most remarkable personage here," cried his companion, with some excitement; "but is it possible you do not know him?"
"I never saw him before," answered Graham. "Is he a celebrity? A prince, or an ambassador, or anything of that kind?"
"No, nothing of that kind," said the other laughing, "but a celebrity nevertheless in his way. That is M. Linders, the great gambler."
"I never even heard of him," said the young Englishman; "but then I don't know much about such people."
"It is true, I had forgotten that Monsieur is not of this country; but you would hear enough about him were you to stay any time at Wiesbaden, or Homburg, or Spa, or any of those places. He twice broke the bank at Homburg last year, won two hundred thousand francs at Spa this summer, and lost them again the next week. He is a most dangerous fellow, and positively dreaded by the proprietors of the tables."
"What! when he loses two hundred thousand francs?"
"Ah! that is a thing that rarely happens; as a rule he is perfectly cool, which is the principal thing at these tables, plays when the run is in his favour, and stops when it is against him; but occasionally he gets excited, and then of course the chances are that he loses everything like another."
"What can he be doing here?" said Graham.
"Who knows? Stopping a night or two on his way to Paris, or Brussels, perhaps, on the chance of finding some one here rich enough and imprudent enough to make it worth his while. You do not play, Monsieur?"
"Never in that way," answered the lad, laughing; "I can get through a game of whist decently enough, but I rarely touch cards at all."
"Ah, then you are safe: otherwise I would have said, avoid M. Linders; he has not the best reputation in the world, and he has a brother-in-law who generally travels with him, and is even a greater rogue than himself, but not so lucky—so they say at least."
"Do you know him, this famous gambler? He does not look much like one," says Graham.
"That is true; but he is a man of good birth and education, I believe, though he has turned out such a mauvais sujet, and it is part of his metier to get himself up in that style. Yes, I know him a little, from meeting him here and elsewhere; he is always going about, sometimes en prince, sometimes in a more humble way—but excuse me, dear Monsieur, Mademoiselle Cecile has begun to play, and I am engaged to Mademoiselle Sophie for this dance; she will never forgive me if I make her wait."
The dancers whirled on; the room grew hotter and hotter. M. Linders had disappeared, and Graham began to think that he too had had almost enough of it all, and that it would be pleasant to seek peace and coolness in the deserted moonlit courtyard. He was watching for a pause in the waltz that would admit of his crossing the room, when his attention was attracted by the same little girl he had seen that morning in the garden. She was still dressed in the shabby old frock and pinafore, and as she came creeping in, threading her way deftly amongst the young ladies in starched muslins and gay ribbons who were fluttering about, she made the effect of a little brown moth who had strayed into the midst of a swarm of brilliant butterflies. No one took any notice of her, and she made her way up to the large round table which had been pushed into the far corner of the room, and near which Graham was standing.
"Do you want anything?" he asked, as he saw her raise herself on tiptoe, and stretch forward over the table.
"I want that," she said, pointing to a miniature roulette board, which stood in the middle, beyond the reach of her small arm.
He gave it to her, and then stood watching to see what she would do with it. She set to work with great deliberation; first pulling a handful of sugar-plums out of her pocket, and arranging them in a little heap at her side on the table, and then proceeding with much gravity to stake them on the numbers. She would put down a bonbon and give the board a twirl; "ving-cinq," she would say; the ball flew round and fell into a number; it might be ten, or twenty, or twenty- five, it did not much matter; she looked to see what it was, but right or wrong, never failed to eat the bonbon—an illogical result, which contrasted quaintly with the intense seriousness with which she made her stakes. Sometimes she would place two or three sugar-plums on one number, always naming it aloud—"trente-et-un," "douze-premier," "douze- apres." It was the oddest game for a small thing not six years old; and there was something odd, too, in her matter-of-fact, business-like air, which amused Graham. He had seen gambling- tables during his three weeks' visit to Germany, and he felt sure that this child must have seen them too.
"Eh! What an insupportable heat!" cried a harsh high-pitched voice behind him. "Monsieur Jules, I will repose myself for a few minutes, if you will have the goodness to fetch me a glass of eau sucree. Je n'en peux plus!"
Graham, recognizing the voice, turned round, and saw the Countess G—— leaning on the arm of a young man with whom she had been dancing.
"But it is really stifling!" she exclaimed, dropping into an arm-chair by the table as her partner retired. "Monsieur does not dance, apparently," she continued, addressing Horace. "Well, you are perhaps right; it is a delightful amusement, but on a night like this—— Ah! here is little Madelon. I have not seen you before to-day. How is it you are not dancing?"
"I don't want to," answered the child, giving the roulette- board a twirl.
"But that is not at all a pretty game that you have there," said the Countess, shaking her head; "it was not for little girls that Mademoiselle Cecile placed the roulette-board there. Where is your doll? why are you not playing with her?"
"My doll is in bed; and I like this best," answered the child indifferently. "Encore ce malheureux trente-six! Je n'ai pas de chance ce soir!"
"But little girls should not like what is naughty: and I think it would be much better if you were in bed too. Come, give me that ugly toy; there is Monsieur quite shocked to see you playing with it."
Madelon looked up into Horace's face with her wide-open gaze, as if to verify this wonderful assertion; and apparently satisfied that it had been made for the sake of effect, continued her game without making any reply.
"Oh, then, I really must take it away," said the Countess; "allons, be reasonable, ma petite; let me have that, and go and dance with the other little boys and girls."
"But I don't want to dance, and I like to play at this," cries Madelon with her shrill little voice, clutching the board with both her small hands, as the Countess tried to get possession of it; "you have no right to take it away. Papa lets me play with it; and I don't care for you! Give it me back again, I say; je le veux, je le veux!"
"No, no," answered the Countess, pushing it beyond Madelon's reach to the other side of the table. "I daresay you have seen your papa play at that game; but children must not always do the same as their papas. Now, be good, and eat your bonbons like a sensible child."
"I will not eat them if I may not play for them!" cried the child; and with one sweep of her hand she sent them all off the table on to the floor, and stamped on them again and again with her tiny foot. "You have no right to speak to me so!" she went on energetically; "no one but my papa speaks to me; and I don't know you, and I don't like you, and you are very ugly!" and then she turned her back on the Countess and stood in dignified silence.
"Mais c'est un petit diable!" cried the astonished lady, fanning herself vigorously with her pocket-handkerchief. She was discomfited though she had won the victory, and hailed the return of her partner with the eau sucree as a relief. "A thousand thanks, M. Jules! What if we take another turn, though this room really is of insufferable heat."
Madelon was let confronting Horace, a most ill-used little girl, not crying, but with flushed cheeks and pouting lips—a little girl who had lost her game and her bonbons, and felt at war with all the world in consequence. Horace was sorry for her; he, too, thought she had been ill-used, and no sooner was the Countess fairly off than he said, very immorally, no doubt,
"Would you like to have your game back again?"
"No," said Madelon, in whom this speech roused a fresh sense of injury; "I have no more bonbons."
Graham had none to offer her, and a silence ensued, during which she stood leaning against the table, slowly scraping one foot backwards and forwards over the remains of the scattered bonbons. At last he bethought him of a small bunch of charms that he had got somewhere, and hung to his watch-chain, and with which he had often enticed and won the hearts of children.
"Would you like to come and look at these?" he said, holding them up.
"No," she replied, ungraciously, and retreating a step backwards.
"Not at this?" he said. "Here is a little steam engine that runs on wheels; and, see, here is a fan that will open and shut."
"No," she said again, with a determined little shake of her head, and still retreating.
"But only look at this," he said, selecting a little flexible enamel fish, and trying to lure back this small wild bird. "See this little gold and green fish, it moves its head and tail."
"No," she said once more, but the fish was evidently a temptation, and she paused irresolute for a moment; but Graham made a step forward, and this decided her.
"I don't care for breloques," she said, with disdain, "and I don't want to see them, I tell you." And then, turning round, she marched straight out of the room.
At that moment the music stopped, the waltzing ceased, an a line of retreat was left open for Graham. He saw the Countess once more approaching, and availed himself of it; out of the noise and heat and crowd he fled, into the fresh open air of the quiet courtyard.
In the Courtyard.
Three gentlemen with cigars, sitting on the bench under the salon windows, two more pacing up and down in the moonlight before the hall-door, and a sixth apparently asleep in a shadowy corner, were the only occupants of the courtyard. Graham passed them by, and sought solitude at the lower end, where he found a seat on the stone coping of the iron railing. The peace and coolness and silence were refreshing, after the heat and clamour of the salon; the broad harvest-moon had risen above the opposite ridge of hills, and flooded everything with clear light, the river gleamed and sparkled, the poplars threw long still shadows across the white road; now and then the leaves rustled faintly, some far-off voice echoed back from the hills, and presently from the hotel the sound of the music, and the measured beat of feet, came softened to the ear, mingled with the low rush of the stream, and the ceaseless ringing of the hammers in the village forges.
Horace had not sat there above ten minutes, and was debating whether—his Belgian friend notwithstanding—a stroll along the river-bank would not be a pleasanter termination to his evening than a return to the dancing, when he saw a small figure appear in the hall doorway, stand a moment as is irresolute, and then come slowly across the courtyard towards him. As she came near he recognised little Madelon. She pauses when she was within a yard or two of him, and stood contemplating him with her hands clasped behind her back.
"So you have come out too," he said.
"Mais oui—tout ce tapage m'agace les nerfs," answered the child, pushing her hair off her forehead with one of her old- fashioned little gestures, and then standing motionless as before, her hands behind her, and her eyes fixed on Graham. Somehow he felt strangely attracted by this odd little child, with her quaint vehement ways and speeches, who stood gazing at him with a look half farouche, half confiding, in her great brown eyes.
"Monsieur," she began, at last.
"Well," said Graham.
"Monsieur, I would like to see the little green fish. May I look at it?"
"To be sure," he answered. "Come here, and I will show it to you."
"And, Monsieur, I do like breloques very much," continues Madelon, feeling that this is a moment for confession.
"Very well, then, you can look at all these. See, here is the little fish to begin with."
"And may I have it in my own hand to look at?" she asked, willing to come to some terms before capitulating.
"Yes, you shall have it to hold in your own hand, if you will come here."
She came close to him then, unclasping her hands, and holding a tiny palm to receive the little trinket.
Horace was engaged in unfastening it from the rest of the bunch, and whilst doing so he said,
"Will you not tell me your name? Madelon, is it not?"
"My name is Madeleine, but papa and every one call me Madelon."
"Linders!" cried Horace, suddenly enlightened; "what, is M. Linders—" the famous gambler he had nearly said, but checked himself—"is that tall gentleman with a beard, whom I saw in the salon just now, your papa?"
"Yes, that is my papa. Please may I have that now?"
He put the little flexible toy into her hand, and she stood gazing at it for a moment, almost afraid to touch it, and then pushing it gently backwards and forwards with one finger.
"It does move!" she cried delighted. "I never saw one like it before."
"Would you like to keep it?" asked Graham.
"Always, do you mean?—for my very own?"
"Ah, yes!" she cried, "I should like it very much. I will wear it round my neck with a string, and love it so much, —better than Sophie."
She looked at it with great admiration as it glittered in the moonlight; but her next question fairly took Horace aback.
"Is it worth a great deal of money, Monsieur?" she inquired.
"Why, no, not a great deal—very little, in fact," he replied.
"Ah! then, I will beg papa to let me keep it always, always, and not to take it away."
"I daresay he will let you keep it, if you tell him you like it," said Graham, not clearly understanding her meaning.
"Oh! yes, but then he often gives me pretty things, and then sometimes he says he must take them away again, because they are worth so much money. I don't mind, you know, if he wants them; but I will ask him to let me keep this."
"And what becomes of all your pretty things?"
"I don't know; I have none now," she answered, "we left them behind at Spa. Do you know one reason why I would not dance to-night?" she added, lowering her voice confidentially.
"No; what was it?"
"Because I had not my blue silk frock with lace, that I wear at the balls at Wiesbaden and Spa. I can dance, you know, papa taught me; but not in this old frock, and I left my other at Spa."
"And what were your other reasons?" asked Graham, wondering more and more at the small specimen of humanity before him.
"Oh! because the room here is so small and crowded. At Wiesbaden there are rooms large—so large—quite like this courtyard," extending her small arms by way of giving expression to her vague sense of grandeur; "and looking- glasses all round, and crimson sofas, and gold chandeliers, and ladies in such beautiful dresses, and officers who danced with me. I don't know any one here."
"And who were the Count and the Prince you were talking about to Mademoiselle Sophie in the garden this morning?"
Madelon looked disconcerted.
"I shan't tell you," she said, hanging down her head.
"Will you not? Not if I want to know very much?"
She hesitated a moment, then burst forth—
"Well, then, they were just nobody at all. I was only talking make-believe to Sophie, that she might do the steps properly."
"Oh! then, you did not expect to see them here this evening?"
"Here!" cries Madelon, with much contempt; "why, no. One meets nothing but bourgeois here."
Graham was infinitely amused.
"Am I a bourgeois?" he said, laughing.
"I don't know," she replied, looking at him; "but you are not a milord, I know, for I heard papa asking Mademoiselle Cecile about you, and she said you were not a milord at all."
"So you care for nothing but Counts and Princes?"
"I don't know," she said again. Then with an evident sense that such abstract propositions would involve her beyond her depth, she added, "Have you any other pretty things to show me? I should like to see what else you have on your chain."
In five minutes more they were fast friends, and Madelon, seated on Graham's knee, was chattering away, and recounting to him all the history of her short life. He was not long in perceiving that her father was the beginning and end of all her ideas—her one standard of perfection, the one medium through which, small as she was, she was learning to look out on and estimate the world, and receiving her first impressions of life. She had no mother, she said, in answer to Graham's inquiries. Maman had died when she was quite a little baby; and though she seemed to have some dim faint recollection of having once lived in a cottage in the country, with a woman to take care of her, everything else referred to her father, from her first, vague floating memories to the time when she could date them as distinct and well-defined, facts. She had once had a nurse, she said, —a long time ago that was, when she was little—but papa did not like her, and so she went away; and now she was too big for one. Papa did everything for her, it appeared, from putting her to sleep at night, when Mademoiselle was disposed to be wakeful, to nursing her when she was ill, taking her to fetes on grand holidays, buying her pretty things, walking with her, teaching her dancing, and singing, and reading; and she loved him so much—ah! so much! Indeed, in all the world, the child had but one object for a child's boundless powers of trust and love and veneration, and that one was her father.
"And where do you generally live now?" asked Graham.
"Why, nowhere in particular," Madelon answered. "Of course not—they were always travelling about. Papa had to go to a great many places. They had come last from Spa, and before that they had been at Wiesbaden and Homburg, and last winter they had spent at Nice: and now they were on their way to Paris."
"And do you and your papa always live alone? Have you not an uncle?" enquired Graham, remembering the Belgian's speech about the brother-in-law.
"Oh! yes, there is Uncle Charles—he comes with us generally; but sometimes he goes away, and then I am so glad."
"How is that? are you not fond of him?"
"No," said Madelon, "I don't like him at all; he is very disagreeable, and teases me. And he is always wanting me to go away; he says, 'Adolphe'—that is papa, you know—'when is that child going to school?' But papa pays no attention to him, for he is never going to send me away; he told me so, and he says he could not get on without me at all."
Graham no longer wondered at Madelon's choice of a game, for it appeared she was in the habit of accompanying her father every evening to the gambling tables, when they were at any of the watering-places he frequented.
"Sometimes we go away into the ball-room and dance," she said, "that is when papa is losing; he says, 'Madelon, mon enfant, I see we shall do nothing here to-night, let us go and dance.' But sometimes he does nothing but win, and then we stop till the table closes, and he makes a great deal of money. Do you ever make money in that way, Monsieur?" she added naively.
"Indeed I do not," replied Graham.
"It is true that everyone has not the same way," said the child, with an air of being well informed, and evidently regarding her father's way as a profession like another, only superior to most. "What do you do, Monsieur?"
"I am going to be a doctor, Madelon."
"A doctor," she said reflecting; "I do not think that can be a good way. I only know one doctor, who cured me when I was ill last winter; but I know a great many gentlemen who make money like papa. Can you make a fortune with ten francs, Monsieur?"
"I don't think I ever tried," answered Horace.
"Ah, well, papa can; I have often heard him say, 'Give me only ten francs, et je ferai fortune!' "
There was something at once so droll and so sad about this child, with her precocious knowledge and ignorant simplicity, that the lad's honest tender heart was touched with a sudden pity as he listened to her artless chatter. He was almost glad when her confidences drifted away to more childlike subjects of interest, and she told him about her toys, and books, and pictures, and songs; she could sing a great many songs, she said, but Horace could not persuade her to let him hear one.
"Why do you talk French?" she said presently; "you speak it so funnily. I can talk English."
"Can you?" said Horace laughing, for indeed he spoke French with a fine English accent and idiom. "Let me hear you. Where did you learn it?"
"Uncle Charles taught me; he is English," she answered, speaking correctly enough, with a pretty little accent.
"Indeed!" cried Graham. "Your mother was English, then?"
"Yes. Mamma came from England, papa says, and Uncle Charles almost always talks English to me. I would not let him do it, only papa wished me to learn."
"And have you any other relations in England?"
"I don't know," she answered. "We have never been in England, and papa says he will never go, for he detests the English; but I only know Uncle Charles and you, and I like you."
"What is your Uncle Charles' other name? Can you tell me?"
"Leroy," she answered promptly.
"But that is not an English name," said Graham.
This was a little beyond Madelon, but after some consideration, she said with much simplicity,
"I don't know whether it is not English. But it is only lately his name has been Leroy, since he came back from a journey he made; before that it was something else, I forget what, but I heard him tell papa he would like to be called Leroy, as it was a common name; and papa told me, in case anyone asked me."
"I understand," said Graham; and indeed he did understand, and felt a growing compassion for the poor little girl, whose only companions and protectors were a gambler and a sharper.
They were still talking, when the silence of the courtyard was broken by a sudden confusion and bustle. The sound of the music and dancing had already ceased; and now a medley of voices, a shrill clamour of talking and calling, made themselves heard through the open hall door.
"Henri! Henri! Ou est-il donc, ce petit drole?"
"Allons, Pauline, depeche-toi, mon enfant, ton pere nous attend!"
"Ciel! j'ai perdu mon fichu et mes gants."
"The people are going away," says Madelon; and, in fact, in another minute the whole party, talking, laughing, hurrying, came streaming out by twos and threes into the moonlight, and, crossing the road and bridge, disappeared one by one in the station beyond, the sound of their voices still echoing back through the quiet night. The last had hardly vanished when a tall solitary figure appeared in the courtyard, and advanced, looking round as if searching for some one.
"Madelon!" cried the same voice that Graham had heard that morning in the garden.
"There is papa looking for me; I must go," exclaimed the child at the same moment; and before Graham had time to speak, she had slipped off his knee and darted up to her father; then taking his hand, the two went off together, the small figure jumping and dancing by the side of the tall man as they disappeared within the doorway of the hotel.
A few minutes more, and then a sound as of distant thunder told that the train was approaching through the tunnel. Graham watched it emerge, traverse the clear moonlit valley with slackening speed, and pause at the station for its freight of passengers. There was a vague sound of confusion as the people took their places, and then with a parting shriek it set off again; and as the sound died away in the distance, a great stillness succeeded the noise and bustle of a few moments before.
Horace was afraid he had seen the last of Madelon, for returning to the hotel he found no one in the salon, with the exception of Mademoiselle Cecile, who was already putting out the lights. The hall, too, was deserted; the servants had vanished, and the habitues of the hotel had apparently gone to bed, for he met no one as he passed along, and turned down the passage leading to the salle-a-manger. This was a large long room, occupying the whole ground floor of one wing of the hotel, with windows looking out on one side into the courtyard, on the other into the garden, two long tables, smaller ones in the space between, and above them a row of chandeliers smothered in pink and yellow paper roses. The room looked bare and deserted enough now; a sleepy waiter lounged at the further end, the trees in the garden rustled and waved to and fro in the rising night breeze, the moonlight streamed through the uncurtained windows on to the boarded floor and white table-cloths, chasing the darkness into remote corners, and contending with the light of the single lamp which stood on one of the smaller tables, where two men were sitting, drinking, smoking, and playing at cards.
One of them was a man between thirty and forty, in a tight- fitting black coat buttoned up to his chin, and with a thin face, smooth shaven, with the exception of a little yellow moustache, and sharp grey eyes. He would have been handsome, had it not been for his unpleasant expression, at once knowing and suspicious. The other Horace immediately recognised as Monsieur Linders; and a moment afterwards he perceived little Madeleine, sitting nestled close up to her father's side. The lamplight shone on her curly head and innocent mignonne face as she watched the game with eager eyes; it was piquant, and she was marking for her father, and when he had a higher score than his opponent, she laughed and clapped her hands with delight.
Graham stood watching this little scene for a minute; and somehow, as he looked at the little motherless girl, there came the thought of small rosy children he knew far away in England, who, having said their prayers, and repeated their Sunday hymns, perhaps, had been tucked into little white beds, and been fast asleep hours ago; and a kind, foolish notion entered the young fellow's head, that, for that one evening at least, he must get the brown-eyed child, who had taken his fancy so much, away from the drinking, and smoking, and card- playing, into a purer atmosphere. He went up to the table, and leant over her chair.
"Will you come out again and have a walk with me in the garden?" he said in English.
The man opposite, who was dealing, looked up sharply and suspiciously. Madelon turned round, and gazed up into the kind face smiling down on her, then shook her head with great decision.
"Not a little walk? I will tell you such pretty stories, all about fairies, and moonlight, and little boys and girls, and dragons," said Horace, drawing largely on his imagination, in his desire to offer a sufficient inducement.
"No," said Madelon, "I can't come; I am marking for papa."
"What is it?" said M. Linders, who understood very little English; "what does this gentleman want, mon enfant?"
"I was asking your little girl if she would take a walk with me in the garden," says Horace, getting rather red, and in his bad French.
"Monsieur is too good," answers M. Linders, making a grand bow, whilst his companion, having finished dealing, sat puffing away at his cigar, and drumming impatiently with his fingers on the table; "but the hour is rather late; what do you say, Madelon? Will you go with Monsieur?"
"No, papa," says the child, "I am marking for you; I don't want to go away."
"You see how it is, Monsieur," said M. Linders, turning to Graham with a smile and shrug. "This little one thinks herself of so much importance, that she will not leave me."
"Are you then mad," cried his companion, "that you think of letting Madelon go out at this time of night? It is nearly eleven o'clock, and she can hardly keep her eyes open."
"My eyes are wide, wide open, Uncle Charles," exclaimed Madelon, indignantly; "I'm not a bit tired, but I don't want to go out now."
"Monsieur will perhaps join our party," said Monsieur Linders, very politely. "I should be delighted to try my luck with a fresh adversary."
"Thank you," said Graham, "but I hardly ever touch cards." Then turning to Madelon, he added, "I must go away now, since you will not come for a walk. Won't you wish me good-bye? I shall not be here to-morrow."
She turned round and put her little hand into his for a moment; then with a sudden shy caprice snatched it away, and hid her face on her father's shoulder, just peeping at him with her bright eyes. But she started up again suddenly as he was leaving the room, calling out "Adieu, Monsieur, bon voyage," and kissing her hand to him. He smiled and nodded in return, bowed to M. Linders, and so went away. There was a moment's silence after he went, and then, "You have made a fine acquaintance this evening, Madelon," said her uncle.
Madelon made a little moue, but did not answer.
"Are you then mad, Adolphe," he said again, "that you permit Madeleine to pick up an acquaintance with anyone who chooses to speak to her? An Englishman too!"
"Papa is not mad," cried Madelon, between whom and her uncle there was apparently a standing skirmish. "He was a very kind gentleman, and I like him very much; he gave me this little goldfish, and I shall keep it always, always," and she kissed it with effusion.
"Bah!" said M. Linders, "English or French, it is all one to me; and what harm could he do to the little one? It was an accident, but it does not matter for once. Come, Madelon, you have forgotten to mark."
"It is your turn to deal next, papa," said the child, "may I do it for you?"
Horace Graham left Chaudfontaine by the earliest train the following morning; and of all the people he had seen on that Sunday evening at the hotel, only two ever crossed his path again in after years—M. Linders, and his little daughter, Madeleine.
M. Linders was of both Belgian and French extraction, his father having been a native of Liege, his mother a Parisian of good family, who, in a moment of misplaced sentiment, as she was wont in after years to sigh, had consented to marry a handsome young Belgian officer, and had expiated her folly by spending the greater part of her married life at Malines, where her husband was stationed, and at Liege, where his mother and sister resided. Adolphe's education, however, was wholly French; for Madame Linders, who, during her husband's life, had not ceased to mourn over her exile from her own city, lost no time, after his death, in returning to Paris with her two children, Therese, a girl of about twelve, and Adolphe, then a child five or six years old.
Madame Linders had money, but not much, and she made it go further than did ever Frenchwoman before, which is saying a great deal. Adolphe must be educated, Adolphe must be clothed, Adolphe was to be a great man some day; he was to go into the army, make himself a name, become a General, a Marshal,—heaven knows what glories the mother did not dream for him, as she turned and twisted her old black silks, in the entresol in the Chaussee d'Antin, where she had her little apartment. She had friends in Paris, and must keep up appearances for Adolphe's sake, not to mention her own, and so could not possibly live in a cheap out-of-the-way quarter.
As for Therese, she was of infinitely small account in the family. She was plain, not too amiable, nor particularly clever, and inclined to be devote; and, as in spite of positive and negative failings, she also had to eat and be clothed as well as her handsome fair brother, she could be regarded as nothing else than a burden in the economical household.
"You ask me what I shall do with Therese?" said Madame Linders one day to a confidential friend. "Oh! she will go into a convent, of course. I know of an excellent one near Liege, of which her aunt is the superior, and where she will be perfectly happy. She has a turn that way. What else can I do with her, my dear? To speak frankly, she is laide a faire peur, and she can have no dot worth mentioning; for I have not a sou to spare; so there is no chance of her marrying."
Therese knew her fate, and was resigned to it. As her mother said, she had a turn that way; and to the Liege convent she according went, but not before Madame Linders' death, which took place when her daughter was about seven-and-twenty, and which was, as Therese vehemently averred, occasioned by grief at her son's conduct.
Adolphe had also known the fate reserved for him, and was by no means resigned to it; for he had never had the least intention of becoming a soldier, and having escaped conscription, absolutely refused to enter the army. He was a clever, unprincipled lad, who had done well at his studies, but lost no time in getting into the most dissipated society he could find from the moment he left college. He inherited his father's good looks, but his mother's predilections apparently; for he set out in life with the determination to be Parisian amongst Parisians—of a certain class, be it understood; and having some talent for drawing, as indeed he had for most things, he used it as a pretext, announced that he intended to be an artist, and furnishing a room in the Quartier Latin, with an easel and a pipe, he began the wild Bohemian life which he found most in accordance with his tastes.
He was selfish and reckless enough, but not altogether heartless, for he had a real affection for his mother, which might have been worked upon with advantage. But Madame Linders, who had indulged him till he had learnt to look upon her devotion as a thing of course, now turned upon him with the fretful, inconsequent reproaches of a weak mind; and finding that he was constantly met with tearful words and aggrieved looks, her son avoided her as much as possible. His sister he could not endure. Therese had always been jealous of the marked preference shown to him; and now, with an evident sense of triumph, she preached little sermons, talked at him with unceasing perseverance, and in truth was not a very engaging person.
Madame Linders had not been dead ten days, when the brother and sister had a violent quarrel, and parted with the determination on either side never to meet again—a resolution which was perfectly well kept. Therese retired to the Belgian convent, and Adolphe, the possessor of a few thousand francs, the remains of his mother's small fortune, returned to his studio and to the life he had chosen.
The success and duration of a career of this sort is in exact proportion to the amount of capital, real or assumed, invested in it. Monsieur Linders' capital was very small; his francs and credit both were soon exhausted, and began to find that making-believe to paint pictures was hardly a paying business. He tried to take portraits, attempted etching, gambled, and, finally, being more in debt than he could well afford, disappeared from the Paris world for a number of years, and for a long space was known and heard of no more. It was indeed affirmed in his circle of acquaintance that he had been seen playing a fiddle at one of the cheap theatres; that he had been recognized in the dress of a fiacre-driver, and in that of a waiter at a Cafe Chantant: but these reports were idly spread, and wanted confirmation. They might or might not have been true. M. Linders never cared to talk much of those seven or eight years in which he had effaced himself, as it were, from society; but it may be imagined that he went through some strange experiences in a life which was a struggle for bare existence. Respectable ways of gaining a livelihood he ever held in aversion; and it was not, therefore, to be expected that a foolish and unprofitable pride would interfere to prevent his using any means not absolutely criminal in order to reach any desired end.
At length, however, he emerged from obscurity, and rose once more to the surface of society; and one of his old acquaintance, who encountered him at Homburg, returned marvelling to Paris to relate that he had seen Adolphe Linders winning fabulous sums at trente-et-quarante, that he was decently clothed, had a magnificent suite of apartments at one of the first hotels, and an English wife of wondrous beauty. Monsieur Linders had, in fact, sown his wild oats, so to speak, and settled down to the business of his life. In former days, gambling had been a passion with him—too much so, indeed, to admit of his playing with any great success; he had been apt to lose both temper and skill. Time, however, while increasing this passion for play, till it gradually became a necessity of his life, had taught him to bring to bear upon it all the ability which would have eminently fitted him for some more praiseworthy employment. Formerly he had indulged in it as a diversion; now it became a serious business, which he prosecuted with a cool head, determined will, and unfailing perseverance—qualities for which few would have given him credit in the wild unsettled period of his early career. The result was highly satisfactory to himself; he was soon known as one of the most successful haunters of the German and Belgian gaming-tables; he cast off the outward aspect and manners of the Bohemian set he had once affected, and assumed the guise and dress of the gentleman he really was—at least by birth and education—and which he found at once more profitable and more congenial to his maturer tastes. He lived splendidly, and spent money freely when he had it; incurred debts with great facility when he had not—debts which he did or did not pay, as the case might be.
It was during a winter spent at Brussels that he made the acquaintance of Charles Moore, a young Englishman with tastes identical with his own, but inferior to him in ability, talents, and even in principles. A sort of partnership was formed between them, Mr. Linders undertaking most of the work, and the Englishman contributing his small fortune as capital; and not only his own, but that of his sister Magdalen, a young girl who had come abroad with her brother, the only near relation she had in the world. M. Linders had been introduced to her, and she, in complete ignorance of the real character of either him or her brother Charles, had, with all the simplicity of eighteen, straightway fallen in love with the handsome gentlemanlike man, who, on his side, made no secret of the impression produced on him by the great loveliness of the English girl. Moore, who was a thoroughly heartless scamp, had not the least compunction in agreeing to a marriage between his sister and this man, with whose character and mode of life he was perfectly well acquainted; indeed, it suited his views so well, that he did what lay in his power to forward it. There were no difficulties in the way; the two were almost alone in the world. He had been left her sole guardian by their old father, who had died a twelve-month before; and she, trusting her brother entirely, was glad to leave everything in his hands. The marriage was accomplished with all possible speed, and it was not till nearly two months later that an accident revealed to Magdalen Linders, what indeed in any case she must have discovered before long—what manner of man this was she had got for her husband.
Then she did not pine away, nor sicken with despair, being of a great courage, strong to bear evil and misfortune, and not made of the stuff that gives way under cruel deception and disappointment. She uttered only one reproach—
"You should have told me of all this, Adolphe," she said.
"You would not have married me," he answered gloomily.
"I—I do not know. Ah, I loved you so much, and so truly!"
And she did love him still; and clung to him to the last, but not the less was she broken-hearted, so far as any enjoyment of life was concerned; and her husband saw it. All sense of rejoicing seemed to die out of her heart for ever. She hated the splendour with which he sometimes surrounded her, even more than the paltry shifts and expedients to which at other times they had to resort, when he had spent all his money, and there was no more forthcoming for the moment; she wept when her children were born, thinking of the iniquity of the world they had entered; and when her two little boys died one after the other, there was almost a sense of relief mixed with the bitterness of her sorrow, as she reflected on the father she could not have taught them to respect, and on the abject evil and misery from which she could not have shielded them.
As for M. Linders, he at once adored and neglected his wife, as was the nature of the man; that is, he adored her theoretically for her rare beauty, but neglected her practically, when, after a few months of married life, he saw her bloom fading, and her animation vanish, in the utter despondency which had seized her, and which found its outward expression in a certain studied composure and coldness of manner. There soon came a time when he would have willingly freed himself altogether from the constraint of her presence. He travelled almost incessantly, spending the summer and autumn at the German watering-places; the winter in France, or Belgium, or Italy; and he would sometimes propose that she should remain at a Paris hotel till he could return to her. In the first years after their marriage she objected vehemently. She was so young, so unused to solitude, that she felt a certain terror at the prospect of being left alone; and, moreover, she still clung with a sort of desperation to her girlish illusions, and, loving her husband, could not cease to believe in his love for her. She had plans, too, for reforming him, and for a long time would not allow herself to be convinced of their utter vanity and hopelessness. After the death of her little boys, however, she became more indifferent, or more resigned. And so it came to pass that when she had been married about six years, and four months after her third child was born, Madame Linders died, alone at a Paris hotel, with no one near her but the doctor, her baby's nurse, and the woman of the house. She had dictated a few words to tell her husband, who was then in Germany, that she was dying; and, stricken with a horrible remorse, he had travelled with all possible haste to Paris, and arrived at daybreak one morning to find that his wife had died the evening before.
Madame Linders' death had been caused by a fever, under which she had sunk rapidly at last. There had been no question of heart-breaking or pining grief here—so her husband thought with a sort of satisfaction even then, as he remembered his sister's words of bitter reproach over their mother's death- bed; and yet not the less, as he looked at his dead wife's face, did the reflection force itself upon him, that he had made the misery instead of the happiness of her life. He was a man who had accustomed himself to view things from the hardest and most practical point of view; and from such a view his marriage had been rather a failure than otherwise, since the memory of the little fortune she had brought with her had vanished with the fortune itself. But it had not been altogether for money that he had married her; he had been in love with her at one time, and that time repeated itself, with a pertinacity not to be shaken off, as he stood now in her silent presence.
Whatever his feelings may have been, however, they found no expression then. He turned sharply on the women standing round, who had already, after the fashion of womankind, contrived, without speaking, to let him know their opinion of a man who had left his wife alone for six months at an hotel, whilst he went and amused himself. He scarcely glanced at the small daughter, now presented to him for the first time; and he bade Madame Lavaux, the mistress of the hotel, "make haste and finish with all that," when, with tearful voice, and discursive minuteness, she related to him the history of his wife's last days. He made all necessary arrangements; took possession of Madame Linders' watch and few trinkets; himself superintended the packing of her clothes and other trifling properties into a large trunk, which he left in Madame Lavaux' charge; attended the funeral on the following day; and immediately on his return from it, ordered a fiacre to be in readiness to convey him to the railway station, as he was going to quit Paris immediately. He was on the point of departure, when he was confronted by Madame Lavaux and the nurse bearing the infant, who begged to know if he had any directions to leave concerning his child.
"Madame," he answered, addressing the landlady, "I entrust all these matters to you; see that the child is properly provided for, and I will send the requisite money."
"We had arranged that her nurse should take her away to her own home in the country," said Madame Lavaux.
"That will do," he answered; and was about to leave the room, when the nurse, an honest countrywoman, interposed once more, to inquire where she should write to Monsieur to give him tidings of his little daughter.
"I want none," he replied. "You can apply here to Madame for money if the child lives; if it dies she will let me know, and I need send no more." And so saying, he strode out of the room, leaving the women with hands and eyes uplifted at the hard-hearted conduct of the father.
For nearly two years M. Linders was absent from Paris, wandering about, as his habit was, from one town to another, a free man, as he would himself have expressed it, except for the one tie which he acknowledged only in the sums of money he sent from time to time, with sufficient liberality, to Madame Lavaux. No news reached him of his child, and he demanded none. But about twenty months after his wife's death, business obliged him to go for a few weeks to Paris; and finding himself with a leisure day on his hands, it occurred to him, with a sudden impulse, to spend it in the country and go and see his little girl. He ascertained from Madame Lavaux where she was, and went.
The woman with whom little Madeleine had been placed lived about fifteen miles from Paris, in a small village perched half-way up a steep hill, from the foot of which stretched a wide plain, where the Seine wound slowly amongst trees and meadows, and scattered villages. The house to which M. Linders was directed stood a little apart from the others, near the road-side, but separated from it by a strip of garden, planted with herbs and a patch of vines; and as he opened the gate, he came at once upon a pretty little picture of a child of two years, in a quaint, short-waisted, long-skirted pinafore, toddling about, playing at hide-and-seek among the tall poles and trailing tendrils, and kept within safe limits by a pair of leading-strings passed round the arm of a woman who sat in the shade of the doorway knitting. As M. Linders came up the narrow pathway she ran towards him to the utmost extent of her tether, uttering little joyous inarticulate cries, and bubbling over with the happy instinctive laughter of a child whose consciousness is bounded by its glad surroundings.
When, in moments of pseudo remorse, which would come upon him from time to time, it occurred to M. Linders to reflect upon his misdeeds, and adopt an apologetic tone concerning them, he was wont to propound a singular theory respecting his life, averring, in general terms, that it had been spoilt by women,— a speech more epigrammatic, perhaps, than accurate, since of the two women who had loved him best, his mother and his wife, he had broken the heart of the one, and ruined the happiness of the other. And yet it was not without its grain of meaning, however false and distorted; for M. Linders, who was not more consistent than the rest of mankind, had, by some queer anomaly, along with all his hardness, and recklessness, and selfishness, a capacity for affection after his own fashion, and an odd sensitiveness to the praise and blame of those women whom he cared for and respected which did not originate merely in vanity and love of applause. He had been fond of his mother, though he had ignored her wishes and abused her generosity; and he had hated his sister Therese, because he imagined that she had come between them. Their reproaches had been unbearable to him, and though his wife had never blamed him in words, there had been a mute upbraiding in her mournful looks and dejected spirits, which he had resented as a wrong done to the love he had once felt for her. In the absence of many subjects for self-congratulation, he rather piqued himself on a warm heart and sensitive feelings, and chose to consider them ill-requited by the cold words and sad glances of those whose happiness he was destroying. The idea that he should set matters straight by adjusting his life to meet their preconceived notions of right and wrong, would have appeared to him highly absurd; but he considered them unreasonable and himself ill-used when they refused to give their approbation to his proceedings, and this idea of ill- usage and unreasonableness he was willing to encourage, as it enabled him to shift the responsibility of their unhappiness from his own shoulders on to theirs, and to deaden the sense of remorse which would make itself felt from time to time. For in the worst of men, they say, there still lingers some touch of kindly human feeling, and M. Linders, though amongst the most worthless, was not perhaps absolutely the worst of men. He was selfish enough to inflict any amount of pain, yet not hardened enough to look unmoved on his victims. He had, in truth, taken both their misery and their reproaches to heart; and sometimes, especially since his wife's death, he had surprised in himself a strange, unaccountable desire for a love that should be true and pure, but which, ignorant of, or ignoring his errors, should be content to care for him and believe in him just as he was: such a love as his wife might, perhaps, have given him in her single month of unconscious happiness. It was a longing fitful, and not defined in words, but a real sentiment all the same, not a sentimentality; and, imperfect as it was in scope and tendency, it expressed the best part of the man's nature. He despised it, and crushed it down; but it lay latent, ready to be kindled by a touch.
And here was a small piece of womankind belonging to him, who could upbraid by neither word nor look, who ran towards him confidently, stretching out tiny hands to clutch at his shining gold chain, and gazing up in his face with great brown eyes, that recalled to him those of her dead mother, when she had first known and learnt to love him. Had Madelon been a shy plain child—had she hidden her face, and run from him screaming to her nurse, as children are so wont to do, he would then and there have paid the money he had brought with him as the ostensible cause of his visit, and gone on his way, thinking no more about her for another two years perhaps. But Madelon had no thought of shyness with the tall fair handsome man who had taken her fancy: she stood for a moment in the pathway before him, balancing herself on tiptoe with uplifted arms, confident in the hope of being taken up; and, as the woman recognizing M. Linders, came forward and bade the child run to Papa, with a sudden unaccustomed emotion of tenderness, almost pathetic in such a man, he stooped down and raised her in his arms.
As he travelled back to Paris that day, M. Linders formed a plan which he lost no time in carrying, partially, at least, into execution. During the next twelvemonth he spent much of his time in Paris, and went frequently to see his mall daughter, never without some gift to win her heart, till the child came to regard his pocket as the inexhaustible source of boundless surprises, in the shape of toys and cakes and bonbons. It was not long before she was devoted to her father, and, her nurse dying when she was a little more than three years old, M. Linders resolved at once to carry out his idea, and, instead of placing her with any one else, take possession of her himself. He removed her accordingly from the country to Paris, engaged a bonne, and henceforth Madelon accompanied him wherever he went.
Monsieur Linders' System.
My little lady had given Horace Graham a tolerably correct impression of her life as they had talked together in the moonlight at Chaudfontaine. When M. Linders took her home with him—if that may be called home which consisted of wanderings from one hotel to another—it was with certain fixed ideas concerning her, which he began by realizing with the success that not unfrequently attended his ideas when he set himself with a will to work them out. His child's love and trust he had already gained, as she had won suddenly for herself a place in his heart, and he started with the determination that these relations between them should never be disturbed. She should be educated for himself; she should be brought up to see with his eyes, to adopt his views; she should be taught no troublesome standard of right and wrong by which to measure him and find wanting; no cold shadow of doubt and reproach should ever rise between them and force them asunder; and above all, he would make her happy—she for one should never turn on him and say, "See, my life is ruined, and it is you who have done it!" She should know no life, no aims, no wishes but his; but that life should be so free from care and sorrow that for once he would be able to congratulate himself on having made the happiness, instead of the misery, of some one whom he loved and who loved him.
These were the ideas that M. Linders entertained concerning Madelon, expressing them to himself in thoughts and language half genuine, half sentimental, as was his nature. But his love for his child was genuine enough; and for the fulfilment of his purpose he was willing to sacrifice much, devoting himself to her, and giving up time, comfort, and even money, for the sake of this one small being whom in all the world he loved, and who was to be taught to love him. He took her about with him; she associated with his companions; he familiarized her with all his proceedings, and she came in consequence to look upon their mode of life as being as much a matter of course, and a part of the great system of things, as the child does who sees her father go out to plough every day, or mount the pulpit every Sunday to preach his sermon. Of course she did not understand it all; it was his one object in life that she should not; and fondly as he loved his little Madelon, he did not scruple to make her welfare subordinate to his own views. He was careful to keep her within the shady bounds of that world of no doubtful character, which he found wherever he went, hovering on the borders of the world of avowed honesty and respectability, jealously guarding her from every counter-influence, however good or beneficial. He would not send her to school, was half unwilling, indeed, that she should be educated in any way, lest she should come to the knowledge of good and evil, which he so carefully hid from her; and he even dismissed her good, kind-hearted bonne, on overhearing her instruct the child, who could then hardly speak plain, in some little hymn or prayer, or pious story, such as nurses delight in teaching their charges. After that he took care of her himself with the assistance of friendly landladies at the hotels he frequented, who all took an interest in and were kind to the little motherless girl, but were too busy to have any time to spend in teaching her, or enlarging her ideas; and indeed all the world conspired to carry out M. Linders' plan; for who would have cared, even had it been possible, to undertake the ungracious task of opening the eyes of a child to the real character of a father whom she loved and believed in so implicitly? And she was so happy, too! Setting aside any possible injury he might be doing her, M. Linders was the most devoted of fathers, loving and caring for her most tenderly, and thinking himself well repaid by the clinging grasp of her small hand, by the spring of joy with which she welcomed him after any absence, by her gleeful voice and laughter, her perfect trust and confidence in him.
There must have been something good and true about this man, roue and gambler though he was, that, somehow, he himself and those around him had missed hitherto, but that sprang willingly into life when appealed to by the innocent faith, the undoubting love of his little child. Thus much Madelon all unconsciously accomplished, but more than this she could not do. M. Linders did not become a reformed character for her sake: he had never had any particular principles, and Madelon's loving innocence, which aroused all his best emotions, had no power to stir in him any noble motives or high aspirations, which, if they existed at all, were buried too deep to be awakened by the touch of her small hand. His misdeeds had never occasioned him much uneasiness, except as they had affected the conduct of others towards himself; and he had no reproaches, expressed or implied, to fear from Madelon. "No one had ever so believed in him before!" he would sigh, with a feeling not without a certain pathos in its way, though with the ring of false sentiment characteristic of the man, and with an apparent want of perception that it was ignorance rather than belief that was in question. Madelon believed indeed in his love, for it answered readily to her daily and hourly appeals, but she cannot be aid to have believed in his honour and integrity, for she can hardly have known what they meant, and she made no claims upon them. It was, perhaps, happy for her that the day when she should have occasion to do so never arrived.
She was not left quite uneducated, however; her father taught her after his own fashion, and she gained a good deal of practical knowledge in their many wanderings. When she was six years old she could talk almost as many languages, could dance, and could sing a variety of songs with the sweetest, truest little voice; and by the time she was eight or nine, she had learned both to write and read, though M. Linders took care that her range of literature should be limited, and chiefly confined to books of fairy-tales, in which no examples drawn from real life could be found, to correct and confuse the single-sided views she received from him. This was almost the extent of her learning, but she picked up all sorts of odd bits of information, in the queer mixed society which M. Linders seemed everywhere to gather round him, and which appeared to consist of waifs and strays from every grade of society—from reckless young English milords, Russian princes, and Polish counts, soi-disant, down to German students and penniless artists.
It was, no doubt, fortunate, even at this early age, that Madelon's little pale face, with its wide-open brown eyes, had none of the prettiness belonging to the rosy-cheeked, blue- eyed, golden-haired type of beauty, and that she thus escaped a world of flattery and nonsense. She was silent too in company, as a rule, keeping her chatter and laughter, for the most part, till she was alone with her father, and content sometimes to sit as quiet as a mouse for a whole evening, watching what was going on around her; she was too much accustomed to strangers ever to feel shy with them, but she cared little for them, unless, as in Horace Graham's case, they happened to take her fancy.