Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: "Le Monsieur De La Petite Dame"
Author: Burnett, Frances Hodgson, 1849-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book ""Le Monsieur De La Petite Dame"" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



"LE MONSIEUR DE LA PETITE DAME"

By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Copyright, 1877


It was Madame who first entered the box, and Madame was bright with
youthful bloom, bright with jewels, and, moreover, a beauty. She was
a little creature, with childishly large eyes, a low, white forehead,
reddish-brown hair, and Greek nose and mouth.

"Clearly," remarked the old lady in the box opposite, "not a
Frenchwoman. Her youth is too girlish, and she has too petulant an air
of indifference."

This old lady in the box opposite was that venerable and somewhat severe
aristocrat, Madame de Castro, and having gazed for a moment or so a
little disapprovingly at the new arrival, she turned her glasses to the
young beauty's companion and uttered an exclamation.

It was at Monsieur she was looking now. Monsieur had followed his wife
closely, bearing her fan and bouquet and wrap, and had silently seated
him self a little behind her and in the shadow.

"_Ciel!_" cried Madame de Castro, "what an ugly little man!"

It was not an unnatural exclamation. Fate had not been so kind to the
individual referred to as she might have been--in fact she had been
definitely cruel. He was small of figure, insignificant, dark, and wore
a patient sphynx-like air of gravity. He did not seem to speak or move,
simply sat in the shadow holding his wife's belongings, apparently
almost entirely unnoticed by her.

"I don't know him at all," said Madame de Castro; "though that is not to
be wondered at, since I have exiled myself long enough to forget and be
forgotten by half Paris. What is his name?"

The gentleman at her side--a distinguished-looking old young man, with a
sarcastic smile--began with the smile, and ended with a half laugh.

"They call him," he replied, "Le Monsieur de la petite Dame. His name is
Villefort."

"Le Monsieur de la petite Dame," repeated Madame, testily. "That is
a title of new Paris--the Paris of your Americans and English. It is
villainously ill-bred."

M. Renard's laugh receded into the smile again, and the smile became of
double significance.

"True," he acquiesced, "but it is also villainously apropos. Look for
yourself."

Madame did so, and her next query, after she had dropped her glass
again, was a sharp one.

"Who is she--the wife?"

"She is what you are pleased to call one of our Americans! You know
the class,"--with a little wave of the hand,--"rich, unconventional,
comfortable people, who live well and dress well, and have an
incomprehensibly _naïve_ way of going to impossible places and doing
impossible things by way of enjoyment. Our fair friend there, for
instance, has probably been round the world upon several occasions,
and is familiar with a number of places and objects of note fearful
to contemplate. They came here as tourists, and became fascinated with
European life. The most overwhelming punishment which could be inflicted
upon that excellent woman, the mother, would be that she should be
compelled to return to her New York, or Philadelphia, or Boston,
whichsoever it may be."

"Humph!" commented Madame. "But you have not told me the name."

"Madame Villefort's? No, not yet. It was Trent--Mademoiselle Bertha
Trent."

"She is not twenty yet," said Madame, in a queer, grumbling tone. "What
did she marry that man for?"

"God knows," replied M. Renard, not too devoutly, "Paris does not."

For some reason best known to herself, Madame de Castro looked angry.
She was a shrewd old person, with strong whims of her own, even at
seventy. She quite glared at the pretty American from under her bushy
eyebrows.

"Le Monsieur de la petite Dame!" she fumed. "I tell you it is low--_low_
to give a man such names."

"Oh!" returned Renard, shrugging his shoulders, "we did not give it to
him. It was an awkward servant who dubbed him so at first. She was new
to her position, and forgot his name, and being asked who had arrived,
stumbled upon this _bon mot: 'Un monsieur, Madame--le monsieur de la
petite dame,'_--and, being repeated and tossed lightly from hand to
hand, it has become at last an established witticism, albeit bandied
under breath."

It was characteristic of the august De Castro that during the remainder
of the evening's entertainment she should occupy herself more with her
neighbors than with the opera. She aroused M. Renard to a secret ecstasy
of mirth by the sharp steadiness of her observation of the inmates of
the box opposite to them. She talked about them, too, in a tone not too
well modulated, criticising the beautifully dressed little woman,
her hair, her eyes, her Greek nose and mouth, and, more than all, her
indifferent expression and her manner of leaning upon the edge of her
box and staring at the stage as if she did not care for, and indeed
scarcely saw, what was going on upon it.

"That is the way with your American beauties," she said. "They have no
respect for things. Their people spoil them--their men especially.
They consider themselves privileged to act as their whims direct. They
have not the gentle timidity of Frenchwomen. What French girl would have
the _sang froid_ to sit in one of the best boxes of the Nouvelle Opéra
and regard, with an actual air of _ennui_, such a performance as this?
She does not hear a word that is sung."

"And we--do we hear?" bantered M. Renard.

"_Pouf!_" cried Madame. "We! We are world-dried and weather-beaten. We
have not a worm-eaten emotion between us. I am seventy, and you, who are
thirty-five, are the elder of the two. Bah I At that girl's age I had
the heart of a dove."

"But that is long ago," murmured M. Renard, as if to himself. It
was quite human that he should slightly resent being classed with an
unamiable grenadier of seventy.

"Yes!" with considerable asperity. "Fifty years!" Then, with harsh
voice and withered face melted suddenly into softness quite _naïve, "Mon
Dieu!_" she said, "Fifty years since Arsène whispered into my ear at my
first opera, that he saw tears in my eyes!"

It was at this instant that there appeared in the Villefort box a new
figure,--that of a dark, slight young man of graceful movements,--in
fact, a young man of intensely striking appearance. M. Villefort rose
to receive him with serious courtesy, but the pretty American was not so
gracious. Not until he had seated himself at her side and spoken to her
did she turn her head and permit her eyes simply to rest upon his face.

M. Renard smiled again.

"Enter," he remarked in a low tone,--"enter M. Ralph Edmondstone, the
cousin of Madame."

His companion asked no questions, but he proceeded, returning to his
light and airy tone:--

"M. Ralph Edmondstone is a genius," he said. "He is an artist, he is a
poet, he is also a writer of subtile prose. His sonnets to Euphrasie--in
the day of Euphrasie--awakened the admiration of the sternest critics:
they were so tender, so full of purest fire! Some of the same critics
also could scarcely choose between these and his songs to Aglæ in
her day, or Camille in hers. He is a young man of fine fancies, and
possesses the amiable quality of being invariably passionately in
earnest. As he was serious in his sentiments yesterday, so he will be
to-morrow, so he is to-day."

"To-day!" echoed Madame de Castro. "Nonsense!"

Madame Villefort did not seem to talk much. It was M. Ralph Edmondstone
who conversed, and that, too, with so much of the charm of animation
that it was pleasurable even to be a mere looker-on.

One involuntarily strained one's ears to catch a sentence,--he was
so eagerly absorbed, so full of rapid, gracefully unconscious and
unconventional gesture.

"I wonder what he is saying?" Madame de Castro was once betrayed into
exclaiming.

"Something metaphysical, about a poem, or a passage of music, or a
picture,--or perhaps his soul," returned M. Renard. "His soul is his
strong point,--he pets it and wonders at it. He puts it through its
paces. And yet, singularly enough, he is never ridiculous--only fanciful
and _naïve_. It is his soul which so fascinates women."

Whether this last was true of other women or not, Madame Villefort
scarcely appeared fascinated. As she listened, her eyes still rested
upon his eager mobile face, but with a peculiar expression,--an
expression of critical attention, and yet one which somehow detracted
from her look of youth, as if she weighed his words as they fell from
his lips and classified them, without any touch of the enthusiasm which
stirred within himself.

Suddenly she rose from her seat ana addressed her husband, who
immediately rose also. Then she spoke to M. Edmondstone, and without
more ado, the three left the box,--the young beauty, a little oddly,
rather followed than accompanied by her companions,--at the recognition
of which circumstance Madame de Castro uttered a series of sharp
ejaculations of disapproval.

"Bah! Bah!" she cried. "She is too young for such airs!--as if she were
Madame l'Impératrice herself! Take me to my carriage. I am tired also."

Crossing the pavement with M. Renard, they passed the carriage of the
Villeforts. Before its open door stood M. Villefort and Edmondstone, and
the younger man, with bared head, bent forward speaking to his cousin.

"If I come to-morrow," he was saying, "you will be at home, Bertha?"

"Yes."

"Then, good-night,"--holding out his hand,--"only I wish so that
you would go to the Aylmers instead of home. That _protégée_ of Mrs.
Aylmer's--the little singing girl--would touch your heart with her
voice. On hearing her, one thinks at once of some shy wild bird high in
a clear sky,--far enough above earth to have forgotten to be timid."

"Yes," came quietly from the darkness within the carriage; "but I am too
tired to care about voices just now. Good-night, Ralph!"

M. Renard's reply of "God knows, Paris does not," to Madame de Castro's
query as to why Madame Villefort had married her husband, contained an
element of truth, and yet there were numbers of Parisian-Americans, more
especially the young, well-looking, and masculine, who at the time
the marriage had taken place had been ready enough with sardonic
explanations.

"There are women who are avaricious enough to sell their souls," they
cried; "and the maternal Trent is one of them. The girl is only to blame
for allowing herself to be bullied into the match."

"But the weak place in this argument," said M. Renard, "is, that the
people are too rich to be greatly influenced by money. If there had been
a title,--but there was no title."

Neither did Bertha Trent comport herself like a cowed creature. She took
her place in society as Madame Villefort in such a manner as could give
rise to no comment whatever; only one or two of the restless inquisitive
wondered if they had not been, mistaken in her. She was, as I have said
already, a childishly small and slight creature,--the kind of woman to
touch one with suggestions of helplessness and lack of will; and yet,
notwithstanding this, a celebrated artist--a shrewd, worldly-wise old
fellow--who had painted her portrait, had complained that he was not
satisfied with it because he had not done justice to "the obstinate
endurance in her eye."

It was to her cousin, Ralph Edmondstone, he had said this with some
degree of testiness, and Edmondstone had smiled and answered:--

"What! have you found that out? Few people do."

At the time of the marriage Edmondstone had been in Rome singeing his
wings in the light of the eyes of a certain Marchesa who was his latest
poetic passion. She was not his first fancy, nor would she be his last,
but she had power enough for the time being to have satisfied the most
exacting of women.

He was at his banker's when he heard the news spoken of as the latest
item from American Paris, and his start and exclamation of disgust drew
forth some cynical after-comment from men who envied him.

"Who?" he said, with indiscreet impatience. "That undersized sphynx of a
Villefort? Faugh!"

But insignificant though he might be, it was M. Villefort who had
won, and if he was nothing more, he was at least a faithful attendant.
Henceforth, those who saw his wife invariably saw him also,--driving
with her in her carriage, riding with her courageously if ungracefully,
standing or seated near her in the shadow of her box at the Nouvelle
Opéra, silent, impassive, grave, noticeable only through the contrast he
afforded to her girlish beauty and bloom.

"Always there!" commented a sharp American belle of mature years, "like
an ugly little conscience."

Edmondstone's first meeting with his cousin after his return to Paris
was accidental. He had rather put off visiting her, and one night,
entering a crowded room, he found himself standing behind a girl's light
figure and staring at an abundance of reddish-brown hair. When, almost
immediately the pretty head to which this hair belonged turned with
a slow, yet involuntary-looking movement toward him, he felt that he
became excited without knowing why.

"Ah, Bertha!" he exclaimed.

She smiled a little and held out her hand, and he immediately became
conscious of M. Villefort being quite near and regarding him seriously.

It was the perverseness of fate that he should find in Bertha Villefort
even more than he had once seen in Bertha Trent, and there had been
a time when he had seen a great deal in Bertha Trent. In the Trent
household he had been a great favorite. No social evening or family
festivity had seemed complete without his presence. The very children
had felt that they had a claim upon his good-humor, and his tendency
to break forth into whimsical frolic. Good Mrs. Trent had been wont to
scold him and gossip with him. He had read his sonnets and metaphysical
articles to Bertha, and occasionally to the rest; in fact, his footing
in the family was familiar and firmly established. But since her
marriage Bertha had become a little incomprehensible, and on that
account a little more interesting. He was sure she had developed, but
could not make out in what direction. He found occasion to reproach her
sometimes with the changes he found in her.

"There are times when I hardly know you," he would say, "you are so
finely orthodox and well controlled. It was not so with you once,
Bertha. Don't--don't become that terrible thing, a fine lady, and worse
still, a fine lady who is _désillusionée_"

It baffled him that she never appeared much moved, by his charges.
Certainly she lived the life of a "fine lady,"--a brilliant life,
a luxurious one, a life full of polite dissipation. Once, when in a
tenderly fraternal mood, he reproached her with this also, she laughed
at him frankly.

"It is absinthe," she said. "It is my absinthe at least, and who does
not drink a little absinthe--of one kind or another?"

He was sincerely convinced that from this moment he understood and had
the right to pity and watch over her. He went oftener to see her. In her
presence he studied her closely, absent he brooded over her. He became
impatiently intolerant of M. Villefort, and prone to condemn him, he
scarcely knew for what.

"He has no dignity--no perception," was his parental decision. "He has
not even the delicacy to love her, or he would have the tenderness to
sacrifice his own feelings and leave her to herself. I could do it for a
woman I loved."

But M. Villefort was always there,--gravely carrying the shawls, picking
up handkerchiefs, and making himself useful.

"_Imbécile!_" muttered M. Renard under cover of his smile and his
mustache, as he stood near his venerable patroness the first time she
met the Villeforts.

"Blockhead!" stealthily ejaculated that amiable aristocrat. But though
she looked grimly at M. Villefort, M. Renard was uncomfortably uncertain
that it was he to whom she referred.

"Go and bring them to me," she commanded, "Go and bring them to me
before some one else engages them. I want to talk to that girl."

It was astonishing how agreeable she made herself to her victims
when she had fairly entrapped them. Bertha hesitated a little before
accepting her offer of a seat at her side, but once seated she found
herself oddly amused. When Madame de Castro chose to rake the embers of
her seventy years, many a lively coal discovered itself among the ashes.

Seeing the two women together, Edmondstone shuddered in fastidious
protest.

"How could you laugh at that detestable old woman?" he exclaimed on
encountering Bertha later in the evening. "I wonder that M. Villefort
would permit her to talk to you. She is a wicked, cynical creature, who
has the hardihood to laugh at her sins instead of repenting of them."

"Perhaps that is the reason she is so amusing," said Bertha.

Edmondstone answered her with gentle mournfulness.

"What!" he said. "Have you begun to say such things? You too, Bertha"--

The laugh with which she stopped him was both light and hard.

"Where is M. Villefort?" she asked. "I have actually not seen him for
fifteen minutes. Is it possible that Madame de Castro has fascinated him
into forgetting me?"

Edmondstone went to his hotel that night in a melancholy mood. He even
lay awake to think what a dreary mistake his cousin's marriage was. She
had been such a tender and easily swayed little soul as a girl, and now
it really seemed as if she was hardening into a woman of the world.
In the old times he had been wont to try his sonnets upon Bertha as a
musician tries his chords upon his most delicate instrument. Even now
he remembered certain fine, sensitive expressions of hers which had
thrilled him beyond measure.

"How could she marry such a fellow as that--how could she?" he groaned.
"What does it mean? It must mean something."

He was pale and heavy-eyed when he wandered round to the Villeforts'
the following morning. M. Villefort was sitting with Bertha and reading
aloud. He stopped to receive their visitor punctiliously and inquire
after his health.

"M. Edmondstone cannot have slept well," he remarked.

"I did not sleep at all," Edmondstone answered, "and naturally have a
headache."

Bertha pointed to a wide lounge of the _pouf_ order.

"Then go to sleep now," she said; "M. Villefort will read. When I have a
headache he often reads me to sleep, and I am always better on awaking."

Involuntarily Edmondstone half frowned. Absurdly enough, he resented in
secret this amiability on the part of M. Villefort toward his own wife.
He was quite prepared to be severe upon the reading, but was surprised
to be compelled to acknowledge that M. Villefort read wondrously well,
and positively with hints of delicate perception. His voice was full and
yet subtly flexible. Edmondstone tried to protest against this also, but
uselessly. Finally he was soothed, and from being fretfully wide-awake
suddenly passed into sleep as Bertha had commanded. How long his slumber
lasted he could not have told. All at once he found himself aroused and
wide-awake as ever. His headache had departed; his every sense seemed to
have gained keenness. M. Villefort's voice had ceased, and for a few
seconds utter, dead silence reigned. Then he heard the fire crackling,
and shortly afterward a strange, startling sound--a sharp, gasping sob!

The pang which seized upon him was strong indeed. In one moment he
seemed to learn a thousand things by intuition--to comprehend her,
himself, the past. Before he moved he knew that Villefort was not in the
room, and he had caught a side glimpse of the pretty blue of Bertha's
dress.

But he had not imagined the face he saw when he turned his head to look
at her. She sat in a rigid attitude, leaning against the high cushioned
back of her chair, her hands clasped above her head. She stared at the
fire with eyes wide and strained with the agony of tears unshed, and
amid the rush of all other emotions he was peculiarly conscious of
being touched by the minor one of his recognition of her look of extreme
youth--the look which had been wont to touch people in the girl, Bertha
Trent. He had meant to speak clearly, but his voice was only a loud
whisper when he sprang up, uttering her name.

"Bertha! Bertha! Bertha!" as he flung himself upon his knees at her
side.

Her answer was an actual cry, and yet it reached no higher pitch than
his own intense whisper.

"I thought you were asleep?"

Her hands fell and he caught them. His sad impassioned face bowed itself
upon her palms.

"I am awake, Bertha," he groaned. "I am awake--at last."

She regarded him with a piteous, pitying glance. She knew him with a
keener, sadder knowledge than he would ever comprehend; but she did not
under-estimate the depth of his misery at this one overwhelming moment.
He was awake indeed and saw what he had lost.

"If you could but have borne with me a little longer," he said. "If I
had only not been so shallow and so blind. If you could but have borne
with me a little longer!"

"If I could but have borne with myself a little longer," she answered.
"If I could but have borne a little longer with my poor, base pride!
Because I suffered myself, I have made another suffer too."

He knew she spoke of M. Villefort, and the thought jarred upon him.

"He does not suffer," he said. "He is not of the fibre to feel pain."

And he wondered why she shrank from him a little and answered with a sad
bitterness:--

"Are you sure? You did not know that!"--

"Forgive me," he said brokenly, the face he lifted, haggard with his
unhappiness. "Forgive me, for I have lost so much."

She wasted few words and no tears. The force and suddenness of his
emotion and her own had overborne her into this strange unmeant
confession; but her mood was unlike his,--it was merely receptive. She
listened to his unavailing regrets, but told him little of her own past.

"It does not matter," she said drearily. "It is all over. Let it
rest. The pain of to-day and tomorrow is enough for us. We have borne
yesterday; why should we want it back again?"

And when they parted she said only one thing of the future:--

"There is no need that we should talk. There is nothing for us beyond
this point. We can only go back. We must try to forget--and be satisfied
with our absinthe."

Instead of returning to his hotel, Edmondstone found his way to the
Champs Élysées, and finally to the Bois. He was too wretched to have any
purpose in his wanderings. He walked rapidly, looking straight before
him and seeing nobody. He scarcely understood his own fierce emotions
Hitherto his fancies had brought him a vague rapture; now he experienced
absolute anguish, Every past experience had become trivial. What
happiness is so keen as one's briefest pain? As he walked he lived again
the days he had thrown away. He remembered a thousand old, yet new,
phases of Bertha's girlhood. He thought of times when she had touched
or irritated or pleased him. When he had left Paris for Rome she had not
bidden him good-by. Jenny, her younger sister, had told him that she was
not well.

"If I had seen her then," he cried inwardly, "I might have read her
heart--and my own."

M. Renard, riding a very tall horse in the Bois, passed him and raised
his eyebrows at the sight of his pallor and his fagged yet excited look.

"There will be a new sonnet," he said to himself. "A sonnet to Despair,
or Melancholy, or Loss."

Afterward, when society became a little restive and eager, M. Renard
looked on with sardonic interest.

"That happy man, M. Villefort," he said to Madame de Castro, "is a good
soul--a good soul. He has no small jealous follies," and his smile was
scarcely a pleasant thing to see.

"There is nothing for us beyond this past," Bertha had said, and
Edmondstone had agreed with her hopelessly.

But he could not quite break away. Sometimes for a week the Villeforts
missed him, and then again they saw him every day. He spent his mornings
with them, joined them in their drives, at their opera-box, or at the
entertainments of their friends. He also fell into his old place in the
Trent household, and listened with a vague effort at interest to Mrs.
Trent's maternal gossip about the boys' college expenses, Bertha's
household, and Jenny's approaching social _début_ He was continually
full of a feverish longing to hear of Bertha,--to hear her name spoken,
her ingoings and out-comings discussed, her looks, her belongings.

"The fact is," said Mrs. Trent, as the winter advanced, "I am anxious
about Bertha. She does not look strong. I don't know why I have not
seen it before, but all at once I found out yesterday that she is really
thin. She was always slight and even a little fragile, but now she is
actually thin. One can see the little bones in her wrists and fingers.
Her rings and her bracelets slip about quite loosely."

"And talking of being thin, mother," cried Jenny, who was a frank,
bright sixteen-year-old, "look at cousin Ralph himself. He has little
hollows in his cheeks, and his eyes are as much too big as Bertha's. Is
the sword wearing out the scabbard, Ralph? That is what they always say
about geniuses, you know."

"Ralph has not looked well for some time," said Mrs. Trent. "As for
Bertha, I think I shall scold her a little, and M. Villefort too. She
has been living too exciting a life. She is out continually. She must
stay at home more and rest. It is rest she needs."

"If you tell Arthur that Bertha looks ill "--began Jenny.

Edmondstone turned toward her sharply. "Arthur!" he repeated. "Who is
Arthur?"

Mrs. Trent answered with a comfortable laugh.

"It is M. Villefort's name," she said, "though none of us call him
Arthur but Jenny. Jenny and he are great friends."

"I like him better than any one else," said Jenny stoutly. "And I wish
to set a good example to Bertha, who never calls him anything but M.
Villefort, which is absurd. Just as if they had been introduced to each
other about a week ago."

"I always hear him address her as Madame Villefort," reflected
Edmondstone, somewhat gloomily.

"Oh yes!" answered Jenny, "that is his French way of studying her
fancies. He would consider it taking an unpardonable liberty to call her
'Bertha,' since she only favors him with 'M. Villefort.' I said to him
only the other day, 'Arthur, you are the oddest couple! You're so grand
and well-behaved, I cannot imagine you scolding Bertha a little, and
I have never seen you kiss her since you were married.' I was half
frightened after I had said it. He started as if he had been shot,
and turned as pale as death. I really felt as if I had done something
frightfully improper."

"The French are so different from the Americans," said Mrs. Trent,
"particularly those of M. Villefort's class. They are beautifully
punctilious, but I don't call it quite comfortable, you know."

Her mother was not the only person who noticed a change in Bertha
Villefort. Before long it was a change so marked that all who saw her
observed it. She had become painfully frail and slight. Her face looked
too finely cut, her eyes had shadowy hollows under them, and were always
bright with a feverish excitement.

"What is the matter with your wife?" demanded Madame de Castro of M.
Villefort. Since their first meeting she had never loosened her hold
upon the husband and wife, and had particularly cultivated Bertha.

There was no change in the expression of M. Villefort, but he was
strangely pallid as he made his reply.

"It is impossible for me to explain, Madame."

"She is absolutely attenuated," cried Madame» "She is like a spirit.
Take her to the country--to Normandy--to the sea--somewhere! She will
die if there is not a change. At twenty, one should be as plump as a
young capon."

A few days after this, Jenny Trent ran in upon Bertha as she lay upon
a lounge, holding an open book, but with closed eyes. She had come to
spend the morning, she announced. She wanted to talk--about people,
about her dress, about her first ball which was to come off shortly.

"And Arthur says"--she began.

Bertha turned her head almost as Edmondstone had done.

"Arthur!" she repeated. For the second time Jenny felt a little
embarrassed.

"I mean M. Villefort," she said, hesitantly.

She quite forgot what she had been going to say, and for a moment or so
regarded the fire quite gravely. But naturally this could not last long.
She soon began to talk again, and it was not many minutes before she
found M. Villefort in her path once more.

"I never thought I could like a Frenchman so much," she said, in all
enthusiastic good faith. "At first, you know," with an apologetic half
laugh, "I wondered why you had not taken an American instead, when there
were so many to choose from, but now I understand it. What beautiful
tender things he can say, Bertha, and yet not seem in the least
sentimental. Everything comes so simply right from the bottom of his
heart. Just think what he said to me yesterday when he brought me those
flowers. He helps me with mine, and it is odd how things will cheer up
and grow for him, I said to him, 'Arthur, how is it that no flower ever
fails you?' and he answered in the gentlest quiet way, 'Perhaps because
I never fail them. Flowers are like people,--one must love and be
true to them, not only to-day and to-morrow, but every day--every
hour--always.' And he says such things so often. That is why I am so
fond of him."

As she received no reply, she turned toward the lounge. Bertha lay upon
it motionless and silent,--only a large tear trembled on her cheek.
Jenny sprung up, shocked and checked, and went to' her.

"Oh, Bertha!" she cried, "how thoughtless I am to tire you so, you poor
little soul! Is it true that you are so weak as all that? I heard mamma
and Arthur talking about it, but I scarcely believed it. They said you
must go to Normandy and be nursed."

"I don't want to go to Normandy," said Bertha, "I--I am too tired. I
only want to lie still and rest. I have been out too much."

Her voice, however, was so softly weak that in the most natural manner
Jenny was subdued into shedding a few tears also, and kissed her
fervently.

"Oh, Bertha!" she said, "you must do anything--anything that will
make you well--if it is only for Arthur's sake. He loves you so--so
terribly."

Whereupon Bertha laughed a little hysterically. "Does he," she said,
"love me so 'terribly'? Poor M. Villefort?"

She did not go to Normandy, however, and still went into society, though
not as much as had been her habit. When she spent her evenings at home,
some of her own family generally spent them with her, and M. Villefort
or Edmondstone read aloud or talked.

In fact, Edmondstone came oftener than ever. His anxiety and unhappiness
grew upon him, and made him moody, irritable, and morbid.

One night, when M. Villefort had left them alone together for a short
time, he sprang from his chair and came to her couch, shaken with
suppressed emotion.

"That man is killing you!" he exclaimed. "You are dying by inches! I
cannot bear it!"

"It is not _he_ who is killing me," she answered; and then M. Villefort
returned to the room with the book he had been in search of.

In this case Edmondstone's passion took new phases. He wrote no sonnets,
painted no pictures. He neglected his work, and spent his idle hours in
rambling here and there in a gloomy, unsociable fashion.

"He looks," said M. Renard, "as if his soul had been playing him some
evil trick."

He had at first complained that Bertha had taken a capricious fancy
to Madame de Castro, but in course of time he found his way to the old
woman's _salon_ too, though it must be confessed that Madame herself
never showed him any great favor. But this he did not care for. He only
cared to sit in the same room with Bertha, and watch her every movement
with a miserable tenderness.

One night, after regarding him cynically for some time, Madame broke out
to Bertha with small ceremony:--

"What a fool that young man is!" she exclaimed. "He sits and fairly
devours you with his eyes. It is bad taste to show such an insane
passion for a married woman."

It seemed as if Bertha lost at once her breath and every drop of blood
in her body, for she had neither breath nor color when she turned and
looked Madame de Castro in the face.

"Madame," she said, "if you repeat that to me, you will never see me
again--never!"

Upon which Madame snapped her up with some anger at being so rebuked for
her frankness.

"Then it is worse than I thought," she said.

It was weeks before she saw her young friend again. Indeed, it required
some clever diplomacy to heal the breach made, and even in her most
amusing and affectionate moods, she often felt afterward that she was
treated with a reserve which held her at arm's length.

By the time the horse-chestnuts bloomed pink and white on the Avenue des
Champs Élysées, there were few people in the Trent and Villefort circles
who had not their opinions on the subject of Madame Villefort and her
cousin.

There was a mixture of French and American gossip and comment, frank
satire, or secret remark. But to her credit be it spoken, Madame de
Castro held grim silence, and checked a rumor occasionally with such
amiable ferocity as was not without its good effect.

The pink and white blossoms were already beginning to strew themselves
at the feet of the pedestrians, when one morning M. Villefort presented
himself to Madame, and discovered her sitting alone in the strangest of
moods.

"I thought I might have the pleasure of driving home with Madame
Villefort. My servant informed me that I should find her here."

Madame de Castro pointed to a chair.

"Sit down," she commanded.

M. Villefort obeyed her in some secret but well-concealed amazement.
He saw that she was under the influence of some unusual excitement. Her
false front was pushed fantastically away, her rouge and powder were
rubbed off in patches, her face looked set and hard. Her first words
were abominably blunt.

"M. Villefort," she said, "do you know what your acquaintances call
you?"

A deep red rose slowly to his face, but he did not answer.

"Do you know that you are designated by them by an absurd title--that
they call you in ridicule 'Le Monsieur de la petite Dame?' Do you know
that?"

His look was incomprehensible, but he bowed gravely.

"Madame," he answered, "since others have heard the title so often, it
is but natural that I myself should have heard it more than once."

She regarded him in angry amazement. She was even roused to rapping upon
the floor with her gold-headed cane.

"Does it not affect you?" she cried. "Does it not move you to
indignation?"

"That, Madame," he replied, "can only be my affair. My friends will
allow me my emotions at least."

Then she left her chair and began to walk up and down, striking the
carpet hard with her cane at every step.

"You are a strange man," she remarked.

Suddenly, however, when just on the point of starting upon a fresh tour,
she wheeled about and addressed him sharply.

"I respect you," she said; "and because I respect you, I will do you a
good turn."

She made no pretense at endeavoring to soften the blow she was about to
bestow. She drew forth from her dress a letter, the mere sight of which
seemed to goad her to a mysterious excitement.

"See," she cried; "it was M. Ralph Edmondstone who wrote this,--it was
to Madame Villefort it was written. It means ruin and dishonor. I offer
it to you to read."

M. Villefort rose and laid his hand upon his chair to steady himself.

"Madame," he answered, "I will not touch it."

She struck herself upon her withered breast.

"Behold me!" she said. "_Me!_ I am seventy years old! Good God! seventy!
I am a bad old woman, and it is said I do not repent of my sins. I, too,
have been a beautiful young girl. I, too, had my first lover. I, too,
married a man who had not won my heart. It does not matter that the
husband was worthy and the lover was not,--one learns that too late. My
fate was what your wife's will be if you will not sacrifice your pride
and save her."

"Pride!" he echoed in a bitter, hollow voice. "My pride, Madame!"

She went on without noticing him:--

"They have been here this morning--both of them. He followed her, as he
always does. He had a desperate look which warned me. Afterward I found
the note upon the floor. Now will you read it?"

"Good God!" he cried, as he fell into his chair again, his brow sinking
into his hands.

"I have read it," said Madame, with a tragic gesture, "and I choose to
place one stumbling-block in the path that would lead her to an old age
like mine. I do not like your Americans; but I have sometimes seen in
her girl's face a proud, heroic endurance of the misery she has brought
upon herself, and it has moved me. And this let ter--you should read it,
to see how such a man can plead. It is a passionate cry of despair--it
is a poem in itself. I, myself, read it with sobs in my throat and tears
in my eyes. 'If you love me!--if you have ever loved me!' he cries, 'for
God's sake!--for love's sake!--if there is love on earth--if there is a
God in heaven, you will not let me implore you in vain!' And his prayer
is that she will leave Paris with him tonight--. to-night! There!
Monsieur, I have done. Behold the letter! Take it or leave it, as you
please." And she flung it upon the floor at his feet.

She paused a moment, wondering what he would do.

He bent down and picked the letter up.

"I will take it," he said.

All at once he had become calm, and when he rose and uttered his last
words to her, there was upon his face a faint smile.

"I, too," he said,--"I, too, Madame, suffer from a mad and hopeless
passion, and thus can comprehend the bitterness of M. Edmondstone's
pangs. I, too, would implore in the name of love and God,--if I might,
but I may not." And so he took his departure.

Until evening Bertha did not see him. The afternoon she spent alone and
in writing letters, and having completed and sealed the last, she went
to her couch and tried to sleep. One entering the room, as she lay upon
the violet cushions, her hands at her sides, her eyes closed, might well
have been shocked. Her spotless pallor, the fine sharpness of her face,
the shadows under her eyes, her motionlessness, would have excused
the momentary feeling. But she was up and dressed for dinner when M.
Villefort presented himself. Spring though it was, she was attired in a
high, close dress of black velvet, and he found her almost cowering over
the open fire-place. Strangely enough, too, she fancied that when she
looked up at him she saw him shiver, as if he were struck with a slight
chill also.

"You should not wear that," he said, with a half smile at her gown.

"Why?" she asked.

"It makes you so white--so much like a too early lily. But--but perhaps
you thought of going out?"

"No," she answered; "not to-night."

He came quite close to her.

"If you are not too greatly fatigued," he said, "it would give me
happiness to take you with me on my errand to your mother's house. I
must carry there my little birthday gift to your sister," smiling again.

An expression of embarrassment showed itself upon her face.

"Oh," she exclaimed, "to think that I had forgotten it! She will feel as
if I did not care for her at all."

She seemed for the moment quite unhappy.

"Let me see what you have chosen."

He drew from his pocket a case and opened it.

"Oh," she cried, "how pretty and how suitable for a girl!"

They were the prettiest, most airy set of pearls imaginable.

She sat and looked at them for a few seconds thoughtfully, and then
handed them back.

"You are very good, and Jenny will be in ecstasies," she said.

"It is a happiness to me to give her pleasure," he returned. "I feel
great tenderness for her. She is not like the young girls I have known.
Her innocence is of a frank and noble quality, which is better than
ignorance. One could not bear that the slightest shadow of sin or pain
should fall upon her. The atmosphere surrounding her is so bright with
pure happiness and the courage of youth."

Involuntarily he held out his hand.

"Will you"--he began. His voice fell and broke. "Will you go with me?"
he ended.

He saw that she was troubled.

"Now?" she faltered.

"Yes--now."

There was a peculiar pause,--a moment, as it seemed to him, of
breathless silence. This silence she broke by her rising slowly from her
seat.

"Yes," she responded, "I will go. Why should I not?"

It was midnight when they left the Trents', and Jenny stood upon the
threshold, a bright figure in a setting of brightness, and kissed her
hand to them as they went down the steps.

"I hope you will be better to-morrow, Arthur," she said.

He turned quickly to look up at her.

"I?"

"Yes. You look so tired. I might say haggard, if it was polite."

"It would not be polite," said Bertha, "so don't say it. Good-night,
Jenny!"

But when they were seated in the carriage she glanced at her husband's
face.

"_Are_ you unwell?" she asked.

He passed his hand quickly across his forehead.

"A little fatigued," he replied. "It is nothing. To-morrow--to-morrow it
will be all over."

And so silence fell upon them.

As they entered the drawing-room a clock chimed the half hour.

"So late as that!" exclaimed Bertha, and sank into a chair with a faint
laugh. "Why, to-day is over," she said. "It is to-morrow."

M. Villefort had approached a side table. Upon it lay a peculiar-looking
oblong box.

"Ah," he said, softly, "they have arrived."

"What are they?" Bertha asked.

He was bending over the box to open it, and did not turn toward her, as
he replied:--

"It is a gift for a young friend of mine,--a brace of pistols. He has
before him a long journey in the East, and he is young enough to have a
fancy for firearms."

He was still examining the weapons when Bertha crossed the room on her
way up-stairs, and she paused an instant to look at them.

"They are very handsome," she said. "One could almost wear them as
ornaments."

"But they would have too threatening a look," he answered, lightly.

As he raised his eyes they met hers. She half started backward, moved by
a new sense of the haggardness of his face.

"You _are_ ill!" she exclaimed. "You are as colorless as marble."

"And you, too," he returned, still with the same tender lightness. "Let
us hope that our 'to-morrow' will find us both better, and you say it is
tomorrow now. Good-night!"

She went away without saying more. Weary as she was, she knew there was
no sleep for her, and after dismissing her maid, she threw herself upon
the lounge before the bedroom fire and lay there. To-night she felt as
if her life had reached its climax. She burst into a passion of tears.

"Jenny! Jenny!" she cried, "how I envy--how I envy you!"

The recollection of Jenny shining in her pretty gala dress, and
delighting in her birthday presents, and everybody else's pride and
affection, filled her with a morbid misery and terror. She covered her
face with her hands as she thought of it.

"Once," she panted, "as I looked at her tonight, for a moment I almost
hated her. Am I so bad as that?--am I?"

Scarcely two seconds afterward she had sprung to her feet and was
standing by the side of her couch, her heart beating with a rapid throb
of fright, her limbs trembling. A strange sound had fallen suddenly upon
the perfect silence of the night--a sound loud, hard, and sharp--the
report of a pistol! What dread seized her she knew not. She was across
the room and had wrenched the door open in an instant, then with flying
feet down the corridor and the staircase. But half-way down the stairs
she began to cry out aloud, "Arthur! Arthur!" not conscious of her own
voice--"Arthur, what is it?" The door of the drawing-room flew open
before the fierce stroke of her palm.

M. Villefort stood where she had left him; but while his left hand
supported his weight against the table, his right was thrust into his
breast. One of the pistols lay at his feet.

She thought it was Death's self that confronted her in his face, but he
spoke to her, trying faintly to smile.

"Do not come in," he said, "I have met with--an accident. It is nothing.
Do not come in. A servant----"

His last recollection was of her white face and white draperies as he
fell, and somehow, dizzy, sick, and faint as he was, he seemed to hear
her calling out, in a voice strangely like Jenny's, "Arthur! Arthur!"

In less than half an hour the whole house was astir. Upstairs physicians
were with the wounded man, downstairs Mrs. Trent talked and wept
over her daughter, after the manner of all good women. She was fairly
terrified by Bertha's strange shudderings, quick, strained breath, and
dilated eyes. She felt as if she could not reach her--as if she hardly
made herself heard.

"You must calm yourself, Bertha," she would say. "Try to calm yourself.
We must hope for the best. Oh, how could it have happened!"

It was in the midst of this that a servant entered with a letter, which
he handed to his mistress. The envelope bore upon it nothing but her own
name.

She looked at it with a bewildered expression.

"For me?" she said.

"It fell from Monsieur's pocket as we carried him upstairs," replied the
man.

"Don't mind it now, Bertha," said her mother, "Ah, poor M. Villefort!"

But Bertha had opened it mechanically and was reading it

At first it seemed as if it must have been written in a language she did
not understand; but after the first few sentences a change appeared. Her
breath came and went more quickly than before--a kind of horror grew in
her eyes. At the last she uttered a low, struggling cry. The paper
was crushed in her hand, she cast one glance around the room as if
in bewildering search for refuge, and flung herself upon her mother's
breast.

"Save me, mother!" she said. "Help me! If he dies now, I shall go mad!"

Afterward, in telling her story at home, good Mrs. Trent almost broke
down.

"Oh, Jenny!" she said. "Just to think of the poor fellow's having had it
in his pocket then! Of course I did not see it, but one can fancy that
it was something kind and tender,--perhaps some little surprise he had
planned for her. It seemed as if she could not bear it."

M. Villefort's accident was the subject of discussion for many days. He
had purchased a wonderful pair of pistols as a gift for a young friend.
How it had happened that one had been loaded none knew; it was just
possible that he had been seized with the whim to load it himself--at
all events, it had gone off in his hands. An inch--nay, half an inch--to
the right, and Madame Villefort, who flew downstairs at the sound of the
report, would only have found a dead man at her feet.

"_Ma foi!_" said M. Renard, repressing his smile; "this is difficult for
Monsieur, but it may leave '_la petite Dame_' at liberty."

Madame de Castro flew at him with flashing eyes.

"Silence!" she said, "if you would not have me strike you with my cane."
And she looked as if she were capable of doing it.

Upon his sick-bed M, Villefort was continually haunted by an
apparition--an apparition of a white face and white draperies, such
as he had seen as he fell. Sometimes it was here, sometimes there,
sometimes near him, and sometimes indistinct and far away. Sometimes he
called out to it and tried to extend his arms; again he lay and watched,
it murmuring gentle words, and smiling mournfully.

Mrs. Trent and the doctor were in despair. Madame Villefort obstinately
refused to be forced from her husband's room. There were times when they
thought she might sink and die there herself. She would not even leave
it when they obliged her to sleep. Having been slight and frail from
ill health before, she became absolutely attenuated. Soon all her beauty
would be gone.

"Do you know," said Mrs. Trent to her husband, "I have found out that
she always carries that letter in her breast? I see her put her hand to
it in the strangest way a dozen times a day."

One night, awakening from a long sleep to a clearer mental consciousness
than usual, M. Villefort found his apparition standing over him.

She stood with one hand clinched upon her breast, and she spoke to him.

"Arthur!" she said,--"Arthur, do you know me?"

He answered her, "Yes."

She slipped down upon her knees, and held up in her hand a letter
crushed and broken.

"Try to keep your mind clear while you listen to me," she implored.
"Try--try! I must tell you, or I shall die. I am not the bad woman you
think me. I never had read it--I had not seen it. I think he must have
been mad. Once I loved him, but he killed my love himself. I could not
have been bad like that, Jenny!--mother!--Arthur! believe me! believe
me!"

In this supreme moment of her anguish and shame she forgot all else. She
stretched forth her hands, panting.

"Believe me! It is true! Try to understand! Some one is coming! Say one
word before it is too late!"

"I understand," he whispered, "and I believe." He made a weak effort to
touch her hand, but failed. He thought that perhaps it was the chill
and numbness of death which stole over him and held him bound. When the
nurse, whose footsteps they had heard, entered, she found him lying with
glazed eyes, and Madame Villefort fallen in a swoon at the bedside.

And yet, from this time forward the outside world began to hear that his
case was not so hopeless after all.

"Villefort will possibly recover," it was said at first; then,
"Villefort improves, it seems;" and, at last, "Villefort is out of
danger Who would have thought it?"

Nobody, however, could say that Madame had kept pace with her husband.
When Monsieur was sufficiently strong to travel, and was advised to
do so, there were grave doubts as to the propriety of his wife's
accompanying him.

But she would not listen to those doubts.

"I will not stay in Paris," she said to her mother. "I want to be free
from it, and Jenny has promised to go with us."

They were to go into Normandy, and the day before their departure Ralph
Edmondstone came to bid them good-bye.

Of the three he was by far the most haggard figure, and when Bertha came
down to meet him in the empty drawing-room, he became a wretched figure
with a broken, hopeless air, For a few seconds Bertha did not speak,
but stood a pace or two away looking at him. It seemed, in truth, as she
waited there in her dark, nun-like dress, that nearly all her beauty had
left her. There remained only her large sad eyes and pretty hair, and
the touching look of extreme youth. In her hand she held the crushed
letter.

"See!" she said at last, holding this out to him. "I am not so bad--so
bad as that."

He caught it from her hand and tore it into fragments. He was stabbed
through and through with shame and remorse. After all, his love had been
strong enough here, and his comprehension keen enough to have made him
repent in the dust of the earth, in his first calm hour, the insult he
had put upon her.

"Forgive me!" he cried; "oh, forgive me!"

The few steps between them might have been a myriad of miles.

"I did love you--long ago," she said; "but you never thought of me. You
did not understand me then--nor afterward. All this winter my love has
been dying a hard death. You tried to keep it alive, but--you did not
understand. You only humiliated and tortured me--And I knew that if I
had loved you more, you would have loved me less. See!" holding up her
thin hand, "I have been worn out in the struggle between my unhappiness
and remorse and you."

"You do not know what love is!" he burst forth, stung into swift
resentment.

A quick sob broke from her.

"Yes I do." she answered. "I--I have seen it"

"You mean M. Villefort!" he cried in desperate jealous misery. "You
think that he----"

She pointed to the scattered fragments of the letter.

"He had that in his pocket when he fell," she said, "He thought that I
had read it. If I had been your wife, and you had thought so, would you
have thought that I was worth trying to save--as he tried to save me?"

"What!" he exclaimed, shamefacedly. "Has he seen it?"

"Yes," she answered, with another sob, which might have been an echo of
the first. "And that is the worst of all."

There was a pause, during which he looked down at the floor, and even
trembled a little.

"I have done you more wrong than I thought," he said.

"Yes," she replied; "a thousand-fold more."

It seemed as if there might have been more to say, but it was not said.

In a little while he roused himself with an effort.

"I am not a villain!" he said. "I can do one thing. I can go to
Villefort--if you care."

She did not speak. So he moved slowly away until he reached the door.
With his hand upon the handle he turned and looked back at her.

"Oh, it is good-bye--good-bye!" he almost groaned.

"Yes."

He could not help it--few men could have done so. His expression was
almost fierce as he spoke his next words.

"And you will love him--yes, you will love _him_."

"No," she answered, with bitter pain. "I am not worthy."

*****

It was a year or more before the Villeforts were seen in Paris again,
and Jenny enjoyed her wanderings with them wondrously. In fact, she
was the leading member of the party. She took them where she chose,--to
queer places, to ugly places, to impossible places, but never from first
to last to any place where there were not, or at least had not been,
Americans as absurdly erratic as themselves.

The winter before their return they were at Genoa, among other places;
and it was at Genoa that one morning, on opening a drawer, Bertha came
upon an oblong box, the sight of which made her start backward and put
her hand to her beating side. M. Villefort approached her hurriedly. An
instant later, however, he started also and shut the drawer.

"Come away," he said, taking her hand gently. "Do not remain here."

But he was pale, too, and his hand was unsteady. He led her to the
window and made her sit down.

"Pardon me," he said. "I should not have left them there."

"You did not send them to your friend?" she faltered.

"No."

He stood for a moment or so, and looked out of the window at the blue
sea which melted into the blue sky, at the blue sky which bent itself
into the blue sea, at the white sails flecking the deep azure, at the
waves hurrying in to break upon the sand.

"That"--he said at length, tremulously, and with pale lips--"that was
false."

"Was false!" she echoed.

"Yes," hoarsely, "it was false. There was no such friend. It was a
lie--they were meant only for myself."

She uttered a low cry of anguish and dread.

"Ah, _mon Dieu!_" he said. "You could not know. I understood all, and
had been silent. I was nothing--a jest--'_le Monsieur de la petite
Dame_,' as they said,--only that. I swore that I would save you. When I
bade you adieu that night, I thought it was my last farewell. There was
no accident. Yes--there was one. I did not die, as I had intended. My
hand was not steady enough. And since then----"

She rose up, crying out to him as she had done on that terrible night--

"Arthur! Arthur!"

He came closer to her.

"Is it true," he said,--"is it true that my prayers have not been
in vain? Is it true that at last--at last, you have learned--have
learned----"

She stretched forth her arms to him.

"It is true!" she cried. "Yes, it is true!--it is true!"





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book ""Le Monsieur De La Petite Dame"" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home