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Title: Esmeralda
Author: Burnett, Frances Hodgson, 1849-1924
Language: English
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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 "Esmeralda" ***

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ESMERALDA

By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Copyright, 1877


To begin, I am a Frenchman, a teacher of languages, and a poor
man,--necessarily a poor man, as the great world would say, or I should
not be a teacher of languages, and my wife a copyist of great pictures,
selling her copies at small prices. In our own eyes, it is true, we are
not so poor--my Clélie and I. Looking back upon our past we congratulate
ourselves upon our prosperous condition. There was a time when we were
poorer than we are now, and were not together, and were, moreover, in
London instead of in Paris. These were indeed calamities: to be poor,
to teach, to live apart, not even knowing each other--and in England! In
England we spent years; we instructed imbeciles of all grades; we were
chilled by east winds, and tortured by influenza; we vainly strove to
conciliate the appalling English; we were discouraged and desolate. But
this, thank _le bon Dieu!_ is past. We are united; we have our little
apartment--upon the fifth floor, it is true, but still not hopelessly
far from the Champs Elysées. Clélie paints her little pictures, or
copies those of some greater artist, and finds sale for them. She is not
a great artist herself, and is charmingly conscious of the fact.

"At fifteen," she says, "I regretted that I was not a genius; at five
and twenty, I rejoice that I made the discovery so early, and so gave
myself time to become grateful for the small gifts bestowed upon me. Why
should I eat out my heart with envy? Is it not possible that I might be
a less clever woman than I am, and a less lucky one?"

On my part I have my pupils,--French pupils who take lessons in English,
German, or Italian; English or American pupils who generally learn
French, and, upon the whole, I do not suffer from lack of patrons.

It is my habit when Clélie is at work upon a copy in one of the great
galleries to accompany her to the scene of her labor in the morning and
call for her at noon, and, in accordance with this habit, I made my way
to the Louvre at midday upon one occasion three years ago.

I found my wife busy at her easel in the _Grande Galerie_, and when I
approached her and laid my hand upon her shoulder, as was my wont, she
looked up with a smile and spoke to me in a cautious undertone.

"I am glad," she said, "that you are not ten minutes later. Look at
those extraordinary people."

She still leaned back in her chair and looked up at me, but made, at
the same time, one of those indescribable movements of the head which a
clever woman can render so significant.

This slight gesture directed me at once to the extraordinary people to
whom she referred.

"Are they not truly wonderful?" she asked.

There were two of them, evidently father and daughter, and they sat side
by side upon a seat placed in an archway, and regarded hopelessly one of
the finest works in the gallery. The father was a person undersized
and elderly. His face was tanned and seamed, as if with years of rough
outdoor labor; the effect produced upon him by his clothes was plainly
one of actual suffering, both physical and mental. His stiff hands
refused to meet the efforts of his gloves to fit them; his body shrank
from his garments; if he had not been pathetic, he would have been
ridiculous. But he was pathetic. It was evident he was not so attired of
his own free will; that only a patient nature, inured by long custom
to discomfort, sustained him; that he was in the gallery under
protest; that he did not understand the paintings, and that they
perplexed--overwhelmed him.

The daughter it is almost impossible to describe, and yet I must attempt
to describe her. She had a slender and pretty figure; there were slight
marks of the sun on her face also, and, as in her father's case,
the richness of her dress was set at defiance by a strong element of
incongruousness. She had black hair and gray eyes, and she sat with
folded hands staring at the picture before her in dumb uninterestedness.

Clélie had taken up her brush again, and was touching up her work here
and there.

"They have been here two hours," she said. "They are waiting for some
one. At first they tried to look about them as others did. They wandered
from seat to seat, and sat down, and looked as you see them doing now.
What do you think of them? To what nation should you ascribe them?"

"They are not French," I answered. "And they are not English."

"If she were English," said Clélie, "the girl would be more conscious of
herself, and of what we might possibly be saying. She is only conscious
that she is out of place and miserable. She does not care for us at all.
I have never seen Americans like them before, but I am convinced that
they are Americans."

She laid aside her working materials and proceeded to draw on her
gloves.

"We will go and look at that 'Tentation de St. Antoine' of Teniers," she
said, "and we may hear them speak. I confess I am devoured by an anxiety
to hear them speak."

According, a few moments later an amiable young couple stood before "La
Tentation," regarding it with absorbed and critical glances.

But the father and daughter did not seem to see us. They looked
disconsolately about them, or at the picture before which they sat.
Finally, however, we were rewarded by hearing them speak to each other.
The father addressed the young lady slowly and deliberately, and with an
accent which, but for my long residence in England and familiarity with
some forms of its _patois_, I should find it impossible to transcribe.

"Esmeraldy," he said, "your ma's a long time acomin'."

"Yes," answered the girl, with the same accent, and in a voice wholly
listless and melancholy, "she's a long time."

Clélie favored me with one of her rapid side glances. The study of
character is her grand passion, and her special weakness is a fancy
for the singular and incongruous. I have seen her stand in silence,
and regard with positive interest one of her former patronesses who
was overwhelming her with contumelious violence, seeming entirely
unconscious of all else but that the woman was of a species novel to
her, and therefore worthy of delicate observation.

"It is as I said," she whispered. "They are Americans, but of an order
entirely new."

Almost the next instant she touched my arm.

"Here is the mother!" she exclaimed. "She is coming this way. See!"

A woman advanced rapidly toward our part of the gallery,--a small, angry
woman, with an un graceful figure, and a keen brown eye. She began to
speak aloud while still several feet distant from the waiting couple.

"Come along," she said. "I've found a place at last, though I've been
all the morning at it,--and the woman who keeps the door speaks English.

"They call 'em," remarked the husband, meekly rising, "_con-ser-ges_. I
wonder why."

The girl rose also, still with her hopeless, abstracted air, and
followed the mother, who led the way to the door. Seeing her move
forward, my wife uttered an admiring exclamation.

"She is more beautiful than I thought," she said. "She holds herself
marvelously. She moves with the freedom of some fine wild creature."

And, as the party disappeared from view, her regret at losing them drew
from her a sigh. She discussed them with characteristic enthusiasm all
the way home. She even concocted a very probable little romance. One
would always imagine so many things concerning Americans. They were so
extraordinary a people; they acquired wealth by such peculiar means;
their country was so immense; their resources were so remarkable. These
persons, for instance, were evidently persons of wealth, and as plainly
had risen from the people. The mother was not quite so wholly untaught
as the other two, but she was more objectionable.

"One can bear with the large simplicity of utter ignorance," said my
fair philosopher. "One frequently finds it gentle and unworldly, but the
other is odious because it is always aggressive and narrow."

She had taken a strong feminine dislike to Madame la Mère.

"She makes her family miserable," she said. "She drags them from place
to place. Possibly there is a lover,--more possibly than not. The girl's
eyes wore a peculiar look,--as if they searched for something far away."

She had scarcely concluded her charming little harangue when we reached
our destination; but, as we passed through the entrance, she paused to
speak to the curly-headed child of the _concierge_ whose mother held him
by the hand.

"We shall have new arrivals to-morrow," said the good woman, who was
always ready for friendly gossip. "The apartment upon the first floor,"
and she nodded to me significantly, and with good-natured encouragement.
"Perhaps you may get pupils," she added. "They are Americans, and speak
only English, and there is a young lady, Madame says."

"Americans!" exclaimed Clélie, with sudden interest.

"Americans," answered the _concierge_. "It was Madame who came. _Mon
Dieu!_ it was wonderful! So rich and so--so"--filling up the blank by a
shrug of deep meaning.

"It cannot have been long since they were--peasants," her voice dropping
into a cautious whisper.

"Why not our friends of the Louvre?" said Clélie as we went on
up-stairs.

"Why not?" I replied. "It is very possible."

The next day there arrived at the house numberless trunks of large
dimensions, superintended by the small angry woman and a maid. An hour
later came a carriage, from whose door emerged the young lady and her
father. Both looked pale and fagged; both were led up-stairs in the
midst of voluble comments and commands by the mother; and both, entering
the apartment, seemed swallowed up by it, as we saw and heard nothing
further of them. Clélie was indignant.

"It is plain that the mother overwhelms them," she said. "A girl of that
age should speak and be interested in any novelty. This one would be if
she were not wretched. And the poor little husband!"--

"My dear," I remarked, "you are a feminine Bayard. You engage yourself
with such ardor in everybody's wrongs."

When I returned from my afternoon's work a few days later, I found
Clélie again excited. She had been summoned to the first floor by
Madame.

"I went into the room," said Clélie, "and found the mother and daughter
together. Mademoiselle, who stood by the fire, had evidently been
weeping Madame was in an abrupt and angry mood. She wasted no words. 'I
want you to give her lessons,' she said, making an ungraceful gesture in
the direction of her daughter. 'What do you charge a lesson?' And on my
telling her, she engaged me at once. 'It's a great deal, but I guess I
can pay as well as other people,' she remarked."

A few of the lessons were given downstairs, and then Clélie preferred a
request to Madame.

"If you will permit Mademoiselle to come to my room, you will confer a
favor upon me," she said.

Fortunately, her request was granted, and so I used afterward to come
home and find Mademoiselle Esmeralda in our little _salon_ at work
disconsolately and tremulously. She found it difficult to hold her
pencil in the correct manner, and one morning she let it drop, and burst
into tears.

"Don't you see I'll never do it!" she answered, miserably. "Don't you
see I couldn't, even if my heart was in it, and it aint at all!"

She held out her little hands piteously for Clélie to look at. They
were well enough shaped, and would have been pretty if they had not been
robbed of their youthful suppleness by labor.

"I've been used to work," she said, "rough work all my life, and my
hands aint like yours."

"But you must not be discouraged, Mademoiselle," said Clélie gently.
"Time"--

"Time," interposed the girl, with a frightened look in her pretty gray
eyes. "That's what I can't bear to think of--the time that's to come."

This was the first of many outbursts of confidence. Afterward she
related to Clélie, with the greatest naïveté, the whole history of the
family affairs.

They had been the possessors of some barren mountain lands in North
Carolina, and her description of their former life was wonderful indeed
to the ears of the Parisian. She herself had been brought up with
marvelous simplicity and hardihood, barely learning to read and
write, and in absolute ignorance of society. A year ago iron had been
discovered upon their property, and the result had been wealth and
misery for father and daughter. The mother, who had some vague fancies
of the attractions of the great outside world, was ambitious and
restless. Monsieur, who was a mild and accommodating person, could only
give way before her stronger will.

"She always had her way with us," said Mademoiselle Esmeralda,
scratching nervously upon the paper before her with her pencil, at this
part of the relation. "We did not want to leave home, neither me nor
father, and father said more than I ever heard him say before at one
time. 'Mother,' says he, 'let me an' Esmeraldy stay at home, an' you go
an' enjoy your tower. You've had more schoolin' an' you'll be more
at home than we should. You're useder to city ways, havin' lived in
'Lizabethville.' But it only vexed her. People in town had been talking
to her about traveling and letting me learn things, and she'd set her
mind on it."

She was very simple and unsophisticated. To the memory of her former
truly singular life she clung with unshaken fidelity. She recurred to
it constantly. The novelty and luxury of her new existence seemed
to have no attractions for her. One thing even my Clélie found
incomprehensible, while she fancied she understood the rest--she did not
appear to be moved to pleasure even by our beloved Paris.

"It is a true _maladie du pays_," Clélie remarked to me. "_And that is
not all_."

Nor was it all. One day the whole truth was told amid a flood of tears.

"I--I was going to be married," cried the poor child. "I was to
have been married the week the ore was found. I was--all ready, and
mother--mother shut right down on us."

Clélie glanced at me in amazed questioning.

"It is a kind of _argot_ which belongs only to Americans," I answered in
an undertone. "The alliance was broken off."

"_Ciel!_" exclaimed my Clélie between her small shut teeth. "The woman is
a fiend!"

She was wholly absorbed in her study of this unworldly and untaught
nature. She was full of sympathy for its trials and tenderness, and for
its pain.

Even the girl's peculiarities of speech were full of interest to her.
She made serious and intelligent efforts to understand them, as if she
studied a new language.

"It is not common _argot_," she said. "It has its subtleties. One
continually finds somewhere an original idea--sometimes even a _bon
mot_, which startles one by its pointedness. As you say, however, it
belongs only to the Americans and their remarkable country. A French
mind can only arrive at its climaxes through a grave and occasionally
tedious research, which would weary most persons, but which, however,
does not weary me."

The confidence of Mademoiselle Esmeralda was easily won. She became
attached to us both, and particularly to Clélie. When her mother was
absent or occupied, she stole up-stairs to our apartment and spent with
us the moments of leisure chance afforded her. She liked our rooms, she
told my wife, because they were small, and our society, because we were
"clever," which we discovered afterward meant "amiable." But she was
always pale and out of spirits. She would sit before our fire silent and
abstracted.

"You must not mind if I don't talk," she would say. "I can't; and it
seems to help me to get to sit and think about things--Mother won't let
me do it down-stairs."

We became also familiar with the father. One day I met him upon the
staircase, and to my amazement he stopped as if he wished to address me.
I raised my hat and bade him good-morning. On his part he drew forth a
large handkerchief and began to rub the palms of his hands with awkward
timidity.

"How-dy?" he said.

I confess that at the moment I was covered with confusion. I who was
a teacher of English, and flattered myself that I wrote and spoke it
fluently did not understand. Immediately, however, it flashed across
my mind that the word was a species of salutation. (Which I finally
discovered to be the case.) I bowed again and thanked him, hazarding the
reply that my health was excellent, and an inquiry as to the state of
Madame's. He rubbed his hands still more nervously, and answered me in
the slow and deliberate mariner I had observed at the Louvre.

"Thank ye," he said, "she's doin' tol'able well, is mother--as well as
common. And she's a-en-joyin' herself, too. I wish we was all"--

But there he checked himself and glanced hastily about him.

Then he began again:--

"Esmeraldy," he said,--"Esmeraldy thinks a heap on you. She takes a
sight of comfort out of Mis' Des----I can't call your name, but I mean
your wife."

"Madame Desmarres," I replied, "is rejoiced indeed to have won the
friendship of Mademoiselle."

"Yes," he proceeded, "she takes a sight of comfort in you and all. An'
she needs comfort, does Esmeraldy."

There ensued a slight pause which somewhat embarrassed me, for at every
pause he regarded me with an air of meek and hesitant appeal.

"She's a little down-sperrited is Esmeraldy," he said. "An'," adding
this suddenly in a subdued and fearful tone, "so am I."

Having said this he seemed to feel that he had overstepped a barrier.
He seized the lapel of my coat and held me prisoner, pouring forth his
confessions with a faith in my interest by which I was at once-amazed
and touched.

"You see it's this way," he said,--"it's this way, Mister. We're home
folks, me an' Esmeraldy, an' we're a long way from home, an' it sorter
seems like we didn't get no useder to it than we was at first. We're
not like mother. Mother she was raised in a town,--she was raised in
'Lizabethville,--an' she allers took to town ways; but me an' Esmeraldy,
we was raised in the mountains, right under the shadder of old Bald,
an' town goes hard with us. Seems like we're allers a thinkin' of North
Callina. An' mother she gits outed, which is likely. She says we'd ought
to fit ourselves fur our higher pear, an' I dessay we'd ought,--but you
see it goes sorter hard with us. An' Esmeraldy she has her trouble an' I
can't help a sympathizin' with her, fur young folks will be young folks;
an' I was young folks once myself. Once--once I sot a heap o' store by
mother. So you see-how it is."

"It is very sad, Monsieur," I answered with gravity. Singular as it
may appear, this was not so laughable to me as it might seem. It was so
apparent that he did not anticipate ridicule. And my Clélie's interest
in these people also rendered them sacred in my eyes.

"Yes," he returned, "that's so; an' sometimes it's wuss than you'd
think--when mother's outed. An' that's why I'm glad as Mis' Dimar an'
Esmeraldy is such friends."

It struck me at this moment that he had some request to make of me.
He grasped the lapel of my coat somewhat more tightly as if requiring
additional support, and finally bent forward and addressed me with
caution, "Do you think as Mis' Dimar would mind it ef now an' then I was
to step in fur Esmeraldy, an' set a little--just in a kinder neighborin'
way. Esmeraldy, she says you're so sosherble. And I haint been sosherble
with no one fur--fur a right smart spell. And it seems like I kinder
hanker arter it. You've no idea, Mister, how lonesome a man can git
when he hankers to be sosherble an' haint no one to be sosherble with.
Mother, she says, 'Go out on the Champs Elizy and promenard,' and I've
done it; but some ways it don't reach the spot. I don't seem to get
sosherble with no one. I've spoke to--may be through us speakin'
different languages, an' not comin' to a understandin'. I've tried
it loud an' I've tried it low an' encouragen', but some ways we never
seemed to get on. An' er Mis' Dimar wouldn't take no exceptions at me
a-drop-pin' in, I feel as ef I should be sorter uplifted--if she'd only
allow it once a week or even fewer."

"Monsieur," I replied with warmth, "I beg you will consider our _salon_
at your disposal, not once a week but at all times, and Madame Desmarres
would certainly join me in the invitation if she were upon the spot."

He released the lapel of my coat and grasped my hand, shaking it with
fervor.

"Now, that's clever, that is," he said. "An' its friendly, an' I'm
obligated to ye."

Since he appeared to have nothing further to say we went down-stairs
together. At the door we parted.

"I'm a-goin'," he remarked, "to the Champs Elizy to promenard. Where are
you a-goin'?"

"To the Boulevard Haussmann, Monsieur, to give a lesson," I returned. "I
will wish you good-morning."

"Good-mornin'," he answered. "_Bong_"--reflecting deeply for a
moment--"_Bong jore_. I'm a tryin' to learn it, you see, with a view to
bein' more sosherbler. _Bong jore_" And thus took his departure.

After this we saw him frequently. In fact it became his habit to follow
Mademoiselle Esmeralda in all her visits to our apartment. A few minutes
after her arrival we usually heard a timid knock upon the outer door,
which proved to emanate from Monsieur, who always entered with a
laborious "_Bong jore_" and always slipped deprecatingly into the least
comfortable chair near the fire, hurriedly concealing his hat beneath
it.

In him also my Clélie became much interested. On my own part I could
not cease to admire the fine feeling and delicate tact she continually
exhibited in her manner toward him. In time he even appeared to lose
something of his first embarrassment and discomfort, though he was
always inclined to a reverent silence in her presence.

"He don't say much, don't father," said Mademoiselle Esmeralda, with
tears in her pretty eyes. "He's like me, but you don't know what comfort
he's taking when he sits and listens and stirs his chocolate round and
round without drinking it. He doesn't drink it because he aint used to
it; but he likes to have it when we do, because he says it makes him
feel sosherble. He's trying to learn to drink it too--he practices every
day a little at a time. He was powerful afraid at first that you'd take
exceptions to him doing nothing but stir it round; but I told him I knew
you wouldn't for you wasn't that kind."

"I find him," said Clélie to me, "inexpressibly mournful,--even though
he excites one to smile? upon all occasions. Is it not mournful that
his very suffering should be absurd. _Mon Dieu!_ he does not _wear_ his
clothes--he bears them about with him--he simply _carries_ them."

It was about this time that Mademoiselle Esmeralda was rendered doubly
unhappy. Since their residence in Paris Madame had been industriously
occupied in making efforts to enter society. She had struggled violently
and indefatigably. She was at once persistent and ambitious. She had
used every means that lay in her power, and, most of all, she had used
her money. Naturally, she had found people upon the outskirts of good
circles who would accept her with her money. Consequently, she had
obtained acquaintances of a class, and was bold enough to employ them as
stepping-stones. At all events, she began to receive invitations, and to
discover opportunities to pay visits, and to take her daughter with her.
Accordingly, Mademoiselle Esmeralda was placed upon exhibition.

She was dressed by experienced _artistes_. She was forced from her
seclusion, and obliged to drive, and call, and promenade.

Her condition was pitiable. While all this was torture to her
inexperience and timidity, her fear of her mother rendered her wholly
submissive. Each day brought with it some new trial. She was admired for
many reasons,--by some for her wealth, of which all had heard rumors; by
others for her freshness and beauty. The silence and sensitiveness which
arose from shyness, and her ignorance of all social rules, were
called _naïveté_ and modesty, and people who abhorred her mother, not
unfrequently were charmed with her, and consequently Madame found her
also an instrument of some consequence.

In her determination to overcome all obstacles, Madame even condescended
to apply to my wife, whose influence over Mademoiselle she was clever
enough not to undervalue.

"I want you to talk to Mademoiselle," she said. "She thinks a great
deal of you, and I want you to give her some good advice. You know what
society is, and you know that she ought to be proud of her advantages,
and not make a fool of herself. Many a girl would be glad enough of what
she has before her. She's got money, and she's got chances, and I
don't begrudge her anything. She can spend all she likes on clothes and
things, and I'll take her anywhere if she'll behave herself. They wear
me out--her and her father. It's her father that's ruined her, and her
living as she's done. Her father never knew anything, and he's made a
pet of her, and got her into his way of thinking. It's ridiculous how
little ambition they have, and she might marry as well as any girl.
There's a marquis that's quite in love with her at this moment, and
she's as afraid of him as death, and cries if I even mention him, though
he's a nice enough man, if he is a bit elderly. Now, I want you to
reason with her."

This Clélie told me afterward.

"And upon going away," she ended, "she turned round toward me, setting
her face into an indescribable expression of hardness and obstinacy.
'I want her to understand,' she said, 'that she's cut off forever from
anything that's happened before. There's the' Atlantic Ocean and many a
mile of land between her and North Carolina, and so she may as well give
that up.'"

Two or three days after this Mademoiselle came to our apartment in great
grief. She had left Madame in a violent ill-temper. They had received
invitations to a ball at which they were to meet the marquis. Madame had
been elated, and the discovery of Mademoiselle's misery and trepidation
had roused her indignation. There had been a painful scene, and
Mademoiselle had been overwhelmed as usual.

She knelt before the fire and wept despairingly.

"I'd rather die than go," she said. "I can't stand it. I can't get used
to it. The light, and the noise, and the talk, hurts me, and I don't
know what I am doing. And people stare at me, and I make mistakes, and
I'm not fit for it--and--and--I'd rather be dead fifty thousand times
than let that man come near me. I hate him, and I'm afraid of him, and I
wish I was dead."

At this juncture came the timid summons upon the door, and the father
entered with a disturbed and subdued air. He did not conceal his hat,
but held it in his hands, and turned it round and round in an agitated
manner as he seated himself beside his daughter.

"Esmeraldy," he said, "don't you take it so hard; honey. Mother, she's
kinder outed, and she's not at herself rightly. Don't you never mind.
Mother she means well, but--but she's got a sorter curious way of
showin' it. She's got a high sperrit, an' we'd ought to 'low fur it, and
not take it so much to heart. Mis' Dimar here knows how high-sperrited
people is sometimes, I dessay,--an' mother she's got a powerful high
sperrit."

But the poor child only wept more hopelessly. It was not only the
cruelty of her mother which oppressed her, it was the wound she bore in
her heart.

Clélie's eyes filled with tears as she regarded her.

The father was also more broken in spirit than he wished it to appear.
His weather-beaten face assumed an expression of deep melancholy which
at last betrayed itself in an evidently inadvertent speech.

"I wish--I wish," he faltered. "Lord! I'd give a heap to see Wash now.
I'd give a heap to see him, Esmeraldy."

It was as if the words were the last straw. The girl turned toward him
and flung herself upon his breast with a passionate cry.

"Oh, father!" she sobbed, "we sha'n't never see him again--never--never!
nor the mountains, nor the people that cared for us. We've lost it all,
and we can't get it back,--and we haven't a soul that's near to us,--and
we're all alone,--you and me, father, and Wash--Wash, he thinks we don't
care."

I must confess to a momentary spasm of alarm, her grief was so wild and
overwhelming. One hand was flung about her father's neck, and the other
pressed itself against her side, as if her heart was breaking.

Clélie bent down and lifted her up, consoling her tenderly.

"Mademoiselle," she said, "do not despair. _Le Bon Dieu_ will surely
have pity."

The father drew forth the large linen handkerchief, and unfolding it
slowly, applied it to his eyes.

"Yes, Esmeraldy," he said; "don't let us give out,--at least don't you
give out. It doesn't matter fur me, Esmeraldy, because, you see, I must
hold on to mother, as I swore not to go back on; but you're young an'
likely, Esmeraldy, an' don't you give out yet, fur the Lord's sake."

But she did not cease weeping until she had wholly fatigued herself,
and by this time there arrived a message from Madame, who required
her presence down-stairs. Monsieur was somewhat alarmed, and rose
precipitately, but Mademoiselle was too full of despair to admit of
fear.

"It's only the dress-maker," she said. "You can stay where you are,
father, and she won't guess we've been together, and it'll be better for
us both."

And accordingly she obeyed the summons alone.

Great were the preparations made by Madame for the entertainment My
wife, to whom she displayed the costumes and jewels she had purchased,
was aroused to an admiration truly feminine.

She had the discretion to trust to the taste of the _artistes_, and had
restrained them in nothing. Consequently, all that was to be desired in
the appearance of Mademoiselle Esmeralda upon the eventful evening was
happiness. With her mother's permission, she came to our room to display
herself, Monsieur following her with an air of awe and admiration
commingled. Her costume was rich and exquisite, and her beauty beyond
criticism; but as she stood in the centre of our little _salon_ to be
looked at, she presented an appearance to move one's heart. The pretty
young face which had by this time lost its slight traces of the sun had
also lost some of its bloom; the slight figure was not so round nor so
erect as it had been, and moved with less of spirit and girlishness.

It appeared that Monsieur observed this also, for he stood apart
regarding her with evident depression, and occasionally used his
handkerchief with a violence that was evidently meant to conceal some
secret emotion.

"You're not so peart as you was, Esmeraldy," he remarked, tremulously;
"not as peart by a light smart, and what with that, and what with your
fixin's, Wash--I mean the home-folks,"--hastily--"they'd hardly know
ye."

He followed her down-stairs mournfully when she took her departure,
and Clélie and myself being left alone interested ourselves in various
speculations concerning them, as was our habit.

"This Monsieur Wash," remarked Clélie, "is clearly the lover. Poor
child! how passionately she regrets him,--and thousands of miles lie
between them--thousands of miles!"

It was not long after this that, on my way downstairs to make a trifling
purchase, I met with something approaching an adventure. It so chanced
that, as I descended the staircase of the second floor, the door of the
first floor apartment was thrown open, and from it issued Mademoiselle
Esmeralda and her mother on their way to their waiting carriage. My
interest in the appearance of Mademoiselle in her white robes and
sparkling jewels so absorbed me that I inadvertently brushed against a
figure which stood in the shadow regarding them also. Turning at once to
apologize, I found myself confronting a young man,--tall, powerful, but
with a sad and haggard face, and attired in a strange and homely dress
which had a foreign look.

"Monsieur!" I exclaimed, "a thousand pardons. I was so unlucky as not to
see you."

But he did not seem to hear. He remained silent, gazing fixedly at the
ladies until they had disappeared, and then, on my addressing him again
he awakened, as it were, with a start.

"It doesn't matter," he answered, in a heavy bewildered voice and in
English, and turning back made his way slowly up the stairs.

But even the utterance of this brief sentence had betrayed to my
practiced ear a peculiar accent--an accent which, strange to say, bore a
likeness to that of our friends downstairs, and which caused me to stop
a moment at the lodge of the concierge, and ask her a question or so.

"Have we a new occupant upon the fifth floor?" I inquired. "A person who
speaks English?"

She answered me with a dubious expression.

"You must mean the strange young man upon the sixth," she said. "He is a
new one and speaks English. Indeed, he does not speak anything else, or
even understand a word. _Mon Dieu!_ the trials one encounters with
such persons,--endeavoring to comprehend, poor creatures, and failing
always,--and this one is worse than the rest and looks more wretched--as
if he had not a friend in the world."

"What is his name?" I asked.

"How can one remember their names?--it is worse than impossible. This
one is frightful. But he has no letters, thank Heaven. If there should
arrive one with an impossible name upon it, I should take it to him and
run the risk."

Naturally, Clélie, to whom I related the incident, was much interested.
But it was some time before either of us saw the hero of it again,
though both of us confessed to having been upon the watch for him. The
_concierge_ could only tell us that he lived a secluded life--rarely
leaving his room in he daytime, and seeming to be very poor.

"He does not work and eats next to nothing," she said. "Late at night he
occasionally carries up a loaf, and once he treated himself to a cup of
_bouillon_ from the restaurant at the corner--but it was only once, poor
young man. He is at least very gentle and well-conducted."

So it was not to be wondered at that we did not see him. Clélie
mentioned him to her young friend, but Mademoiselle's interest in him
was only faint and ephemeral. She had not the spirit to rouse herself to
any strong emotion.

"I dare say he's an American," she said. "There are plenty of Americans
in Paris, but none of them seem a bit nearer to me than if they were
French. They are all rich and fine, and they all like the life here
better than the life at home. This is the first poor one I have heard
of."

Each day brought fresh unhappiness to her. Madame was inexorable. She
spent a fortune upon _toilette_ for her, and insisted upon dragging her
from place to place, and wearying her with gayeties from which her sad
young heart shrank. Each afternoon their equipage was to be seen upon
the Champs Elysées, and each evening it stood before the door waiting to
bear them to some place of festivity.

Mademoiselle's _bête noir_, the marquis, who was a debilitated _roue_ in
search of a fortune, attached himself to them upon all occasions.

"Bah!" said Clélie with contempt, "she amazes one by her
imbecility--this woman. Truly, one would imagine that her vulgar
sharpness would teach her that his object is to use her as a tool,
and that having gained Mademoiselle's fortune, he will treat them with
brutality and derision."

But she did not seem to see--possibly she fancied that having obtained
him for a son-in-law, she would be bold and clever enough to outwit
and control him. Consequently, he was encouraged and fawned upon, and
Mademoiselle grew thin and pale and large-eyed, and wore continually an
expression of secret terror.

Only in her visits to our fifth floor did she dare to give way to
her grief, and truly at such times both my Clélie and I were greatly
affected. Upon one occasion indeed she filled us both with alarm.

"Do you know what I shall do?" she said, stopping suddenly in the midst
of her weeping. "I'll bear it as long as I can, and then I'll put an end
to it. There's--there's always the Seine left, and I've laid awake and
thought of it many a night. Father and me saw a man taken out of it one
day, and the people said he was a Tyrolean, and drowned himself because
he was so poor and lonely--and--and so far from home."

Upon the very morning she made this speech I saw again our friend of the
sixth floor. In going down-stairs I came upon him, sitting upon one
of the steps as if exhausted, and when he turned his face upward, its
pallor and haggardness startled me. His tall form was wasted, his
eyes were hollow, the peculiarities I had before observed were doubly
marked--he was even emaciated.

"Monsieur," I said in English, "you appear indisposed. You have been
ill. Allow me to assist you to your room."

"No, thank you," he answered. "It's only weakness. I--I sorter give out.
Don't trouble yourself. I shall get over it directly."

Something in his face, which was a very young and well-looking one,
forced me to leave him in silence, merely bowing as I did so. I felt
instinctively that to remain would be to give him additional pain.

As I passed the room of the _concierge_, however, the excellent woman
beckoned to me to approach her.

"Did you see the young man?" she inquired rather anxiously. "He has
shown himself this morning for the first time in three days. There is
something wrong. It is my impression that he suffers want--that he is
starving himself to death!"

Her rosy countenance absolutely paled as she uttered these last words,
retreating a pace from me and touching my arm with her fore-finger.

"He has carried up even less bread than usual during the last few
weeks," she added, "and there has been no _bouillon_ whatever. A young
man cannot live only on dry bread, and too little of that. He will
perish; and apart from the inhumanity of the thing, it will be
unpleasant for the other _locataires_."

I wasted no time in returning to Clélie, having indeed some hope that I
might find the poor fellow still occupying his former position upon
the staircase. But in this I met with disappointment: he was gone and
I could only relate to my wife what I had heard, and trust to her
discretion. As I had expected, she was deeply moved.

"It is terrible," she said.. "And it is also a delicate and difficult
matter to manage. But what can one do? There is only one thing--I who am
a woman, and have suffered privation myself, may venture."

Accordingly, she took her departure for the floor above. I heard her
light summons upon the door of one of the rooms, but heard no reply. At
last, however, the door was opened gently, and with a hesitance that
led me to imagine that it was Clélie herself who had pushed it open,
and immediately afterward I was sure that she had uttered an alarmed
exclamation. I stepped out upon the landing and called to her in a
subdued tone,--

"Clélie," I said, "did I hear you speak?"

"Yes," she returned from within the room. "Come at once, and bring with
you some brandy."

In the shortest possible time I had joined her in the room, which was
bare, cold, and unfurnished--a mere garret, in fact, containing nothing
but a miserable bedstead. Upon the floor, near the window, knelt Clélie,
supporting with her knee and arm the figure of the young man she had
come to visit.

"Quick with the brandy," she exclaimed. "This may be a faint, but it
looks like death." She had found the door partially open, and receiving
no answer to her knock, had pushed it farther ajar, and caught a glimpse
of the fallen figure, and hurried to its assistance.

To be as brief as possible, we both remained at the young man's side
during the whole of the night. As the _concierge_ had said, he was
perishing from inanition, and the physician we called in assured us that
only the most constant attention would save his life.

"Monsieur," Clélie explained to him upon the first occasion upon which
he opened his eyes, "you are ill and alone, and we wish to befriend
you." And he was too weak to require from her anything more definite.

Physically he was a person to admire. In health his muscular power must
have been immense. He possessed the frame of a young giant, and yet
there was in his face a look of innocence and inexperience amazing even
when one recollected his youth.

"It is the look," said Clélie, regarding him attentively,--"the look one
sees in the faces of Monsieur and his daughter down-stairs; the look of
a person who has lived a simple life, and who knows absolutely nothing
of the world."

It is possible that this may have prepared the reader for the
_dénoûment_ which followed; but singular as it may appear, it did not
prepare either Clélie or myself--perhaps because we _had_ seen the
world, and having learned to view it in a practical light, were not
prepared to encounter suddenly a romance almost unparalleled.

The next morning I was compelled to go out to give my lessons as usual,
and left Clélie with our patient. On my return, my wife, hearing my
footsteps, came out and met me upon the landing. She was moved by the
strongest emotion and much excited; her cheeks were pale and her eyes
shone.

"Do not go in yet," she said, "I have something to tell you. It is
almost incredible; but--but it is--the lover!"

For a moment we remained silent--standing looking at each other. To me
it seemed incredible indeed.

"He could not give her up," Clélie went on, "until he was sure she
wished to discard him. The mother had employed all her ingenuity to
force him to believe that such was the case, but he could not rest
until he had seen his betrothed face to face. So he followed her,--poor,
inexperienced, and miserable,--and when at last he saw her at a
distance, the luxury with which she was surrounded caused his heart to
fail him, and he gave way to despair."

I accompanied her into the room, and heard the rest from his own lips.
He gathered together all his small savings, and made his journey in
the cheapest possible way,--in the steerage of the vessel, and in
third-class carriages,--so that he might have some trifle left to
subsist upon.

"I've a little farm," he said, "and there's a house on it, but I
wouldn't sell that. If she cared to go, it was all I had to take her to,
an' I'd worked hard to buy it. I'd worked hard, early and late, always
thinking that some day we'd begin life there together--Esmeraldy and
me."

"Since neither sea, nor land, nor cruelty, could separate them," said
Clélie to me during the day, "it is not I who will help to hold them
apart."

So when Mademoiselle came for her lesson that afternoon, it was Clélie's
task to break the news to her,--to tell her that neither sea nor land
lay between herself and her lover, and that he was faithful still.

She received the information as she might have received a
blow,--staggering backward, and whitening, and losing her breath; but
almost immediately afterward she uttered a sad cry of disbelief and
anguish.

"No, no," she said, "it--it isn't true! I won't believe it--I mustn't.
There's half the world between us. Oh, don't try to make me believe
it,--when it can't be true!"

"Come with me," replied Clélie.

Never--never in my life has it been my fate to see, before or since,
a sight so touching as the meeting of these two young hearts. When the
door of the cold, bare room opened, and Mademoiselle Esmeralda entered,
the lover held out his weak arms with a sob,--a sob of rapture, and yet
terrible to hear.

"I thought you'd gone back on me, Esmeraldy," he cried. "I thought you'd
gone back on me."

Clélie and I turned away and left them as the girl fell upon her knees
at his side.

The effect produced upon the father--who had followed Mademoiselle as
usual, and whom we found patiently seated upon the bottom step of the
flight of stairs, awaiting our arrival--was almost indescribable.

He sank back upon his seat with a gasp, clutching at his hat with both
hands. He also disbelieved.

"Wash!" he exclaimed weakly. "Lord, no! Lord, no! Not Wash! Wash, he's
in North Cal-lina. Lord, no!"

"He is up-stairs," returned Clélie, "and Mademoiselle is with him."

During the recovery of Monsieur Wash, though but little was said upon
the subject, it is my opinion that the minds of each of our number
pointed only toward one course in the future.

In Mademoiselle's demeanor there appeared a certain air of new courage
and determination, though she was still pallid and anxious. It was as if
she had passed a climax and had gained strength. Monsieur, the father,
was alternately nervous and dejected, or in feverishly high spirits.
Occasionally he sat for some time without speak ing, merely gazing into
the fire with a hand upon each knee; and it was one evening, after a
more than usually prolonged silence of this description, that he finally
took upon himself the burden which lay upon us unitedly.

"Esmeraldy," he remarked, tremulously, and with manifest
trepidation,--"Esmeraldy, I've been thinkin'--it's time--we broke it to
mother."

The girl lost color, but she lifted her head steadily.

"Yes, father," she answered, "it's time."

"Yes," he echoed, rubbing his knees slowly, "it's time; an', Esmeraldy,
it's a thing to--to sorter set a man back."

"Yes, father," she answered again.

"Yes," as before, though his voice broke somewhat; "an' I dessay you
know how it'll be, Esmeraldy,--that you'll have to choose betwixt mother
and Wash."

She sat by her lover, and for answer she dropped her face upon his hand
with a sob.

"An'--an' you've chose Wash, Esmeraldy?"

"Yes, father."

He hesitated a moment, and then took his hat from its place of
concealment and rose.

"It's nat'ral,"'he said, "an' it's right. I wouldn't want it no other
way. An' you mustn't mind, Esmeraldy, it's bein' kinder rough on me, as
can't go back on mother, havin' swore to cherish her till death do us
part You've allus been a good gal to me, an' we've thought a heap on
each other, an' I reckon it can allers be the same way, even though
we're sep'rated, fur it's nat'ral you should have chose Wash, an'--an'
I wouldn't have it no other way, Esmeraldy. Now I'll go an' have it out
with mother."

We were all sufficiently unprepared for the announcement to be startled
by it Mademoiselle Esmeralda, who was weeping bitterly, half sprang to
her feet.

"To-night!" she said. "Oh, father!"

"Yes," he replied; "I've been thinking over it, an' I don't see no other
way, an' it may as well be to-night as any other time."

After leaving us he was absent for about an hour. When he returned,
there were traces in his appearance of the storm through which he had
passed. His hands trembled with agitation; he even looked weakened as he
sank into his chair, We regarded him with commiseration.

"It's over," he half whispered, "an' it was even rougher than I thought
it would be. She was terrible outed, was mother. I reckon I never see
her so outed before. She jest raged and tore. It was most more than
I could stand, Esmeraldy," and he dropped his head upon his hands for
support. "Seemed like it was the Markis as laid heaviest upon her," he
proceeded. "She was terrible sot on the Markis, an' every time she think
of him, she'd just rear--. she'd just rear. I never stood up agen mother
afore, an' I hope I shan't never have it to do again in my time. I'm
kinder wore out."

Little by little we learned much of what had passed, though he evidently
withheld the most for the sake of Mademoiselle, and it was some time
before he broke the news to her that her mother's doors were closed
against her.

"I think you'll find it pleasanter a-stoppin' here," he said, "if Mis'
Dimar'll board ye until--the time fur startin' home. Her sperrit was so
up that she said she didn't aim to see you no more, an' you know how she
is, Esmeraldy, when her sperrit's up."

The girl went and clung around his neck, kneeling at his side, and
shedding tears.

"Oh, father!" she cried, "you've bore a great deal for me; you've bore
more than any one knows, and all for me."

He looked rather grave, as he shook his head at the fire.

"That's so, Esmeraldy," he replied; "but we ailers seemed nigh to each
other, somehow, and when it come to the wust, I was bound to kinder make
a stand fur you, as I couldn't have made fur myself. I couldn't have
done it fur myself. Lord, no!"

So Mademoiselle remained with us, and Clélie assisted her to prepare
her simple outfit, and in the evening the tall young lover came into our
apartment and sat looking on, which aspect of affairs, I will confess,
was entirely new to Clélie, and yet did not displease her.

"Their candor moves me," she said. "He openly regards her with
adoration. At parting she accompanies him to the door, and he embraces
her tenderly, and yet one is not repelled. It is the love of the lost
Arcadia--serious and innocent."

Finally, we went with them one morning to the American Chapel in the Rue
de Bern, and they were united in our presence and that of Monsieur, who
was indescribably affected.

After the completion of the ceremony, he presented Monsieur Wash with a
package.

"It's papers as I've had drawd up fur Esmeraldy," he said. "It'll start
you well out in the world, an' after me and mother's gone, there's no
one but you and her to have rest. The Lord--may the Lord bless ye!"

We accompanied them to Havre, and did not leave them until the last
moment. Monsieur was strangely excited, and clung to the hands of his
daughter and son-in-law, talking fast and nervously, and pouring out
messages to be delivered to his distant friends.

"Tell 'em I'd like powerful well to see 'em all, an' I'd have come
only--only things was kinder onconvenient. Sometime, perhaps"--

But here he was obliged to clear his throat, as his voice had become
extremely husky. And, having done this, he added in an undertone:--

"You see, Esmeraldy, I couldn't, because of mother, as I've swore not to
go back on. Wash, he wouldn't go back on you, however high your sperrit
was, an' I can't go back on mother."

The figures of the young couple standing at the side, Monsieur Wash
holding his wife to his breast with one strong arm, were the last we saw
as the ship moved slowly away.

"It is obscurity to which they are returning," I said, half
unconsciously.

"It is love," said Clélie.

The father, who had been standing apart, came back to us, replacing in
his pocket his handkerchief.

"They are young an' likely, you see," said Monsieur, "an' life before
them, an' it's nat'ral as she should have chose Wash, as was young
too, an' sot on her. Lord, it's nat'ral, an' I wouldn't have it no
otherways."





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